Thursday, July 19, 2018

Leaders and Loyalty

Thursday, July 19, 2018
I have found my servant David.  I have anointed him with my holy oil.  I will steady him with my hand; with my powerful arm I will make him strong.  His enemies will not defeat him, nor will the wicked overpower him.  I will beat down his adversaries before him and destroy those who hate him.  My faithfulness and unfailing love will be with him, and by my authority he will grow in power.  I will extend his rule over the sea, his dominion over the rivers.  And he will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’  I will make him my firstborn son, the mightiest king on earth.  I will love him and be kind to him forever; my covenant with him will never end.  Psalm 89:20-28(NLT)
Once when David was at the rock near the cave of Adullam, the Philistine army was camped in the valley of Rephaim.  The Three (who were among the Thirty—an elite group among David’s fighting men) went down to meet him there.  David was staying in the stronghold at the time, and a Philistine detachment had occupied the town of Bethlehem.  David remarked longingly to his men, “Oh, how I would love some of that good water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem.”  So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew some water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem, and brought it back to David.  But David refused to drink it.  Instead, he poured it out as an offering to the Lord.  “God forbid that I should drink this!” he exclaimed.  “This water is as precious as the blood of these men who risked their lives to bring it to me.”  So David did not drink it.  These are examples of the exploits of the Three.  1 Chronicles 11:15-19(NLT)
David was hand-picked by God to be Israel’s leader.  From the slingshot/stone-throwing days of his battle with Goliath, to the daily decisions of battle and governing, David was a man of loyalty; he lived in it, and he depended upon it.  He also earned it.
There are those who never get it about leadership.  A leader is seen at the head table, standing in front of a group, issuing orders or at the head of whatever the group is doing.  And sometimes the thought is that a leader has all this fun, and everybody else has to do what he/she says.  I must admit it’s easy to see things that way; I’ve been guilty of those thoughts also. 
However, over the last 40 years or so, as I have attempted to fulfill leadership roles in a variety of settings, the whole issue of being a leader has proved much different than what leadership looked-like from the outside.
Just a couple of things I’ve learned:
First – loyalty goes both ways.  If you are a leader, you must be loyal to those you lead.  If you follow, you cannot do so honorably without loyalty.  God had promised David the might of heaven’s favor on his kingdom throughout the generations.  David’s men; those special soldiers called the Three, understood their king’s loyalty to God was something they could count on.  Those who follow with honor will die for a leader like that.
Second – you cannot buy loyalty.  As much as the Three were loyal, it was not a matter of money, golden parachute retirement plans, or perks fit for royalty; the privilege of serving a fiercely-loyal king who was committed to truth and fidelity was everything a person of honor needs to know he/she is making a difference in the world.
For You Today
The Three risked life and limb to bring a drink of well water to their king; can we do less in loyalty for Jesus, the eternal King of Heaven?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day. 

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What He Said to Me During the Offering - Part 2

Wednesday, July 18, 2018
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”  “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.  Jesus repeated the question:  “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”  “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.  A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time.  He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
John 21:15-17(NLT)
Yesterday we looked at how I, as young boy, was introduced to the meaning of God’s offering plate in worship services, and how God spoke both peace and faith into my life while the ushers collected the people’s love gifts.  Today I want to share just a bit of what I learned about those quiet moments, and what God intends for our hearts when we will be quiet enough to listen. 
In short, I learned that the offering time can be one of the most intense moments of worship.  From what I know about church musicians (you can learn a lot living with one for more than a half-century), it isn’t just mailed-in on Sunday.  A pianist or organist will spend considerable time selecting an inspiring, relevant piece of music to play while the plate is being passed.  It is akin to the pastor considering the nourishment that congregation needs from a sermon.  It is the liturgist’s pulling-together just the right worship components to lead us to the throne.  It is the care the church custodian takes in vacuuming the carpets and pews to create a suitable, uncluttered space to worship. 
For me, all of that often comes together at the offering plate.  I imagine that is so, because often in worship that is one of the few times I get to be silent and still.  Most often I am moving around in worship or talking.  But when the offering plates are being passed, I listen.  The music might be familiar or new to my ear, but I get to put together how God is speaking faith into my heart again, because I’ve dropped my check into the plate, and that is the exact moment I have second thoughts about the candy bars down at the Rexall Drug store.  In my youth it was candy bars; now it’s the mortgage, and new tires my car needs.  In short, it is temptation to not give, or at least not give so much. 
And in the stillness of familiar refrains of Near to the Heart of God, or My Faith Has Found a Resting Place, or something by Bach or Beethoven, unknown to me, that I couldn’t name if my life depended upon it…it is in those times I realize being faithful to give money isn’t at all about giving money; it’s really all about putting Russell in that gold-plated plate.  It’s about remembering the times when it was a choice between being faithful with the little stuff (money), so that I will be able to understand a little more of how God was taking care of the big stuff; things that really mattered.
There are too many times of that to share even a sample of the depths, height, and breadth of God’s love showered on my family.  We aren’t rich by most people’s standards, but we have lived in God’s blessing.  And in that blessing we have hardly missed a meal, or ever gone wanting for the assurance that the eye which is on the sparrow, also keeps watch over us.
And it’s even more than looking back over a lifetime of blessing – it’s the expectancy of where my new quarters, dropped in the offering plate, are going to land; it’s what God’s hand will do to strengthen His kingdom with those quarters, and those quarters others have dropped in the plate, as God expands and multiplies those gifts to meet the needs of people I never met, and will probably never know this side of glory.
I love the offering plate; in those times I meet my loving Father as we work together in His world.
For You Today
When next you put your offering in the plate, kiss it, bless it, and pray over the good things God will do with it when it leaves your hand.  And then be very still; hear what He speaks to your soul.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day. 

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[1] Title Image:  Public Domain

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What He Said to Me During the Offering

Tuesday, July 17, 2018
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”  “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.  Jesus repeated the question:  “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”  “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.  A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time.  He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
John 21:15-17(NLT)
As a child I didn’t have to learn much in order to “participate” in worship.  In the church of my youth the only times we stood or uttered a sound was singing the hymns or an occasional responsive reading.  And the only other movement that wouldn’t get me in deep trouble with Mom & Dad was the offering.  Quite the contrary; I would get in trouble if I didn’t move to put in my offering! 
As I grew up I began to feel uneasy with all that sitting still.  It’s not that I had A.D.D., or was more squirmy than other kids, I just thought if you were serious about worship it ought to move you.  So, it became my habit to find any excuse to move in worship services.  One place that afforded me the opportunity to express my love for God was the offering.  I developed creative, meaningful ways to drop-in my quarter as the ushers passed the plates.  I would toss, flip, or with an agonizingly slow sweep of my arm place my coin under the paper money and envelopes taking as much time as I thought I could get away with.  Once I dropped the coin in the metal plate from as high as my arm stretched; the coin landed like a crack of brassy thunder in the quiet sanctuary.  Considering the look my father gave me, that move was never again repeated!
Now, there are just so many different ways you can toss a coin in a bucket, so when my creativity ran dry about putting my moves on the plate, my curiosity over why we even let go of our coins weekly took over – literally; I began to obsess about what meaning there was in giving to God’s plate, especially considering how many candy bars I could have bought with all those quarters down at the Rexall Drug Store!
My mind is an introverted/thinking machine, so I began imagining what God was doing with all those quarters.  One day the pastor talked about the kinds of good things that were going on with all the other quarters, and how pleased the Lord was with generous giving.  He said our giving showed our love to God and to others in need.
That was worth some investigation, so I began to think about how God felt when he watched my quarters rolling-in…and about what He might say to me.  Some of the questions that rolled around in my inquisitive wondering:
·      Why I deserved all the stuff I have…and life itself.
·      How much did God really care for me?  (When that truth started hitting home, I began dropping quarters with thoughts of thanksgiving for my dog, and Mom’s chocolate cake, and Dad playing ball with us).
·      I dropped a few quarters that were attached to confession for lying when Mom wanted to know who took that last piece of cake
Along with my thanksgiving came wondering when (and if) God would ever answer some of my questions. 
I don’t know when it began exactly, but it seems so many answers I’ve gotten from God have come during the offering.  Here are a few of the things He’s spoken to my heart:
·      I love you, too, son.
·      Yes, I care for you…and I love the ones you care about (and even the ones you don’t!)
·      How come you doubt me so much?
·      I like it that you love me with faithfulness, even though you mess it up pretty good sometimes (I distinctly heard muffled chuckling that time).
·      About those mistakes, son, those are the best times – when you come to me and are all broken about it – and I forgive you every time…and then I show you a better way.  I love those times.
It’s hard to explain why God chose the offering plate to speak love and faith into my heart.  But I’m glad he spoke…and He’s still speaking.  And when He does, it’s always a holy time.
For You Today
For some people you would think the offering plate has a Surgeon General’s warning that it may be hazardous to your wealth health.  I prefer to think of that time as catching up with so much I am not able to hear in the busy, clanging, hurry-up of everyday life. 
I love the offering plate; my Father is there.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day. 

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[1] Title Image:  Public Domain

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Perfect Kiss

Monday, July 16, 2018
I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people.  But let them not return to their foolish ways.  Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, so our land will be filled with his glory.  Unfailing love and truth have met together.  Righteousness and peace have kissed!  Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness smiles down from heaven.  Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.  Our land will yield its bountiful harvest.  Righteousness goes as a herald before him, preparing the way for his steps.  Psalm 85:8-13(NLT)
The Psalmist tells us there is a seedling of truth that springs up from the Creator whenever righteousness and peace intersect with a kiss.  And in that seedling is the blessing and bounty of a proud parent as the smile of God’s character beams-down from heaven. 
This very poetic image from the Psalmist is better than any Norman Rockwell painting of better times.  Consider what God says is the result when leaders of nations choose truth and integrity over popularity and personal gain:  the land yields bountifully!  In other words, the citizens of nations who back up their leaders in the cause of truth are bound to enjoy peace and bounty.  That is who God is; it is also the model for Christian people, citizens of heaven.
The generator for this process is a ball that always lands firmly in human laps.  Note that the Psalmist says that he listens carefully to what God the Lord is saying.  When we listen carefully, it isn’t just so we can hear what God is saying, and then do what we please.  That is always a possibility for humans because of free will.  But that would not be serving God with integrity; it amounts to lip service!
A few examples:
·      God rejects murder of the unborn; our Supreme Court didn’t think so…
·      God requires sexuality to be hetero, not homo…our Supreme Court didn’t think so…
And so, God is speaking through the Psalmist to faithful people who are committed to peace.  To listen carefully implies receiving information AND acting in obedience to God’s will.  The idea is to gain truth and put that truth in relationship with righteousness; we are to allow the kiss of truth (understanding what is right) and righteousness (which is doing right).  This is the kind of integrity our leaders and citizens must have to be right with God.
The point is simple:  it doesn’t matter what a majority of humans think; God requires obedience.  When we forget that, or forsake that, we court war with heaven.
For You Today
There are all kinds of decisions made about right and wrong, about what’s best for our country, police forces, the law, family, and culture.  There are cultural worldviews that clash like World War 3.  It may not be possible to figure out what is best from the arguments that are constantly presented in the news or media, but Scripture, God’s Holy Word doesn’t leave us in doubt.
Letting truth and righteousness have that kiss, because you will listen to God, and then DO things God’s way, will always land you on the right side of history; it’s a perfect kiss!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day. 

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Power Under Control

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.  Indeed, we all make many mistakes.  For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.  We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.  And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.  In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.  But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.  And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire.  It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body.  It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.  People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue.  It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.  Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.  And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth.  Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!  Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?  Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs?  No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.  James 3:1-12(NLT)
The power of words…
The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.  Proverbs 18:21a(NLT)
Scott Pruitt was the EPA Administrator who resigned last week under increasing pressure from national scrutiny over his actions; in his resignation letter to the president he referenced the power of words:
…the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us.[2]
The Apostle James called the tongue a raging fire, totally unable to be tamed. 
James tells us the tongue is like the rudder on a big ship, or a bit in the horse’s mouth.  It is a small thing, behind the scenes, yet the most powerful muscle in the body.  It should be used for the highest of purposes!  Here are several ways a Christian ought to govern his or her words:
Use your words to TEACH
George Lucas is Star Wars’ creator.  He was given a lifetime achievement trophy at the Academy Award ceremonies in 1992.  In accepting he said, I've always tried to be aware of what I say in my films because all of us who make motion pictures are teachers, teachers with very loud voices.[3] We are all teachers, and we are teaching all the time. 
Jesus said you shall be my witnesses (Acts 1.8).  When I attended New York Institute of Technology, I had a creative writing teacher who encouraged me greatly.  I turned in a bad essay.  It was a really bad essay, full of big words to impress my teacher.  It was poorly conceived, badly composed, and grammatically a stench in the nostrils of all my English teachers combined.  She handed it back to me without a grade.  What she did say was:  How about choosing a subject about which you know something?  Write it plain, so I’ll understand it.
My teacher wasn’t interested in my vast vocabulary – she wanted to help me grow as a writer.  So, I went back to the drawing board.  I turned in a story about our church youth camping trip.  It was ok – even a bit sappy.  But her words, written in red on that paper are forever an encouragement to me:
Russell – this is more like it!  This is good – you should really do something with your writing – submit it to a publisher.
I don’t know how I ever got the courage to submit anything to a publisher – but the mere fact that I ever did is attributable to a teacher whose name I can’t even remember.  Her words taught me to try.
Use your words to LEAD
As in teaching, leading is always happening too.  Leading, good or bad, is a matter of the example we set by our response to the world around us.  Gossip is one of those responses to our world around us that the world could do without.  We can begin to put an end to that by not showing an interest in gossip.
The moral:  you can abort gossip bound conversations by quickly affirming the person targeted by negative comments.  Want to know what to say when someone starts to tell you gossip:
I don't want to hear it; I don't even believe what they're saying about you.
We have been led with words. 
·      Consider Patrick Henry's resounding:  Give me liberty or give me death.
·      Who can forget JFK's inaugural speech and the words:  Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.
·      I have a dream; Martin Luther King Jr.'s stirring words from the Washington D.C. Plaza mobilized the black community three decades ago, and still ring in our ears.
Words such as those changed the course of history. They challenged our very souls and spirits and as a result our country and we will never be the same.
Words can do the same for people and their perception of themselves. They can be used for good. They can be used to inspire, lift-up, motivate, instruct, and empathize.[4]
Use your words to HEAL
Finish this statement with me – Sticks and stones may break my bones, but….
You and I know that is not true.  There are people in this room right now that can tell you in a moment the hurt they have received in their lifetime – from words either carefully aimed to wound, or words carelessly dropped that stung just as badly.
A child has a fragile makeup emotionally.  Our words or temper out of control for just an instant can deliver a blow that will cause a lifetime of punctured dreams and hopes.  We, with our words, can drive someone down a pathway of doubt and second-guessing.
On the other hand, we can speak words of kindness.  Every wedding I do, I suggest the bride and groom speak the words of kindness from Ruth as they light the unity candle.  It is the only way to start a marriage – committing to kindness.
In an old PEANUTS cartoon, Peppermint Patty phones Charlie Brown and says: "Marcie and I are about to leave for camp, Chuck. We're going to be swimming instructors." Marcie takes the phone and adds: "We just called to say good-bye, Charles. We are going to miss you. We love you."
Charlie Brown's little sister, Sally, asks, "Who was that?" Standing there by the phone with an ear-splitting grin of satisfaction on his face, Charlie Brown answers, "I think it was a right number."  Right numbers heal!
Use your words to SAVE
Jesus said we’d be His witnesses.  We sang the hymn, Wonderful Words of Life.  Were you listening while you sang?
Sweetly echo the gospel call, Wonderful words of life;
Offer pardon and peace to all, Wonderful words of life;[5]
When you go to the doctor, often he will ask you to stick out your tongue to examine it.  He can tell a lot about what’s going on inside you just by looking at your tongue.  The Great Physician can also tell if there is a revival or a riot going on by your words.
Selwyn Hughes is the author of Everyday Walk with Jesus.  In an interview he told about his grandfather. 
In 1904 Wales had a great Holy Spirit revival when a hundred thousand people were converted in six months without any preaching, just God coming down, touching peoples' lives.  The miners underground would suddenly stop working and cry out to God to become converted.  In schools youth and children would have their heads on the desk weeping, and the teacher, often a Christian, would pray with them, leading them to Christ.
Such was the impact of this movement of the Holy Spirit, this awesome flood of God that was going through Wales, that many of the drinking saloons, the public houses closed down…. 
One of the men who was converted in that revival was my grandfather.  He was a miner.  His job was leading the horses that pulled the tubs of coal from the mine.
My grandfather was a blasphemer and had a filthy tongue.  The way he used to train his horses was by swearing at them.  Then he got converted, and for days the horses didn't know what to do because he wouldn't swear at them.  They had to learn a new language.  So even the horses knew there was a revival going on because the change was so dramatic. 
My grandfather then led my mother to Christ.  My mother led my father to Christ.  My father led me to Christ.  So I see myself as a product of that revival.[6]
So, this morning, let’s conduct a tongue checkup. 
n  Are your words teaching valuable character?
n  Are your words leading in positive pathways?
n  Are your words healing?
n  Are your words being used by the Holy Spirit in saving?
If your answers do not satisfy you, here’s how to change:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8(NLT)
The tongue is your most powerful muscle.  To have it under control this way is to follow Jesus.  May it be so with you.  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Let the church say “Amen”!

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[1] Title Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] Scott Pruitt’s full resignation letter to President Trump, Fox News
[3] Quoted by Edwin A. Roberts, Jr., in the Tampa Tribune, April 5, 1992.  Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 8
[4] Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn In a sermon, Sticks And Stones, SermonCentral.com
[5] Words and tune WORDS OF LIFE, Philip P. Bliss, 1874.
[6] From an interview with Selwyn Hughes, author of Everyday Walk with Jesus Growing Churches, Spring 2001, p.12

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Restless

Thursday, July 12, 2018
“Have the people make an Ark of acacia wood—a sacred chest 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high.  Overlay it inside and outside with pure gold, and run a molding of gold all around it.  Cast four gold rings and attach them to its four feet, two rings on each side.  Make poles from acacia wood, and overlay them with gold.  Insert the poles into the rings at the sides of the Ark to carry it.  These carrying poles must stay inside the rings; never remove them.  When the Ark is finished, place inside it the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you.  Exodus 25:10-16(NLT)
When I read Scripture there is always something that grabs my attention.  This morning, well before sunrise, the phrase never remove them leaped into the foreground.  It is a reminder for me today that the Ark of the Covenant, Israel’s symbol of the God they could not see, is like the God they cannot see:  restless.  The Ark’s carrying poles were to always be at ready, never cast aside, as if the sacred chest had arrived, and was now entrenched…not to be moved again.  For an unchanging Sovereign, He is ever on the move!
In his youth St. Augustine (eventually bishop of Hippo) ran as fast and far as he could from God.  But he could not outrun the prayers of his Godly mother, nor the pursuing, prevenient grace of God’s loving Spirit.  Hear the restless heart of Augustine, longing to know the peace of resting in his Creator:
Alas for me! Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Say it so that I can hear it. My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am your salvation. Let me run towards this voice and seize hold of you. Do not hide your face from me: let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed.[2]
To be restless is not that you cannot rest; in the case of our Creator, it is that He will not rest until his family is complete, and (at last) home!  He will not rest until we are at rest!  And yet, like the acacia wood poles that are always in position to move, God moves us forward, ever prodding, leading, guiding, calling, and inspiring to move.  We are called into His rest, yet we are ever mindful that our souls can never rest until, as Augustine reminds us, we are at rest with Him.
Like the carrying poles, we are never to be away from the presence of the ark of God’s safe embrace.  This is why we are called to this early morning dance with the Spirit.  In these early hours our hearts are finding the pathway to that rest. 
It is the lifetime employ and quest of our spirits to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, along with (and in) the fellowship of His sufferings[3]. 
And this in-Christ rest is what we discover is the only true rest a human can know – a peace beyond all human comprehension and joy[4].
For You Today
This picture of the carrying poles at the ready is a constant reminder that we are not home yet; we’re passing through this life, and it’s a restless occupation until we see the Father’s face.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day. 

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[3] Philippians 3:10
[4] Philippians 4:7