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July 22

Monday, July 22nd, 2024

In a world that says, “Gimme. Gimme. Gimme.”

In world that says, “Look out for #1. And oh, by the way, I’m #1.”

In a world that says, “It’s all about me.”

In a world that says, “Look in the mirror and tell yourself, ‘I’m worth it.'”

In a world that says, “Get to the top. If you have to step over people to do it, who cares.”

In a world that says, (to borrow the saying from an old commercial), “You only go around once in life. Grab all the gusto you can.”

In a world that says all that and more, Jesus comes along and says, “If any of you want to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”  (Mt. 16:24-26 NLT)

The words of Jesus are in direct opposition to what we are being told. “It’s all about me” vs “Give your life away.” “Get to the top” vs “Give up your life.” “Grab for it all here” vs “If you gain the whole world and lose your soul it’s not worth it.”

Again I ask: Can any two lifestyles be more in opposition to each other than these? I think not. And IMHO Jesus put the result right out there: gain the world and lose your soul. And then the devastating question: “Is anything worth more than your soul?”

I believe the answer is an obvious NO. Temporal vs eternal. Success here vs life there. I’ll take Jesus’ option. Every. time.  How about you?

July 17

Wednesday, July 17th, 2024

Sometimes we simply make things too complicated (note play on words). 🙂 That is especially true when we talk to people about Jesus.

I was reading this morning in Matthew 11. It starts with John’s question to Jesus. John is in a dungeon (and will soon be beheaded) and while languishing in that dungeon his despair got the best of him. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the One (the Messiah) they were expecting or should they keep on looking? While it would be easy to “get all over” John for his seeming lack of faith, Jesus does no such thing. Instead, He says, “‘Go back and tell him what you have heard and seen-the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.’ And He added, ‘God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.'” (verses 4-6) In other words, the proof is in the pudding. Jesus was indeed here and the works just described are proof. 

I’d like to “spiritualize” for a moment because I’m not sure this is a viable use of Scripture. As I said at the beginning, sometimes we make things way too complicated when talking to others about Jesus. Instead of laying out all the historical facts about Jesus; the cruel death on the cross proven by Roman historians; the historical truth of His resurrection; and proof He is the Messiah; and other subjects, unless they ask for all the above, the best proof we have is the proof of a changed life. Mine. Yours. Someone you know. “Once I was blind but now I see. Once I was lost but now I am found.” There is something beautiful about those simple words.

Don’t be too complicated when talking about Jesus. Share the simple story of a life changed by the marvelous grace of Jesus. People may be belligerent, and ready to argue even with the facts presented, but they can’t argue with a changed life. Not when it is staring right at them. That is the Good News people need to hear!

July 16

Tuesday, July 16th, 2024

One last devotion…(I think). 🙂

The past week or so of devotions here at “Shadow” I have been writing and telling you about a book that had a profound impact on me-Out of the Blue by Greg Murtha. (Those dates are July 9, 10, 11, and 15). At the age of 46, Greg, a healthy runner and athlete, go-to leader, husband and father, was stricken with Agressive Stage III Colon Cancer. He endured 95 chemo treatments over 5 years, but on June 22, 2017 he “moved to the front of the line” to use his words. He completed his book on June 15th in room 8637 of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s CCU.

As I finished reading his book for the second time (the first I barely remember), I was overwhelmed with emotion. I shed some tears for a life well-lived, but also because it struck close to home. Not me. I just lost a friend to cancer and another has brain cancer. This book chronicling his thoughts and actions of the last 5 years of his life deeply and profoundly impacted me and caused me to stop and evaluate my own life.

I once read that Joni, the well-known Christ-follower who has been a quadriplegic for over 50 years, was once asked if she would change anything. She said, “No. I thank God for the accident and my wheelchair.” (edited by me). Several times Greg said virtually the same thing, i.e. he was thankful for the cancer that totally changed his life. It slowed him down. It woke him to the needs of others. It brought him to the point of listening to God. He would go for treatment, into a store, into a room and notice people most would miss-people who needed a hug, or who were hurting, had tears in their eyes, or simply needed a word of encouragement, or a prayer. And he was not ashamed to offer that.

He wrote the following:

“I’m learning that being present in the moment is what is important. Being the church wherever I am-that’s what matters. Listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit is paramount to living a life of adventure.” (p. 160)

I’ll close by simply saying that I want that. Healthy or not I want to be present in the moment. I want to be the church, a representative of Christ, where I am and to whomever I come across. Will you join me?

July 11

Thursday, July 11th, 2024

Jo and I are in Ohio today watching our grandson play the last two games of baseball we will get to watch this summer. We came yesterday to spend the night and some time with him and Janna (our daughter), watch two ball games today and then head home. The next trip to Ohio will be Labor Day weekend to watch him play high school football and take the weekend off (my first one since February).

I am continuing to read Out of the Blue by Greg Murtha. I blogged about it the past two days. Here is something to consider that I read: Greg, by his own admission, was good at wearing masks. Cancer ripped the mask off. Sitting in a chair with others getting the same type of cancer treatment/infusion/torture left him with a vulnerability he was not used to. He wrote: “When we admit that we’re fractured in one way or another, others will risk vulnerability too.” (p.49)

Everyone of us is broken-just in different ways and in different areas. Alcohol. Drugs. Porn. Sex. Mental issues. Selfishness. Volatile reactions, i.e. anger. They are many and varied. And we try to mask them. Cancer, Greg says, breaks down walls and builds bridges. You see suffering as an upside. It draws us to each other-and to God.

Someone somewhere must admit brokenness. When that takes place, vulnerability happens. There is nothing wrong with lowering the mask and admitting, “I’m struggling.” “I’m hurting.” I think His lack of judgmentalism is one of the qualities that drew people to Jesus. They found in Him a “safe” person. So can we. The psalmist speaks often of God being our refuge, our Mount Zion. We find that in our vulnerability with Him and ultimately with our fellow strugglers.

Let’s be real. Let’s rip off the masks. Let’s start a Realness Revolution!!

July 9

Tuesday, July 9th, 2024

“You have Aggressive Stage III cancer.”

So you are told. It soon develops into Stage IV. No, that is not me. Sorry if you panicked as you read that. Well over 3 years ago-I’m thinking pre-pandemic- I read a book called Out of the Blue by Greg Murtha. Greg was a 46 year old man in the peak of physical condition (so he thought) when after an 11 mile run through Crocket Hills Trail in Middle Tennessee his life changed. Afterward, sweating but pumped he headed for the bathroom at the YMCA. That’s when his life changed. It appeared as if someone had poured a container of bright-rid blood into the toilet. He realized instantly, This is not good.  And it wasn’t. The diagnosis was a gut punch to use his words.

I have begun to reread the book. Not because I have cancer (at least not that I’m aware of) but because some people who are close to me do.  A friend. Friends of friends. People connected to the church. I needed, no wanted, some perspective. I remembered Greg’s book was uplifting and brought a whole new perspective to the cancer battle so as I was scanning through books for a future sermons series my eyes locked onto his book.  After reading the Introduction and first 21 pages I have already been reminded why reading it is a good idea. To quote Greg: “Don’t feel sorry for me. Strange as it sounds, I view cancer as a gift. I thank God for it because it means I’m not the man I used to be. Sure, this interruption to my well-planned life was jarring. And chemo is hell. But I’m thankful for cancer because it has given me the ability to focus on what matters.” (p.7)

That struck me. Being a typical male, I am sort of locked onto that “success syndrome” so many get attached to. It is not as bad as it used to be. At 71, while I want to continue being a part of advancing God’s kingdom, I also know my best days are probably behind me due to stamina and strength. But, to be honest, my heart burns more for Jesus than it did in my younger years. Maybe it is because of my age. I don’t know.  But a Bob Goff quote fits here: “God’s more interested in our hearts than our plans.” (p.7-8).  My dreams, goals and aspirations have never been realized, at least not to the scale I wanted them to. That is a good thing. But I wouldn’t trade my life for any amount of money or earthly applause. I realize now what is most important. (Took me long enough!) 🙂

I hope I don’t get cancer or any other life-threatening disease. Cancer runs in my family (mother and grandmother died of it. Two brothers have and had it). But if I do, I hope I can run that race with grace. I’ll write more tomorrow but let me leave you with this quote from Greg’s book:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘WOW!’ (Hunter S. Thompson quoted on page xviii)

‘Nuff said.  Oh…As always, I welcome your comments.

July 8

Monday, July 8th, 2024

Do you know what a kissing cousin is? Please don’t give the obvious answer. 🙂

No. A kissing cousin is an idea, thought or action that is similar to or often goes hand-in-hand with another. For today’s devotion, I thought of two words/emotions which are kissing cousins: Fear and worry.

We all know what it is like to be gripped by fear. It can paralyze us. It can make us irrational. It can make us combative. Fear can also freeze us in our place, make our mouth go dry and send chills up and down our spine. Watch a really scary movie and take note of your reaction. (I’d rather not thank you very much).

Fear has a kissing cousin: worry. They often work in tandem. This past weekend I was speaking with a young man and he was talking about the company he worked for. I talked about the commercials I have seen and how well done they are and how they show people working together. Happily, he praised the PR/advertising folks and he also talked about their product and how he liked working for them. Then he made a sobering statement which set me back.  He said the economists with the company were predicting a recession, a slowdown in the economy at the end of ’24 and the beginning of ’25. In fact, they said it was going to be worse than the recession of ’08. My first reaction was one of “Oh boy.” Not positive but negative. Part of me wanted to hunker down; part of me said, “What am I afraid of?” As the pastor of a church that wants to-needs to-and he been planning and saving for an expansion for over 4 years, I started thinking, “Is that wise?” “Should we stop saving and planning?” “Should we become ultra-conservative?” “Should we continue saving and keep waiting to see what happens?  (Fun fact: we have been saving over 4 years because our plans have always been to build as we have the money),

Fear and worry can paralyze us. Corporately. Individually. The truth is we have nothing to fear. As people used to say a lot in the recent past: “God’s got this.”

Fear and worry take a back seat when I believe that He is in control and that I trust Him. Instead of letting fear and worry hold hands in the back seat, let’s put them in separate car seats. Better yet, let’s banish them completely.

June 27

Thursday, June 27th, 2024

All people matter to God, therefore they should matter to us.

Lately I’ve been reading a book on dementia entitled  Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by John Dunlop, MD. Because it seems to be becoming a bigger issue these days, I thought I’d read up on it and learn more. It has been an eye-opening book (in a good way). Over and over Dr Dunlop has emphasized the importance of dignity for the dementia sufferer, as well as it’s kissing cousin, Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Dunlop is a committed Christ-follower so his perspective is different than many in the medical field. Instead of writing them off as a “nuisance” and a “bother” for others, especially their caregivers, he pushes the belief that showing them dignity is first and foremost. One very helpful section is found on pages 123-125 where he gives a number of practical way we can express dignity. He does it from the perspective of entering their “world.”

But this devotion is not a book review. While he has obviously focused his attention on the dementia patient, I couldn’t help but make the correlation to others in our sphere on influence. Each person we come in contact with should be deemed a person who matters. Whether it is the same sex, ethnicity, color, position in life, or social status, we need to, no, we must see them as people who hold special importance in God’s eye. As a Christ-follower that means they must hold importance in my eyes as well. We may not always agree, we may not always get along, we may butt heads from time to time, but that should not change how much each of us should matter.

In James 2 James warns the church about choosing sides and showing preference to one group over another. He says it is a shame and a black mark to do so (my loose translation). Jesus Himself told the parable of the Good Samaritan and showed how a man who was hated because of his ethnicity was actually more of a brother than the so-called “religious people.”

We have all seen people snubbed because of political affiliation. We have all seen people snubbed because of color. We have all seen people snubbed because of sexual orientation. We have all seen people snubbed because of status. We have all seen people snubbed because of a medical condition. It is ugly. Like I said, I may not agree with someone’s opinion or lifestyle, and can’t compromise the truth, but at the same time that gives me NO RIGHT to denigrate or write someone off as being persona non grata because we are different.

Dementia patients deserve loving treatment. We all do. Let’s begin to give dignity to others. Let’s begin to treat others as we would like to be treated. 

June 24

Monday, June 24th, 2024

“Welcome to Pioneer Days.”

Those were the words I greeted people with yesterday. No, we didn’t have a dress-up Sunday. And no, Jesse James, Wild Bill, or any other cowboy came to visit. What made it like Pioneer Days was at 8:00 am

THE POWER WENT OUT.

I haven’t heard the exact cause although I have heard of a tree across a power line a few miles down the road, but then I heard of others who didn’t have power. One lives a good 10-15 miles from the church building and another lives a little over two the opposite direction.  The people at the first service were real troopers and so we soldiered on. We sang with minimum instrumentation. We sang without the words on the screen (Power Point). I preached holding a little light in my hand so I could see my notes and Bible (that was weird). And by the time we were done the temperature and humidity in the building had become a sauna-like existence. It was so bad that even those who always come up to speak to me afterwards or to give me a hug left without doing either. I told someone I sure am glad I used deodorant and body spray! 🙂  Gail spoke to me. She said, “It used to be we didn’t have A/C in our houses and survived. Now we can barely function without it.” (Comments paraphrased). She’s right you know?

I am really proud of the folks from OVCF. I do feel bad for the first-time visitors we had. But then again, they did see us “trooper on.”

Back to my opening comment. It sure makes one wonder how in the world they did it back in Pioneer Days.  No air. No fans. No electricity. Maybe because of that they could better manage a day like yesterday. Hot, humid, with temps in the 80s-90s. But we survived without power instruments. Without Power Point. Without air. Without lights. Without fans. I knew those bulletins we use are more than just to make our Bibles look thick. 🙂 Oh…five minutes after I gave the benediction the power came back on in time for a cool down for the second service.

Thankfully, our worship is not dependent on modern conveniences to be worship. Simple. Singularly focused. God-honoring. That is all we had…but that was enough.

{Note: There will be no meditation tomorrow. For a belated birthday present, we are taking Tami to see her beloved Atlanta Braves (cough cough) see the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis. We will be leaving this morning (Monday) and returning tomorrow. Your prayers for a safe trip would be appreciated). One good thing: I am wearing Pittsburgh Pirate shirt. 🙂 }

June 20

Thursday, June 20th, 2024

Jeremiah fought for all he was worth! No, not a UFC no-holds-barred kind of fight. Unless you are talking about a spiritual battle.  

In Jeremiah 1:17-19 we find these words: “Get up and prepare for action…Do not be afraid of them. For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall…They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (I wrote about that in my June 18th post).  But that was just the beginning. In 7:1-8:3, we find one of the biggest issues Jeremiah has to fight through: faulty religion. Strangely enough, what Jeremiah had to fight with is not a lot different than today.

Here is a short analysis:

  1. Faulty religion trusts in external observances and institutions. Too many today think going to church, maybe lifting their hands, or putting money in the coffer is all they need to do.  Trouble is: one can do all of that, and more, without one bit of heart.
  2. Faulty religion exhibits ungodly behavior. I remember joking as a teenager with my classmates who were of a certain religion. They could party Friday night, go to church on Saturday morning and take care of things, then “go parking” on Saturday night and feel as thought they were alright. After all, they had “done their duty.” There is something wrong with that picture.
  3. Faulty religion turns its back on God instructions. Jer. 7:13 says, “While you were doing these wicked things, says the Lord, I spoke to you about it repeatedly, but you would not listen. I called out to you, but your refused to answer.”  (NLT). How often do we do “our own thing”? God’s Word is seen as a killjoy to our lifestyle.

It’s easy to allow what could and should be a vibrant, alive, and life-changing faith to become old or even misdirected. Let’s challenge ourselves to not allow our faith to become an outward thing but to be a “heart thing.”

June 19

Wednesday, June 19th, 2024

In my daily reading through the New Testament, I have hit the book of Revelation. Ironically, I will finish a series of preaching on Revelation during the months of July and August. I’m not bragging. I started it in January of 2023. Yes, you read that right. 2023! 🙂 I interrupted it a lot but decided I need to finish it. Anyway…I read chapters 2 & 3 yesterday and today. If I had a guess I would say those two chapters may be the most preached-on section of Revelation.

Those two chapters contain the letters to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Here is a short synopsis:

  • All have a pastor- “The the angel of church…”
  • All but one (Laodicea) have something good said about them.
  • Two have good but no wrong said about them (Smyrna and Philadelphia)
  • All are fighting false teachers/teachings except Sardis and Laodicea.

I would suspect Laodicea hits us the hardest in our day and age. “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other. But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Rev. 3:15-16 (NLT)

When I cycle, I carry two insulated bottles on my bike. One is filled with water; the other is filled with some type of electrolyte drink. I freeze them ahead of time so I have a cold drink on the ride. Every once in a while I will misjudge the water thawing. The electrolyte replacement drink gets consumed first, then comes the water. But occasionally, the water has lost its ice and is lukewarm. I tell myself, “At least its wet,” but it is blah and so unsatisfying I can’t wait to finish and get a real drink of cold, fresh water.

The letter to the church at Ephesus was not a compliment, it was a judgment. But with the judgment comes a reminder: “Get with the program. Stop faking it. Stop riding the fence. I’m knocking asking you to let me in. If you do, and set your heart on me, I’ll be glad to have you join Me at a meal.”

To sit with Him at a meal, to chat with Him; to discuss life with Him, sounds really good! I think I’ll take Him up on His offer to catch fire.