“I Can Do All Things … What?”

For those of you that don’t know, I just looked, and the jackpot for the Powerball lottery is $430,000,000.00 tonight.  That could increase during the day, as more and more people purchase tickets.  What would you do with that much money?  Have you ever thought about it? I’m sure that the millions of people that buy tickets have thought about it.  There will be people that just buy the tickets, as part of an entertaining game; and the other extreme is, that people will spend money they don’t have (and do without things they need).  The thing that ties all of them together is the fascination of what it would be like to have that much money.  Some of them will actually go beyond fascination, and it will turn into covetousness.

Our culture has fostered all of these feelings, as it has glamorized wealth, prosperity, and the lifestyle that they bring.  Those in the advertising agency have recognized this for years!  They advertise products that will give us a “taste”, or a “piece”, of what the good life is all about.  Television shows feature those that have success financially, and materially; creating (whether it is intended or not) a desire in us, to have what they have.  I believe that if you asked most young people (18 to 25) what is the American Dream, most all of their answers would include something about wealth and prosperity.

It seems to me, that there are elements of “Christianity” that have embraced the pursuit of wealth and prosperity, as a part of what Christianity is about.  That God wants His people to have a really good life, and is desiring to bless them with those “things.”  One of the verses that people use to support there efforts in accumulating things, and God helping them in that pursuit, is Philippians 4:13.  We have heard this verse used to support, and explain; wealth, athletic achievement, and many other things.  Rather than just pull that text out and quote it (for whatever you are trying to do), have you ever considered what the context is in Philippians 4.  Listen to what Paul has to say:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content — whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.  (Philippians 4:10-13, HCSB)

In the context of Philippians 4, Paul is saying that it is through Christ that he can have the strength to be content, whatever his circumstances might be.  Whether he has a little, or whether he has a lot; it is through the strength that Jesus supplies, that he can be content with what he has.  Obviously, if he has a lot, it is not wrong to have the things of the world; but it is wrong, to allow the desires of this world to overwhelm and control any of us.

Satan has a really strong weapon in his arsenal — the desire to have the things of this world, to have the “good life.”  It is not just manifested in the buying of a lottery ticket, going to a casino, or betting on a football game.  There are times that it is manifested by the way we work — putting our job first (in order that we can have things), the way we treat people as we climb the ladder of success, and a lot of other actions in the pursuit of stuff.  If we are not aware of that, and appropriate the strength that Jesus offers, we could lose to that desire.  We can learn to be content, but it will come through the help of the Lord.  Peace.

“A Servant’s Heart”

If someone were to ask you: “Who do you know that has the heart of a servant?”  Who would come to your mind?  I’m sure that each one of us, know at least one individual that is always there, ready to help anyone that has a need.  It doesn’t matter who it is, or what they need — they will do their best to assist.  There is never any thought of what they will get in return, only the need of the individual is what matters.  They are the kind of people that inspire us to do better.

Over the years, almost every church that I have had the privilege of being involved with, has had at least one, and most of the time more, servants as a part of their fellowship.  They are not the kind of people that you would mention their name, because they would be embarrassed by the attention (and would likely scold me, if they saw it or heard about it).  They come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and occupations; but one thing stands out about them, they have a big heart!

For about the last 10 years, I have teaching a small group Bible study that has a core group of about 5 couples — the group has fluctuated, adding one or two couples, and then losing a couple.  The group is spread out over parts of 3 counties, and our meeting places vary (at the different homes of the members).  We try to meet once a month during the school year, but there are times that schedules (and weather) have interfered.  We had our first meeting this past Sunday, and the decision was made to study Paul’s letter of Philippians.

Beginning on Monday of this week, as my devotional reading, I have been reading Philippians (from a different translation each day); and, you might have noticed, my devotionals and “tweets” have been coming from what I have been reading.  This is the second devotional from Philippians, and so far Paul’s letter has been tough on me!  Tuesday (8-8-17) we talked about the practice of prayer, and the how of doing it and the need for consistency in our prayer life.  This was drawn from the first chapter, as Paul talked concerning the how and what of his prayers for the church in Philippi.  This morning, my mind was forced to think about what it meant to be a servant, and the people that I have been privileged to know that were servants; and to admit to myself, that there are some areas of serving where I am not what I need to be.  Observe what Paul says:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.  Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.  (Philippians 2:3-4, NLT)

The challenge we face is to really think like that!  I don’t remember where I saw it, but in the last week, I scanned an article that affirmed that most “white southern evangelicals” believe that people in need are there because of their own lack of effort and initiative.  If that is true, are “we” really living out the attitude that Paul says that we need to have.  Are we hindered in our ability to serve, because we don’t have the “heart of a servant”?  Do I regard myself as “better”, because I am the one being asked to serve?  What does that say about my heart, and my relationship with the Lord?

Notice what Paul says next:
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  (Philippians 2:5, NLT)
What attitude is that?
     Though he was God;
          he did not think of equality with God
          as something to be cling to.
     Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
          he took the humble position of a slave
          and was born as a human being.
     When he appeared in human form,
          he humbled himself in obedience to God
          he died a criminal’s death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8)
The question that I have to ask myself is, what if Jesus had looked at me in my need; and
thought of me, like I think of those in need in my world.  Where would I be now?

“He Might if He was 5”

There are some preachers that you have the opportunity to hear, and they make such an impression, that you never forget them.  As far as I can remember, I only had one opportunity to hear Stanley Shipp.  As I remember, it was at a “Minister’s Renewal Workshop” in the mid-80’s, and some of the things that he said left a lasting impression on me.   I’m not sure that I can tell you what his topic was for the session, but I remember how he spoke and some of the points that he made.  He had an easy, conversational style, and just seemed to have a way of drawing you in to what he was saying.  It is only fair to say, that all of my impressions of him were from that one time; but it just seemed just as natural for him as anyone that I ever heard.

One of the things that I remember, was his introductory remarks; as he told us about some of the things that had been going on in his life.  It had not been long since he had open-heart surgery, and had spent, at least part of the time, recovering at his daughter’s house.  Stanley’s daughter had a five-year old son, that according to Stanley, was all boy.   I remember him saying that his daughter was more concerned about the boy being quiet and well-behaved, than he was.  The boy did really good at doing what his momma asked for quite a while, and then being a 5-year old boy took over.  The request to be still and be quiet, was no longer was having the effect that it once did.  The boy was running, jumping, shouting,  and laughing; as 5-year old boys have the tendency to do.  The mother was growing quite exasperated, and, finally, stopped him by rather loudly calling his name, and asking “Do you think Jesus would act like this?”  The little boy stopped, and with a solemn look on his face, said “He might if he was 5”.

I was reminded of that story this morning, as I was reading in Luke 2 this morning.  I have always wished that we had more information (not that we really need it) about the childhood of Jesus.  From the time of Him being an infant, until He was 12; we have just a few meager verses.  Here is what two of them say:

When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee.  There the child grew up healthy and strong.  He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.  (Luke 2:39-40, NLT).

What this tells me, is that Jesus grew up with a well-rounded childhood.  He was just what He needed to be physically and mentally, and God was looking out for Him.  Did He ever cause any problems at home, did He have to be told things 2 or 3 times before He would get them done, or any of the others things that children do that frustrate their parents.  Well, all I can tell you is that He was sinless.  You may need to make a decision as to what age a child can sin, or when they really can understand what sin is.  My personal opinion is that Jesus was a typical child, but was about as good a child as there could be, and still be a child.

The wheels are probably turning in your mind, “Bill, this is interesting, by why are you telling us this?”  Well it may be, that I am telling myself something that I wish that I had learned 35 years ago.  I wanted my children to be perfect, and had far too many unrealistic expectations on them.  I believe that I placed burdens on them, because they were the “preacher’s kids” and that was unfair, and even emotionally problematic.  There were far too many times that I should have been more concerned about my attitudes, than I was their actions.  There are things that I hold myself responsible, that I wish that I could go back and undo.  I needed a lot more patience and understanding, than a demanding attitude, that wanted them to act like Jesus.

I needed someone to remind how Jesus would act — “if He were 5″.  Peace.

 

“I Feel Old”

This morning I want you to know that I feel old!  I know that doesn’t surprise some of you, and I know that a few are thinking “What did you do — look in the mirror?”  That’s not exactly what I am talking about, because I have realized that I am that kind of old for a while now.  Let me see if I can explain what I mean.

Do you know what the slippery slope argument is?  It is the argument that when someone proposes an action, they are told that they should not do that “because of where it might lead.”  I always despised that argument when I was younger.  What it told me was that there was nothing wrong with what I wanted to do, but it could lead to something wrong.  Generally, I took it as permission to do what I wanted; because I was strong enough, in my opinion, to avoid it leading any further.

Have you seen the commercials on television recently, where the husband is becoming his mother in his words, thoughts, and action; or the woman is becoming her father, in her words, thoughts, or actions.  Well, I feel old this morning, because as I look at the condition of our country — I realize that we got here because of the slippery slope.  From the first time we laughed at Billy Crystal on “Soap”, we have moved toward a public acceptance of alternate lifestyles.  That is just one easy example, of all the changes that have taken place.  There is no other way to explain how we got where we are in 2016, compared to where we were in 1960.  I feel old because I see the truth in those arguments that I used to reject.

I’m still not sure that we ought to argue about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of every question.  I’m still not convinced that the young people of today will accept the slippery slope argument, any more quickly than I did.  I’m convinced that we have to teach people to seek the Lord in all that they do.  To be perfectly honest, they may have tried that when I was young, and I refused to listen.  But I believe we must teach, that my decisions about what is right or wrong, may not be as important as deciding if my actions will get me closer to God.  In my reading from the Psalms this morning, there were some passages that jumped out at me.

Psalm 9:10 (ESV), And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 14:2 (ESV), The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.

Psalm  16:8 (ESV), I HAVE SET THE LORD BEFORE ME; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

If the direction of our life is decided based on individual decisions about individual actions, there may not be a direction or a purpose for our life.  Until I put the Lord out in front of my life, not what I want or feel; until I realize that He is looking for those that seek Him, and are not living for themselves; and until I know that I can trust Him in the decisions I make, regardless of how unpopular (or politically incorrect) they are — my life will not go in the right direction.

I might have laughed at something like this when I was 20, but I do believe that wisdom comes with maturity and age.  Let’s make seeking God the center of our decisions, and not necessarily the “rightness” or “wrongness” of each individual action.  Peace.

 

(This was first posted on Facebook, April 26, 2016.  It has been revised and updated, and posted here as part of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  I hope that it is a blessing to you.  Bill)

 

“Didn’t Turn Out, Like I Thought It Would”

Have you ever made a decision, and the results of that decision were not at all what you expected?  It seems like that happens to Malia and I, more often than we would care to remember.  Our personal decision-making processes are almost completely different.  I am the one that can see, and buy into, the blue sky that it is out there; while she is the one that is more conservative, with a let’s not rock the boat too much philosophy.  Generally, with the two extreme personalities, and seeking God’s help, we, generally, do pretty good.

There have been some situations, where we thought that we had made a good decision, but it sure didn’t seem like that way at first (or it never seem liked it was a good decision).  There have been a couple of preaching jobs, where neither one of them started like we had hoped they would.  I will never forget, after attending the first elders’ meeting at one place; I went home and told Malia, “I don’t know what I have gotten us into, but this is not going to be good.”  Another job, we felt as if certain things would happen before we got there — they didn’t, they never did, and it was a struggle the whole time that we were there.  I really believe that God used those situations to bring Malia and I closer together, and to equip us for other situations in ministry.  Of course, those kinds of things don’t just happen to ministers, they happen in the secular work force also.  I took a job one time, and by the end of the first week; I knew that I had made a mistake.  After waiting three months, I started sending out resumes; and at six months, I was talking to as many friends as I could, seeing if they knew anything available.    The flip side happens also — I took the job with Arkansas Insulation (probably the best job I ever had); and I did not know anything about the products, didn’t anything about building houses, and had never proven I could do what it takes to succeed in that kind of “sales” job.  It never should have worked, and I turned out to be pretty successful at what I did, and ending up retiring from there.  isn’t it amazing, what we think is going to happen, quite often never does!

Part of my devotional reading this morning, was from Matthew 27; and all those thoughts raced through my mind as I read these verses:

When Judas, who had betrayed him realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse.  So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and elders.  “I have sinned,” he declared,  “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

What do we care?” they retorted.  “That’s your problem.”

Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.   (Matthew 27:3-5, NLT)

This morning, in the margin of my Bible, beside that first line, I wrote, “I wonder what he thought would happen?”  It seems to me, from the reading, that he is surprised by what happened, and overwhelmed with guilt.  Did the lust for the 30 pieces of silver, cause him to not even think about what might happen?  Wouldn’t you like to be able to get inside of his mind and see his thought process for these events?  Regardless, it didn’t turn out the way that he thought it would.

There is another bad decision that he made.  Scripture says that he went out and hanged himself.  He compounded the first bad decision, but making another bad decision; that was irreversible.  Just from the passage in Matthew, it sure seems that Judas was penitent about what he had done — and confessed that it was sinful.  If he had tried to rebuild the broken relationships, is it possible that the angel in the tomb could have told the women, Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter AND JUDAS, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. (Mark 16:7, NLT)?  Isn’t it possible, that if Peter could be forgiven, that Judas could have also.

When we make decisions, let’s seek the will of God when making that decision.  If the decision, turns out to be a bad decision, let’s keep seeking the will of God.  Please, let’s not compound one bad decision, by piling another one on top of it.  Peace.

“What’s in Your Wallet”

Eugene Peterson once said, “American culture is probably the least Christian culture that we’ve ever had, because it is so materialistic  and it’s so full of lies.”  The only thing that we can say is “Ouch.”  We’ve lived under the banner that our country is a Christian nation, with some churches going so far as to put American flags in their sanctuaries.  The problem is that in our country, only one thing really matters to the great majority of the people — what’s in it for me, and, in particular, what’s in it for me financially.  We have made the “American Dream,” one that is all about the pursuit of money and what it can buy.

Television programming glorifies those that are highly successful financially, sometimes, even if it is just showing their problems.  We are inundated with commercials that are constantly showing us those things that we need to buy and own.  I live in a part of the country where wealth is flaunted almost everywhere you look.  The message comes across loud and clear, those that are the real successes in our world, are the ones that control the wealth.

I live in a part of the country where the evidences of wealth are very obvious.  Several large corporations are headquartered in our area.  Two of them, are the largest in the world in their particular category.  You drive past estates, and you see pool houses that are larger than your house.  If you are like me (confession time), you may have wondered what your life would have been like if your last name had been different — if you had been born into one of those families.  Would your indulgence in the things of the world been large and out of control.  Where would your relationship with Jesus be, if all of that had been the case.

Those thoughts crossed my mind this morning, as I was reading a familiar story  in Matthew 19.  Listen carefully to what the text has to say:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  I’ll say it again — it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

The disciples were astounded.  “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible.  But with God everything is possible.”  (Matthew 19:23-26, NLT).

You know the story, the man came to Jesus wanting to know what “good deed” he had to do to have eternal life.  He pressed Jesus to tell him, because he had done the commandments Jesus mentions (I guess he didn’t recognize that the commands needed perpetual obedience, they were not a one-and-done thing).  Finally, Jesus was compelled to tell him the one thing he didn’t want to hear — If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.  (Matthew 19:21, NLT).

First, I don’t believe that Jesus is requiring that everyone has to sell all that they have, and give to the poor.  It is my conviction that this man was looking to do something where he could feel as if he done something to justify himself.  As much as Jesus taught how the Kingdom turned the standards of power and greatness upside down, this man did not grasp that point.  He still wanted to know what he needed to do, and he was not ready to understand that being a disciple was about denying self and taking up your cross.

Secondly, I don’t believe that Jesus is saying that rich people can’t go to heaven.  Now I really believe that He is talking about the “eye of a needle,” and not some small gate in the walls of Jerusalem.  I believe that the key is the last phrase of verse 26, … But with God everything is possible.  There seems to be two real dangers with wealth:  (1) we are consumed by it, and are always wanting more.  You know, the …love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  (2) Those with wealth find it difficult to be poor in spirit.  Often, the confidence in life comes from what we have, and how much we have.  The ability to say, I can’t do this by myself — and that I am totally dependent on God becomes very challenging.  But, …with God everything is possible

What does all of this have to do with me?  Well, obviously, most every one that lives in this country, and can read this on a device of some kind; has to be considered rich, when they compared to the vast majority of the people in the world.  We may not consider ourselves wealthy, but the standard of living in our country has corrupted our viewpoint.  Just talk to anyone that you know that is making a short term mission trip this summer to Honduras, Haiti, Guyana, Mexico or almost any other South American country.  The point is, we had better start looking at ourselves when we read these verses, and quit applying them to other people.

For years I have heard the story, about the Germanic tribes that were, in part, responsible for the fall of Rome; when they were converted to Christianity, were baptized with one arm out of the water.  The arm held out of the water was the arm they wielded their sword with, and they didn’t want to surrender that arm to Jesus.  I have wondered if there were some baptized holding their wallet out of the water.  Not willing to trust God with their finances.  I wonder if we could look in the wallets of people, and see what was really there; what we see.  Would there be our confidence in what we have, and the desires of what we wanted?  OR, would we see the heart of Jesus?  So, what’s in your wallet?  Peace.

 

 

“Wake Up in a New World Every Morning”

I was somewhat of an obstinate child.  Now, I know that surprises many of you (lol), but I did not readily accept what my parents told me.  There were those times that I kept making the same mistakes over and over (and over).  They would become exasperated with me, and can still remember them saying “Son, I declare, I believe that you wake up in a new world every morning!”  There were times that I, legitimately, did not remember them telling me something — but that could have been, because I did not make the effort to remember what they told me.

One of the more interesting experiences of my “public work career”, was managing Fowler Equipment Company.  At one time business was really booming, and I had between 25-30 employees to oversee.  Those of you that have been in similar situations understand, that you can hire all kinds of people:  from those that are almost anal about keeping things neat and doing things right, to those who know how to do it right and just don’t care, and, even those who can’t remember how to do something from one day to the next.  Truthfully, all of those can be a bit challenging (even that first one).  There were a few times, that I would bury my head in my hands, and shake my head muttering, “I believe that they wake up in a new world every morning.”

I was reminded of those times in my life, this morning as I was reading Matthew 15.  Think about this reading, by remembering that Jesus had recently fed the 5,000 in Matthew 14:

Then Jesus called his disciples and told them, “I feel sorry for these people.  They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat.  I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they will faint along the way.”

The disciples replied, “Where would we get enough food here in the wilderness for such a crowd?”  (Matthew 15:32-33, NLT)

I would have loved to see the expression on the face of Jesus when they said that!  Do you suppose that He just scratched His head, and shook it — thinking, “I believe that these guys wake up in a new world every day.”  I am sure that He got frustrated with their lack of understanding, and failure to remember what He could do.  In fact, you don’t hardly turn the page in the text, when this happens:

Later, after they crossed to the other side of the lake, the disciples discovered that they had forgotten to bring any bread.  “Watch out!”  Jesus warned them.  “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread.  Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “You have so little faith!  Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread?  Don’t you understand even yet?  Don’t you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up?  Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves, and the large baskets of leftovers you picked up?  Why can’t you understand that I’m not talking about bread? …”  (Matthew 15:7-11, NLT)

Yeah, I think that He might have got a little frustrated with the disciples; and this was not the only  time that this happened.  Obviously, He was not doing things that they expected, and He was not acting like the Messiah that they thought was coming — BUT, they were not being very observant about what He did, why He did it, and what He was saying.  It was like raising children, guiding and directing these men to be the “disciples” that He wanted.

It may sound a bit strange, but I am thankful for the difficulties that they had.  So, when I struggle to remember, and have difficulty practicing things, like: deny yourself, take up your cross daily, love your enemy, love your neighbor as yourself, and love one another as I have loved you, etc; I know that I am not the first one that He has seen like this.

My prayer this morning is that I will be more observant, and listen more carefully — trying to break the cycle of waking up in a new world every morning.  Lord, I ask for Your guidance and strength to do this.  Amen.

“Hard Places”

One of the more difficult things that I am ever called upon to do is lead a public prayer, and I believe that is true of most men.  Not only are we concerned about speaking in front of a group, leading the prayer implies that we are going to say something that is relevant to the lives of the people that are there.  One of the problems that I struggle with (and it may be true of most preachers), is that I have a tendency to preach when I pray.  But, I suppose we all do what we are most comfortable doing.

It has always been impressive to me to listen to men pray, that after they got through, you could tell they KNEW who they were talking to.  I have mentioned names in other devotionals of men like that, and my dad could be included in that group.  I suppose that it was the “stage fright” that he felt, that made his voice break a little when he led a prayer — but it just increased the reality of what he was doing to me.  I always felt closer to God, when I listened to him pray.

I don’t know how you teach someone to lead a public prayer.  I suppose you could share the principles of public speaking, study the prayers of Jesus (and other prayers in Scripture), and then practice writing out prayers.  But I am sure that most of us would still struggle with some of the same problems that we have always had.  One of the things that we often do, is repeat the things that we have heard someone else say.  I have been going to church services for over 60 years, and there are some cliches that I have heard over and over again.

I was reminded of one of those cliches in reading of Matthew 11 this morning.  Have you ever heard someone pray “and Lord we are mindful of those who are spreading the Gospel in the hard places”?  Usually, by saying that, they were thinking of those who sere serving the Lord by preaching in places other than the United States.  Here’s the passage that made me think of that this morning.

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”  (Matthew 11:20-24, ESV)

You might be wondering how that passage and praying for those in “the hard places” relate to one another.  Well, my usual reaction to this is “sometimes the hard places are not always where we think they are.”  I need to stop right here, and express how much admiration I have for those that do mission work outside our country.  They face hardships, problems, and conditions that I can’t even begin to imagine; and I don’t want anyone to think that I am devaluing what they are doing.  But, I believe that Satan has had a devious plan to strangle Christianity in America, and it’s working (in my opinion).  He has made Christianity acceptable in our country, and we have gotten comfortable in our practices and lifestyle.  As we have gotten comfortable, Biblical principles have become less and less important to us.  Now, the tide of popular opinion is turning against Christian beliefs and practice, and we don’t know quite what to do.  Some are trying to use government and elections to reinforce “Christian values”, but Satan has moved the majority of our country past that.  Even in Bible-believing, conservative churches, many people don’t want to hear a message of a “radical” Christian lifestyle — that challenges our comfortable way of life (and some don’t even want to preach it).  The result is that almost all religious groups are shrinking, and those that hold no religious belief are increasing.  Who would have thought that would happen in our country (and our region), where the Bible and churches were an integral part of life?

Well, I tell you who would have thought this:  the same one who thought it would be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom than for Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum!!!  Jesus recognized that at times privilege leads to neglect, and those cities where He walked, taught, and did miracles wanted nothing to do with the Kingdom.  I see the same thing happening in our country, to our people and churches.

In my opinion, things are going to get worse before they get better.  But as they do, and Christians become more and more the outcasts of society; the kingdom will get stronger.  It won’t be because of new laws, evangelical strength at the polls, or mainstream churches.  It will be because the people of God will allow their faith to make them take living for Jesus seriously.  They will pray, study, and walk by faith — trusting that God will give them the strength to persevere.  May God increase their tribe.  Amen.

“Mentors for Faithfulness”

One of the recurring themes, anytime I begin to reflect on my life, is what a blessed man that I am.  During my lifetime I have had the opportunity to become acquainted with, and get to know, some absolutely wonderful people.  The Lord has blessed me in the places that I have been (Arkansas, Nebraska, Alabama, and Texas) with some outstanding Christian influences.  Men and women that loved God, and loved people.  It is my belief that I am a better Christian, and man, just because I had the privilege of being around them.

There are a couple of men, who had a great influence of my life; possibly greater than anyone other than my mother and father.  Both of them, were extremely buy men, who took the time to be concerned about, and love, a young man (and then a not so young) who needed guidance and strength during times of sin, pain, and struggle.  They were my mentors as a preacher, but, oh so much more than that.

I thought of both of them this morning, as I read in Psalms.  Listen to what it says:

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.  The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.  (Psalm 37:30-31, ESV)

Neither one of these men were ashamed to admit that they had weaknesses, and would probably protest these verses being applied to them.  BUT, I know (and have often said) that I wanted to be, and was, a better man/disciple when I was around them.  They inspired me, just by who they were, to be closer to God, and follow Jesus more closely.  They had that kind of influence, and not just on me — but on almost any one that took the time to know them.  Hopefully, every one of us has that kind of influence in our lives.  That there is someone out there, that inspires us to be better.

My prayer is that there are a few that will have those kinds of thoughts about me — that my influence will have made a bit of difference in their lives.  But, I still know my weaknesses and struggles are there; and, too often, they are most obvious to those that know me the best.  Lord, give me the strength, discipline, and faith to live the kind of life the psalmist talked about here.  Peace.

 

(This devotional was first posted on Facebook, April 5, 2016.  It is being used again on this site, as part of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing for you.  Bill)

 

“Tempted to Compromise”

Camino Island, the newest release from John Grisham, finally arrived at the house yesterday.  I would have to say that Grisham is my favorite author, and I have almost everything that he has ever written.  I anticipate every new title that he comes out with, and have come to to the point that I order them from Amazon as soon as the release date is set.  This title is a little bit of departure from the standard Grisham work, as the central characters are not lawyers; and I have anticipated reading it.  My plan was not to read it yesterday, but due to some circumstances I ended up reading about the first 125 pages.  I’m not going to discuss it too much, as I don’t want to take away the enjoyment of those that have not read it yet, and plan on reading it.

But there is one small section from the book that I want to mention.  Two of the main characters of the book are at dinner together, when this happens:

Mercer swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and said, “I have sixty-one thousand dollars in student debt that I can’t get rid of.  It’s a burden that consumes every waking hour and it’s making me crazy.” 

Now, I had student debts when I graduated at ACU, but thank goodness there were nothing like that!  Although as tuition, fees, and expenses have continually increased; I have heard of student loan debts that have exceeded that amount.  I cannot imagine the pressure that puts on a young person, or a young family.

Have you ever had that kind of pressure — maybe not from a debt, but from a responsibility, job, or anything that was always right in front of everything that you did?  I thought about that, as I was reading from Matthew 4 this morning.  Think about what is said in this passage:

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”  (Matthew 4:8-9, NLT)

All of my life I have heard that explained as that Satan was offering something that was not his to give.  That he was appealing to the …craving for everything we see, … (I John 2:16, NLT) in the human nature of Jesus, trying to seduce Him to sin.  The problem that I have with that scenario, is that if it was not Satan’s to give, Jesus would have known that — and there would have been no real temptation for Him to accept.

BUT, what if it was Satan’s to give?  What if, since Satan seduced Adam and Eve in the Garden, Satan had been the master of the world, and the people that lived on that world?  What if everything that the Father had done with the family of Abraham, the people of Israel, and was doing with Jesus was to take back what Satan had “stolen.”  Now Jesus is confronted with the “temptation” of a less painful and less violent shortcut, to accomplishing the mission that was set before Him.  No longer would that “burden” be out there in front of Him, consuming every thought and prayer of His life.  Personally, I believe that is what is happening in this text (I’ll not explain the “why” in this devotional, saving that for another time).  Jesus is offered a shortcut, a compromise, to accomplishing the task that He has been given, now He has a choice to make.  But He confronts the temptation head on, and says:

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him.  “For the Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him’.”  (Matthew 4:10, NLT)

Jesus knew, and demonstrated to us, that no shortcut or compromise (even to accomplishing something good) was worth being disobedient to God.  That the things that are a burden in life, even as consuming as they may be, are more important than our relationship with God.  So, no matter how badly I want something, how much I want to accomplish something, or how suffocating something may be — my relationship with God ought always be the most important thing in my life!  I’m afraid that too often we don’t remember and practice that!  Seek the kingdom of God above all else, … (Matthew 6:33, NLT).  Peace.