Surrender

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March 18

Monday, March 18th, 2024

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head that just won’t go away? That has been me the past week to two weeks.

First, a little backstory. For over 30 years I have had a friendship that started out with riding bikes together at least once a week. Over the 30+ years countless miles have gone under our bicycle tires and plenty of meals have been eaten. Not even distance could put a damper on our friendship. His prostate cancer changed all that.

Another man was one of the leaders in the church. When I was threatened and encouraged with termination he stood in front of me. When the church was embezzled, he stood strong. But diabetes and a downturn physically hit him hard. So did some lies that caused a rift between us. But being bed-bound gave me the opportunity to visit him almost weekly, take communion, and repair the tear in our relationship.

My cyclist friend has been told he has 3-6 months to live. That was over a month ago. His cancer is everywhere, in spite of every effort with chemo and experimental stuff. When Jo and I got back from AZ on the 27th I went to visit my former leader on Thursday at the rehab center. He died that Saturday. The following week I went to visit my cycling friend and that visit hit me hard. There are also some other daily issues that are weighing on me.

The song that has been my go-to, the one that has not left my mind, my bulwark, the one that has pointed me to the ONE has been Morning by Morning by Pat Barrett. You can listen to it here. With lyrics like “Morning by morning great is your faithfulness to me,” I am reminded I’m not in this alone.  Psalm 62:6-7 says, “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor comes from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.”  Psalm 63 follows it up with the following: “Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” (verse 7-8).

I’m not alone. Neither are you. You can put a nail through that promise.

{Note: All Scripture is from the New Living Translation}

February 6

Tuesday, February 6th, 2024

Have you ever heard of Judson Van Deventer? Neither had I. Or so I thought. It was not until I read -as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story”-that I knew more about him than I thought.

Born on a farm, JVD learned to paint, studied art, and became an art teacher. God, however, had different plans for him. Encouraged by his friends, Judson also felt called to evangelism. But it was hard for him to give up teaching art. He finally made his decision.

Following God is not always (like hardly ever) easy. Sometimes we are challenged to make tough choices. Our comfortable, sedentary life is uprooted. Even though we make the choice to follow Jesus and His call, there may still be moments of doubt and even anxiety.

Judson heeded God’s call. Later he went back to teaching. His decision to surrender even led to a song you may heard or sung: “All to Jesus I surrender/All to Him I freely give/I will ever love and trust Him/In His presence daily live/I surrender all, I surrender all/All to Thee my blessed Savior/I surrender all.”

Oh…and one more thing: remember when I said that Judson eventually went back into teaching? One of his students was a young man who name was…wait for it…Billy Graham.

I was speaking with someone yesterday about God’s plan for our life. About how His surprises are endless. And how His timing is impeccable. We never know…only He does.

{My thanks to Our Daily Bread for the story of JVD. The filler is mine}

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}

December 14

Thursday, December 14th, 2023

All week long I’ve been looking at the women who are in Jesus’ genealogy. You can check them out here and here and here. But I’m going to shift gears this morning and talk about a man. Yes, I know you could say, “Pick a man. Any man” much like you would in a card trick. Jesus’ genealogy is no different in that respects from any other one from that time. {Side note: for Matthew to include women in Jesus’ genealogy was highly unusual. Women were considered non-entities in that day and age. Even in His lineage, Jesus breaks the mold}. Okay, off the rabbit trail and back on course. 🙂 The man is mentioned in Matthew 1:16 with a fuller story in verses 18-25.

Joseph. The earthly father of Jesus. The husband of Mary.

Jewish marriage was in 2 stages. The parents usually arranged the marriage to start with. The first stage was the kiddushin, or what we would call the engagement period. The second stage was the huppa. It was actually more like our engagement period, but the couple was considered married and had all the rights and privileges of marriage EXCEPT the sexual relationship. Joseph and Mary were in this stage.

That explains why Joseph sought to divorce Mary. In his eyes, the explanation Mary gave for being pregnant had to be incredulous. “Seriously? An angel told you what?” I honestly believe Joseph loved Mary and it was more than an arranged marriage at this point. His only go to was Mary had broken her virginity with someone. He just knew it wasn’t with him. Joseph was an honorable man. He didn’t want a scandal. He didn’t want to embarrass or demean Mary. Take her away. Divorce her quietly. Let her live her life without shame.

Until God intervened in a dream. Long story short (and you probably know it): Joseph did as he was told, i.e. stay with her and marry her and don’t have relations with her until after Jesus’ birth.  Then be the father to Immanuel. That seems like a lot to us. But consider this: Joseph went through life with the reputation of being married to a promiscuous woman-which, of course, was not true. Mary went through life being considered an immoral woman. On one occasion the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Well, we weren’t born as a result of sexual immorality.” (John 8:41).  Yeah, like let’s bring up someone’s past. “Mary, you had an illegitimate child. Joseph, you are the father of that child.” They lived with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s scarlet letter glowing brightly.

Joseph’s story seems to end sometime after Jesus’ turned 12 and was found in the Temple. It is surmised that he died after fathering other children with Mary. Joseph teaches us the importance of listening and saying “Yes” to God (just like Mary). Jesus had two good earthly teachers-a father who loved Him as his own, and a mother who loved Him until His death. May we all be like Joseph and be willing to change the course of our lives if led by God to do so.

August 7

Monday, August 7th, 2023

When I was a teenager (that would have been back in the ’60s in case you are counting 🙂 ), one of the big questions floating around-in my mind and in others-was “Why am I here?” Put another way: what is my purpose in life? In all honesty, I’m not sure that question ever goes out of style.

One of the “go to” Scripture verses for many is Roman 8:28- “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (ESV)

You can see why it is a favorite. It is reassuring to know God has His hand in all that happens. What happens may not be good-death, cancer, drastic injury, etc-but the result can bring good. God can make all things new and good.

But much to our detriment, we stop at verse 28 and fail to see verse 29. Please take a look at that verse. Getting past the big words of “foreknew” and “predestined” we find the deeper purpose: “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” It is good to believe that “all things work together” and we often stop at that, BUT we really need to see that those things which are happening are designed to conform us to Christ.

Day in and day out. Easy in and easy out. Tough in and tough out. GOD HAS A PURPOSE. Yes, it is to show His power. Yes, it is to show His strength. Yes, it is to show His will. But even more, it is to shape me and you to conform to the image of His Son.

It is just that some of us are harder to mold (Hand shoots up in the air). But He won’t stop until I am. 

July 26

Wednesday, July 26th, 2023

Have you ever had those times when you felt totally overwhelmed with life and by life? You’re not sleeping well. Things at work are stressful. Home-your normal place of refuge-is in an upheaval. Your workouts (if you exercise)-which are normally refreshing-seem to be a real drag. Even your moments of “me time” are seemingly non-existent and if you have them, too much is going through your brain for you to relax and enjoy them.

The truth is as plain as the nose on your face: we have all experienced them from time to time. From the holy one to the vulgar one. From the disciplined one to the undisciplined one. It doesn’t matter. It is part and parcel of being part of the human race. 🙂

The late David Powlison wrote these words:

We have this God who enters the stage of human need, who invades mercifully and powerfully to shield us, to strengthen us, to forgive us, to help us, to lead us, to care for us, to be a refuge for us.”  (Take Heart)-p.208

The Psalmist wrote these words: “Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands for up for me against evildoers? If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart were many, your consolations cheer my soul….But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.”  (94:16-19,22)

Even though we may have those moments, days, weeks, even months when we feel hopeless and helpless, overwhelmed, beaten down or defeated, we are none of those. We have Someone who feels what we are feeling, but who also walks alongside and says, “Here. Let me take that from you.”  LET HIM.

June 22

Thursday, June 22nd, 2023

I recently read a story about Sam Houston, the hero of Texas history, who gave his life to the Lord in later years and asked to be baptized. He was taken down to a little country stream, and the pastor said, “General Houston, you should take your glasses off because I’m going to immerse you in water. There were also some papers in his pocket, so he took them out as well.

Then, just as he was getting ready to go into the water, the pastor noticed General Houston still had his wallet in his pants. He said, “Well, General, you might want to take that wallet out of your pants. It is going to get wet.”

Houston replied, “If there is any part of me that needs baptizing, it is my wallet.” So Houston was baptized, wallet and all.

This devotion is not about baptism. Nor is it about your wallet or giving. It is about surrender. Many people want to give their life to Jesus, but on their terms. They want to give their life to Jesus, but hold back. I once heard of an ancient army that submitted to be baptized but with their sword hand (with the sword) out of the water. We are good at playing mind games, i.e. “I’ll give my life to Jesus, but…” We hold back. We hold back our speech, our job, our time, our wallet, our play, our family, our actions. We want to give part of us to Jesus but not all of us. We want to hold back.

Unfortunately for us, it doesn’t work that way.  The Gospels tell the story of Jesus calling people to follow Him and they had excuses. He said (upon one occasion), “Let the dead bury their dead. You come, follow me.”

He says the same to me and to you. “Come, follow me. All of you. Not part of you. All of you. Not what is convenient. All of you. Not what you are willing to give up.”

Surrender is not laying down the flag, but keeping the rifle cocked and ready. Surrender is laying down the flag and the arms and being “done.”

May 23

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2023

What would it be like to be asked to do something that would literally rock your whole world? Let’s take it further. Let’s suppose you are asked to do something so unexpected, so huge, so life-altering AND you are expected to decide right then and there.

What would you do? Hesitate? Question the sanity of the whole thing? Question your sanity? 🙂 Rub your eyes in bewilderment?

Most of us never have to make or face decisions like that. Not like Mary, the mother of Jesus. History and culture suggests she was a young teenager-possibly 13-14 years old-who an angel (Gabriel) appeared to and presented her with the scenario that she would carry the child who “would be named Jesus and that He would be great and called the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31-32)

That was news to her! She was a virgin. The baby would not come by natural means but by supernatural means.  She is told the child she is going to have will come as a result of the Holy Spirit overshadowing her. All that is needed is for Mary to say, “I’m yours.” She does and the rest is, well, history.

Much could be said for the worship and veneration given to Mary, but that is another topic for another time. My point in this post is not to take issue with a false teaching. It is to highlight her response-her immediate response. Without hesitation or debate or chewing her nails in indecision. She asked one question: “How!” (a logical one I believe) and received back the following response: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Her response was “Sign me up.” Actually, it was more respectful: “I am your servant; let it be.”  That needs to be our response as well.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:20 that God can do far more than we can ask or think. Let’s trust Him in that. Let’s fully believe and act on the promise that all things are possible with God.

This is Lady #7 and this ends my posts on the ladies chosen by 7 ladies to speak about on Mother’s Day. If you would like to read about the others you can go to this post which will direct you to the others.

May 18

Thursday, May 18th, 2023

I’m continuing my devotional series on women in the Bible whom ladies from OVCF talked about on Mother’s Day.

Lady #1- Mary of Bethany

Lady #2- Tamar

Lady #3- Sarah

Lady #4- Lydia

Today is Lady #5

Last night-in fact, a lot nights this past month or so-Jo and I have spent at the local sports complex watching boys and girls playing ball. It seems as if once or twice a week for the past month we have been at the complex walking from field to field (there are 8 of them), watching children of all ages play ball and often chatting with their parents. To make this a bit more interesting is the fact that I have read to 5 different Kindergarten classes for this past school year and some of those students are playing ball. “Hi Mr. Bill!” are words I hear often. I know their faces but only see the close to 100+ students 1/month, so I’m often clueless as to all their names.

What strikes me, of course, is the amount of time the parents give to their children. Some of them are at the park 2-3 times a week. Some may even sleep there! 🙂 Does their child realize the sacrifice their parent is making for them?  (Have you ever watched T-ball? Then you know exactly what I mean). 🙂 🙂

Probably not.

That sacrifice seems minor in comparison to the one Hannah made. Childless in a society that looked down on childlessness, she begged God for a child. Eli, the priest at the time, thought she was drunk and when she corrected his accusation, he pronounced that God would give her an answer. That answer was Samuel.

There was one caveat. Hannah had promised that if God would give her a son, he would be given to God for His service. When Samuel was weaned, she gave him to God and Eli to fulfill her promise.

WOW! A long-awaited answer to a longing and a prayer given away. I wonder how she felt. This is my opinion here, but I believe that while she ached to give her son to the Lord, she also knew she had made a promise. Samuel became a stalwart figure in the history of Israel.

The story doesn’t end there. Elkanah, the husband, was with her on keeping that vow. They also had 3 more sons and 2 daughters. Not bad for a woman whose womb had been closed and was the object of ridicule by Elkanah’s other wife (Peninnah).  {My note: I wouldn’t brag about that name. Just sayin’…}

Hannah made a promise; kept that promise and reaped the favor of God. I’m not saying making and keeping a promise will always turn out like this, but I do know, and can say, that one can ever go wrong keeping a promise to God.

Ask Hannah. (For more of this story, see I Samuel 1-2).

April 12

Wednesday, April 12th, 2023

In my study recently, I have been reading a lot on fear and anxiety in preparation for a sermon series that will start on May 7th (Lord willing). I had planned on returning to my series on Revelation after a short side road on To and From the Cross (in honor of the death and resurrection of Jesus), but God had other plans.

Something happened along the way and I felt a deep need to delay Revelation and do a short series on fear and anxiety. WOW! Little did I know 1) what I was getting into; and 2) how much it is needed. I’ve had so many express they struggle with it and how they are looking forward to the help they need. I only hope, of course, I am “up to” the challenge.

I’ll probably say more about that as it gets closer, but in the last couple of days I’ve been able to share something with several people that I have learned from my study. I would like to pass it on to you this morning. It is simple but far more complex than I am able to develop here, and at this moment. (Again, maybe in the future I can “flesh it out” more for you).  I found snippets of this scattered in my reading, but one put it succinctly:

  • You are not crazy.
  • You are not alone.
  • This will end.

Mental illness, mental struggles, and all the branches of that is not something to shrug off, pretend it doesn’t exist (especially if it is you or someone you know who is struggling), or (horror of horrors), criticize. There are millions of people affected E.V.E.R.Y. D.A.Y.  Each one of those three bullet points is an essential to getting a grip on depression, fear, anxiety, panic attacks, breakdowns, etc.

At the risk of sound simplistic, put-off-ish, or calloused, due to time and space constriction,  I want to close this devotion with the following promises:

“My peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives you. Do not let your heart be troubled nor let it be afraid.” Jesus in John 14:27

“I will not leave you as orphans.” Jesus in John 14:18

Walk with Him. His hand is motioning for you to come. You can even find it at His side simply waiting for you to slip your hand into His. Go ahead. Start with that and start healing.