“David and his Prayers”

Many of you, that are reading this devotional this morning, have sat in my Bible classes.  If so, you probably have heard me say as we looked at a letter written by the apostle Paul — I sure would like to have seen his prayer list.  It seems as if in every letter Paul lists a number of people that he is praying for, and the things that he asks for that particular church.  Studying the prayers of Paul, and the lists of people that he is praying for, is a fascinating study.

One of the most enlightening aspects of reading the Psalms, is to be able to read the prayers of the people, particularly David.  The whole spectrum of human emotion can be found in the prayers of David — praising an awesome God, pleading for direction in his life, lamenting his present condition, anger at the enemies trying to kill him, impatience with God for leaving him in the situation, asking for forgiveness for his stupid mistakes, expressing confidence in God to get him through the difficulties he faces, and everything else in between.  Eugene Petersen once said, Everything that a person can possibly feel, experience, and say is brought into expression before God in the Psalms.  Amen?

David was not perfect, but he was “seeking” the heart of God for his life.  His journey in trying to get there, getting there, and staying there; serve as a powerful learning experience for Me.

This morning’s reading, Psalm 25 jumped off the page at me.  The whole chapter appears to be a prayer from David, as he seeks direction and assistance from the Father.

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.  (Psalm 25:1-2, NIV)

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  (Psalm 25:4-5, NIV)
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.  Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.  Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.  (Psalm 25:16-18, NIV)
Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.  May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you.  (Psalm 25:20-21, NIV)
Peace.
(This was first posted on Facebook, May 30, 2016.  It has been revised and adapted for use as one of our “Psalms on Saturday.”  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  Bill)
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“Seeking after God”

Reader’s Digest used to have a treasury of short stories about people in every issue, especially those people that make a serious impact on the lives of others.  Over the years there have been a lot of those “special” people in my life, more lives than I could ever list or name.  Two of my favorite people are Mahlon Graham and Harold Wilbanks.  They both attended the Cedar Grove church in Rogersville, AL, when I preached there.  Harold passed away a few years ago, and Mahlon still lives in that community.

The people that make up that church all deserve extra stars in their crown — for putting up with all the nonsense, mistakes, problems, and dumb actions of a young (single) preacher, that still had some growing up to do.  Probably as much as anybody else, Harold and Mahlon liked me; and understood some of the conflict that was going on in my life.  They would listen to me, encourage me, and chastise me when I needed it.

Mahlon had a service station on Highway 72, east of town, down by the river, down by the river.  Sometimes the three of us would be there, and almost without exception, the conversation would turn to football.  Harold was an Alabama fan, Mahlon is an Auburn fan — and they were both serious about their team.  On top of that, they were both loud; and could get louder if they thought the situation deserved it.  Sometimes, I am sure that you could hear these “discussions” a mile away.  In those discussions I generally favored Auburn, but being an Arkansas, I really didn’t care much for either team.  So, I delighted in getting the arguments started, and providing a spark to keep them going.

Mahlon and Harold both encouraged me in my preaching, and there were times that I really needed it.  It was strange to me, that both of these men liked what they called my “hard” sermons.  You may recall those kinds of sermons from the past, when the preacher romps, stomps, and yells about “sin”.  Most of the time it seemed as if the intent of the sermon was to get the people to feel as if they were not good enough, or doing enough, to say they were saved.  Mahlon told me once, that he figured if he could “hunker” down and take a sermon like that, he was probably going to be alright.

Well, maybe I have learned a little, and grown a lot since then — but my approach to challenging sin is a little different 40 years later.  I have come to the conclusion, that sin is a “heart” problem, and not an action problem.  The bad actions are the result of what is going on in the heart.

Listen to what the psalmist has to say:

In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.  (Psalm 10:4, NIV)

That verse, as well as any, my definition of sin:  Sin is doing what I want, instead of what God wants.  In one of the most wicked periods in the history of the Israelite people, one of the thoughts that is constantly repeated is:

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. …  (Judges 2:10-12, NIV)

The Israelites were sinners because they had a heart problem, that manifested itself as actions in their lives.

The actions of people are bad, because our actions are a manifestation of what is in our heart.  In one of his first recorded sermons, the apostle Paul made this statement about the Israelite King, David:  After removing Saul, he made David their king, God testified concerning Him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do”.  (Acts 13:22, NIV).  David made some terrible mistakes, but he always stayed “after” the heart of God, and God loved that attribute in him.  When we keep “seeking” God, even if we make mistakes along the way; God, in His “steadfast love”, forgives us and stays out in front of us.  We have to continually search out heart, and see if we are “seeking” Him, or seeking after our own wants and pleasures. Those that are “seeking” have room in their heart for God.

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.  (Psalm 9:10, NIV)

Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook on May 27, 2016.  It has been revised and edited for use as one of our “Psalms for Saturday”.  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing for you today.  Bill)

 

” Consistency”

Recently, a head football coach at a major university resigned from his very lucrative, and prestigious position.  Evidently, some things came to light that put his behavior in a very bad light.  The school administration made it very plain, that if he had not resigned, he would have been fired.  Their reasoning was that his “personal conduct” had violated certain stipulations in his contract.  In other words, his behavior had not been consistent with what they expected from someone that was in his position.

Now, I’m not going on a “witch hunt,” or cast stones at someone that is down; because the university that I support, lost a coach on somewhat similar circumstances.  Other schools, businesses, and organizations have all lost people because their behavior is not “consistent” with what they stand for.  I know that there are some college football coaches that have “cut ties” with star high school recruits, because of something that appeared on their social media accounts.  Again, their behavior was not “consistent” with what they wanted from their players that represent the university, and them.  There are certain behavior patterns that people, and organizations, expect from those that are in position of leadership and influence.

This morning, I was reading in Galatians as a part of my devotional reading, and I read the story where Paul had to confront Peter.   You see, Peter, even though he knew better, was acting like a racist toward the Gentiles (because there were people there from Jerusalem).  Peter was in such a position of influence, that others, including Barnabas, were joining him in this racist action; and Paul was compelled to speak.  What I found interesting in that story, was this verse:

But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, … (Galatians 2:14, NRSV).

When I read that, I thought he was rebuking Peter for acting in way that did not reflect what Jesus was all about.  WOW!  If we rebuked people today for not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, who would not be rebuked!  Then a thought slapped me up side of the head, as I thought about something that has been going on in the evangelical world for the last few days.

Last Tuesday (8-29), some evangelical heavy-hitters released what they called The Nashville Statement.  It is a document that has 14 articles that deal with human sexuality, and it is obvious with the LGBT movement.  Now, I suppose that I had better say first of all, I have read the statement and believe what they say is right.  So you’re question is, What’s the problem then?

Well, I don’t understand (1) why it had to be said, (2) why it had to be said when it was, (3) what was the purpose for saying it, (4) what good will it accomplish, and (5) if this is the only statement that they think is necessary.  Now, there are people a lot smarter than me, and a whole lot more influential than me, that are discussing those questions — I don’t suppose that there will be very many people that ever know this blog was written.  But, the thought this morning, as I was reading Galatians, is how can you make a “statement” about only one of the “sins” that is troubling us today?  A little later, in Galatians 5, Paul lists what he calls the works of the flesh, look at that list:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious:  fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. …  (Galatians 5:19-21, NRSV).

Wouldn’t like to see the statement that a group of religious leaders drew up about enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy … .  There are some of those that I would not want to have any part, because I would be guilty.  Is our anger any worse in the judgment of God, that sexual sin?  Where was the evangelical statement about racism after Charlottesville?  How many of our people excuse their behavior, saying “that’s just the way that I am”?  This list could go on and on and on.

Now, I understand that some are afraid of our changing culture, and the impact it will have in the future.  The culture is changed, and the laws are made.    The die is set, as far as the country, and it’s government, is concerned. We should quit worrying about that, and start preaching Jesus and His redemptive love.  I worry about proclamations and statements that drive the wedge deeper; between those who are supposed to represent Jesus, and those that are struggling with immense problems.

Now, I know that that this will not please everyone!  There are probably some that will think I am too soft on this.  I don’t see this as soft on this, I see it as saying we are picking what we to attack, and soft on a lot of other things.  What I have written is not a well thought out piece, that I have taken the time to word properly.  I read Galatians, went for a walk — talked to the Lord, and thought about what I would write.  I hope that it has made you think.  Peace.

“Pressing On”

Those of you that are regular readers of this blog, or know me personally, understand the journey that I have been on this year.  Earlier this year, I made the decision, and the commitment to do what the doctors’ told me, that I was going to improve my health — beginning by losing some weight.  I’ve struggled with my weight since I was in my early 20’s, and had been morbidly obese for a number of years.  Due, in large part, to my obesity, I was struggling with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and just being generally unhealthy.  Once I made the decision, and the commitment, I decided that my best option was “gastric bypass” surgery, and started the process at Roller Weight Loss and Advanced Surgery Clinic.  It is a decision that I have not regretted.

As of this morning, I have dropped 80 pounds, 10″ in the waist, and three shirt sizes.  Even better than that, I am no longer diabetic, and both my blood pressure and cholesterol medicines have been cut in half. There are still some “goals” in front of me, that I want to reach, and the doctors want me to accomplish. I’m convinced that are not only those numbers good, but there is a general all around improvement in my health; as I was able to walk 5 miles (at a good pace) this past Saturday morning.

One more thing that I know, is that there is not a time in this journey when I can quit.  The surgery that I had, as I have said before, is not a “magic bullet.”  This has to be a lifestyle change of exercise, eating less, eating mindfully, and eating healthier.  If I go back to what I was eating and living like I did before, all that I have accomplished will have been wasted.  So, I have to get up every morning, and remind myself of the commitment that I have made to my health, lifestyle, and body.

I was reminded of all of that this morning, as I was reading in Philippians 3.  Read what Paul had to say, and then make to make the application:

but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:12-14, ASV)

I made a decision, and a commitment, to live for Jesus a long time ago.  I would like to tell you that I have never wavered from that commitment, that my life is has been one long, uninterrupted life of faith and service to the Lord — but many of you would know, how untrue that is.  Most of my adult life, I have felt like David — seeking after the heart of God, with some stumbles (and some were major falls) along the way.  The older I get, the more I realize that every day is going to require a renewed commitment to the Lord for that day.

My friend, Lynn Anderson, once told me that “the only faith I have, is the faith that I have today.  Yesterday’s faith is gone, and tomorrow’s faith is not here yet.”  I believe it is important that we all realize this.  This morning, and every morning, before your feet hit the floor — thank the Lord for another day, and ask Him for the strength to live that day for Him!  I am convinced that a life of faith involves a decision for faith each day, and the desire and strength to lived that day in faith to the risen Savior.  Have you made your decision to live in faith TODAY?  What you have done before is behind you, and what you will do tomorrow; might not happen.  Let’s live in faith in a risen Lord today!  Peace.

“Story of the Old Testament”

The Old Testament has always been of special interest to me.  The story of God’s dealing with all of people, then a family, and, finally, a nation is just fascinating.  How Jehovah God continually loved His people, regardless of how many times they turned away.  O, yes, He would punish them, and they suffered for their sin; but, if they turned in penitent prayer, He would always rescue them.

The first teacher that I remember that captivated me with the stories of the Old Testament was Dale Brown, at the Midland Boulevard church of Christ in Fort Smith.  He had this booming deep voice (at least, that is the way I remember it 50+ years later), that just made those events come to life.  I don’t know what happened to Dale — I know that he preached in Siloam Springs for a while, and then went back to Fort Smith to work in the family business.  If I remember correctly, this family business involved auction services, and I am sure that voice was of great benefit for that.  I will forever be in his debt, for helping to create that love of the Old Testament (and it stories).

This morning, my reading was Psalms 104-106 — and it was especially interesting to me.  If you want to read the story of the Old Testament in a nutshell, you need to read these chapters.

Psalm 104 is a beautiful rendering of God’s creative power, and of what He has done.  How his creation works together, because of Him; to care for all the needs of His creation.  Verse 24 offers, How many are your works, O Lord!  In wisdom you made them all; … (NIV).  Basically, the psalmist is saying, just stop and look around, and see what God has done!

Psalm 105 is the psalmist getting on his knees and being thankful for what God has done for man.  The covenant with Abraham’s family, sending Joseph to Egypt so that the family could grow into a nation, the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, provision in the wilderness, and the giving of the promised land.

Psalm 106 is a very sad chapter, as it recounts the repeated failures of the people to maintain their relationship with God.  It begins with the psalmist lamenting this his generation has done wrong and acted wickedly, even as their fathers had (vs. 6).  One time after another, he lists the betrayals of the people in their relationship with God.  From their constant grumbling in the wilderness, to the worship of idols that they had made, to the mingling with the nations that had inhabited the promised land.  Verse 43 summarizes the story, Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in sin.  (NIV).

We need to read and know these chapters, as they remind us of what God did in trying to build a relationship with that people, and that nation.  THEN, we need to fall to our knees, and be grateful to Jesus — that He paid for our guilt at Calvary.  Thankful, that He paid a price that we could not.  I want to live in the love of the cross, and strive to be continually seeking after God, His kingdom, and His righteousness.  Peace.

(This was first posted on Facebook, May 16, 2016.  It is being reposted here as part of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is my prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  Bill)

“Seeking God”

Does it seem to you that we spend our whole life chasing something?  How many movies have been made about the endless pursuit of “something”?  There are those that are comedies, dramas, adventures, and tragedies — but they all portray man’s pursuit of what they deem to be most important, or what will make them happy.  The Billy Crystal movie, “City Slickers”, where Jack Palance kept reminding him of the “one thing”, is one of the premier examples of that.

It is not just in movies where this pursuit is featured, it is featured in our lives.  There always seems to be something out there, that we think will make our lives a little better.  It seems to start early in our lives:  a place of acceptance in a certain circle of peers, a romantic relationship (with the one that sets our hearts to fluttering), a car (and not just any car, the right car), graduation from high school, college, and a host of other things that attract our attention.  Even as we get older, the “pursuit syndrome” is still there is still there.  We want a loving, lasting relationship; a job that pays well and makes us feel good about ourselves; a house that becomes a home for our safety; and security for the future; and, ultimately, retirement.

Have you ever wondered why we are that way, or at least most of us?  I believe that God intended for us to have this “pursuit syndrome“, and wanted us to focus it on a relationship with Him!  That we recognize, that the most important thing that we pursue in our life, is the relationship with a Holy God!

We have often wondered about “how” the Bible could say that David was a man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14).  It certainly was not because of his sinless perfection!  The key word, in my mind, is “after” — that David was “seeking” God, and a relationship with Him.  Regardless of how man times he faltered and fell; he would get up, confess the wrong that he had committed, and begin to seek God again!

When you read the Psalms, there seems to be two ideas that jump off of nearly every page — the steadfast love of the Lord, and the admonition to seek God.  There is a beautiful description of what we are seeking, in Psalm 89:15-18 – – listen closely:

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
     who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.
They rejoice in your name all day long;
     they celebrate your righteousness.
For you are their glory and strength,
     and by your favor you exalt our horn.
Indeed, our shield belongs to the Lord,
     our king to the Holy One of Israel.
May the “ONE THING” that we pursue be God!  Isn’t that what Jesus said, Seek first his
kingdom and his righteousness, … (Matthew 6:33, NIV).  Peace.
(This was first posted on Facebook, May 12, 2016.  It is being posted here, as one of our “Psalms for Saturday.”  It is our prayer that it will be a blessing to you.  Bill)

 

“It Ain’t Over til It’s Over”

Probably, most baseball fans recognize the title of this post as a “yogi-ism.”  Yogi Berra was a catcher for the New York Yankees for 18 years; during that time he was on a World Champion team 10 times (more than any other player ever), an 18 time All-Star, and has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Interestingly enough, many people that are not baseball fans, know his “yogi-ism”, better than they know Yogi.  What is a “yogi-ism”?  Well, Wikipedia gives this definition — “Berra was also well known for his impromptu pithy comments, malapropisms, and seemingly unintentional witticisms, known as “Yogi-isms”. His “Yogi-isms” very often took the form of either an apparent tautology or a paradoxical contradiction, but often with an underlying and powerful message that offered not just humor, but wisdom. Allen Barra has described them as “distilled bits of wisdom which, like good country songs and old John Wayne movies, get to the truth in a hurry.”  It is pretty obvious what the wisdom and truth is behind “it ain’t over til it’s over” is.  Don’t ever give up!

If you are an Arkansas Razorback football fan (as I am), there are some games that have been lost, that we thought we had won.  We may have even started celebrating too soon.  The pain is so indelible in our minds, that just a word or two brings back the memory, for example; “Street to Peschel”, or “Stoern-over”.  It is really not fair to remember losses for one play, because all during the game plays were made, or not made, that could have changed the outcome of the game.  But it is also true, that there are many games in Arkansas Razorback history that have been won, when everything looked lost.  We also remember those games with just a brief description, of just a word or two; and everyone knows exactly what we are talking about.  For example, if you have been a Razorback fan for very long, you will remember — “The Miracle on Markham”, or “The Henry Heave.”  If you are an LSU fan, or an Ole Miss fan, you probably remember those games with other descriptive phrases.

This morning, as I was reading in Luke 4, I was reminded of Yogi Berra’s famous saying — “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Observe what the text says:

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.  (Luke 4:13, NLT)

There are times that I think, we only believe that Jesus was tempted those three times that Luke enumerates in the 4th chapter.  But, if you examine the text closely, you will see that is not true.

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River.  He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.  (Luke 4:1-2, NLT).

It appears to me from those verses, that the devil was constantly working on Jesus for 40 days, trying to get Him to disobey the will of God.  At the end of the forty days, which included the three temptations that Luke specified, he left Him.  But it was not over, whenever Satan got an opportunity, he attacked Jesus again.

The message for you and me in this story, is that when we defeat Satan — there is no time to relax and celebrate.  He will be back!  Just as strong and powerful as he ever has been, looking to defeat us!.  He knows our weaknesses, and if we become over-confident, he will attack, hoping to catch us off guard.  Don’t ever forget:

Stay alert!  Watch out for your  great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  (I Peter 5:8, NLT).

In the words of Yogi, the battle against Satan for control of our lives “…ain’t over, til it’s over.”  Peace.

“What are You Chasing”

There was a customer that I had for many years, who once told me “that he did not build houses, he built landmarks”.  I want you to know, that he was telling the truth.  He built some of the most magnificent, large houses that I have ever seen.  Malia and I always made it a point during the “Northwest Arkansas Parade of Homes,” to go through his entry for that year; and she always says “he never disappoints.”  The Parade was about 5-6 weeks ago, and I believe that his entry this year, was the best that I have ever seen.  Truly, a magnificent structure!

It was, and still is, a breath-taking pleasure to go through those homes — that are so beautiful, that are decorated exquisitely, and with fantastic curb appeal.  Some of them are so large, that they have a master bath larger than our master bedroom.  As we have toured these homes, we have often wondered where these people worked; and what exactly did they do.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying, I am glad that people have the jobs that they have, are able to build the homes that they want, and to live the lifestyle that they have chosen — that is one of the advantages of living where and when we do.  People building, and buying houses, is how I made a living for 12 years.  We just need to recognize that money, fancy cars, luxury items, and big houses are not the ultimate test of success.

When I read this passage, there were a couple of thoughts that stuck out in my mind about life, success, riches, and big houses:

Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases.  (Psalm 49:16, NIV)

First, is the use of the word “overawed”.  Most of the other translations, use the concept of don’t be “afraid” of someone’s wealth.  Afraid may be a more correct translation, but I like what the word “overawed” says to me.  There are things that we see that are purchased with the wealth of this world, that really will take your breath away.  But don’t let the “things” of this world consume you.  So many people are consumed by the “desire” and the “chase” to be wealthy, that they hardly think of anything else.  God doesn’t want his people to be that way!  It’s not wrong to be wealthy, but it is wrong to put it above “seeking God”.

Secondly, the rest of the chapter is fascinating, because it  very bluntly teaches — you can’t take it with you!  About a year ago, there was a picture on Facebook of a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer, with the caption saying “I was wrong, you can take it with you.”  As funny as that is, you really can’t take it with you!  A life chasing riches, without seeking God. may make for a luxurious life now — but that is all it will be.

A man who has riches WITHOUT understanding is like the beasts that perish.”  (Psalm 49:20, NIV).

Never leave God out of your plans, your wealthy, or your future.  Peace.

 

(This is a revised and updated version of a post that first appeared on Facebook on May 4, 2016.  It is being used as one of our “Psalms for Saturday,” and I hope that it is a blessing to you.  Thanks for reading, Bill.)