Smoke & Mirrors

Maybe if I sacrifice some time and go to church this weekend, it will “make-up” for being dishonest with the grocery store clerk.

Perhaps I can sacrifice some TV time and pray an extra five minutes and read a whole chapter in the Bible instead of asking forgiveness from my relative for how I offended her.

I think I’ll sacrifice and give a little extra cash in the offering plate this Sunday to compensate for not following through on that commitment I made to help.

One of the first verses I memorized as a child was Exodus 20:12,

“Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD they God giveth thee.” 

Jesus dealt with some religious people of his day who “dedicated” their money to God as a religious “sacrifice” to justify not having to use it to care for their parents (click here to see Matthew 15). These very religious people justified breaking the command, “Honor your father and your mother” with a religious act of “sacrifice.”

It was religious “smoke and mirrors.” And Jesus saw right through it!

The LORD is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer Him sacrifices. Proverbs 21:3

God would rather we do what is just and right instead of trying to substitute some religious act or “sacrifice.”

A religious act is something we can do without dying to self. It is our tendency to avoid being crucified with Christ.  Galatians 2:20 says:

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

But to do the right and just thing requires us to die to self. It is precisely at the point of dying to self that Christ can live in and through us. Paradoxically the more we try to gain life the more we lose it.  The more we lose our lives for Christ’s sake, the more we gain real life.

Losing our lives for Christ will always interrupt and inconvenience our controlled religious life.

Do you remember those old TV announcements, “We interrupt regular programing to bring you this important announcement?”

Christ cannot live through us if we keep getting in the way. We must allow him to interrupt our regular, religious programming in order for him to do the right and just thing through us. For the resurrected Christ to live in and through us we must get on the cross and die to self.

Our Father, forgive us for substituting religious things for the resurrected life. Come and live through us as we die to ourselves.

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I Don’t Like Talking about It

I often get overwhelmed and depressed. There, I said it. I didn’t want to say it. I don’t like talking about my weaknesses.

I fall into the trap that many other pastors do. We often feel we must appear to have it all together all the time.

We don’t have it all together all the time! But you already knew that, didn’t you!?

I would rather talk about my spiritual gift inventory that reveals the strengths of teaching and encouragement. I would rather point to (brag about) the things I’m “good at.”

I regularly pray rebuking these spiritual attacks attempting to defeat me.  I ask often that these feelings of inadequacy and depression be covered by the blood of Jesus. In Jesus’ name I tell Satan to get behind me and out of my life. I use memorized verses to replace the thoughts that want to tear me down.

Why can I be honest about something I really want to pretend doesn’t exist? Because the apostle Paul with all of his strengths, letters he wrote, sermons he preached, churches he started, and mission trips led did the same thing!!!!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

Admitting my weaknesses helps me realize that the grace of Jesus Christ is enough for me!

Being honest about my humanity helps me see His power at work in my weaknesses!

Only by admitting my weaknesses can the power of Christ truly rest upon me!

Jesus did not suddenly appear on eath as a victorious, conquering King. He revealed himself in weakness. He came as a helpless baby dependent on his mother. Even in Christmas we celebrate power revealed in weakness!

Since the Son of God became weak to show God’s great power and love, how much more must we follow in His steps!

Our Father, we are weak, dysfunctional, and damaged in many ways. THANK-YOU that Your grace is enough for us, Your power is perfected in our weaknesses, and the power of Christ rests upon us in spite of ourselves. We admit to You our many weaknesses so that today Your power will shine brightly through us. Thank-you for the constant presence of Jesus in us who makes this possible.

Panic Attacks

His panic attacks came from two sources.

First, taunts and scoffs hit him like a punch to the gut. Those throwing these verbal missiles did not believe in the Creator God, his Father God, and especially rejected his faith the Messiah. The blasts from unbelievers’ mouths are real and hurtful. “Where is your God?” “Human life is not sacred, it is ok to kill an unborn baby!”

Second, a claustrophobic discouragement and sadness pressed upon him from within. He felt like it would crush him. The onset of loneliness from these internal attacks overwhelmed his faith. “Why has God forgotten me?!” “Oh, why can’t it be like it used to be?”

Who is this guy? Boy he needs help! Sometimes its me.  Sometimes its you. In this case it is the Psalmist in Psalm 42.

He struggles in these eleven verses between putting his trust in God and the discouragement of the spiritual battle going on. Read it. Feel the tug of war! The hurt is real! The pain is palpable.

In verses 1 and 2 he compares his desire for God to a deer parched with thirst looking for a cool stream of water.

In verses 3 and 4 he remembers a better day of believers worshipping together compared to his current situation of  unbelievers taunting him. Today’s media packed with unbelievers taunt our faith in God. They label holding high standards of morality and ethics as hatred.

In verses 5 and 6 he reminds himself to put his hope in God. He’s encouraged that God is like a mountain from which a river flows.

In verses 7, 8, and 9 he puts his trust in God. The crashing waves of the seashore remind him that God’s unfailing love is constant like those waves. He sings and prays to the one who gives him life. God is his rock.

Yet in verse 9b and 10, he once more reflects on the taunts of the enemy. The attacks are real and discouraging.

But his conclusion is worth the battle! In verse 11 he says:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.  Psalm 42:11 ESV

Why should I stay in such a state of being down and out? Well I don’t have to! Hope in God! Praise Him again and again. He is my salvation. He is my God!

Hope in God. How do I do that? See yourself as a thread used in sewing. See God as a massive rope used to ties ships to a dock. Hoping in God is the act of binding that weak thread into that massive rope. HIS STRENGTH BECOMES YOUR STRENGTH. Weave yourself into God. Hope in Him!

Our Father, thank-you in the midst of spiritual battles we can bind ourselves into You receiving real hope. We are like a weak thread, but You are an unbreakable rope. Today we choose to bind ourselves into You.

Don’t Give Up!

What if God gave us the desires of our heart? Could we define what our heart’s desires are?

The list would likely become very long.

  • Stop the tide of militant Islam in our world.
  • Heal a disease or injury.
  • Give a few more months of life to the dying.
  • Free the captive and persecuted Christians enduring severe persecution.
  • Bring my neighbor, grandchild, or friend to salvation.
  • Save my child’s marriage.
  • Ignite a wave of revival and spiritual awakening.
  • Heal the consequences of my sin or my loved one’s sin.
  • Stop the evildoers from robbing our freedoms.
  • May our nation be obsessed with repentance and revival instead of sexual expression in all kinds of perverted ways.
  • Make me happy.
  • Grow our church.
  • Bring thousands more to saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
  • Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Psalm 37 gives hope! Meditate on these verses for a few minutes:

1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!

2 For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.

3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will act.

God wins! Keep doing the little things you can do here and now. Fret not. Don’t worry. Don’t envy the seemingly successful evildoers. They will wither away soon. Trust in the Lord. Be faithful. DELIGHT YOURSELF IN THE LORD! Commit your way to Him. God will act!

Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Share the transforming power of Jesus Christ in spite of the growing antagonism in our secularized society. Jesus changes lives!

Our Father, forgive us for fretting. We commit ourselves to DELIGHT in You! We pray for spiritual awakening and revival in our nation and in our world. You are our only hope and salvation. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Read the Directions!

“If all else fails, read the directions.” How many times that has been my modus operandi!

Well to be honest, I had to look that up modus operandi . I just used that phrase to impress you. I’ve heard others use it. I thought I knew what it meant in practice but couldn’t give you a definition!

So, what in the world is a modus operandi? It is Latin for ‘way of operating.’ It means: a particular way or method of doing something, especially one that is characteristic or well-established. I Googled it!

Anyway, so much for my Latin lesson for the day. Back to what I was saying.

I bought one of those gadgets recently that finds studs in the wall of your home so I could know where to drive a nail to hang a heavy mirror. I opened the package and removed the gadget.  I removed the screw on the back to insert the batteries. Uh-oh! The gadget’s insides spilled out!

If I had read the instructions, I would have known that there’s a little slide-out on the back that makes it very easy to insert batteries. Yes, I did get the gadget put back together and re-inserted the screw.  Lesson learned! Well for a little while, until the next time I do something without reading the directions.

Ignoring instructions and despising reproof can have much greater consequences! In fact, it can mean life or death! I prefer life. I prefer wisdom. I value myself pretty highly and would rather not despise myself.

So here’s some really wise words from the writer of Proverbs:

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself. Proverbs 15:31-32 ESV

Our Father, thank-you for the life-giving reproof of your Holy Bible and your Holy Spirit. Make us sensitive today to accept your reproof and to pay close attention to your instruction to be wise.

Two-a-Days

Two-a-day’s. Boy, do I have vivid memories of two-a-day’s! In grades 8-12 I played football.  Every August we had an early morning practice and a late afternoon practice for two weeks.  We called those grueling, exhausting, get into shape, felt like we were going to die, football practices two-a-days.

Many times I wanted to quit! But the old football coach’s slogan would ring in my head, Quitters never win! Winners never quit!

How many times have you heard someone say, “Don’t give up!”  How many times have you have said it yourself?

How many times have each of us thought about giving up or wanted to give up?

The apostle Paul certainly had many reasons to give up in his life.  He was run out-of-town, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, snake bit, flogged, imprisoned, rejected, chained, starved … well, you get the picture.

Yet in the letter to the Philippians, while he is in prison, he gives one of the greatest pep talks in Scripture!

And then in the letter to the Galatians he tells them, “Don’t give up!”

So, let’s not get tired  of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith. Galatians 6:9-10 NLT

Monday, I was on the receiving end of those who didn’t give up. The Disaster Relief Team showed up at my house to cut, haul, trim, and clean up … for four hours!  Thanks Gary Moore, Bill Gibbons, Harry Partlow, Jay Dirksen, Glen Barr, Dave Finton, and David Merkle!

I was humbled to be served by a group of Christian brothers who expected nothing in return.

So, let’s not get tired of doing what is good. Give God the glory in it. God will see to the harvest of the work, so trust Him. Now, don’t give up! I know you will feel like giving-up sometimes, but take each opportunity God puts into your day today, and do something good to someone. Especially do good stuff for your fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ!

Our Father, thank-you for doing good for us by sending Your Son Jesus to die for us and give us grace, forgiveness, and eternal life. Help us today to do good stuff just because we should and expect nothing in return. Thank-you for the promised harvest You will give in Your perfect timing.

T – R – O – U – B – L – E

Billie Sue’s grandfather, Lex Smith, loved to do word puzzles in his retirement years. He would sit for hours filling in the squares with letters.

In the those last days, he would spell the same word out loud over and over again. I can still hear him saying the letters again and again.

“T – R – O – U – B – L – E.”  “T – R – O – U – B – L – E.” “T – R – O – U – B – L – E.”

I’m not sure why he got stuck on that one word. But he did.

Jesus talked about “trouble” too.

Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34 HCSB

We can get stuck on tomorrow’s trouble too.  Jesus knows our tendencies. How easy it is for us to get focused on something that might or might not happen tomorrow. In doing so, we miss living today to the fullest!

Yes, tomorrow will come with its trouble, but why live it today in our minds before it actually happens? Plus, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We could end up worrying about things that will never happen anyway!

I’m just as guilty as the rest of you. Worry sneaks into my thoughts when I don’t stay focused on the truth of God’s Word and His Son Jesus.

So, how do we do that?!

Remember the verse just before verse 34? Verse 34 begins with “Therefore.” So what is it “there for”? The solution and a very familiar verse:

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Matthew 6:33 HCSB

All those “things” we worry about God provides for us if we seek His kingdom and righteousness first.  First? Yes, instead of first worrying about things, we seek God’s kingship and righteousness first.

Someone observed, “Today is the Tomorrow you worried about Yesterday.”

Worry is all about putting “things” first instead of God’s will. Remember Jesus’ instructions on how to pray:

Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10 HCSB

How do we “seek first the kingdom of God?” We seek to do His will on earth today! That’s an all-encompassing focus that takes up all our attention today. When we focus on doing His kingdom work today, we are not focused on the “things” that will “trouble” us tomorrow.

Jesus is in the life-changing business!

Our Father, we confess our sins of worry and ask your forgiveness. Thank-you that we don’t need to worry. The “things” of this world are temporary.  Your word and kingdom will last forever! We ask for your ever-present Spirit to teach to live by faith, not by worry.