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January 18

Wednesday, January 18th, 2023

Perfect storm. There was a movie by that name. Weather systems hit all at one time and the fishing vessel with George Clooney and others went down.

It is used to describe a situation where 2 or 3 or more events all come together at the same time. Like today’s Scripture and devotional reading.

Pastor Greg Laurie’s Everyday With Jesus spoke about listening. He brought out about the night Paul and Silas were in prison (Acts 16) and were singing in the night. It says the prisoners were listening. The Greek word for listening means “to listen very, very carefully.”

Add to that the devotion by the late David Powlison in Take Heart-Daily Devotions to Deepen Your Faith where he talked about listening. His devotion was about listening to people, instead of always talking.

Perfect storm. Different subjects. But still a perfect storm.

How many times have you listened but not really heard? There is no doubt we live in an age of talking heads. Opinions fly, but real listening is absent.

When it comes to the Bible, we love to chatter. But do we stop to listen? Have we asked God to speak to us through His Word when we sit down to read? As we read, are we also listening?

When people talk, do we listen? Or are we already thinking of what we are going to say next? G.U.I.L.T.Y. Are we incessant talkers or alert listeners? Pr.  10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent (wise).” (ESV)  Or how about Pr. 17:28-“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (ESV)  Insert Abe Lincoln’s quote here. “It is better to keep your mouth shut and thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Some people (to quote that great ’60s philosopher Tommy James) “talk and signify and say nothing.”  (Quote from song “Talking and Signifying” circa 1970).

Truth:

The Bible says repeatedly that we grow and change only by listening, not by talking. (Powlison-Jan.18)

Let’s listen more. Talk less.

January 17

Tuesday, January 17th, 2023

I could be wrong but I think one of the hardest things followers of Christ have trouble with is knowing AND REMEMBERING that God’s grace is good for all time. I mean, we will relish God’s forgiving grace when we initially come to Jesus for salvation and be grateful for that grace. We will appreciate His forgiving grace when we mess up big time and see how important it is.

But…

But often we forget that forgiving grace in the harsh reality of life. For example, consequences. We want to accept God’s forgiving grace, but we kinda sorta expect the consequences to be erased too.

Or the other end happens. We can’t totally forgive ourselves. Yes, I accept God’s forgiveness. Yes, I have (if necessary) gone to that other person seeking forgiveness. But applying grace to ourselves and to our own ongoing battle within…now that’s another story.

What we must realize is that God’s past grace to us is also God’s present grace. And it will be a future grace. Past grace allows us to see God’s work in our life. And we cherish that work. But it is also important to see God’s present grace at work in us. Yes, we were made new, forgiven of everything (or that “big one”). But God’s grace doesn’t stop with that initial work in us.

God’s grace is at work within us, daily remaking us into the likeness of Christ. Don’t just leave grace as an act of the past. See grace as an act of the present-forgiving and setting us free.

Do yourself a favor: Take a moment and read Romans 8:31-34. You will be glad you did.

January 16

Monday, January 16th, 2023

Have you ever met someone who wanted you to think they had it all together? It’s kind of like the old commercial “Never let ’em see you sweat.” They never want you to see them wanting.

“I can’t let them see me like this. They might think I’m weak.”

“I can’t act scared. I’m supposed to be the leader. How could they ever follow if I did?”

VULNERABILITY.

UGH!!

Tragically, so many with the “can’t-show-them” attitude really need help. Most often they are insecure, little children. And I’m not talking chronological age.

Men tend to be the king of this attitude, but we certainly don’t have a corner on it. I’ve seen and met women who are just as hardened, just as cold, and just as calculating as their counterpart. Maybe they have been hurt by someone (and I’m not minimizing that)-a male- so no longer will they allow one to get close.

Consider what it does to a person spiritually. It hardens him/her.  They close off a part of their soul. Their heart gets hard, or at best, crusty.

The exact opposite of what God wants. Faith always expresses itself in love for others. But if we are closed off, how can we do that? I like what the late David Powlison wrote:

Loving those around you in the midst of your weakness can be as simple as sharing your weakness and need with someone else. (“Take Heart”- January 16)

Good food for thought. Maybe it’s time for us- men and women- to open our hearts and open our lives to others. We may never know whose life might be “saved”- ours or theirs.

January 12

Thursday, January 12th, 2023

Look around. It is easy to get discouraged.

-A 6 year old shoots his teacher. He got a hold of his mother’s gun and took it to class.

-4 college students in Idaho are murdered.

-Healthy, fit athletes have “medical events” and collapse, some die.

-My retirement (such as it was) took a huge hit in 2022.

-Eggs are $6 a dozen. $6!!!

-Overdoses and suicides are reaching alarming heights.

-Loss of a loved one. Loss of a job. Wayward child. Loss of faith. The list is endless.

So is discouragement. David experienced it. “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” (Read the rest in Psalm 42:11)

Moses was so downcast at one point about the Israelites that he asked God to take his life. Elijah, after his victory against the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, ran and hid out from the wrath of Jezebel. He wanted to die. Jeremiah. Even Paul was overwhelmed from time to time.

Discouragement is a normal reaction. Life is hard and all we see are mountains, rocky paths, and never-ending obstacles.

But we have a promise from God that He is faithful. His love never ends and His presence never disappears. His steadfastness never wavers and His faithfulness never changes.

I don’t always know what is coming. No one does. I don’t always know where it will end up. No one does. I just know wherever that is, God will be there to meet me.

Even when I can’t “see” Him, I can trust Him. As I read recently: “We can trust His heart, even when we can’t see His path.”

January 11

Wednesday, January 11th, 2023

Several years ago-well over 20-I did a personal Bible study, then led several groups through the study as well. The study included a story of D.L. Moody. The story goes that someone approached Moody and said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with and through and in a man who is wholly committed to Him.” Moody was reported to have said, “Then I will be that man.” What I have read of Moody is that was his life’s goal.

That is an intriguing story…and an intriguing challenge.

For someone to issue that challenge with one simple statement to a man of Moody’s spiritual stature is pretty bold. (Then again, perhaps that is why Moody became the man of God he was). I sort of wonder what precluded him saying that to Moody and why.

But the greater impact was Moody’s willingness to say, “Here I am.”

That reminds me of Daniel who refused to be silenced for fear of a lion’s den.

That reminds of Shadrach, Meschah, and Abednego who refused to bow for fear of a furnace.

That reminds me of Jeremiah who found himself locked up because he would not stay quiet about Israel’s degradation.

That reminds me of Peter and John who were unafraid of the religious leaders and the consequences of continuing to talk about Jesus. “It is far better for us to listen to God than to man.”

That reminds me of Polycarp, the pastor of Smyrna, who refused to denounce his faith in the “One True King” in order to avoid being burned to death.

That reminds me of the early reformers who refused to be quiet about the Roman Church for fear of being burned alive at the stake.

That reminds me of persecuted Christians in China, North Korea, Iran, etc who face the loss of everything for converting to Christ.

That also reminds me to ask myself, “What about you Bill? Will you take that challenge to be the man willing to see what God can do with and through and in a man who is wholly committed to Him?”

And what about you?

January 10

Tuesday, January 10th, 2023

This past Sunday I started a preaching series on Revelation. Last night I was discussing with some men about Jesus’ coming and how we don’t know when it is going to happen (despite some so-called prophets saying they do). Then I said, “That’s why we have the JWs. One man got the idea and pronounced that Jesus was going to come on such-and-such a date. When that didn’t happen he recalculated and made another prediction of another date. As we know that didn’t happen. But he was not to be deterred. His answer for that failure was that Jesus did come but He’s just wandering around waiting to make Himself visible.”

Say what? People aren’t smart enough to see that is a bunch of crock? Evidently not. That cult started and exists even to this day (as we know).

There is one sure way to know whether we follow someone or not. I read of a man who wanted to start his own religion but soon found it didn’t go so well. He asked someone what he should do get coverts. The man told him, “I recommend that you get yourself crucified, die, and then rise again on the third day.”

Bingo! Jesus’ death and resurrection on the third day is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. No man-whether it is Charles Taze Russell (JW), Joseph Smith (LDS), Ellen G. White (SDA), Ron Hubbard (Scientology), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Scientist…which it is neither), Mohammed, Krishna, nor any other individual, can make the claim that Jesus can. No one else is worth following.

Only Jesus. And only Jesus went to a cross to die on our behalf, to satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God.  The cross made the difference. And only following the One who conquered death, hell, and the grave is worthy of our honor and worship. All else is a losing cause…no matter how sincere.

Whom will you choose to follow?

January 9

Monday, January 9th, 2023

One of my favorite songs is by the Christian rock group, DeGarmo & Key. I began listening to them in the mid to late 70s and continued listening to them until they disbanded in the 90s to pursue other ventures. Dana Kay has since gone to be with Jesus and I’m sure heard a “Well done, good and faithful servant.” My favorite song by them was called Long Distance Runner. (You can listen here).

That song is about running the Christian life. Using the motif of a runner, it speaks of the Christian life as not being a sprint but a long distance run.

Would you please think with me about that comparison for a moment? We are told in 2 cor. 5:7 to “walk by faith, not by sight.”  Curious language, but true.  It does not say, “Sprint by faith.”

Why?

Simple. The Christian life is a walk. We speak about “the Christian walk.” We never say anything close to “the Christian sprint.” We might talk about the life of a follower of Jesus being a long distance run (because it is), but never a sprint. I don’t know about you but my legs don’t run anymore. There are days I feel strong walking.  My legs and knees feel strong. No pain. No discomfort. But there are those days-days like yesterday in fact-when it seems like every move, every step is agony. The knee that will someday need replaced balked at every step and seemed to mock me saying, “How long will this go on?” 🙂

Sounds like life, doesn’t it? Days of exhilaration co-mingled with days of pain. If I do happen to run (spiritually, that is), it isn’t very long at all. I wasn’t made for sprinting. I was made for slow and steady.

Take a moment and stop to read Colossians 2:6-7 and get a further glimpse into my thinking. And then remember: it is not a sprint; it is a long distance walk/run.

January 5

Thursday, January 5th, 2023

Over the past 3 days of devotions, I’ve tried to see how I could make 2023 different spiritually for me and for you. I had no particular plan or idea in mind that said, “Here. Follow this course as you write.” What I found out this morning as I looked back is that a sort of pattern developed. 

Monday was a challenge to pursue Jesus. I asked a simple-but hard-question: Is Jesus first? Is He my pursuit?

Tuesday was focused on getting rid of baggage we often carry with us. In this case, it was baggage from 2022. Fresh starts require throwing off the old.

Wednesday I focused on the foundation we build on. Rock or sand.

To be totally honest, I did not have a pattern in mind as I wrote. I wrote what was on my heart that morning.

That is why today’s devotion is so important…and poignant. One of my all-time favorite Scriptures has been Phil. 3:10-“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering, becoming like Him in His death.” That phrase “I want to know Christ” has always intrigued me. What does it mean?

A deeper dive into that verse reveals the Greek word ginosko, which means “to know intimately.” Simple illustration: you may “know” me, but my wife “knows” me intimately. See the difference?

There are many who know about Jesus. There are many who can even say, “I know Jesus. He calmed the sea, healed the sick, etc,” but that is not what “know” means here. 

Paul is challenging us to really “know” Jesus, to know Him as deeply as a man would his wife. A man doesn’t know his wife, or a wife her husband, by passing each other in the night or in the hallway or on the street and just waving.

Neither can we have a deep, inner connection with Jesus by a cursory nod or wave as we pass by. “Hi, Jesus. How you doing today?”  Yeah, that doesn’t cut it.  No, what we really need to do is hunker down. Spend time with Him. Share our lives with Him. Get to know Him intimately.

This is really the crux of the matter. Take the previous 3 days and they all find their fulfillment right here. Will you desire to know Jesus intimately?

January 4

Wednesday, January 4th, 2023

I own my own house. Well…the bank does, but I’m making a strong effort to pay it off quicker. One of the most important parts of the house is not that it has been re-painted a grayish color with white shutters. Or not that it is a ranch-style house-with 3 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths plus the obligatory kitchen and living room as well as other rooms (my Man Cave which is now Tami’s bedroom and an added-on room about 3-4 years ago). Nor is it that it has a fenced-in back yard. And it isn’t because it is not a house but a home we have lived in for almost 17 years. Nope.

The most important part of the house is its foundation. Without that the house wouldn’t be worth a penny. In fact, there would be no house.

When they started building this one structure in Italy in 1173, they found the soil was softer than they originally thought. Over time that tower has been sinking and today the top of that tower is a little over 13′ off center. They check it regularly. They say if left to its own devices with no intervention of builders, the Leaning Tower of Pisa will someday collapse.

The key to living a life of faith that shines the light of Jesus is having a firm foundation. A life built on the solid rock of Christ. A life built on the never-changing Father and the truth of His Word.

Jesus said it well in Matthew 7 when He told the parable of the two foundations-sand and rock. One stands against the storms; the other crumbles.  Sand castles are easily destroyed by water and tides. Permanent structures built on rock last.

One of the keys to facing life in this new year is having the right foundation. Resolutions? No. A determined faith where time is spent in God’s presence and His Word that will help us stand strong? Most definitely yes.

What type of foundation do you have? What are you building your life and 2023 on?

January 3

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023

I read this morning in Our Daily Bread about how some volunteers from a rescue organization in Australia found a wandering sheep weighed down by more than 75 pounds of filthy, matted wool.  They figured it had been forgotten and lost in the bush for at least 5 years. They were able to sheer it and soon the sheep (named Baarack) began to eat and his legs grew stronger. It thrived in the environment of his rescuers and the other animals.

It started me thinking about people, about how so many are weighed down by excess weight (not physical) and baggage. Some of it is simply the cares of life. Some of it is baggage of their own making from their past.

I’m reminded of a song (click here). It says, “I’m no longer a slave to fear/I am a child of God.”  There are way too many people who are slaves to fear, shame, unconfessed sin, regret, and a whole host of other baggage.

Just like Baarack needed his rescuers to slowly sheer away his excessive weight of tangled, matted wool, so do many of us. God, through His Spirit, sets us free. He desires to make us new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). His Word tells us that “he whom the Son has set free is free indeed.”

Are you carrying excess baggage these days? Are you weighed down by sin and shame and regret? Be sheered and let God’s Spirit set you free.