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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.

November 7

Monday, November 7th, 2022

I have always had trouble with statements like “Good Luck” or “You were so lucky.” The same goes for “May the force be with you.” 🙂 Ditto on “It just happened to open up” or some form of “It just happened.”

This recently came home to me in spades.  Almost 2 weeks ago I hit my leg just above the ankle on a metal rod used to move a weight bench at the Y. It hurt like fire.  (And no I didn’t use words I shouldn’t, but I do confess to slamming a weight on the bar). I quickly developed a “goose egg” that looked like a hard-boiled egg in size. I came home and iced it then iced it off and on for the next couple of days. About a week ago I noticed my foot turned black and blue, as if I had sprained my ankle. I also noticed the nail of my big toe also had turned color (blood pooled under the nail). I had a nurse friend who came to take a look and recommended I get to a doctor to get checked for cellulitis. So the next morning I began calling a few minutes before 7 and got through right at 7:00. No openings.  In fact, she told me to call a central number and see if an opening was available. Nope. Nada. Zip. But she said she would take one more look and said, “Oh, I have an opening at 9:05.” So I went and the diagnosis was gravity was causing the bruising; the discoloring of the hematoma was due to some varicose veins I have; and she prescribed antibiotics for the developing cellulitis.  The metal rod must have broken my skin and allowed infection to fester.

But here is the kicker: I told her about my efforts to get in to see a doctor and found her (a PA in the same doctor’s office I use) open. Her answer…wait for it…”I just happened to have a cancellation this morning.”

“Just happened.” Oh…if she only knew. I didn’t have a chance to say anything to her because she was already walking down the hall. If she only knew what I know. “A man’s steps are ordained by the Lord; how then can a person understand his way?” (Pr. 20:24)

“The mind of a person plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Pr. 16:9)

Chance? Luck? Just happened? I don’t think so. Luck, chance, or just happened are not words in God’s vocabulary.  And I refuse to have them in mine as well.

October 19

Wednesday, October 19th, 2022

One of the hardest things for me to do is to shut my mouth. My wife would agree. I am very extroverted…very. She often says we can’t go anywhere that I don’t know someone. In fact, she said just the other day that would be reason enough to go back to Alaska for our 50th anniversary in June…no. one. know. me.

While being extroverted has its advantages, it can also be a detriment. I have this bad habit of talking to fill “dead air.” When I was a younger pastor, I also felt I needed to speak because “I had the answers.” It seemed incompetent to me to be silent and not offer some type of biblical or theological answer.

I remind myself of Job’s friends- Zophar and Eliphaz in Job’s book. (What an ugly thought). Job is suffering and they are “waxing poetic,” i.e. making foolish words in an effort to act like they know what’s going on. Zophar foolishly reminds Job it could have been worse (he deserved it) (Chapter 11); while Eliphaz stupidly says it is because Job sinned and needed to listen to God more closely (Chapter 4).

I’ve learned that sometimes the best thing to do is not say anything. Don’t pretend I have the answer. Don’t presume I speak for God.

This came to me as I spent time in a hospital yesterday…waiting with a daughter while her father was being scanned, and then I visited with him and helped him eat when the daughter was called out into the hallway.  (Oops bad move. The OT wanted him to feed himself). I was at a loss for words-for him or his daughter.  I suspect that is better anyway. Empty, hollow, religious platitudes are not what they needed.

Maybe all they needed was someone to just sit with them…and to feed them (and I messed that up)…and BE. QUIET.

“Father, help me to know when and when not to speak. When I speak, may my words be  those of wisdom, not empty platitudes.”

September 27

Tuesday, September 27th, 2022

One of the hardest things as a pastor is to be honest with oneself. I have a specific honesty in mind as I write that. The honesty I’m thinking of is spurred on by the Scripture from I John 4: 1-3:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now it is already in the world.”  (NASB2020)

That phrase “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” stands out to me. That phrase must stop at my front door, THEN it goes to other doors. It is common for pastors, etc to point fingers at another teacher, call them “False”, and never once look at their own heart or teaching.

As I discern myself, and as I check out (test) others, what criteria do I use to “test the spirits?” I think there are two qualities/characteristics I can look for:

  1. A teacher’s character. Character can’t be tested by measuring eloquence or giftedness. There are those who are talented speakers but have a questionable character. There are also those who have a stellar character but are not very good speakers. It is better to choose the latter and hope he gets better at speaking, than the former. {A great example of that is Billy Graham and Charles Templeton. Google it and check it out}.
  2. Content of the teacher’s instruction. This is where real discernment is needed. Is he teaching truth? Not man’s truth but God’s truth. Not everyone who names the name of Christ is a true teacher of God.

There has always been false teachers. They seem to proliferate these days, I think, in large part thanks to media. But because they are “successful;” marry a rock musician; have a private jet or two; have crusades all over the world; claim healing; and live in mansions, does not make them true teachers of God’s truth.

Be discerning. Be alert. Be wise. Don’t be afraid to follow the clear teachings of the Scripture and stand against falsehood.

September 26

Monday, September 26th, 2022

Beginning on August 15th, I started a series of devotions on knowing God’s will based around The Trail by Ed Underwood. It seems strange as I sit here this morning that I am through with that devotional series (which I finished on September 22).  So now I have the “whatever mentality.” You know…the “whatever floats your boat” mentality, i.e. whatever random thought God brings to mind.  As I start this “new” chapter, I  began reflecting on yesterday’s sermon.

I have been preaching through the Beatitudes and preached yesterday on “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.” I asked the question: “Do you want to be known as a peacemaker or a troublemaker?”

Part of being a peacemaker is controlling the tongue. Sort of like the old adage: “If you have don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In Luke’s shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount, he writes these words: “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6: 41-42 NASB2020) The word Jesus uses for “speck” often describes very small bits and pieces of straw or wood. In contrast, the word “log” refers to a load-bearing beam in a house or structure. My crazy mind want to draw a picture of a person walking down the street with this huge log hanging out of his eye.

As followers of Jesus, it is absolutely necessary that we take note of what we say, keeping in mind that we are not perfect ourselves. The best thing to say is nothing at all, unless we approach the person himself/herself , and only then with lots of love and humility. Being a peacemaker does not mean letting obvious disobedience to God’s Word go unchecked, but it also doesn’t mean we go in with guns blazing and blow someone’s doors off.

Remember: speck and log. Speck in theirs; log in mine.

July 14

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

The last couple of evenings I have been reading a book called A Rebel’s Manifesto by Sean McDowell. Sean’s dad is Josh McDowell, one of the very first apologists I ever heard of. He wrote the early classic Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Sean’s book is mainly geared to young people who must make decisions concerning life, worldview, etc, but I am learning it is a very valuable book for adults as well.

In chapter 4, which he entitles Think Christianly, Sean talks about his dad being his hero. He remembers his dad making a statement which still has a profound affect on him:

When you read an article or book always discern the assumptions of the person who wrote it. Their assumptions will shape everything they write.

That is so true! It is called a worldview. As I read Neil Shenvi’s book, Why Believe, (very slowly I might add), every quote, every idea, is coming from a specific worldview. Naturalism. Secular humanism. Existentialism. Atheist. Theist. How we look at the things of God all flow from our own worldview.

I have a Christian worldview (and won’t apologize for it), so everything I look at will be seen through that filter. I will navigate my world through that map. I will look at current events, everyday happenings, sickness, trials, etc. through that map. That is why it is so important for me-for you- to have the mind of Christ (Col. 3: 1-2). See things through the lens of Christ. Not only does it affect how I see things BUT it also affects how I interact with people who may or may not agree with me or my worldview. Moral differences come from different worldviews.

But here is another truth: each person has dignity and despite their worldview-different or the same-they are to be treated with respect and a listening ear. I can listen without compromise or without “dissing” them.

Hold fast. Listen well. Treat with respect. No compromise.

April 25

Monday, April 25th, 2022

One of the game-changer words in the English language is a 3-letter word- “But.” I think we have all experienced the power of “but.”

“I like you but…”

“You really do good work and you are conscientious but…”

“I love you and I know we have a lot of years together but…”

“We know you have a family and we really appreciate the years you have given us but…”

The power of “but.”

Here you go: “I know your deeds, and your love and faith, and service and perseverance and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But…”  (Rev. 2: 13-20)  Oh, how that had to hurt! I think it hurt worse because of two things”

  • Their track record was solid and was recently getting better

BUT…

  • They tolerated evil. Sin. Jezebel. I don’t think this is necessarily the name of a real woman in the church (who would name their daughter Jezebel?), but a throwback reference to the Jezebel of the OT. Ahab’s wife. Evil to the core. The same Jezebel Elijah scuffled with.  The same Jezebel who led Israel (via Ahab) into sin. The same Jezebel who had Naboth killed over a vineyard that Ahab wanted. The same Jezebel who died and the dogs left nothing of her.

Pretty strong word: “but.” But a word designed to stop them in their tracks and realize her influence and what they have allowed in the church.

God’s plan: Get rid of her. Get rid of her children and that includes those in the church who have embraced her sin.

BUT…for those who haven’t good things are awaiting. I love that “but” there! (v.24)

“Father, may I not allow the power of sin to overwhelm me. Help me to say No to the influence of Jezebel.”

April 12

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022

After yesterday’s interlude, I’d like to come back to my series of posts based on some thoughts from Wisdom Hunter by Randall Arthur.

Here is a really powerful and thought-provoking quote:

Remember: Jesus compares evangelism to sowing seeds, not swinging swords.

For the longest time it was “assumed” by some that beating others over the head with the Gospel would “convert” them or “win them to Jesus.” I know I have, and I’m sure others have as well, known some evangelists who would sing all 900 verses of Just As I Am until someone comes forward. They dragged it out for that one soul. I cynically wondered if someone finally came forward to stop the endless singing and pleading.  And yes, beating over the head with guilt.

But that is not nearly as bad as the street corner preacher or the college campus preacher who stood and screamed at people as they walked by. The ones on the college campus would yell out at the top of their lungs “sinner” or “fornicator” or “cheater,” etc.  while pointing a finger or looking at someone. Adversarial in nature, they swung swords instead of planting seeds.

Paul once wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” (NASB2020) Simply put, it was not and is not our responsibility to convert people. Nor is it a one-man/one-woman job. And no one should take credit for it. It takes time for people to hear, accept, absorb, and respond.  Pounding it in does not work.

Seeds are sown in love not hate. Seeds are sown with deftness, not brashness. Seeds are sown with a heart of compassion for the lost soul, not a heart of coldness reveling in calling out their sinfulness and lostness.

Speak the truth. But speak the truth in love not yielding a swinging sword. You just might cut off their ear so they can’t hear at all.

“Father, help me to be winsome in my approach to others. Help me to sow seeds not swing swords.”

March 31

Thursday, March 31st, 2022

In my March 22nd devotion, I spoke about reading a fiction book, Wisdom Hunter, by Randall Arthur… again. I know I can’t count how many times I have read it. My first read of the book was around 1994. My second in 1995 was a game-changer. At the end of that devotion on the 22nd, I said the next couple of devotions would include thoughts from the book which touched me. I’m now full circle. The past 6 devotions have been just that. I took an idea and ran with it.

Today’s devotion-and several which will follow-will directly quote a sentence or thought from the book and then I’m going to run with it.

#1- Evangelism should have as many different approaches as there are people. (p.249)

One size fits all! NOT. Do you remember the 4 Spiritual  Laws booklet made famous by Campus Crusade for Christ (now called CRU)? While it gave people a way to approach someone about accepting Jesus (and that was a good thing), it also led to the thinking that one-size-fits-all. It goes without saying that not everyone is on the same page or the same station in life.  Not everyone is at that “Do you want to accept Jesus” moment.

This statement from the book implies that we need to reach people where they are. Without sounding heretical (and a bit purpose-driven), it is important to reach people where they are. You don’t “dumb down” the gospel to a scholar and intelligent person, nor do you present the gospel too high falootin’  to a simple farmer. You share the gospel with a rebellious teenager a tad differently than a medical doctor. See what I mean? The message of Jesus never changes, i.e. we are all sinners; we all need a Savior; Jesus died to save us; salvation is the goal and eternal life is the reward.

But the way it is taught is different. People are different. People’s hearts are different. Where they are in life is different. Reach them where they are. Present the message and then let God do His work.

But we gotta at least present the message so they can understand it.

“Father, I’m different. People are different. But we all have in common a sinful heart. Help me to be open to others so I can share Your message.”

 

March 21

Monday, March 21st, 2022

Happy Birthday to my brother, Rob, today!  He turns…well, he was born in 1954 so I’ll let you do the math.  I just won’t tell you his age. 🙂

I missed reading yesterday Proverbs yesterday (Sunday) so I read chapters 20 & 21 this morning. I noticed an anomaly in chapter 20. Stop for a moment and read verses 10 and 23. Different wording yes. But they are essentially saying the same thing.

I drew a line from verse 10 to verse 23 in my Bible and wrote two words along the line: honesty matter.  I’m not too old that I don’t remember when a man’s handshake was good enough.

“A man’s word is his bond” we used to say.

“Honesty in the best policy.”

It used to be honesty mattered and cheating was an abomination. Sadly, not any more. Politics. Education. Media. Sports. Taxes. Churches. Cheating seem to be running rampant. The saddest? The latter. Above all, the church should stand head and shoulders above the fray. But we don’t and haven’t. Churches are made up of people-flawed people.

Because we represent Christ, we need to be hyper-aware of the signals we are giving. We are to be people who are honest and integrity-driven. Let me close this devotion with a passage from chapter 21: “Every person’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord examines the hearts. To do righteousness and justice is preferred by the Lord more than sacrifice.”

“Father, may I be a man of honesty and integrity and truthfulness.”