“Bet You Can’t Make It”

The challenge came from my younger brother.  “Bet you can’t walk it all the way around.”

Now, I’ll say at the onset that I’m not particularly competitive.  Usually, the type of dare he would give me wouldn’t even cause me to think twice.  But, this one was different.  It was a little bit more than intriguing.  Could I actually make it all the way around, I thought.

He was referring to the top rail of a five rail fence that surrounded the corral where our dairy cows jostled, pushed and shoved each other around in order to be the next in line to find relief in the milking parlor.  That fence was five and a half feet high and stretched over two hundred feet in total length and width.  Half that length was a cinch, I mused.  The top rail of that section was a new addition to the paddock and sported a top rail constructed from used ‘bridge plank’; the kind of board that was ten inches wide and three inches thick.  Laid on edge, it provided easy footing for the feet of a young lad wanting to pluck his suspenders and boast of an easy walk around.  But, the other half of the fence was different.

The remaining part of the fence, the older part, consisted of six inch creosoted posts spaced eight feet apart and 1×6 top rails that were only 3/4 inch thick.  Combined with a total board length of eight feet, those top boards provided an ‘interesting’ wobble for the feet of those boys who wanted to walk across the top of them and, let’s say, show off a little.

Humility/reality requires that I admit to failure…my first try.  Once outdone by the fence, I became determined to ‘master’ it.  If memory serves me right, it took ten tries before I successfully navigated the entire length.  By the time victory was mine, success was experienced most every ‘trip up’ until finally, I could walk the top board all the way around anytime I tried.  Oh, the thrill of victory.

Now you may be wondering what in the world this has to do with spiritual matters.  Well, simply this.  In 2 Corinthians 6:11-13, the Apostle Paul urges his readers to ‘widen your hearts also [for me]’.

In Corinth, Paul had a few antagonists. Some questioned his Apostleship.  Some didn’t like the sounds of his admonitions.  Others liked OTHER church workers better.  All in all, the relationships were somewhat strained.  This was disconcerting to Paul, who often pleaded for unity and mutual cooperation among church brethren.  Philippians 4:2 and following for example.

His inspired solution to the dilemma was to appeal to the Corinthians to ‘widen their hearts so relationships could more easily develop without the risk of failure’.  Church health increases where love is ‘broad enough’ to insure a successful balance of all the natural differences in believer’s spiritual gifts and personalities.

God doesn’t intend that we all be alike.  But, He prefers that our love be broad enough to accommodate all the unique Godly differences of people in relationship together and provide each one with the security to walk in Christ without fear of rejection or retaliation.  It is so  much better for the church to ‘widen its hearts to each other’ so everyone can securely walk together in Christ and so the world can tell that we are God’s children.

Let’s widen our hearts.

The Tale of the Tape

I was anxious to go down and look this morning.  Recently, I had begun to tape and mud seams and corners on the drywall we installed in a basement room we are finishing.  All the corners and seams were put in place.  And last night I put the first coat of mud over them.

This is a somewhat routine part of the process, with one caveat.  If, by chance, the corner beads were not sealed correctly, the new mud will pull at the edges of them and create ‘bubbles’ where any part of them is loose.

I wondered how many spots were not sealed correctly that now would need to be redone.  To my pleasure, only one small spot, a bubble six inches in length and a fourth of an inch wide, needed attention.  I’ll just need to take a razor knife, cut underneath it, press it back down and let it dry.  Once dry, I’ll put a coat of mud over it and if it sticks okay I’ll sand the seams and apply the next coat of mud.

The key to my relief this time was taking care to apply an adequate coat of join compound underneath the seams/corners, firmly press them down and trowel away excess mud.  This process will be repeated at least two more times before we can begin to sand, finish and paint the surfaces.  Hopefully, by the end of the first weekend in September, I’ll be looking at an adequate finish job.  I see why not everyone wants to do this job and why those who do, get paid well.

In a way, this process reminds me of ‘sanctification’ God takes me through in my spiritual life.  As the Lord leads us along, He draws us into deeper and deeper relationship with Him.  His desire is that we press into Him ever more firmly each day.  He knows that a day in the future will dawn with the advent of a circumstance that will tug and pull at us and threaten the strength of safety of a life secure in Him.  If not, then He will help us cut away those things that are inadequately secured and redo the process.  He’ll repeat this as many times as needed until all holds strong in the face of stretching pressure.

In a way, I wonder if this common natural event is a fit example of the process God describes in 1 Peter 5:10.  There He says,

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace…will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

Let’s resolve to press into Him today.

TESTING…TESTING…THIS IS ONLY A TEST

We’ve heard it so many times that we almost don’t notice it any more.  The alert goes like this.  “This has been a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.  This is only a test.  Had it been a real emergency, you would have” …and so on.  Frankly, I have grown somewhat dull to this announcement.  It has been so routine for so long that I hardly stop to listen and consider it.

In a way, I’ve had a similar response to the test signals that occur in my life every day.  Often, I don’t even notice when they happen and take advantage of them in order to complete the process described in II Corinthians 13:5.  Such was the case yesterday at the grocery store.

I had collected my items and was in line waiting my turn to check out.  As is my habit, I looked around to see if there was anyone with fewer items than me that I could invite to check out before me.  Just a courtesy, I know, but it still tends to encourage others.

As I turned to look, I notice a young woman scurrying to a line next to me.  She was in haste to get in line, hold onto her items and simultaneously retrieve her billfold as she ‘multi-tasked’ her way to the checkout counter.  Amidst her frenzy, several folded bills, 2 $20s and a $5, fell to the ground as she worked her way into line.

Just two quick steps away, I picked up the money and called to her. “Ma’am”, I said.  “You dropped this money.”  Sheepishly she blushed, nervously reached for the money and thanked my twice.  “Oh, thank you.  Oh thank you”, she replied.  With that, she turned back to her line, purchased her items and quietly left the store.

It was only after I paid for my items and left the store that I put the scripture to use.  Sitting alone in the truck, I asked myself several questions and mentally charted my findings.  First, did I have even a flicker of thought that ‘finders keepers, losers weepers’?  The answer…NO, NOT EVEN THE SLIGHTEST THOUGHT.  NEVER ENTERED MY MIND.  Ok.  That’s good.  Second, did it occur to me that I could expect to be thanked?  NO, NOT EVEN THE SLIGHEST THOUGHT.  Actually, it was embarrassing to me as well as to her.  Out of 100 people, 99 would have done what I did.  No ‘thanks’ needed.  Ok.  That’s good.  Third, and this was probably the most probing question, was I proud of myself for doing what most anyone would have done in my place?  NO, NOT EVEN THE SLIGHTEST THOUGHT.  NEVER ENTERED MY MIND.  Ok.  That’s good.

“So”, you ask.  “What are you telling us this, if you weren’t proud of yourself?”  For this one reason.  In each day, hardly noticed at all, we face such circumstances that provide each of us with an opportunity to ‘test ourselves to see if we are in the faith’.

It is my hope that when these tests come in those unguarded moments, when what is in our hearts spurts out, that good will come out because of the good we are laying up in them.  Matthew 12:35, Luke 6:45

Devotion on Prayer: The Person and Purpose of Prayer

All ‘good praying’ will focus on the Person of God and the purpose of extending His Kingdom’s work. 

According to the traditional recitation of this payer, we conclude our praying with a surrender to the will and ways of God by saying, ‘Yours is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever, Amen’.  Though this last part of the Lord’s Prayer recorded in Matthew 6:9-13, is only found in late manuscripts, we can be confident that the message is true.  Whether we pray all six petitions, three of which are focused on God or the last three that are focused on our needs, the overall reason for praying them is to EXALT THE LORD and bring Him glory and honor.

So as we conclude our prayer time, our concern could be and should be to ’cause the dignity and worth of God to become apparent and be acknowledged’ and to ‘teach and admonish everyone while proclaiming Him’ (Col. 1:28).

And though our needs are a concern to the Lord (see I Peter 5:7), His position and purposes are preeminent, for ‘Whom have I in Heaven but You…’ (Psalm 73:25-26)

Will you join countless brethren all over the world in prayer?

Devotion on Prayer: Sanctified Saints

…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil [one]… Matthew 6:13

It has been correctly observed that followers of Jesus have been, are being and will be saved.  We have been saved from the penalty of sin by virtue of receiving Christ’s finished work at the cross.  We will be saved from the presence of sin when we are glorified before the Father in our eternal heavenly home.  And we currently are being saved from the power of sin through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Because we have yet to be taken from the presence of sin, it could appear that God is leaving us in a spiritual state where we are being ‘led into temptation’.  Of course, this is not true.  First Corinthians 10:13 clearly teaches, ‘No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.’

But, what we will surely encounter are life situations where our ‘desires’ may be stimulated to disobey God.  And it might feel like it is unfair for God to allow us to go through these experiences.

Yet He is not unfair.  He is simply leading us to understand Titus 2:11-12, ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.’

In answer to our prayers, God Himself will strengthen and sustain us as we live for Him as He continues the work of sanctification in us.  Remember that, ‘…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’  Philippians 1:6

Words, words and more words…

Could anyone possibly have missed the ‘war of words’ between POTUS and the News Media?  For well over a year, News Medias of all types have been lambasting President Trump, calling him every vile name that they felt they could viciously publish.  And not to be outdone, President Trump has vilified the ‘Press’  by labeling them as dishonest, ideological partisans who lack a basic commitment to integrity in reporting.  Now, without taking sides and being accused of being ‘political’ ourselves, can we all agree with the Lord when He says, ‘Where words are many, sin is not absent’.   Proverbs 10:19.

Clearly, both sides feel justified in their appraisals.  And without going into detail and considering the rationale both use  for what they say, one claim made by the press intrigues me.  They excuse their vilification of POTUS by saying, ‘We are simply speaking truth to power’.

At first blush, this remark seems to ring true.  One of the pillars of any free society is the freedom of the press.  Our press should be free to speak truth to power without undue concern over acts of intimidation, innuendo, insinuation or even incarceration by the power to whom they speak it.  But ‘press freedom’ is primarily limited to speaking ‘TRUTH’.  No reporter or news media agency should ever feel the liberty to publish anything that is not truth–foisting on unsuspecting readers/listeners/watchers a report that is patently false or insufficiently vetted and incorrectly presented as truth.  But, if those same agents ARE SPEAKING TRUTH, they should have the freedom and even sense an obligation to share that truth publicly, regardless of the consequences.

In a way, we, who claim the Name of Jesus, find ourselves in a place where we, too, should sense the obligation to speak truth to power.  No, I’m not talking about ‘political speech’.  Though, as was the case with Jesus and His disciples, we may be called to speak in a political setting from time to time.  Actually, I’m talking about the daily conversations that we have with people who are in the grasp of ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience’.  Ephesians 2:2.

As children of the light, we are walking in the ‘freedom that only THE truth’ can provide.  John 8:31-32.  As God’s children, ambassadors, on earth, we are called and privileged to provide that truth to anyone who will listen.

Our speaking truth to power is the key for anyone who will by faith receive the Lord Jesus Christ ,for forgiveness of sins–breaking the power of canceled sins–and walking free in Him.  Romans 10:9ff.

Today, there may be in your sphere of influence a person bound in darkness who is ready and waiting to hear someone ‘speak truth to power’.  Will you be THAT SOMEONE who shares the truth?

Devotion on Prayer: Petitioned Power

They say that firewood is a good means of keeping you warm–once when you cut it and again when you burn it in a fireplace or wood burning furnace.  Often, in the 40 years Shirley and I have used wood to supplement our regular heating source, I’ve sweat both times.  There has even been an occasion or two when the house was so warm in winter that we needed to open windows to regulate the heat generated by the wood stove.

I’ve always thought that burning wood was, also, a good way to help with heating costs.  But not all agree.  And I guess they have a point.  By the time you purchase a good wood hauling trailer, a good truck to pull that good trailer, a good chain saw to cut the wood, a good splitter to process the wood and a good insurance policy to help with ‘accidental’ expenses, it probably doesn’t ‘pay’ to burn wood.

Once, before I learned much about ethanol additives in fuel, I was using the regular fuel blend from the car gas pumps to fuel my new chain saw.  Nothing had ever happened before, but one fall morning when I went out to cut, I fired up the chain saw and noticed a large plume of white smoke billow out of the saws exhaust.  Normally, you would see a light blue or blue gray puff of smoke as the engine fired up.  I didn’t make much of it at first, but noticed that the saw continued to smoke after it warmed up and appeared to have less power than normal.  When these symptoms continued, I wrapped up my day and stopped by the dealer where I’d purchased the saw to see if we could discover the problem.  Setting the saw up on a work table, he took off the carburetor cover and noted that the air filter was fine.  He then asked if I had used regular gas out of the gas pump the last time I purchased gas for the saw.  ‘Yes’, I sheepishly relied.  ‘Is that a problem’?  ‘Usually not’, he noted, ‘but in this case it is’.  He continued, ‘You see, the alcohol in the ethanol blend used at gas pumps will, in time, say two or three months, separate from the gas itself and it will remain suspended as straight alcohol.  In engines made for alcohol’s higher burn temperature, this isn’t a problem.  But, in chain saw engines that have a softer cylinder wall, the alcohol burn will score (cut grooves) in the engine walls that will cause the saw to reduce power and smoke because of unburned gas/oil being exhausted from the engine.  In short, you need a new engine for your chain saw’.

As I processed what he said, I wrote a mental note to self–the firewood just got significantly more expensive to burn.

By now you’re saying to yourself, alright pastor, enough of the small engine class, what does all this  have to do with prayer.  Just this…

Jesus taught us to pray…’give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who’ve sinned against us’.  And at first glance these petitions seem to be unrelated, unless we see them as a sort of ‘spiritual’ fuel we ask for from the Lord.

When our Father in heaven looks as us, He sees ‘redeemed saints’ and ‘redeeming servants’–servants with a need for physical strength and spiritual fortitude to carry out His ‘will on earth’.  Serving as Christ’s ambassadors requires both physical strength and free souls.  So, Jesus taught us to ask Him for the food necessary for proper physical strength and stamina and for the freedom necessary for proper soul strength and stamina.

Therefore, we ask Him to supply enough food for the viability of our bodies and to supply enough freedom for the vitality of our souls.  And as we ask for His supply, we welcome His grace that empowers us to be self-controlled in our bodies and we welcome His mercy that reminds us to imitate His forgiving Spirit in our souls.  Few barriers to vitality in our bodies and souls are more significant than self-indulgence in our bodies and unforgiveness in our souls.

Let’s resolve to humbly approach the throne of grace as we ask Him to ‘give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’.

Devotion on Prayer: Heart to Heart

Prevailing prayer is that activity during which we seek, discover and humbly participate in those concerns that are most important to the heart of God.  So, Jesus taught us to pray that ‘Thy kingdom come Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven’.

For me, growing up in a ‘non-instrumental’ church meant that we heard the richness of a hymn’s melody and harmony in our worship songs.  Often, a deep appreciation for the music of a hymn preceded an understanding of its message.  As a child, I often hummed a melody BEFORE I memorized the words.  Like all churches, mine had favorites that served to sooth the souls of our fellow worshippers.

One favorite church hymn from my childhood fellowship was ‘Sweet Hour of Prayer’.  To this day, when that song is played or sung, I can almost smell the musty fragrance of the old hymn books we used and hear the echos of the singing voices of saints now residents of the courts of Heaven.

When this song was sung in our fellowship, a couple of questions would linger on the outskirts of my tiny mind: 1) What would it be like to spend a WHOLE HOUR in prayer?  For me, telling God everything I was thinking about took somewhere north of two minutes.  An hour–really?  2) What were we doing telling God what ‘all our wants and wishes’ were?

Dutifully, at first, then habitually, I recited to God all the things that I wanted.  And, though, it could have been that all my thoughts were selfish, not all of them were.  I prayed for rain to help with the crops, both ours and the neighbors.  I prayed for God to spare my dog, ‘King’, when he got run over by a car.  I prayed for God to help dad when he came to me holding his stomach while telling me that he had to go see the doctor.  He was in the hospital for 30 days suffering from pancreatitis–a very tough time for the family.  Most of all I prayed for forgiveness.

Legitimate were these prayers and yet they took on a markedly shallow form, almost repetitious.  And I carried them into adulthood.  I’d pray for the things that concerned me and seemed pressing to me in ministry, but I’d rarely go deeper.  My prayers usually involved listing the ones in our fellowship that were sick or bereaved (help all the ones who are sick among us), reminding God how much month was left at the end of the money (help me be a good steward), asking Him to bless our church and pleading with Him to help me stay faithful to my call.  Not bad prayers or bad praying, just somewhat routine.

Lately, I’ve been adding a new dimension to my time in prayer.  Still beginning with praises and thanksgiving because we have such a GREAT ‘Father in Heaven Whose name is to be hallowed’, I’ve begun adding one simple request, “Father, what is on Your heart today?”  And whether thoughts begin to come quickly or I wait for several minutes, I don’t move on until He impresses my heart with the concerns of His heart.  These, then, become the topics of my petitions to the Lord and the preparations for the day’s ministry.

Growth and consistency is one of my goals in this type of praying.  Still working on that.  But one benefit has emerged: prayer time is much less routine and significantly less self-centered.

So, at the risk of offending the song’s publishers or hymn purists, I’ve added a couple of new words to that wonderful hymn.  Where is says ‘make all my wants and wishes known’ in the second line of the first verse of that hymn, I’ve substituted the words, ‘make His concerns my very own’.

A couple of cautions: simply because thoughts come to your heart after you’ve asked God to share  His concerns with you doesn’t mean that those concerns are valid and from Him.  Check EVERYTHING with scripture and accept only those that agree with scripture and that ‘hallow His name’.  Also, remember that He IS concerned about what concerns you.  See       I Peter 5:7.  So don’t be afraid to tell Him what you’re thinking about.

Now, let’s follow the encouragement of scripture: ‘Let us approach the throne of grace boldly’ …Hebrews 4:16.

Devotion on Prayer: Take Time

Prayer is more about being close to our Heavenly Father than it is about effecting change in our earthly circumstances.  After all, Jesus did teach us to pray saying, ‘Our FATHER who is in Heaven’…

Farm life for me was fun, but filled with countless hours of hard work.  It took considerable effort to find time to be a family while caring for hundreds of animals, managing the planting/harvesting schedules of multiple fields on multiple farms, and repairing fences and implements for peak performance.  But of all the competing priorities, one commitment meant more to me than any other.

During the warmer months of April-November in southern Illinois, at the end of each day, weather permitting, dad and mom would come outside after supper into the side yard on the west side of our house where we had a porch swing hanging from a catalpa tree limb.  They would gently sway back and forth on the swing while the rest of us kids would happily listen to them chat while we would mess around with ant hills, worm mounds and various other exciting ‘boy type’ of stuff.

Those down times were wonderful.  Not withstanding all the work that was yet to be prioritized, scheduled and accomplished, not withstanding all the pressures related to tilling, fertilizing and planting a field and not withstanding the begging bleats of sheep/goats, grunts of pigs, cackle of chickens and bawling of perpetually hungry calves; we would all enjoy the ‘down time’ spent being close to dad in the evening.

It was then that I learned there was a proper place to rest even though many tasks remained unchallenged and undone.  It was then that I learned some things mattered more than getting everything done.  It was then that I learned being close to dad was a much richer experience than being able to say that all tasks were completed.  There I learned that there was a time to work and that there was a time to rest, especially if that rest came at the feet of my dad and mom.

Similarly, if you are harried and hurried in life, it may be that one of your most sacred gifts would be the gift of ‘time spent at Jesus’ feet’.

As one hymn writer penned:

‘There is a place of comfort sweet, near to the heart of God; a place where we our Savior meet, near to the heart of God, O Jesus blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us who wait before Thee, near to the heart of God’.

If your prayer life has become a bit routine, perhaps taking time today to simply enjoy being close to your Heavenly Father will bring about a fresh new-ness to your time in prayer.  Remember: He is our FATHER in Heaven.

 

 

So, what is happening in our country?

Few could legitimately argue that the USA has little to no religious influence in its founding.  Whether you read the ‘Mayflower Compact’, the ‘original, unmodified charters’ of Yale, Harvard or Princeton or the plethora of insightful writings of not a few founding leaders, you cannot escape the fact that our history is replete with acknowledgements of the Divine sovereignty over our Republic.  We can and should remind each other that at one time ‘THEOLOGY’ played a predominant role in American life.  And, so, we were blessed.

Yet, as is so often the case, ‘IDEOLOGY’ soon replaced theology.  Churches in the Northeast, as soon as 1649, adopted a ‘Half-way Covenant’ in which church members were no longer required to demonstrate genuine salvation as a prerequisite for church membership.  Churches became secularized and the early colleges and universities, originally chartered to produce missionary workers, followed suit by turning away from God, becoming, themselves, bastions of godlessness.  Temporal values  replaced truth and the expedient displaced the eternal.  Abandoning the pursuit of holiness, integrity, honesty and humility, many chose to declare their own ideas as truth.  Refusing to use the Bible as the measurement of truth, human ideas were dubbed ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ thought.  Instead of becoming wise, America become foolish in her cultural thinking as we worshiped at the alter of ‘self’.

Soon, another exchange took place.  ‘IRRATIONALITY’ replaced ideology .  While worshiping self, many leaders and ‘progressive’ thinkers, intoxicated by their own concept of self-importance, began to pretend that their thoughts could in some way produce reality.  This condition led some leaders to say that because they were elected, we all could work together and ‘ocean levels would lower and the planet would heal’.  Such lofty ‘rhetoric’ is fanciful at best and deluded at worst.  Only God can speak and what is spoken occurs.  No mere mortal has, can or ever will be able to produce such omnipotent results.

In the end, we are left to endure a relentless barrage of claims that are so absurd that only the most devoted partisan could accept them.  How else could you explain the acceptance of the claims, ‘What difference does it make now that we have 4 dead Americans’ including a US Ambassador or ‘There has never before been such a peaceful time in our history’ than now.

How did we get here?  In a way, it’s quite simple…

People decided that it was no longer ‘…worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God…’!  Romans 1:28.  Imagine that!