Perseverance

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January 31

Wednesday, January 31st, 2024

I did a review of Country Music star, Granger Smith’s book Like a River on my other site, Cycleguy’s Spin. It will post today. I’d like to ask you to visit that site and see what is so special about this book (especially since I am not a Country Music fan).  🙂

One of the recurring theme in Psalms is “God’s faithful love endures forever.” I just started reading Psalm 119 this morning as I journey through Psalms (it is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible) and the number of times it speaks of “God’s faithful love endures forever” in the previous 118 chapters would take a lot more meticulous work than I am able to give to it. But Psalm 136 take the prize. 26 verses = 26 times it says, “His faithful love endures forever.”

That may not seem significant to you at the moment, but I ask that you read the story of Abram and Sarai (later to become Abraham and Sarah) in Genesis 12-23. Pay particular attention to Sarah. She lived in a time when it was a disgrace not to have a child. Year after year she longed for and waited to have a child, especially when one had been promised. Shen she and Abraham are told they would have a son and that Abraham’s seed would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore. Oh the joy! Until days turn into months; months turn into years; years turn into decades; and decades turned into Sarah being 89 and Abraham 100. Still without a child. She had tried earlier to take matters into her own hands by giving her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham. Ishmael was born but he was not the promised child and it didn’t bring Sarah the satisfaction she thought it would. In fact, it led to conflict so strong that Hagar and Ishmael had to leave. Much of the Middle East issues are a result of this child. Finally, at the age of 89 and Abraham at 100, the promised child was born. They named him Isaac.

My purpose in this devotion is not to get into a discussion of the Middle East conflict and how Sarah’s efforts have a direct bearing on them. No…my point is to talk about “God’s faithful love endures forever.” Even through Sarah’s conniving and wondering, God’s faithful love endured. He promised. He delivered.

The same God of Abraham and Sarah is the same God today.  His faithful love endures forever, even when we don’t see. Sarah didn’t but even in spite of her missteps, she clung to the promise of a son. She clung to the truth that God would keep His word. Those same words are for us today: God’s faithful love endures forever.  So don’t give up. Don’t quit. Don’t throw your hands up in despair. He is a God of His word.

January 25

Thursday, January 25th, 2024

Have you ever cried out for help and received it? Or maybe not?

I was struck today by a chapter in the Bible I have read countless time before but never saw what hit me until this morning. It is Psalm 107.  It begins with a familiar refrain that was repeated in some previous psalms: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.” (107:1)

Okay. Sounds like something I or maybe you have read before. But then the writer veers from script and begins to recount different events in the life of the wandering Israelites, as well as other events unrelated to them. What I noticed though (and missed this before) is that four times they cry out the same thing: “Lord help! they cried in their trouble and he rescued them from their distress.” Those same words are used in verses 4, 13, 19, and 28. So four times we see their cry, “Lord help!” and four times we see His response: “He saved them from their distress.”  Now watch what God did:

  • He led them straight to safety-v.7
  • He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom-v.14
  • He sent out His word and healed them-v.20
  • He calmed the storm to a whisper- v.29

Simple point: they cried out for help. God acted. Please read the chapter for yourself and do your own investigation. Let me close this simple devotion with two more verses:

“Those who are wise will take all this to heart; they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.”  (107:43)

“Oh, please help us against our enemies, for all human help is useless. With God’s help we will do mighty things, for He will trample down our foes.” (108:12-13)

Cry for help. He will answer. He will fight for you. And remember (as I told someone yesterday): God is seldom early, but He’s never late.

{All Scripture is from the New Living Translation}

January 23

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2024

“Why?” “Why me?”

Those just may be two of the most asked questions in human conversation. I won’t lie. I’ve said them or some variation of them. We usually say them or hear them during a particularly tough time we or someone we know is going through.

I very, very seldom ask that question any more. In fact, as long as I can remember, I stopped asking it years ago. Why? Because there is no answer to it. I mean, how can you or I honestly know why we are going through this rough patch? We can pile on the shame or the guilt or the “I deserve this” or “God’s getting even with me,” but that won’t answer it.

The real reason I stopped asking that question though is because I started asking another one: “Now that this is happening to me God, how do you want me to act?” How does God want me to respond to this trial?

I just finished reading Country Music star, Granger Smith’s book, Like a River. {Spoiler alert: I am not a CM fan} {Spoiler alert #2: Look for a review of Granger’s book on my other site, Cycleguy’s Spin, soon}. Granger and his wife, Amber, lost their son, River, in a tragic drowning accident in their home pool. This book is his story. There was a lot of good teaching that came through his book, but one that struck a chord was after he tells about speaking at a men’s breakfast conference at the church they were attending. It was exactly one year since he had walked into that same church building for Riv’s funeral. When he was done, he wrote that he wasn’t sure if any of those men benefited from what he said, but he did.  He learned that by sharing his story of pain and redemption God was answering his question. Not the one he asked why. “The one that asked God, ‘What are you trying to show me through this heartache?'” (p.178)  He then wrote that God responded with Isaiah 41:10-“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”  He goes on to comment: “God was reminding me to depend on Him. He would be there to pick me up and push me forward from the bottom of the river’s waterfall.” (Ibid).

The question to ask is not “Why? Why me?” The real question to ask is “What now? God, how do you want me to respond? What do you want me to learn?”

Sure changes the perspective doesn’t it?

January 21

Monday, January 22nd, 2024

One of the most loved and most quoted verses in the Bible is Isaiah 40:28-31- “Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

It is the latter part of that passage which holds special meaning. The image of an eagle has profound meaning to many. From the end of the Hobbit when the heroes are surrounded by hordes of goblins only to hear the shout, “The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!” to this passage of Scripture, eagles leave us with a tremendous picture. Even using the eagle as a symbol of our country gives us the impression of strength and dignity.  Consider the following Scriptures:

In Exodus 19:4 we read that God told His people that “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.”

Deuteronomy 32:11 is where Moses writes, “Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions.”

Countless times in Psalms we read of being under the protective care of the wings of a bird. The wings of eagles depict God’s protective nature and tender care.

This passage in Isaiah 40 has an ever more beautiful meaning. Often at a funeral as I’m trying to give words of comfort to the grieving family during my talk, I will use the story of a mother eagle teaching her eaglets how to fly. When it is time to leave the nest, the mother will gently nudge her young out of the nest, but not abandon it. As the eaglet falls and is unable to fly, the mother will swoop under it, “bear it up,” and take it to the nest only to repeat the process until the eaglet can gain strength to fly on its own.

Surely you can see that is exactly what God does for His loved ones. We are “pushed out” of the nest and when we falter, where our strength is lax, God bears us up. We are taken for a rest only to be challenged again. Eventually, we learn that God’s strength is sufficient.

No matter what kind of day you are facing, may you know His strength. May you know He never abandons you…EVER.

{All Scripture references are the New Living Translation}

Dark Horse

Friday, January 5th, 2024

As you can see my theme for 2024 is Run with the Horses. It is a take off of Jeremiah 12:5 where God is asking Jeremiah how he can run with the horses when he gets bogged down in the muck and mire of the Jordan.

The first sermon of the new year is based around three Scriptures: Jeremiah 12:5, I Cor. 9:24-27, and Heb. 12:1-2. They all have to do with running. The truth we all know is that people had feet of clay then; people have feel of clay today. People were evil then; people are evil today. They had a cult of celebrity worship then; we have a cult of celebrity worship today. While we often look at men and women in the Bible as heroic, ready and willing to take on armies, many of them were disappointingly non-heroic. Abraham lied; Jacob cheated; Moses murdered; David committed adultery; Peter blasphemed. And then there is Jeremiah. Jeremiah was different. There is no hint of pride, worldly success or personal achievement. What we do get is a man who is brutally honest about his feelings.

I’m also using the two NT Scriptures to talk about the need to prepare for what is ahead. I suspect that 2024 is going to be a test for those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ.  Hebrews 12 tells us to keep our eyes on Jesus while I Cor. 9 reminds us to run the race and not look around while running.  Vitezslav Gardavsky, a Czech philosopher and martyr who used Jeremiah as his “image of man” once wrote,

“The terrible threat is that we might die earlier than we really do die, before death has become a natural necessity. The real horror lies in just such a premature death, a death after which we go on living for many years.” (Run with the Horses-p.19)

I’d like to invite you to join me in person or via live stream at 9:00 and 10:45.

November 16

Thursday, November 16th, 2023

I began reading an old book yesterday. It was first published in 1983; the second edition in 2009; and a third edition-a commemorative one-in 2019. The book is entitled Run With the Horses by the late Eugene Peterson. He found his title from Jeremiah 12:5. Peterson’s own Message Paraphrase puts it this way: “So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with me, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when trouble break loose like the Jordan in flood?” The NLT translates it: “If racing against mere men makes you tired, how will you race against horses? If you stumble and fall on open ground, what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?

The subtitle for the book is “The Quest for Life at Its Best.” Trust me when I say it is not another Joel Osteen knock-off. You won’t read more “your-best-life-now” drivel.  On the contrary. Here is what you will get a sample of:

Vitezlav Gardovsky, the Czech philosopher and martyr who died in 1978, took Jeremiah as his “image of man” in his campaign against a secret society that carefully planned every detail of material existence but eliminated mystery and miracle, and squeezed all freedom from life.  The terrible threat against life is ‘that we might die earlier than we really do die, before death has become a natural necessity. The real horror lies in such a premature death, a death after which we go on living for many years.’ (pp.18-19)

Sort of like living with a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient. They may go on living for many years after their diagnosis, and yet not really living.

Jeremiah was ready to abandon his unique calling because of opposition and self-pity, but that moment God nailed him with the words of Jeremiah 12:5. It is like he is saying, “Life is difficult, Jeremiah. Are you going to quit already? Are you going to quit at the first opposition?” We would say, “Are you going to run home to mommy, Jeremiah, are you going to run with the horses?”

I know what I want to do. I want to “run with the horses.” Wild. Free. With purpose. Engaging and enjoying life. What about you? Are you going to quit, give up, throw in the towel, be put out to pasture (ahem), or…run with with horses?

I seldom do this but a song from years ago came to mind. If you have a chance check out Dark Horse by John Fischer. Sorry I can’t find any lyric video but the lyrics are plain. Hint: its from the 1970s. And yes, I was listening to CCM way back in those dark ages. 🙂

November 16

Monday, November 13th, 2023

We all have a story. We all have a past. We all have a present. We all will have a future (although as Doc Brown says in Back to the Future: “Our future hasn’t been written yet.” Doc Brown is right, and he is also wrong.  We don’t know what the future holds. God does. He has written our future. What that all means is a discussion for another day).

I repeat: we all have a story. I’ve been reading each morning from a book entitled Limping with God by Chad Bird. It is a book solely committed to tell the life of Jacob. Jacob’s name means “supplanter, deceiver” and it seems his whole life was one big story on that idea. Many incidences in his life stand out, which would require far more space than I am able to give right now, but two stand out head and shoulders above the others. One was in Genesis 28 where Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven (yeah…don’t go there.  🙂 ). The other is in Genesis 32 as he goes to meet Esau and wrestles with God and comes away with a limp.

There is much to learn from diving into that story, but one I read this morning stuck. Mr. Bird writes, “Jacob limped into the future bearing the burdens of his past-burdens that were lightened by the memory of the God who christened him with a new name.” (p. 174).  BTW: that new name was Jacob to Israel.

We all carry scars of our past. Jacob’s (Israel’s) was a limp where his fellow wrestler (God) touched him on his hip because Jacob said he would not let him go unless he blessed him. Thus, the limp.

I have discussed this before: anyone who think becoming a follower of Jesus releases us from a tough time in life is whacked. No where, NO WHERE, does God promise us an easy road. Quite the contrary, what He does promise is that our present and future might be a life of pain from our skirmishes and scars, but one in which we are never left alone.

November 9

Thursday, November 9th, 2023

I don’t know about you but there are times (more than I care to admit) where I feel like I’m losing more than I’m winning. I lose my patience more than I should. I show a lack of faith in God’s ability to work things out (without my help even!). I squirm and get impatient because God isn’t working as fast as I think He should (His timing and mine are way off). I fall to temptation again instead of standing firm (I can do it on my own I say or think).

I was reminded of my failure to win on my own as I read Revelation 17-18 this morning. Revelation 17 sets the stage with talk of a woman sitting on a scarlet beast with blasphemous names on it. Skipping a few verses we come to verse 14: “They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (ESV).

Then in chapter 18:2 it says, “Fallen, fallen in Babylon the great!” Reading ahead to verse 18 it says, “Therefore, these plagues will overtake her in a single day-death and mourning and famine. She will be completely consumed by fire, for the Lord God who judges her is mighty.” (NLT)

Putting aside who this is referring to (not part of this devo), notice both speak of victory for God’s side. God’s people. God’s army. Call it what you like…God’s people-those who follow Him-will win. We will win because He has won and will win in the future.

Judgment will come to the enemies of God. They can shake their fist at Him and challenge Him. They will lose. Attack Him or His people (I’m not speaking of physical warfare). They will lose. God and His people will ultimately be victorious. They can have their protests against Him. They can have their protests against His truth. Denigrate His Name and strike out against His people. They can have their “fun” now.

They will lose in the end. GUARANTEED.

October 31

Tuesday, October 31st, 2023

I’m a little late posting this morning. I took Dave, my friend from Arizona who spent the weekend with us, to the airport. I had him there at 6:15.  Turns out that was plenty of time. He received word he was upgraded to First Class which was great. Then he got word that the plane would not start.  In my book…not so great. I might even lobby for another plane. It was cold here this morning. 25 degrees and frost. Let’s hope it just needed thawed out. Still…

Okay now to today’s devotion: We live in an instant society. Instant potatoes (are they really?). Microwave pizza (I prefer the real kind thank you very much). Instant oatmeal (sure beats waiting and stirring). Instant coffee (people tell me that its nasty. I wouldn’t know since I don’t drink coffee of any kind of any taste at any time). Instant milk (seriously mom? You thought I wouldn’t notice?) We even have 10 minute oil changes (when I used to do my own it took me that long to assemble all the necessities). Anyway, you get my point.

Because we live in an instant society, it has tragically carried over into the church. Instant church growth (people miraculously appear if you follow this formula). Instant disciple (You mean I have to study?). And we, of course, want an instant trouble-free life. The late David Powlison wrote the following:

I’ll often say to someone ‘The Vinedresser uses pruning sheers, not a chainsaw. He’s not going to work on everything all at once. He’s not going to teach you everything about Himself. but something about who He is and what He says to you can make a decisive difference in some challenge you are facing right now.’  (Oct.14-p.288-“Take Heart”)

Do you see that first sentence? “He uses pruning sheers, not a chainsaw.” Little by little God is going to work on His follower. The chainsaw just pictures to me a “hack job,” a quick devastation. But He uses pruning sheers-a slow, precise process-to shape us the way He wants.

Don’t rush your growth. Allow God to do things nice and easy, at His pace. Allow His careful pruning to happen.

July 12

Wednesday, July 12th, 2023

Disclaimer: longer than normal devotion.  🙂

As I sat down this morning in my familiar chair at my familiar table to have my Encounter Time (time alone with God), I had an idea for my devotion this morning. Actually two. Jo, Tami, and I went to the fair last night at the Owen County Fairgrounds. We like to walk around and see the displays, talk with the kids and vendors (least I do) and eat. We did the first two but only Tami the latter. It was like 89 degrees and I think we were all ready to find some A/C. I thought about writing about the “pride” I take in each of the church’s young people.

I also thought about writing that Ryan, our youth pastor, and his family (a family of 5)  leave today for their “Easts meets West” trip-a 4 week excursion out west with stops at many of our national parks.  Today begins his 7 week sabbatical. I was going to write about making memories and ask you to pray for their safety. (I guess I just did!) 🙂

But then I read Psalm 69 & 70 for my OT reading; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 for my NT reading and I was stopped dead in my tracks. I think common to all of us are questions like, “I wonder what’s next?” “I wonder if I’ll get through this?” “I wonder how long this will last?” “I wonder if God will show up?” My one or two word answers to those questions are “Don’t know.” “Yes.” “Don’t know.” “Yes.” I know…not very sufficient and it does seem like the easy way out, but honestly, can you give any other answers?

In Psalm 69 & 70, David seems almost mercurial. On one hand he seems in distress (69:16-18); on the other hand totally okay with it all (69:29-30, 34). He for sure knew where to go to get the help he needed (70:5).

The Apostle Paul wasn’t mercurial but confident. In verses 3-10 he gives his experiences as a follower of Jesus. In verses 8-10 he says, “Our sole defense, our only weapon, is a life of integrity, whether we meet honor or dishonor, praise or blame. Called ‘imposters’ we must be true, called ‘nobodies’ we must be in the public eye. Never far from death, yet here we are alive, always ‘going through it’ yet never ‘going under.’ We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable. We have ‘nothing to bless ourselves with’ yet we bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, and yet we possess everything.” (Phillips)

I especially like that last phrase. After writing what it looks like vs. the reality, Paul says, “We are penniless, yet possess everything.” Appearances can be deceiving on so many levels. In this case, what appears to be heartache and hardship, is not; it is instead a testimony to God’s goodness. David said it well, “But I am afflicted and in pain; let  your salvation, O God, set me on high! I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” (69:29,30)

What appears just might not be; the reality might be something totally different.That goes especially for those who are going through tough times and wonder if God-or anyone for that matter-cares.