Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Run Away!

(Genesis 4:6-7) ¶ So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?
7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
And Cain evidently said, "NO! I will do it myself, in my own way!"

  • a person who struggles with pornography refuses to stay away from the internet.
  • a person who is an alcoholic insists on drinking again.
  • a person on a diet buys a dozen donuts.
Or not. Our self righteousness can be the other side of the same coin. In either case we are too proud to be wary or to cast ourselves on God, so we are blind and deaf to the roaring lion who is about to eat us for lunch.
(1Peter 5:8) ¶ Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

If we would truly humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, we would surrender to Him. We would carefully steer clear of things that could be harmful. We would honestly acknowledge our frailty and propensity for sin.

We want to be self sufficient, but we are not. We cannot save ourselves from our sins. We must be saved by God through Jesus Christ. As far as we are concerned, we should flee from things that might compromise our pure devotion to Christ.
(1Corinthians 6:18) ¶ Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.

(1Corinthians 10:14) ¶ Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

(1Timothy 6:10-11) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 ¶ But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

(2Timothy 2:22) Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.


Some conversations are silly.

"Where do you want to eat?" "I don't know, where do YOU want to eat?" "I want to eat wherever YOU want to eat!" "I don't want to decide - YOU decide." "No, I asked you first. YOU decide." "OK, how about Denny's?" "No, I don't feel like Denny's today." "OK, where DO you want to go?"

We all have rebellion boiling in our hearts and it manifests itself in some peculiar ways. We want to control things even by NOT making a decision about where to eat.

The problem starts with our presumption of autonomy. We would like to rule ourselves. "My will be done," is our default credo. We want to gratify our own desires for pleasure and glory. We want what we want and we want it now. We want to be recognized and praised. We refuse to be controlled. We don't even want to be influenced.

As soon as we can talk we learn to say, "No!" and "I'll do it myself!" We become more subtle in expressing these ideas as we get older, but our hearts are still crying out, "NO! I'LL DO IT MYSELF!"

So, we spend money we don't have or become fanatical about saving. We refuse to exercise - or become obsessive about exercise. We binge on junk food, or we become health food gurus. I wonder if all of our dysfunction and addiction and neurosis could be traced back to this essential problem - the desire for autonomy. "I want to be in control - even if it leads me to self destruction."

I want to clean up my space in the house, but I bristle with resentment if my wife suggests that I should clean up my space in the house. "I'll do it myself!" I don't even like it when I tell myself to do something - so I procrastinate. I'm too tired, too busy, and have too many other priorities. "NO!"

It is all rebellion. Why can't I just submit to the plain truth and do what I ought to do - for the relief of everyone including myself?

It is a spiritual problem of pride. Ultimately I need to submit to God and realize that my life is not about me being in control and doing what I want. God is the Authority. God is the Judge. God is the Savior.

When I submit to God I can let go of my obsessions and resist the temptations to serve myself. When I submit to God and recognize my complete dependence on Him, I have no worries about my inability to control my world. Then I can focus on being a godly man - doing what pleases God. Then I can relate to other people without a contest of status or wills.
(James 4:6-8) ¶ But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
7 ¶ Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Take the next step

Do you get tired - weary - fatigued? Are you worn down, worn out, frayed? Are you ready to cash out, throw in the towel, give up, wave the white flag?

Don't do it!
(Galatians 6:9-10) And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Always look at the next step. What is the next step you should take? Take it. Keep moving ahead. Follow Christ again today - a little bit further - just one more step.
(Hebrews 12:1-2) Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Go the distance! Jesus knows how hard it is. Keep putting one foot ahead of the other.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I was thinking again of how important it is to have goals.

If it were not a goal to read through the Bible every year, I wouldn't do the little bit each day that gets me through in a year. If it were not a goal to spend an hour in prayer every day, I would probably spend that hour sleeping or reading or surfing the internet.

Goals are what help me shake off my normal inertia so that I put energy into doing the things that are important, but not urgent.

Urgent things take care of themselves because they are URGENT. Everything else that is important requires specific goals or it vanishes from the radar screen of life. We are self indulgent. We give in to sleep and slumber - to mindless amusements - to whatever is easiest at the moment.

Set some goals. Do something truly worthwhile everyday. Do something that matters for eternity.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Police Chase

Excitement right here in Canton!

When I came out of the house with the teens after our Wednesday meeting, it was like a police show. A line of police cars came up the street with lights and sirens. A man ran through the yard across the street and was soon followed by the police.

I stood there like a movie extra and said, "He went that way!"

We had state troopers, Jackson Police, Perry Police and an unmarked police car all in sight. I don't know what they were after this guy for, but they were sure after him...

But I think he got away. The police split up and were driving back and forth through the neighborhood for a while.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Breaking Rocks

Writing expository sermons and Bible lessons is like breaking rocks with a sledge.

Swing - clink! Swing - clink! Swing - crack! Sigh...

Any child can snatch up pretty pebbles on the run. It would be just that easy to pick up some devotional thoughts on a quick reading through a Bible passage. There is nothing wrong with simple devotional thoughts. They are delightful. But they are not the "whole counsel of God." They will not be enough to guide us to godly maturity.

Ugh! Swing - thud. (Missed!) Swing - clink. Swing - clink.

The Bible is rich and the veins of ore are deep. It takes concentrated effort. It takes time. It takes serious reflection. Read the passage over and over and over again. Look up the words. Compare parallel passages. Read about the background. Read the context. Write some notes. Organize thoughts, then reorganize them again. Ask hard questions and don't settle for superficial answers.

Swing - clink. Swing - clink. Swing - crack. Rest.

Generally, you are not going to get it all done at once. Work at it when you are fresh. Work at it when you can focus on it with few interruptions. Keep swinging away while you can. Maybe there will be a breakthrough that will energize you. But don't be ashamed to rest now and then.

Ahhhh! & Aha!

Strange how the brain works on things even after you have turned your attention elsewhere.

Eventually you want to have things broken down to manageable and useful size. Then you can organize them - build them back into a sermon.

If you do it well, people will look at the text of Scripture as they listen to the sermon and say,
"This sermon is so obviously what the Scriptures are saying. This is exactly what God has for us here! Even a child would be able to pick up these truths that are lying here in the open."

Praise the Lord and keep on studying. Sunday is coming.
(2Timothy 2:15) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rainy Days And Mondays

It is a beautifully rainy Monday. The yard work we did on Saturday is getting a freshening, cleansing rain.

Sunny days are nice, but without rainy days this would be an uninhabitable desert.

Praise God for His wisdom and provision - just what we need - just when we need it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Busy, busy, busy

I remember fondly when I thought I could write a daily blog. Now I am doing well to write a weekly blog - and weakly at that.

I was wondering why I've been feeling so swamped. I have been struggling to get the basics done on time. I've been just squeaking by on my deadlines with all of my work. I wondered if I was too old to keep up the pace.

Then I started pulling paperwork out of the pile on my desk so I could organize my board report. The truth is, I've had several extra things going on recently!

Normal work includes:
  • Sunday morning sermons
  • Sunday evening sermons
  • Writing a Sunday School curriculum
  • Counseling & Discipleship meetings
In addition I've been:
  • Teaching two sections of a membership class for the past six weeks
  • Trying to take care of some confusion in my W-2s so I could file my taxes
  • Planning an Easter service that included testimonies, a business session and 5 baptisms
  • Ordering materials and planning for the new quarter of adult Sunday School
So, no wonder I've been feeling extra busy. I was. But now, the membership classes are over for now. The taxes are filed. The Easter service was yesterday (and went great). The materials are here for SS and the classes have all started.

Praise the Lord! We are back to our normally busy routine. (But I do have a little catching up to do.) There is always plenty to do, that's for sure.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Press On!

(1Timothy 6:10) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Surprise! Let the news over the past few months bear witness! Greed and covetousness are at the heart of everything from the collapse of huge banks and corporations to the daily burglaries and hold ups of common bandits.

But the love of money is not the source of EVERY evil. What is?

I think the answer is pride. Pride is the starting point for every rebellion against God. This was where Lucifer started his fall...
(Isaiah 14:12-14) “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!
13 For you have said in your heart: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’
This is where Adam and Eve turned off...
(Genesis 3:4-6) Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.
5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
Pastor's without enough experience to humble them are in danger...
(1Timothy 3:6) not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.
The cure for our ungodliness in life starts with getting over our pride...
(James 4:6-8) But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Pride is, at its heart, a desire to BE your own God, rather than to submit to the One True and Living God of the Bible. Ignorance is not pride, but the presumption of pride and keeps us from appreciating our own ignorance. As a consequence of pride we are complacent in our own goodness and wisdom.
(Romans 10:3) For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.

We fail to see God's beautiful holiness so that we can be drawn to Him in a continuing upward path of submission and conformity to the image of Christ.
(Philippians 3:12-14) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cooking Sermons

Have you ever noticed that in near darkness, you can see things better if you look at them in your peripheral vision?

I have that same sort of experience with my work. Sometimes when I am looking directly at the page and trying hard to come up with sermons or lessons or materials of some sort, I can't seem to get anywhere.

Then, when I am occupied with some unrelated task like driving, the ideas about the sermons, etc. begin to flow freely. Of course, I usually cannot stop right where I am and take down the ideas - (I'm busy driving!) Even if I try to write it down or record it, the flow of thought becomes restricted again.

I've learned that I am better off to just let the ideas flow rather than to try to capture them right away. Instead I play with them for a while. I let them flow in images as much as in words, and try not to spoil the moment by getting too specific. Then, later I can remember the basic shape of the ideas and get them down on paper when I am free to concentrate.

So, what do I do in the study? I read the text I am studying. I jot down notes about it. I read cross references. I check time-lines or charts or whatever I have that might be suggested by the text. Then I dream about it a little. I juggle. I sort through piles on my desk. I read an unrelated book. I play my flute. Then I write a bit more and put it away to turn my attention to some other task.

That's the way it works for me.

The Safe Investment

It is probably a mistake to check the news in the morning. Things that are newsworthy are usually discouraging. This morning's news included a father who killed all of his children and himself because his wife left him. We are still reading about the killings of immigrants in Binghamton, NY and of police officers in Pittsburgh, PA. Meanwhile, teachers in Wisconsin (and no doubt other places) are finding out that their retirement accounts are worthless because they were invested in what are now considered "toxic assets."

Ugh! Human greed, fear, hate, despair, paranoia and every kind of ugliness.

Where can we turn for hope? Where can we look for safety? Is there any safe investment?
(Matthew 6:19-21) “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If you are trusting the government, the banks, the insurance companies, the schools, the medical profession, your own strength and wisdom or even your closest family members, you are in store for more unpleasant shocks. Some people prove to be untrustworthy, but even the best are not able to keep you and your investments safe.

Invest ALL your hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is God. He cannot fail. He will never leave you or forsake you. He is unchanging. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He will certainly prevail and reveal the everlasting life He promised to those who trust in Him. Take Him at His word.
(Matthew 11:28-30) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Fear of God

(Psalms 111:10) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.
I have often pointed out that people who have rejected belief in God have no meaning, purpose or moral absolutes in their lives. This is why our news is full of crime and brutality. It is the wave of the present.

So what is the positive side?

Our God is the Holy Creator of all things - the Judge of all the earth. He is the measure of all things and the One Who will call all men to an accounting. He is just! He is pure! He is gracious!

Praise God that He is also merciful! He sends His rain on the just and the unjust. He is long-suffering - extending lives and delaying the day of judgment.

He has not hidden Himself. He reveals Himself in the wonders of His creation. He has revealed Himself in flesh through Jesus Christ. He has revealed Himself through inspired scripture... His very words.

In Him we have the value of meaning - as God's creation, made in His Own image.
In Him we have purpose - to glorify God through obedience and righteousness.
He is Himself our moral absolute - what is in harmony with His character is good.
In Him we have hope - that in Christ we have salvation from sin and the promise of eternal life.

(Psalms 111:10) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.
We spend too much time worried about ourselves. How do I feel? Am I as happy as I can be? What is bothering me? What new thing do I want that might make me happier? Why are people bothering me? What's wrong with them? What's wrong with me?

You get the idea.

What about God's happiness? How does God feel? What can I do that will please Him? What about giving myself to His purposes for my life - heart and soul? How about being controlled by what God thinks, rather than how I feel?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Today or Tomorrow

(James 4:13-15) Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.”

We have our plans... but what do we know?

On Monday I had a long list of things to do, but more important matters came up and the list had to be postponed while I visited with various people. God first. People second. Paper only last.

On Tuesday I did what I normally do on Tuesday - but I still didn't get Monday's list finished.

On Wednesday I had the list ready, plus the list for Wednesday, but I was tied up all morning by the disconcerting business of trying to get things sorted out so I can file my taxes. (Yes, these are the tax returns that are due in 13 days... the ones I was going to do in January this year... those taxes.) So far, I can't move ahead because of some confusion. I am frustrated. I am anxious. I am distracted. There went Wednesday morning and part of Wednesday afternoon.

Today is deadline day and I have a meeting tonight, but before I can get to the study - I need to go to town for an item I need my son's help unloading from my truck. I didn't plan it this way, but this is the way it is.

My list is made out. I know what I need to do today. I have everything on the list prioritized so that I will do the important things first. But will I really get these things done?

God knows. And God is not worried about it, so why should I be?

If God wants me to get these things done today - they will be done today. I will do my best. I will be obedient. I will work hard. Let God's will be done.

If God has other plans for me - that will be just as good as getting that list completed - and even better. God's plans are always best.

Obedience and humble submission will keep me calm.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pride & Prejudice

I loved the book, "Pride and Prejudice." The whole plot is about aristocratic English society. Some people are snobs - other people are assumed to be snobs (but turn out to be OK) - still others realize that they were themselves snobs without realizing it.

The book was great - unfortunately it reflects an ongoing characteristic of real life. We make assumptions about people and look down on some and look up to others without any real knowledge of their hearts. All of this starts with our prideful overestimation of our own goodness and objectivity.

We are better off to try to avoid stereotyping or even classifying people. We should just deal gently with people and assume the best of them wherever possible. Keep it simple. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Don't presume to know what is going on in other people's hearts and minds - we don't even know what is going on in our own hearts most of the time.

Our pride is really a strike against God's glory. Whenever we think we are something, we forget that God is everything. Whatever gifts we have - whatever strengths - whatever goodness - even our life itself - depends completely and totally on God. If we have something good, it is really a reflection of God's ultimate good.

Sometimes you have to deal with difficult situations and people who seem to be trying to be unpleasant.

Keep your cool. God is in control. Be humble and gentle, because it is not your reputation on the line, but God's.