A Better Way

We don’t have to look very far to see the reality of 2 Timothy 3:2-5 played out in our culture today: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”

“Having a form of godliness but denying it’s power . . . .” That’s probably the most tragic description listed above, not that the rest of the description is any better, but the clear implication is that there are people who think they are doing okay–“having a form of godliness”–but really aren’t as they are living life on their own terms, not God’s, and the consequences from such actions (or inactions) are deadly.

Complacency . . . . Dictionary.com defined complacency as “a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like: self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.” It reminds me of the metaphor regarding a frog (e.g., “if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death” –quote source here).

Dr. Charles Swindoll gives us the anecdote in a devotion I read this morning titled, “A Better Way”:

A Better Way

Romans 12:10-13

Yourself. Yourself. Yourself. We’re up to here with self! How very different from Jesus’ model and message! Instead of a “philosophy” to turn our eyes inward, He offers a fresh and much-needed invitation to our “me first” generation. There is a better way, Jesus says. “Be a servant. Give to others!” Just listen: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Know what all that means? Well, for starters, “nothing” means just that. Stop permitting two strong tendencies–selfishness and conceit–to control you! Let nothing either of them suggests win a hearing. Replace them with “humility of mind.”

But how? By regarding others as more important than yourself.

Look for ways to support, encourage, build up, and stimulate the other person. And that requires an attitude that would rather give then receive.

“Humility of mind” is really an attitude, isn’t it? It’s a preset mentality that determines ahead of time thoughts like this: I care about those around me. Why do I always have to be first? I’m going to help someone else win for a change. Today, it’s my sincere desire to curb my own fierce competitive tendencies and turn that energy into encouraging at least one other person. I willingly release my way this day. Lord, show me how You would respond to others, then help me do the same.

To get started in this unselfish lifestyle, let me suggest three basic ingredients: giving, forgiving, and forgetting.

Once we make up our minds to implement the truth of Philippians 2:3-4 (taking a special interest in others) or Galatians 5:13 (serving others in love), those three basics will begin to emerge. Instead of always thinking about receiving, we’ll start looking for ways to give. Instead of holding grudges against those who have offended us, we’ll be anxious to forgive. And instead of keeping a record of what we’ve done or who we’ve helped, we’ll take delight in forgetting the deed(s) and being virtually unnoticed.

It is impossible to give yourself away at arm’s length.

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 360
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

Here’s an example from my own recent experience that came to mind as I was reading this devotion. Usually, when I’m grocery shopping, I’ll notice people around me who might need some assistance (for example, a short person or someone in one of those “riding carts” who needs a grocery item that is too high for them to reach) and I’ll help them get the item. I think lots of folks do this for others in this type of situation. However, for some reason lately when I’ve been out shopping, sometimes a person (usually an older woman) will get right up beside me in my “personal space” and either bump into me and/or grab something off the shelf right in front of me. Usually, I respond by moving out of the way and letting that person get whatever item she wants. And, most of the time I find myself engaging this person in a brief conversation like a couple of days ago when this happened in a grocery store and an older woman grabbed something right in front of me–something I just had in my hand but decided not to buy. In that case, I engaged her in conversation and found out that she was on a very low-carb diet. And, we both agreed that that particular item was not exactly low-carb. She told me she had recently lost ten pounds watching her carbs and I congratulated her as I know how difficult it is to lose weight, and I told her she looked great–oh to be as skinny as she was–as we ended the conversation and went our separate ways.

However, yesterday this same situation happened again in a different store. Mind you, the stores are not crowded at the time I shop as being unemployed I can shop during the day during the week when there are no crowds, but after having this same experience happen several times in the past couple of weeks, I found myself being annoyed this time around. This woman yesterday was practically in my face (seriously). She was so close to me that she probably breathed in the air I exhaled, if that gives you any idea how close she was to me. So I asked her if she was looking for something in particular and when she told me what she was looking for I showed her where the item was (which was right in front of her). However, this time around, instead of trying to engage this particular woman in conversation, I just walked away and bought what I had in my arms and left (which is all I planned to purchase in the first place). I did engage the cashier in a brief, pleasant conversation as I was paying for the few items I purchased.

As I left the store I realized how annoyed I was by this particular incident. I thought to myself, “is this how older women shop nowadays with little patience for other shoppers who appear to be in their way?” Apparently so, but I think it has little to do with age or gender. I just happen to be out shopping most of the time when retired people (mostly older women or couples) are out shopping–e.g., when the “crowds” (working people) are not there.

I realized part of my annoyance had to do with the frequency this had happened to me in the past couple of weeks, and in her case, she was so “in my face” that I had to move as she wasn’t budging. And even with her lack of courtesy towards me I did ask her if I could help (and gave her the answer she needed). However, what got to me the most was how long I let her lack of courtesy annoy me after I left the store (actually, not long but long enough). I did try to help her and was pleasant about it, too, but I had no desire to engage her in conversation beyond that point. She wanted my space, so I gave it to her and left.

However, this morning when this incident came to mind, I wish I had remembered to breathe a quick prayer, “Lord, show me how I should respond to her.” I don’t know the reason why this woman so intentionally invaded my space in the store (there were maybe all of a half a dozen shoppers in the entire place at the time, including her husband), and maybe she was just having a bad day. But instead, I was just really annoyed. That didn’t stop me from trying to help her, but it did stop me from talking with her any further then I needed to.

We live in a very impatient society and it’s getting worse all the time. As the descriptions listed in 2 Timothy 3:2-5 continue to play out in our interactions with others (and we can find ourselves many times in that list, too), may we try to remember to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. It’s not always easy, and we don’t always get it right . . .

But it’s a starting point . . . .

YouTube Video: “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts (2006):

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Even Her?

Ever think about the labels we put on people, especially those we don’t know or know well? Here’s a few for you: Glutton, wino, drunk, crazy (years ago the word implied being “demon-possessed”). These were labels given to Jesus Christ (see Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34, John 8:45-50) by the religious folks and others during His time on earth. He was also labeled “a friend of sinners” (Matt. 11:19Luke 7:34) which is the only accurate label in the list. So accurate, in fact, that He went all the way to the cross for sinners.

I read a devotion this morning on this very topic from Our Daily Breadtitled Even Her?” Let’s read it together:

Even Her?

Joshua 2:1-14

Imagine looking through your family tree and finding this description of your ancestor: “A prostitute, she harbored enemies of the government in her house. When she was confronted by the authorities, she lied about it.”

What would you do about her? Hide her story from anyone inquiring about your family? Or spotlight and praise her in the legends of your family’s story?

Meet Rahab. If what we read about her in Joshua 2 were all we knew, we might lump her in with all of the other renegades and bad examples in the Bible. But her story doesn’t stop there. Matthew 1:5-6 reveals that she was King David’s great-great grandmother—and that she was in the lineage of our Savior, Jesus. And there’s more. Hebrews 11:31 names Rahab as a woman of faith who was saved from the fall of Jericho (see Josh. 6:17). And in James 2:25, her works of rescue were given as evidence of her righteous faith.

God’s love is amazing that way. He can take people with a bad reputation, transform their lives, and turn them into examples of His love and forgiveness. If you think you’re too bad to be forgiven or if you know someone else who feels that way, read about Rahab and rejoice. If God can turn her into a beacon of righteousness, there’s hope for all of us. ~Dave Branon

Redemption’s price our Savior paid
When all our sins on Him were laid;
He took our guilt, He bore our shame
That we may glorify His name.~D. DeHaan

Whether our sins are great or small,
Jesus is able to forgive them all.

“He (God) can take people with a bad reputation, transform their lives, and turn them into examples of His love and forgiveness.” So why is it we don’t cut others much slack? Why is it we are so quick to judge others especially when we don’t know all the facts? We condemn but Jesus doesn’t. We throw others on the garbage heap with our labeling and our gossip, but Jesus takes them where they are at and cleans them up and totally changes their lives. The only problem Jesus had with people was with the “religious folks” of His day, and you can read what He had to say in Matthew 23. It’s not very pretty . . . .

I’m reading an excellent book recently published by Chosen Books (Baker Publishing Group) titled, Fearless Daughters of the Bible (2012) by J. Lee Grady. He also has a blog, Fire in My Bones,” at CharismaMag.com and is the founder of The Mordecai Project, a Christian ministry devoted to healing, protecting and empowering women around the world. The book is about 22 women who challenged tradition, fought injustice and dared to lead and includes many examples of modern day women as well as their biblical counterparts such as Sarah (Abraham’s wife and the mother of Isaac), Ruth (the Moabite who married Boaz), Hannah (the mother of Samuel), Esther (Queen of Persia), Deborah (Judge of Israel), and many others to include unnamed women like the five daughters of Zelophehad, and the Samaritan woman.

At the beginning of the chapter titled “Ruth, the Moabite” (with a subtitle of “The Courage to Forsake the Past”), pp. 53-67, I was surprised by an easily overlooked fact that the author points out in four verses from the genealogy of Jesus Christ at the beginning of Matthew (1:3-6). Here’s that passage:

“Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.”

Since Lee Grady explains it much better than I can, the following three paragraphs are from his book on pp. 54-55:

“God reveals His amazing mercy in the details of this list. Notice that among these descendants of Abraham, four women are mentioned. This is highly unusual since women were rarely listed in genealogies during the time of Christ. What is even more striking is the type of women who are included. For one thing, three of the four women are Gentiles–and although Bathsheba was probably a Jew, her husband was a Hittite. So much for ‘racial purity’ in Christ’s lineage.

“Secondly, each of the women mentioned represents a moral scandal. Tamar’s relationship with Judah, her father-in-law, was illicit (she posed as a prostitute and he slept with her, and then tried to cover up his sin before he was exposed); Rahab ran a brothel in Jericho; David had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba (and then had her husband killed to cover his tracks). And Ruth? She was from Moab–a land outside the borders of Israel that was founded by Lot through an incestuous relationship with his older daughter.

“Prostitution. Incest. Adultery. This sounds more like ‘The Jerry Springer Show’ or ‘Desperate Housewives’ than a biblical narrative! But it reveals another amazing thing about the Bible: Scripture does not offer us a sanitized view of life. The Bible is raw. It tells us how God works with broken, sinful people, and it does not mask their problems or hide their flaws. It should comfort all of us that Jesus Christ’s earthly family had plenty of skeletons in its primitive closets. He was born into a dysfunctional family–and that should give hope to all of us who need forgiveness and cleansing from the ugly secrets of our past.”

Gives new meaning to what Jesus had to say in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” doesn’t it? I’m not pointing fingers as I’ve been there plenty of times myself. We all have skeletons in our closet–every last one of us. And many times we judge others from the gossip we hear about them without even knowing them. And reputations and lives are demeaned and destroyed by the labels we’ve placed on others and by gossip spread for less than altruistic reasons (and many times for selfish and self-serving reasons).

The next time we find ourselves ready to label or gossip about another person for any reason and especially if the information was received by way of gossip–whether in the work place, or church, or out in the public arena or some other type of social gathering, or walking by a homeless person on the street–stop and remember the skeletons in your own closet. How would you fare if your life was put on display in a 24/7 reality show for all the world to see, for example? Not a pretty picture, is it?

Glutton, wino, drunk, crazy . . . the folks back in Jesus’ day were dead wrong about Him. Jesus was the only sinless person to ever walk this earth (and He is the only Son of God), and He came to save sinners–that’s all of us, folks.

That’s all of us . . . .

So let us remember instead. . .
“There but for
the grace of God, go I”
~John Bradford (1510-1555)

YouTube Video: “China Grove” (1973) by the Doobie Brothers:

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A Place to Unload

Dictionary.com defines “compassion” as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Galatians 6:2 states, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Both of those descriptions are overshadowed in our culture today by the all consuming theme of “Looking out for #1.” Whatever happened to the expression “There but for the Grace of God, go I”? How easily we forget that we could end up in their shoes.

Dr. Charles Swindoll addresses this issue in his devotion titled, “A Place to Unload.” Let’s read it together:

A Place to Unload

Galatians 5-6

This thing called life is an awfully long journey. For some, it seems an endless trip, filled with thankless responsibilities and relentless tasks, disappointments and deadlines, and daily demands.

Being imperfect doesn’t help. Every so often we make stupid decisions. We say things we wish we could retrieve. Selfishly, we look out for number one and later regret it. We act impulsively and realize, after the fact, how foolish we were, how dumb we looked. On top of all that, we hurt the ones we love the most. All this stuff caves in on us at certain times, and we wonder how anybody could ever love us . . . especially God.

When we start thinking like this, we need to turn our mind to the “one anothers” in the New Testament. Here’s just a sampling: Love one another, build up one another, live in peace with one another, confess your sins to one another, speak to one another, admonish one another, comfort one another, pray for one another.

I deliberately saved my favorite for last, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).

Imagine two mountain hikers trudging along, each carrying a backpack. The one on the left has a tiny, light pack that a kid could carry, while the poor soul on the right is so loaded down we can’t even see his head or his body.

Let’s imagine what he might be lugging in that pack on that long road. It could be a long-standing grudge that’s poisoning his insides. It might be a broken relationship with his wife or one of his kids. That pack could be loaded with unpaid bills, all of them overdue.

The question is, Where can that fella on the right go to unload so the fella on the left can help “bear the burden”? By sitting in church alongside a few hundred or a couple thousand other folks? Hardly. What he needs most is to be involved in an adult fellowship in a small-group setting, a place where there is person-to-person caring and the opportunity for authentic sharing. Where he will feel free, without embarrassment or shame, to tell his secret or state his struggle; where someone will listen, help him unload, and give him fresh strength.

Adult fellowships and small groups are no miniature church services. They are pockets of people who love Christ and believe in helping one another. They don’t point fingers or preach or compare. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Once you begin unloading that pack, you’ll discover how much easier the journey seems.

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 284
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

I’m not sure how many years or maybe decades ago this particular devotion was written since the devotional book it came from is a compilation of experiences from Dr. Swindoll’s life and ministry. I’ve read many of his books starting back in the early 1980’s and he has a way of hitting the nail on the head and saying it in such a way that not only is filled with the compassion from a pastor’s heart but also admonishment when needed. And he calls a spade a spade in clear, easy to understand language. He speaks truth and doesn’t detour around the hard topics (like sin). And he’s one of my very favorite Christian writers.

I’ve been a part of small churches with barely a hundred or so members, and also several megachurches, including the largest megachurch in America when I lived in Houston. I used to be involved in adult fellowships and small groups especially in the larger churches as it’s hard to get to know anyone on a personal basis in a megachurch without being involved in some way (either volunteering or in a small group), but I steer away from that now.

One of the statement in Dr. Swindoll’s devotion above hit a sore spot with me–and not because it wasn’t accurate at the time he wrote it but because I don’t believe it is all that accurate in our current culture with it’s unrelenting focus on self, materialism, money, greed, and gossip. Now gossip has always been around but it has spread like cancer in our churches and nobody is even trying to stop it. And it’s a little hard to let your hair down and be real in a small group that gossips behind your back when you’re not around. And I’m not so sure by their actions and attitudes that they really are “my brothers and sisters in Christ.” And they don’t appear to have my best interest in mind, either. And help with my load? Really?

Welcome to “Churchianity” in America 2012–the land of “looking out for #1” above anything or anyone else. I don’t get a “warm, fuzzy feeling” walking into a church anymore. For the most part, except on Sunday morning, folks in church don’t act any differently then the rest of the culture. While nobody is perfect I remember years ago a time when I actually felt people (well some at least) in the churches I attended might actually care, but no more. Many churches in America have turned Christianity into a money-making business just like any other business out there (and just look at all the “million-dollar” ministries that exist in America today–not saying that all of them are bad but most of them have the “bottom line” in mind and most like living the lifestyle of the “rich and famous” and are selling you on it, too). After all, we all want “the good life,” right? And they are good at selling us on how to find “the good life” (which has also made them rich). Most of the time it just doesn’t happen to include Jesus. Remember Jesus?

But back to the topic at hand. The last place I’d feel safe to “unload” anything of any importance or a burden is with anyone who calls themselves “Christian” right now. Many (but not all) have given me lots of reason why I can’t trust them over the past few years. Not everyone, mind you, as I still remember a wonderful woman at the church I attended in Houston who slipped me a $20 bill one Sunday (I didn’t realize it until after she left to go home after church) when she heard I had lost my job and she also gave me several job leads which, unfortunately, didn’t pan out for me but it was sure more than anybody else did. And, I knew her particular situation and knew that $20 was a real sacrifice on her part as she was single, self-supporting and fostered seven children in her home at the time. I haven’t seen her since I left Houston over three years ago but I still have her phone number and I’d like to be able to thank her someday for the compassion she extended to me when everyone else just said “I’m praying for you” and walked away.

No, I don’t want to attend any more churches or be around any more church folks who are all talk and no action. I don’t want one more person telling me they are a “Christian” when their actions scream that they are no more concerned with my plight than Atilla the Hun. Fake “Christianity” is everywhere in America, and it’s because it is centered on “self” and what we can get from it. And plenty of pastors preach to that end, too (e.g., how we can “get more” from God and never addressing the issue of what we should be giving back–and not just with money, either).

We need to get back to real, authentic Christianity in this country. Does anybody even know what that looks like anymore? “Americanized Christianity” is just another product of the culture to sell to the masses–after all, it is a billion-dollar business in America. Just think about the implications of that statement, folks.

We need to get back to the basics (Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a good place to start):

. . .  blessed are the poor in spirit
. . .  blessed are those who mourn
. . .  blessed are the meek
. . .  blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness
. . .  blessed are the merciful
. . .  blessed are the pure in heart
. . .  blessed are the peacemakers
. . .  blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake . . .

Does any of that sound familiar, folks?

YouTube Video: “Long Train Runnin'” (1973) by the Doobie Brothers:

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Photo #2 credit here

The Waiting Game

“Hurry up and wait.” Do those words sound familiar? If you’ve served in the military, you know them by heart and they appear in your dreams.

Four years . . . FOUR YEARS!!! It would seem as if the employment gods have conspired against me–well, against the nation since there are millions of us who are considered “long-term unemployed” in this country. Actually, it’s been three and a half years for me (since April 21, 2009, to be precise); however, it was just over four years ago that I moved to Houston and started that job that has left me in this condition for so very long. And with each passing year, there are some days where the frustration seems almost too much to handle. I managed to make it all the way to 56 years of age (actually a month shy of 57) before I got fired from a job in a profession that I had been successful in for the previous TWENTY YEARS . . . and the ghost of that place still haunts me to this day as I’m still unemployed and now 60. Gee, you’d think they put a curse on my work life or something . . . .

The reality is that I don’t often think about them anymore but every now and then when the reality hits hard and I can’t get any employer to even look at me after all this time I get totally ticked off. TOTALLY!!! It feels like I’m stuck in a game where I am constantly on the losing end . . .

. . . and then I remember that I have always believed (and always will believe) that God is sovereign and that He knows every single detail of what is going on in my life right down to this very moment in time. And God has a way of bringing encouragement at precisely the moment we need it, which He did for me this morning by way of two devotions that I regularly read. The first one is by Dr. Charles Swindoll and is titled “Releasing Impossibilities”–and my current situation seems pretty impossible to me at this point in time:

Releasing Impossibilities

Matthew 6:25-34

When you face an impossibility, leave it in the hands of the Specialist! Refuse to calculate. Refuse to doubt. Refuse to work it out by yourself. Refuse to worry or encourage others to worry. Stand against that.

Instead, say, “Lord, I’m carrying around something I cannot handle. Because You are not only able but also willing, take this off my hands. It’s impossible to me, but is as nothing with You.” Persevering through the pressures of impossibilities calls for that kind of confidence.

Now, our problem is that we hold on to our problems. If your Swiss watch stops working, you don’t sit down at home with a screwdriver and start working on it yourself. You take it to a specialist. [Actually, I’d most likely take a screwdriver and start working on it myself to save money during this long time of unemployment, but I digress.]

The problem is that the Lord gets all the leftovers after we try to fix things ourselves. [Yep, I’ve just handed Him a totally mangled watch–again–this morning.] We make all the mistakes and get things tied into granny knots, then dump it in His lap and say, “Here, Lord.”

No! Right at first, say, “It’s impossible; I can’t handle it, Lord. Before I foul it up, it’s Yours.” He is able to handle it. But we don’t usually give God those chances to “fix” it. We are so totally (and sinfully) confident in ourselves that we don’t give God the chance to do what He is a real Specialist at doing.

If something is humanly impossible,
then what in the world are we doing trying to pull it off?

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 236
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

“Right at first” was four years ago for me. And I did give the entire situation to God back then because I knew I couldn’t handle it on my own and I have continued to give it back to Him so many times during this whole ordeal that I’ve lost count. But I must confess that I can tell from my own experience with long-term unemployment that if I had been an Israelite during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness that I would have grumbled about the manna, too. It’s not very pretty when one gets such a clear picture about oneself as I got this morning.

Right after reading Dr. Swindoll’s devotion I read the devotion for today in Our Daily Bread:

Watching and Waiting

Isaiah 18:1-5

In Isaiah 18, it appears that the whole world is set to battle God’s people. Yet what is the response of the Almighty One? “I will take My rest, and I will look from My dwelling place” (v.4). His stillness may appear to have been an acceptance of the conspiracy against them. But it wasn’t. God’s response was His reminder that He acts in His timing—at just the right time according to His will.

I think of Jesus waiting 4 days while Lazarus lay in the grave (John 11:39). Was He unaware? Did He not care? Of course He cared! He was waiting for the right time to act and to teach the lessons He wanted to teach.

The Bible records God’s “delays,” many of which seem at the time to be inexplicable from our point of view. Yet every delay flows from the depths of His wisdom and love. If nothing else, delay, if we accept it, can produce the quieter virtues—humility, patience, endurance, and persistence—qualities that are often the last to be learned.

Are you in distress? Does the Lord seem distant and detached? He is not indifferent to your plight, nor is He unmoved by your pleas. He is waiting while His purposes are achieved. Then, at the right moment, He will intercede. God is never in a hurry, but He is always on time. ~David Roper

Turn not aside, discouraged one;
Stir up your gift, pursue your goal;
In God’s own time you’ll see Him work;
He’ll give you hope and lift your soul.
~D. DeHaan

God is worth waiting for; His time is always best.

“. . . delay, if we accept it, can produce the quieter virtues—humility, patience, endurance, and persistence—qualities that are often the last to be learned.” As Americans we live in the midst of an “instant” society. We want everything “now” and with every passing generation this insistence of ours gets worse. Nobody has time to wait for anything anymore. In fact, we have no idea what real “waiting” is all about. And because we can’t wait we aren’t very patient, our endurance doesn’t last long, and our persistence is mostly shown in our insistence to “have it our way.” And humility? Most of the time we haven’t a clue about humility and it’s not high on the list of attributes we go running after, either.

Instead of apple pie we need humble pie. I’ve had a piece of it this morning and it’s doesn’t go down very easy–in fact, on the way down it gets stuck in the throat. I am so tired of this “waiting game” that I could scream, but instead, I find myself in silence this morning.

He is God and I am not . . . .

As Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” ~Matthew 6:25, 33-34

And I’m reminded again this morning that I need to seek His kingdom and stop trying to build my own.

YouTube Video: “(I’ve Been) Searching So Long” (1975) by Chicago:

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Satanic Rip-Off

I know, I know . . . you have visions of a devil in a red suit with a pitch fork, right? Now I know Halloween is just around the corner, but that’s not why I decided to write a post with this title. Actually, the title comes from a devotion I just read by Dr. Charles Swindoll titled, “Satanic Rip-Off” and I will get to it in a few minutes. But first I want to tell you something . . . .

Okay, are you listening?

A few days ago I wrote a blog post titled, That Dreaded ‘D’ Word, and used a couple of phrases that I had to chew on and swallow myself tonight. The blog post was on the topic of discipline (you can read it by clicking on this link) and included a description of how cows were quietly led onto a ramp at a slaughterhouse and treated with care all the way until the end when the cow didn’t even know what hit it right between the eyes and it was instantly transformed from livestock to meat. I used two phrases in that post that became a reality for me tonight: (1) that we need to “wake up and smell the coffee,” and (2) to not end up like the cows (in other words, no “mooing” allowed).

So, without further ado, let’s start off with the devotion from Dr. Charles Swindoll:

Satanic Rip-Off

I Peter 5:8-9

A basketball fan at the Portland airport awaited the arrival of the Trailblazers following a victory over the Lakers and attempted to scalp a couple of tickets to the nest game. As the shyster wormed through the crowd, he located a well-dressed man who listened to his offer.

“How much?” asked the gentleman.

“One hundred fifty bucks,” the scalper replied under his breath.

“Do you realize you’re talking to a plainclothes officer of the law?” the man asked. “I’m going to turn you in, fella.”

Suddenly the seller began to backpedal. He talked about how large a family he had . . . how much they needed him . . . how he’d never do it again.

“Just hand over the tickets and we’ll call it even,” said the well-dressed man. “And I’d better never catch you here again!”

But the worst was yet to come. The man was no officer at all. Just a quick-thinking guy who used a little ingenuity to rip off two choice seats to the next playoff game (as he anonymously admitted in the local newspaper several days later).

Satan’s strategy is just as ingenious and effective. For example, he hears what we hear from the pulpit on Sunday morning, and in the process he plans his approach. He baits the rip-off trap, then sets it up with just the right hair trigger:

~An argument in the car after church over where to go for dinner.
~Preoccupation with some worrisome problem during the message.
~A personality conflict with another church member.

Silently Satan prowls around, camouflaged in the garb of our physical habits and our mental laziness, seeking to devour. Then, at the precise moment when it will have it’s greatest impact, he snatches away the very truth we need the most.

Remember that next Sunday morning. Prepare your heart and mind before the service, girding yourself with the armor of God.

Don’t let Satan rip you off.

In case you question the effectiveness of Satan’s strategy,
think back just two or three weeks. Maybe even one will do.
Do you remember the sermon title? How about the outline?
Do you recall a couple of applicable principles?
You see, his plan is working brilliantly.

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 115
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

You don’t even have to wait until next Sunday to prepare yourself for Satan’s onslaught. He’s prowling every single moment of every single day . . . .

At this point, before I tell you my story, I want to quote a paragraph from Dr. Russell Moores book titled, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ,” (Crossway, 2011), at the end of a chapter titled, “Desert Reign,” which fits right in with this discussion:

“The satanic powers are watching you. They’re peering into your life to see what catches your attention, what puffs up your ego. They’re evaluating what kind of Babylon you want to build for yourself, and they’ll make sure you get it. Satan is as ambitious for your goals as you are, maybe more so. He’ll give you the power you want, the glory you crave, as long as you will fall down and obtain it his way. The powers don’t care if we are respected or influential or moral or conservative, as long as we’d rather be magnified then crucified. Satan doesn’t mind if our values are right side up, so long as our crosses are upside-down” (p. 161).

Now that paragraph should give us all pause for thought. As long as what we want and having things go our way is more important than finding out what Jesus wants for us and living His way, we are traveling the same path as those cows.

Okay, it’s “true confessions” time right now. (Don’t you just hate that–having to admit when you’ve really screwed up?) Well, I screwed up . . . big time!!! And I didn’t even realize it until tonight (and it’s midnight as I am writing this blog post). I discovered it when my crying turned into “mooing” earlier tonight.

I’m totally frustrated, folks. If you’ve been reading my blog posts you know I’ve been unemployed for three and a half years now with no end in sight. And, you know that at the end of August I took a little trip back to Houston–the city where I lost my job three and a half years ago. AND . . . you know that in a totally unexpected circumstance I met a man I’ve named “Red” (because I don’t know his real name and he has auburn hair). AND . . . I wrote several blog posts about him (which should have sent off alarm bells much earlier then it did considering my conversation with him maybe lasted all of ten minutes). Now, when I was talking with him I didn’t give it a lot of thought as I talk with a lot of folks, women and men, that I meet when I’m out and about and this was really no different. However, two days later when I was in Galveston I woke up and he was jammed in my thoughts (I didn’t expect that at all) and I started building a scenario out of it . . . you know . . . “What if?” (Well, I did write a little blog post about that just five days ago–see Expect the Unexpectednow didn’t I???) Do you see where this is going?

Now I know I’m enormously frustrated from being unemployed for so long, and the financial ramifications from being unemployed this long are enormous to say the least, so–to put it mildly–I was primed and ready to escape into some “fantasy” to make the ugly reality go away for a while. And “Red” did that for me (well, he has no idea he did that for me but I do).

Now, it’s not that he wasn’t a nice guy (he was) with the most beautiful blue eyes I’ve ever seen on a man (they were) and he did pull at my heartstrings like no man has in years and years, but folks, the conversation maybe lasted all of ten minutes!!! And I live in Florida and he lives in Louisiana!!! And we don’t even know each other’s name or any contact info!!! HELLO!!! Earth to Sara . . . .

And the reality of it all hit me tonight. I got caught up in a fantasy because I am, well, so incredibly sick of reality. I’ve had a huge dose of “Reality 101 for four years now (ever since I landed in Houston the first time which has left me unemployed for the past three and a half years with all of the ensuing ramifications that come from being unemployed long term). And just as that quote from Dr. Moore’s book stated, “The satanic powers are watching you. They’re peering into your life to see what catches your attention . . . .” And “Red” definitely caught my attention.

Now I have no idea why God has allowed this period of unemployment to last so incredibly long with still no end in sight (guess I’m still learning some hard lessons), and He heard from me about it at great length this evening (and that’s when I discovered the crying was turning into “mooing”). I wanted out of my current “situation” NOW even if I had to escape into a fantasy for a while. And escape I did . . . but it didn’t change my reality. It just made me very unhappy because it was all so incredibly futile.

So I’ve repented in sackcloth and ashes . . . . (and the “mooing” has stopped).

Because I believe God is sovereign and that He can do anything, even the miraculous (which He does all the time, we just don’t notice it half the time), if He wants me to meet “Red” again at some future point in time, that’s His business. But right now He wants me to get my head out of the clouds and keep my eyes focused on Him and leave the future in His hands.

So I’m taking my hands off and giving my heart back to Him . . . .

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
~Prov. 3:5-8

YouTube Video: “What A Fool Believes” (1979) by the Doobie Brothers:

Photo credit here

Invitation to the Thirsty

One of the definitions of “thirst” is a “strong or eager desire; craving: a thirst for knowledge” (source: Dictionary.com). It can also mean that your mouth is very dry and you’re in need of liquid. However, the invitation to the thirsty referred to in the title of this post comes from the prophet Isaiah (specifically Isaiah 55). And it contains some very good news!

Isaiah 55

1-5 “Hey there! All who are thirsty,
    come to the water!
Are you penniless?
    Come anyway—buy and eat!
Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.
    Buy without money—everything’s free!
Why do you spend your money on junk food,
    your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?
Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best,
    fill yourself with only the finest.
Pay attention, come close now,
    listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words.
I’m making a lasting covenant commitment with you,
    the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love.
I set him up as a witness to the nations,
    made him a prince and leader of the nations,
And now I’m doing it to you:
    You’ll summon nations you’ve never heard of,
and nations who’ve never heard of you
    will come running to you
Because of me, your God,
    because The Holy of Israel has honored you.”

6-7  Seek God while he’s here to be found,
    pray to him while he’s close at hand.
Let the wicked abandon their way of life
    and the evil their way of thinking.
Let them come back to God, who is merciful,
    come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness.

8-11 “I don’t think the way you think.
    The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
        God’s Decree.
For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
    and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
    producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
    not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
    they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.

12-13 “So you’ll go out in joy,
    you’ll be led into a whole and complete life.
The mountains and hills will lead the parade,
    bursting with song.
All the trees of the forest will join the procession,
    exuberant with applause.
No more thistles, but giant sequoias,
    no more thorn bushes, but stately pines—
Monuments to me, to God,
    living and lasting evidence of God.”

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The Message Bible states it like this, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

So, are you feeling weary and in need of a rest? Here’s your invitation, and it’s open to everyone:

For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
should not perish
but have everlasting life.

For God did not send His Son
into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him
might be saved.
~John 3:16-17

But don’t put it off . . . .

“Now is the time of God’s favor,
now is the day of salvation”
~2 Corinthians 6:2

YouTube Video: “Psalm 150 sung by the Southeastern Singers at Southeastern University, March 2007:

Photo credit here

Expect the Unexpected

Back in May I wrote a blog post titled Expecting the Unexpected (click here for post). That particular post was on the topic of serendipitymaking fortunate discoveries by accident. And that’s exactly what happened to me when I stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Houston, TX, on August 26th during my recent trip there (see my blog post, Rock Steady for details). This post is a different twist on the same idea, so let me start it off with a devotion I read this morning by Dr. Charles Swindoll:

Expect the Unexpected

Psalm 8

Most folks I know like things to stay as they are. You’ve heard all the sayings that reveal our preferences for the familiar: Leave well enough alone. I don’t like surprises. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Stay with a sure thing.

We admire pioneers . . . so long as we can just read about them, not finance their journeys. We applaud explorers . . . but not if it means we have to load up and travel with them. Creative ideas are fine . . . but “don’t get carried away,” we warn. Plans that involve risks prompt worst-case scenarios from the lips of most who wait in the wings.

Don’t misunderstand. Just because the plan is creative is no guarantee that stuff won’t backfire. On the contrary, surprises and disappointments await anyone who ventures into the unknown.

But the fact is, the alternative is worse. Can anything be worse than boredom? Is there an existence less challenging and more draining than the predictable? I don’t think so.

More importantly, God doesn’t seem to think so either. As I read through the biblical accounts of His working in the lives of His people, the single thread that ties most of the stories together is the unexpected. Need some examples?

After aging Abraham finally got the son God had promised to him, after he cultivated a father-son bond closer than words could describe, after fixing his hopes on all that God had said He would do through that boy to whom Sarah gave birth, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the mountain.

Even though the prophet Hosea had lived righteously before his Lord and had been faithful to his wife, Gomer, she left their home and family and became a harlot in the streets of Israel. God’s instructions? Go find her and remarry her.

When it came time for God to send His Son to earth, He did not send Him to the palace of some mighty king. He was conceived in the womb of an unwed mother–a virgin!–who lived in the lowly village of Nazareth.

In choosing those who would represent Christ and establish His church, God picked some of the most unusual individuals imaginable: unschooled fishermen, a tax collector(!), a mystic, a doubter, and a former Pharisee who had persecuted Christians. He continues to pick some very unusual persons down through the ages. In fact, He seems to delight in such surprising choices to this very day.

So, let God be God. Expect the unexpected.

God likes surprises. Breaking molds is His specialty.

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 114
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

As I read it I was reminded of a passage from I Corinthians 1:26-31 (MSG): “Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, ‘If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.’”

I think of the Apostle Paul, who was a former Pharisee (known as Saul of Tarsus) who persecuted Christians and then met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road and his life (and way of life) was forever changed. By using his own words his life after meeting his Savior was not easy. Read with me his own account in I Corinthians 11:23-33:

“I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.

“And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut.

“If I have to ‘brag’ about myself, I’ll brag about the humiliations that make me like Jesus. The eternal and blessed God and Father of our Master Jesus knows I’m not lying. Remember the time I was in Damascus and the governor of King Aretas posted guards at the city gates to arrest me? I crawled through a window in the wall, was let down in a basket, and had to run for my life.”

As we can see, Paul’s life after meeting Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road was anything but easy, and after his last arrest–according to Christian tradition–Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero around the mid-60s AD (quote source here).

In our society of celebrity worship, the Apostle Paul would never have made it into that category. Indeed, the religious folks in his time (the Pharisees) tried to shut him up and kill him. Yet God used him powerfully in the most trying and difficult of circumstances to establish the church and write a good portion of the New Testament. But the only time he was ever close to achieving celebrity status was prior to meeting Jesus Christ when he was still a Pharisee and connected to the religious establishment at that time.

As Christians, that should give us pause for thought about how we live our own lives and what we seek after in this life. Of course, there was only one Apostle Paul, but he clearly shows us the way in his own life and in his letters to the early church how we should live this life in Christ. And it’s not seeking all of the “stuff” that our society glamorizes and worships . . .

. . . which brings me back to the Red Roof Inn where I met a man that I call “Red” (see my post Rock Steady for details). In a brief conversation with his adult daughter in the lobby of the hotel while he was at the check-in counter, she mentioned–among other things like the fact that he was single and couldn’t seem to find a woman who wanted to stick around–that he used to be a pastor. And shortly thereafter, I had a brief conversation with him and discovered that he was a “logger” from Louisiana, and I got the impression he almost felt apologetic about it as he quickly added, “but I make good money.” And I felt bad that he thought his occupation might not impress me.

As I looked into his eyes (the most beautiful blue eyes I’ve ever seen on a man), I told him what people think about his occupation doesn’t matter–and it certainly didn’t matter to me (I wish I would have added that people are not what they do for a living, but who they are at the very core of their being). And then I told him that I had been unemployed for the past three plus years and that I was now 60 which didn’t help matters. And then I wondered if he thought I was too old for him to be interested in. Sigh . . . .

Nobodies . . . a logger from Louisiana and a 60-year-old unemployed woman from Florida who met very briefly (by his vehicle, actually) in Houston at the Red Roof Inn. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet him again, but I’d like to . . . .

In an article by Dr. David Jeremiah on Christianity.com titled, God Uses ‘Nobodies’,” he states, “God uses things which are foolish, things which are weak, things which are base, things which are despised.” He goes on to say, “God wants to take us down to the very depths of ourselves to teach us that if there is any power, it is the power that is in God, and not in us. God doesn’t need to make us into performers or superstars in order to use us. Instead, He’s looking for men and women who have hearts that say, ‘Lord, I’m a nobody. I’m nothing without You. Will You use me?’ When God finds such a heart, something extraordinary happens–that ‘nobody’ is promoted to the ranks of God’s nobility.”

So if you feel like a nobody, you’re in an excellent place to be used by God.

Expect the unexpected . . . . 

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up;
do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.
~Isaiah 43:19

YouTube Video: “What If” by Colbie Caillat (from the movie, “Letters to Juliet”–2011):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

That Dreaded “D” Word

Dictionary.com defines “discipline” as “training to act in accordance with rules; activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill.” It’s opposite, “undisciplined,” is defined as “not exhibiting self-control or good behavior; untrained.” Where do you see yourself on the “disciplined–undisciplined” continuum?

Discipline is not a subject we hear very often (if ever) from many pulpits in America today, yet it is required as an active part of every Christian’s life. Accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is not just about receiving His blessings and having a “good” life (however we define “good”) in the here and now. No, we have entered a war zone. Heaven comes later . . . .

We’ve been peddled a “soft” Christianity for several decades now, but in years past, the theme of many hymns including this 19th century hymn, Onward Christian Soldier,” was one of entering a battlefieldwar–and we were “soldiers” in it. The chorus for this 19th century hymn goes like this, “Onward Christian soldier, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” Christians of the past knew they were in a war; Christians today have been lulled to sleep by the excesses of a culture that whispers ever so sweetly, “anything goes . . . if it feels good, do it.” And it’s killing us so softly that we hardly even notice . . . until it’s too late.

In a chapter titled, “Slaughterhouse Drive,” in an excellent book by Dr. Russell Moore titled, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ,” (Crossway, 2011), he describes a system that was created by a scientist to kill cows with kindness. Due to the fact that “high stress levels in animals can release hormones that could downgrade the quality of the meat,” this scientist learned through years of research “how to register which stimuli produce which animal sounds and how to track what scares or distresses livestock” (p. 25). And, as you can imagine, the beef industry was willing to pay for this information.

Turns out the scientist’s secret insight was that novelty distresses cows. A slaughterhouse was designed with this in mind to keep the cows calm and instructions were given on how the cows should be treated. The next three paragraphs are from the book on page 26:

“Workers shouldn’t yell at the cows, she said, and they should never ever use cattle prods, because they are counterproductive and unneeded. If you just keep the cows contented and comfortable, they’ll go wherever they’re led. Don’t surprise them, don’t unnerve them and above all, don’t hurt them (well, at least until you slit their throats in the end).

“Along the way, this scientist devised a new technology that has revolutionized the ways of the big slaughter operations. In this system the cows aren’t prodded off the truck but are led, in silence, onto a ramp. They go through a ‘squeeze chute,’ a gentle pressure device that mimics a mother’s nuzzling touch. The cattle continue down the ramp onto a smoothly curving path. There are no sudden turns. The cows experience the sensation of going home, the same kind of way they’ve traveled so many times before.

“As they mosey along the path, they don’t even notice when their hooves are no longer touching the ground. A conveyor belt slowly lifts them gently upward, and then, in the twinkling of an eye, a blunt instrument levels a surgical strike right between their eyes. They’re transitioned from livestock to meat, and they’re never aware enough to be alarmed by any of it. The pioneer of this technology commends it to the slaughterhouses and affectionately gives it a nickname. She calls it ‘the stairway to heaven.'”

Now I don’t know about you, but as I read that description it sent chills up my spine. That’s exactly how succumbing to all of the excesses in our society–the lure of money, materialism, greed, gossip, gluttony, power, illicit sexual encounters (yep, that includes porn, folks), and the list goes on–and allowing those excesses to invade our lives without giving any thought as to what it is doing to us will destroy us in the end . . . and we won’t even know it until it’s way too late.

That slaughterhouse description gives new meaning to “wake up and smell the coffee,” folks! It sure had that affect on me.

Dr. Charles Swindoll wrote a devotion that targets one of the areas of excess in our society today (one I definitely relate to) and I want to share it with you:

That Dreaded “D” Word

I Corinthians 6:12-20

Okay folks . . . it’s that time again. I’m down to two suits, one sports coat, and only a couple of pants that I can squeeze into. No more excuses. I’m tired of good intentions, secret promises to myself, groans and grunts as I roll out of bed in the morning, and especially those well-meaning comments from first-time visitors at our church: “You look . . . uh . . . different than I expected.” I suppose that’s better than “You look . . . uh . . . fat.”

Funny thing about being overweight . . . it’s impossible to hide it. So the alternatives are (a) ignore it and lie to yourself by saying nobody notices, (b) make jokes about it, (c) try to solve the problem overnight–which is tempting but dumb, or (d) face the music and get underway with a long-range plan that works.

For me, it’s an intelligent diet (ugh!) mixed with a program of regular exercise and a do-or-die mind-set that is determined to see it through, followed by a from-now-on game plan that is realistic, workable, and consistent.

Personally, I don’t need a shrink to shrink. But what I do need is discipline with a big D. (It might also help me a lot to think of rewards other than a strawberry sundae). You know what I’m getting at, don’t you? If I intend to avoid great widths, I need to go to great lengths to make that happen. And if you are put together somewhat like I am, you do too.

So why am I telling you all this? It would be much easier and certainly less embarrassing for me to say nothing, eat little, exercise in obscurity, and start to shrink. I did that once before and it worked. Problem was, when I got down to my desired weight, a rumor spread that I had cancer. Cynthia even got a sympathy card or two. So . . . none of that.

I’m mentioning it because I need to be accountable and we need to be reminded of the importance of our physical appearance. While there is an overemphasis on this in the secular world, for some strange reason, we Christians tend to underestimate its importance. Yet our bodies are indeed the “temple of the Holy Spirit” and we are to “glorify God” in those bodies (I Cor. 6:19-20).

So, let’s get serious about something we’ve ignored or excused or joked about long enough. As for me, I’ve got about forty pounds to go. How about you?

Have you looked in the mirror lately?
Could the Spirit’s temple stand a little attention
to get it back where it ought to be?

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 214
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

In the past year I’ve done some serious soul-searching regarding how I’ve treated this body of mine over the years; and since that time I’ve lost 45 lbs and worked my way up to exercising five to seven days a week for 55 minutes each day using a Leslie Sansone 4-mile walk exercise DVD (started at one mile last December and worked my way up to all four miles by the end of February). However, since around March of this year, the weight loss has halted (in other words, I decided to coast along at that point), yet I still want to lose another 50 lbs. I also cut out using all artificial sweeteners this past summer and I spend a lot more time in the grocery store now reading labels and checking for “high fructose corn syrup.” (Anathema!) And, I must tell you I haven’t felt this great physically and emotionally (eating junk and too much sugar affects a person’s emotions, too) in years and years . . . maybe never . . . and I’m 60 years old, folks!!!

Well, after reading the slaughterhouse story in Dr. Moore’s book and then Dr. Swindoll’s devotion, I’ve decided it is definitely time to get serious again about getting the last 50 lbs off. Starting now!

So what parasitic sins are you in need of getting rid of? First off, pray and seek God’s help, and don’t make excuses with Him or with yourself.

And do it now . . .

You don’t want to end up like those cows . . . 

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
    and nourishment to your bones.
~Prov. 3:7-8

YouTube Video: “My Help” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir (from CD-“High and Lifted Up,” 1999):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Higher Love

I’ve written on the topic of “love” a number of times (see Pursuing Love,” “Love Never Fails,” “Sacrificial Love,” “Love is a Beautiful Thing,” “The Love We Take,” “What the World Needs Now,” and What We Need,” to name a few), but the topic never gets old, and there are so many facets to love: physical, emotional, altruistic, sacrificial. However, today’s emphasis in on love and timing–God’s timing.

Let me start right off with a devotion I read this morning by Dr. Charles Swindoll titled, “Timing,” to get us thinking along the lines of love as it relates to God’s timing:


Psalm 31:14-15

In September, Terry Shafer was strolling the shops in Moline, Illinois. She knew exactly what she wanted to get her husband, David, for Christmas. A little shop on Fifth attracted her attention, so she popped inside. Her eyes darted toward the corner display. “That’s it!” she smiled as she nodded with pleasure. “How much?” she asked the shopkeeper.

“Only $127.50.”

Her smile faded into disappointment as she realized David’s salary as a policeman couldn’t stand such a jolt. Yet she hated to give up without a try, so she applied a little womanly persistence. “Uh, what about putting this aside for me? Maybe I could pay a little each week, then pick it up a few days before Christmas?”

“No,” the merchant said, “I won’t do that.” Then he smiled. “I’ll gift wrap it right now. You can take it with you and pay me later,” he said. Terry was elated.

Then came Saturday, October 1. Patrolman David Shafer, working the night shift, got a call in his squad car. A drugstore robbery was in progress. David reacted instantly, arriving on the scene just in time to see the suspect speeding away. With siren screaming and lights flashing, he followed in hot pursuit. Three blocks later the getaway vehicle suddenly pulled over and stopped. The driver didn’t move. David carefully approached the suspect with his weapon drawn. In a split second, the door flew open as the thief produced a .45-caliber pistol and fired at David’s abdomen.

At seven o’clock in the morning a patrolman came to the door of the Shafer home. Calmly and with great care, he told Terry what had happened.

Stunned, Terry thought how glad she was that she had not waited until Christmas to give her husband his present. How grateful she was that the shopkeeper had been willing to let her pay for it later. Otherwise, Dave would have surely died. Instead, he was now in the hospital–not with a gunshot wound, but with only a bad bruise. You see, David was wearing the gift of life Terry could not wait to give–his brand new bulletproof vest.

Within the movement of events is the Designer, who plans and arranges the times and the seasons, including the minutest detail of life. You question that? Many do.

But unless I miss my guess, David and Terry Shafer don’t. It’s funny . . . people who survive a calamity don’t have much struggle with sovereignty.

Behind the maze is the Master.

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 254
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

As Dr. Swindoll wrote, “Within the movement of events is the Designer, who plans and arranges the times and the seasons, including the minutest detail of life. You question that? Many do.” Many people just shake their heads and say, “Coincidence,” and scoff at the idea that God, if they believe in Him, would care about such minute details in our lives. I’ve even had conversations with Christians who scoff at such an idea; however, Jesus said, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). Personally, I think it’s a control issue. We want control and when something happens (good, bad, or indifferent) that we can’t explain, we chalk it up to “coincidence.”

Read the story again. Not many merchants would actually let someone walk out the door with a piece of merchandise that costs $127.50 and, while smiling, say, “take it with you and pay me later.” And there’s nothing in the story to indicate that the merchant knew Terry Shafer before she walked into the store. Also, this was a Christmas gift that Terry was buying for her husband, David, most likely with no intent of giving it to him early (which, in fact, she did). And this exchange happened sometime in September and David Shafer was shot on October 1st (while wearing the “Christmas gift” the merchant allowed Terry to take home right then even though she could not pay for it at that time). And that “Christmas gift” saved David’s life–on October 1st.


I John 4:15-16 states, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” Therefore, if we are Christian and acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, He not only lives in us by way of the Holy Spirit, but we rely on God’s love. And, if we rely on God’s love, nothing that happens to us is by “coincidence.” So why do we question His ability to control the circumstances in our lives right down to the minutest details? Nothing happens by chance. Nothing . . .

For example, it is not “by chance” that I have been unemployed for the past three and a half years (even though it has been frustrating beyond belief at times). And it was not “by chance” that I accepted that job in Houston in the first place that has left me unemployed all of this time. I believe with all of my heart that it is part of the tapestry God has woven into my life for His purpose, not mine. Can I explain it? Absolutely not, but it’s not for me to explain or even try to understand. He will unfold His purpose in His time.

Proverbs 3:5-6 states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” If we truly trust in Him, and not in ourselves or our own understanding in any situation we find ourselves in and truly acknowledge Him in all that is happening to us, He has promised to make our paths straight. It may take a lot more time and a series of events leading down that path before He shows us the end result (as has been the case in my unemployment situation), or it could be a series of events that happen suddenly (as in the story above). In any case, God is in control . . . and we are not. And nothing happens by chance.

God’s love is far beyond anything we can comprehend, even to the point of sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on our behalf (see John 3:16-18). With a Father like that, how can anything that happens to us be “by chance”?

It can’t, and it’s not . . . .

I’m reminded of a song by Steve Winwood titled, “Higher Love,” (YouTube Video below). Here are the words to that song:

Higher Love

Songwriters: Will Jennings, Steve Winwood

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind, we try to see
Falling behind in what could be

Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love
Where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?

Worlds are turning and we’re just hanging on
Facing our fear and standing out there alone
A yearning, and it’s real to me
There must be someone who’s feeling for me

Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind, we try to see
Falling behind in what could be

Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love
Where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?

Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love
I could rise above on a higher love

I will wait for it
I’m not too late for it
Until then, I’ll sing my song
To cheer the night along
Bring it…

I could light the night up with my soul on fire
I could make the sun shine from pure desire
Let me feel that love come over me
Let me feel how strong it could be

Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love
Where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsfreak.com]

“But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hands . . .”
~Psalm 31:14-15

YouTube Video: “Higher Love” (1986) by Steve Winwood:

Photo credit here

Things That Strangle Us

One of the first blog posts I wrote back in March 2011 was titled Don’t Lose Your Soul At The Crossroads regarding a parable that Jesus told (“The Parable of the Sower” found in Matt. 13:1-23Mark 4:1-20Luke 8:4-15). It is about a sower (e.g., a farmer) who went out to sow his seeds, and as he sowed, some fell on the wayside and was trampled down and the birds devoured it. Some fell on rock, and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because of lack of moisture and the scorching sun. Some fell among the thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked it. And some fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded up a crop a hundredfold. When He finished this parable, His closing statement was, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

This morning I read a devotion by Dr. Charles Swindoll titled, “Things That Strangle Us,” regarding this same parable and I’d like to share it with you:

Things That Strangle Us

Mark 4

While reading through Mark’s Gospel recently, I was drawn into the scene of chapter 4. You remember, it’s that time Jesus sat down in a little boat by the seashore and talked about a farmer who dropped seeds into the dirt. Same seed, different soil, different results. Four to be exact.

Some seeds fell beside the road . . . the birds gobbled them up. A few seeds feel on rocky ground . . . the sun scorched the rootless growth, and they withered and died. Other seeds feel among thorns . . . which choked out the growth so severely there was no crop to harvest. Still other seeds feel into good soil . . . bumper crop. Then Jesus explained each point.

First, He said, the seed represents “the Word.” I believe we’re safe is saying that “the Word” refers to truth. God’s truth. Second, the different soils represent people’s varied responses to that “word.” All four “hear,” but not all reap a harvest. That’s significant. hearing guarantees nothing. Next, the results are directly related to the condition of the soil . . . not the quality of the seed. If you look closely, you’ll see that the first two groups lack roots. Only with the last two groups does Jesus mention fruit.

I think it’s obvious that the first two groups of people are without spiritual life. No roots, no fruit, no growth, no change whatsoever. The third group hears, but only the fourth group “hears the word and accepts it,” resulting in strong, healthy growth. It’s the third group that intrigues me. These people hear everything the fourth group hears. But those truths are not really accepted, allowed to take root, and grow. Instead, the thorns “choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.”

Thorns that choke? What are they? Jesus doesn’t leave us in the dark. They are “the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19).

The term “worry” is derived from the old German word wurgen, which means “to choke.” By extension, the word came to denote “mental strangulation” and, finally, to describe the condition of being harassed with anxiety. Worry begins as a thin stream trickling through our minds. If entertained, it cuts a deeper channel into which other thoughts are drained.

But the third species of thorns is the killer: “the desire for other things.” It’s the picture of discontentment, the plague of pursuit: pushing, straining, stretching, relentlessly reaching, while our minds become strangled with the lie “enough just isn’t enough.”

Jesus closed off His brief talk with that familiar line, “He who has ears, let him hear (Mark 4:9).

When the thorns of life scratch us, we need the pruning shears of the Word.

Source: Day by Day” by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 69
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

“Hearing guarantees nothing . . . .” That’s a frightening statement if we stop to consider what it is really saying. It means we either don’t believe what we hear in the first place (as in the case of the first two soils) or if we do believe, we don’t take it very seriously and let the “thorns”the world–dictate our lives (with it’s worries, cares, and desires, as well as the deceitfulness of money and what it can buy). I dare say very, very few of us today are among the fourth group–those who hear the Word and actually do what it says by living it out in our actions and attitudes on a daily basis.

Gossip, greed, getting over, getting more . . . and the pervasiveness of sexual immorality among Christians today is staggering (e.g., sleeping with a boyfriend or girlfriend and/or living together without marriage is not an option for Christians, nor is having sex with anyone we are not married to). Is anybody paying attention? And even if our “outward” appearance looks good to others, our thought life leaves much to be desired (e.g., bitterness, anger, lust, jealousy, envy, judging others, rivalry, etc.–we all know the list). Most of the time we don’t even try to live different lives from the rest of the world except on Sunday if we go to church at all.

And it’s all meaningless . . . .

Does anybody take the time to read the Bible to find out exactly how we are suppose to live? The New Testament is full of advice on how we are supposed to conduct ourselves in this life. If we are truly Christian, it is in Jesus that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But we don’t want any restrictions on how we live our lives or how we spend our time and our money, yet everything that we own and everything that He has given to us in the way of talents and gifts belong to Him. None of it is truly “ours”–not if we are Christian. But we hang on to everything we have tightly and still want more. And we want the blessings of God without any obedience to how we should be living our lives. When was the last time we actually repented of anything?

As Dr. Swindoll mentioned in his devotion it’s the constant call of our own “discontentment, the plague of pursuit: pushing, straining, stretching, relentlessly reaching, while our minds become strangled with the lie ‘enough just isn’t enough.'” And the love of money and wanting more, more, more of it is relentless in our society. The love of money has become such a cult in America that even family members will screw over other family members just to get more of it–friends, too.

We’ve left God in the dust except when we’re in church or when we are around others that we have to put on a good show for–but God isn’t fooled. We don’t like reading verses like Galatians 6:7-8 that clearly state, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” And ignoring them isn’t the answer, either.

If we read our Bible on a regular basis, do we read it with the intent of actually letting it sink in deep to change our thoughts and how we live our lives; to actually love God without using Him to try to get more of what we want? Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Do we really believe that? James 1:22 admonishes us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” The Message Bible states James 1:22-24 like this, “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”

Besides the love of money and materialism ingrained in us from our society, gossip is prolific in the church and it is deadly, but it’s one of our favorite past times. Gossip destroys people and many times the gossip is false and misleading. Does that matter to us? What if that gossip is about us? I bet it would matter then, right? God has a lot to say about gossip and none of it is good. Just go through the book of Proverbs and see how many verses relate directly to gossip and how deadly it is. God takes gossip very seriously. We, obviously, do not, and it is to our detriment. Here’s a link to a short article on gossip titled, What Does the Bible Say About Gossip?

I realize not everybody who calls themselves Christian conduct their lives as described above, but a great percentage of us fall under a fair amount of it nowadays. As much as I hate to say it, we are a greedy and gossipy bunch. And, if we don’t clean up our own house first how can we expect God to bless America again?

Have we learned absolutely nothing from the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament when they turned their backs on God and what happened to them over and over again when they refused to clean up their own lives? The Apostle Paul sent out a clear warning from Israel’s history (see I Cor. 10:1-13) about what happened to them when they fell into idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God, and grumbling as a reminder to us that it can happen again. Also, reading the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah as well as the minor prophets will give you a reality check if you need one. It’s the same today, folks. Nothing has changed–especially human nature.

Jesus came to set us free from all of this–free! But do we really want to be free?

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” (1980) sung by Shirley Caesar (originally written and sung by Bob Dylan):

Photo credit here