Friday, November 17, 2017


Friday, November 17, 2017
 “Look, I will come as unexpectedly as a thief!  Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready so they will not have to walk around naked and ashamed.”  And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon.  Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air.  And a mighty shout came from the throne in the Temple, saying, “It is finished!”  Then the thunder crashed and rolled, and lightning flashed.  And a great earthquake struck—the worst since people were placed on the earth.  The great city of Babylon split into three sections, and the cities of many nations fell into heaps of rubble.  So God remembered all of Babylon’s sins, and he made her drink the cup that was filled with the wine of his fierce wrath.  And every island disappeared, and all the mountains were leveled.  There was a terrible hailstorm, and hailstones weighing as much as seventy-five pounds fell from the sky onto the people below.  They cursed God because of the terrible plague of the hailstorm.  Revelation 16:15-21(NLT)
It is impossible for me to read through Revelation’s end-time scenarios, judgments, bowls of wrath and stinging scorpions without thinking of how the world sees the threat of such coming retribution for ignoring or flatly trying to dismiss God, the Creator and sustainer of all life.  Simply put, mention the end of the world and twenty-first century culture writes you off as a fringe lunatic nutcase!  The Psalmist understood that:
Day and night I have only tears for food,
     while my enemies continually taunt me,     saying, “Where is this God of yours?”   
Psalm 42:3(NLT)
The world (and so many in the church) might roll an eye at the mention of Armageddon, (the final battle where Satan and his follower’s rebellion is finally called to a halt with a single word from Christ). 
Skeptics scoff and mock at what they consider a na├»ve or antiquated, literalist view like the second coming, rapture of the church, or even an actual devil.  At the same time it’s interesting how much attention there is when you talk about it.  You don’t have to get far into the conversation about Armageddon to watch the sweat beads form on the brows of people who wish the whole thing would just go away.
Call it a somewhat perverted sense of humor, but it is that very attitude of the world’s rejection of God’s sovereign rule over the universe, which proclaims we are moving towards Armageddon, that compels me to preach on the subject enough to start a fuss! 
It may be an unpleasant topic, even for some Christians who prefer the nursery to the battlefield, but that’s exactly the point.  If you believe in God at all these days, you’re in a battle – and it’s not a battle over who gets to play with the best toys; it is a battle for the souls of human beings.  It may not be a pretty sight to deal with, but it’s better to settle some things here and now, than to deal with Hell later!

For You Today

The last several day’s devotions have been a little on the heavy side with sin, injustice and the end of the world.  These are heavy times in which we live.  And unbelievers will always taunt believers with the sarcastic question:  where is this God you worship?
But, if you have given your heart to the Lord Jesus, take heart; God’s love and care for you, even in the toughest times, is without question. 
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
[1] Title Image: Courtesy of

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Distress of Justice

Thursday, November 16, 2017
After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.  The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal.  They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt.  They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them.  And they angered the Lord.  They abandoned the Lord to serve Baal and the images of Ashtoreth.  This made the Lord burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions.  He turned them over to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them.  Every time Israel went out to battle, the Lord fought against them, causing them to be defeated, just as he had warned.  And the people were in great distress.  Judges 2:10-15(NLT)
And I heard a voice from the altar, saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just.”                              Revelation 16:7(NLT)
The justice system in America is arguably skewed at times, as is every other system created by the human race.  As my friend Phillip recently reminded me, Winston Churchill is attributed to have said something like:  Democracy is the worst form of government ever created…with the exception of every other form of government.
With all due respect to my friend, and the esteemed Mr. Churchill, there is one justice system that is true and just; its righteousness is never failing!  That system, of course, is the judgments of God.
Joshua led the nation of Israel to conquer the Promised Land after Moses’ death.  They occupied it under the leadership of God (theocracy) until Joshua died.  Then a new generation decided that serving Jehovah was outdated and old-school.  They got with the new program of being like the other nations and left God in the dust.
For Israel, bad became worse.  Their strength as a nation disappeared.  Their military was never enough.  Their infrastructures became compromised; superstructures and resources were hacked and stolen, and no leader could be trusted.  The whole nation was in severe distress.
Sound familiar?
I know it is dangerous to insert “America” into the target scheme of any prophecy or Biblical scenario, but when the shoe fits it is appropriate to wear it.  The trend in our culture is to trust in an idea of America as inherently good and all-powerful.  The problem in believing such is that we wind up attributing the nature of God to a national identity.  America is not, has never been, and will never be…GOD! 
The identity of a nation is comprised in the nature and character of the people who make up that nation.  According to Scripture (which has yet to be proven wrong), the character and nature of humans is corrupt, and has been so ever since Eden.  This is a fallen world…and, despite the flag-waving that has most of us rallying around the stars and stripes, that is our heritage…prone to wander; prone to leave the God we love.
And leave God behind we have…for the pragmatism of bigger stock markets, bigger walls, harsher conversations, and a national profile of yell louder if you sense you’re losing market share…at what cost?
The distress of God’s justice rolled-down on the heads of those who led Israel after Joshua passed.  I am not a prophet in the sense of being able to foretell the future, but I am student enough of history and Scripture to sense that we are at harvest time, and what we have been sowing, we shall certainly reap!

For You Today

“Distress” in true justice only falls on those who have attempted to thwart eternal sovereignty.  To avoid distress, bow before God, not Congress or Pennsylvania Avenue.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

No More Sermons

Wednesday, November 15, 2017
“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.  This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt.  They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.  “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord.  “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord.  “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” 
Jeremiah 31:31-34(NLT)
At my age I’m a lot closer to my last sermon than my first one.  I’ve often said (mostly after conducting a funeral) that the way I’d prefer to go out doesn’t involve a hospital room, tubes and waiting for the inevitable.  As much as I value the wonderful work of all our healing and palliative care professionals, such as Hospice, I don’t want to be a client.  Rather I would love to have it be on a Sunday, God having allowed and strengthened me to preach the best sermon of my life; sometime during my afternoon siesta I suddenly awaken and find myself in the splendor of heaven!  But of course, the most important part of that scenario is not a sermon; the best part is seeing Jesus!
Jeremiah gave us a peek at the end of the preaching profession; there will come a time when all the preaching is over.  When the New Covenant is finally put into its perfect fulfillment there will be no need for sermonizing; God will write every part of his will and way on our hearts, meaning love will have been completed.  There will be no need for teaching or preaching, because we will live it as God first intended for humans to act when he placed Adam and Eve in the garden.
God will forgive all our past wickedness and never bring it up again.  We will live in perfect relationship to God.  As John the beloved apostle wrote:
Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.  1 John 3:2(NLT)

For You Today

None of us is perfect; we all sin through error or, at times, willful disobedience.  Nevertheless, our task is to press-on for the prize of that high calling in Jesus Christ[2] – to be perfected in love.  Today is a good day to move forward in that project!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

[1] Title Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
[2] Philippians 3:14

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Tuesday, November 14, 2017
They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.  Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this!  For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.”  For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.  And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared.  This is a sacred day before our Lord.  Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”  And the Levites, too, quieted the people, telling them, “Hush! Don’t weep!  For this is a sacred day.”  So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.  Nehemiah 8:8-12(NLT)
Some things stick like an unbreakable weld in your mind – that feeling of being surprised on a memorable birthday, or the smell of your first car, or being caught with your hand in the cookie jar.  Some things are meant to stick!
One of those phrases I will probably take to the grave is what Dr. Charles Graham said in the Old Testament course I was taking in seminary.  When Dr. Graham came to the verse that said the people had all been weeping as they listened, he stopped and said:
You don’t find that much in our culture anymore; we seem to have lost the ability to blush!
Blushing is an involuntary physiological response to being embarrassed.  You spoke when you shouldn’t have, or lied and were called on it, or you’re standing on that step stool at the kitchen counter and Mom just walked in and busted you for that hand you’ve got foraging deep in the cookie jar.
What Dr. Graham was getting at was that we aren’t much embarrassed by our sins anymore.  Our culture seems to take the approach that, no matter what we’ve done, it either wasn’t our fault (we were dropped on our head as a child), or we’re just following our natural instincts, or some other excuse.  The whole concept of culpable, 100% first-degree sin, where you choose what you want to do over what conscience and clear common sense say is right to do…well, that whole thing is just so cute and Grandma-ish down at the church house kind of thinking, but it has nothing to do with reality – we are not sinners; we are modern, sophisticated adults who have choices.  There’s no such thing as sin.
It wasn’t so in Nehemiah’s experience.  When Ezra, the scribe read God’s Word to the assembled people, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, they stood from early morning to noon listening.  And what’s more, they took it to heart, saw where their behavior was in direct disobedience to God’s Word and began to weep. 
They knew how to blush; we don’t.  They (properly so) were embarrassed by the simple understanding that they were sinning against Almighty God; we aren’t.  As a direct result of this cultural blunting of the odiousness of sin we have cut off the ability to repent.  People laugh-off the notion that “I’m OK; you’re OK” is really a lie.  We go on believing that the whole concept of sin is antiquated and so unsophisticated; with nothing to be sorry for, nothing to repent over, we find no difficulty in elevating ourselves to having the right to claim, rather assertively, without the slightest blush:  I’m a good person, and you ought to be ashamed for trying to make me feel guilty!
An honest study of Scripture would say otherwise.  Every prophet came to tell humanity otherwise.  Paul said it without stuttering:
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Romans 3:23(NLT)
When the people blushed over their sins, it was the initial, critical step in repentance.  And with that step, the forgiveness of God was close at hand, and the leaders were quick to tell the people to put away their tears.

For You Today

The tears of repentance come before the graceful forgiveness of God.  God never forgives sins we refuse to confess.  So, go ahead, blush…repent…confess…be forgiven!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

[1] Title Image: Courtesy of

Monday, November 13, 2017

What Were You Thinking?

Monday, November 13, 2017
But they kept testing and rebelling against God Most High.  They did not obey his laws.  They turned back and were as faithless as their parents.  They were as undependable as a crooked bow.  They angered God by building shrines to other gods; they made him jealous with their idols.  When God heard them, he was very angry, and he completely rejected Israel.  Then he abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh, the Tabernacle where he had lived among the people.  He allowed the Ark of his might to be captured; he surrendered his glory into enemy hands.  He gave his people over to be butchered by the sword, because he was so angry with his own people—his special possession.  Their young men were killed by fire; their young women died before singing their wedding songs.  Their priests were slaughtered, and their widows could not mourn their deaths..  Psalm 78:56-64(NLT)
The re-telling of Israel’s history is magnificent and painful.  The Psalmist begins with the nation’s beginning, release from Egypt and the Exodus.  From there he traces the roller-coaster pattern of ups and downs as the people of God alternately walk in faith, followed by blind unbelief and blatant disobedience to the God who saved them. 
The people of God constantly made a farce of being God’s chosen, and whenever I read the account of our spiritual ancestors I am always consumed by two thoughts: 
#1. What were you thinking?
And then I’m caught short by the other thought:
#2. Who am I kidding…I’m just like them!
God understands us more than we understand ourselves, which is why He had Moses write ALL of Israel’s history…victories when they obeyed and followed God, as well as the crushing defeats and consequences when they wandered away from Him in unbelief.  We get the heroes and utter failures, warts and all!
And God had Paul the Apostle write down the reason for this full disclosure:
These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.  1 Corinthians 10:11(NLT)
When you take these facts together you understand that God is not interested in PR, political correctness, or what humans think about the way God acted in history.  Rather, God is interested in how humans respond to Him in obedience and service.
That doesn’t much resonate with today’s emphasis on everybody getting to be soothed with having all their tender feelings stroked, and the ultra-goofiness of having every silly thought or lifestyle more than tolerated…even validated…but God isn’t interested in all that.  God is still interested in how we will honor, respect, and serve the One who created us, and died for the forgiveness of our sins.
If that offends, we can only offer the same condolence we render to the childishness of Israel…what were you thinking?

For You Today

It is better to serve God faithfully, to heed the warning of Scripture’s full-disclosure of the sins of human giants like Moses, David and Peter, than to repeat their mistakes!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

[1] Title Image: Courtesy of

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Lessons From the Back Shelf

You know what a back shelf is for; the back shelf is where they put stuff that won’t ever be used again – you go there to rot.  There are no events.  It’s where you’re put when the world is done with you, like a seldom-needed roasting pan, or a set of Christmas lights with one bulb out.   You never work quite right, so you get put on the top shelf, way in the back; you become a back shelf dweller!
We are coming to the end of another year.  It is quite natural to look back over the last year.  We evaluate, revel in the good things; we reminisce, sometimes torture ourselves over the bad.  But what if you look back and there is nothing?  What if you look back, and, contrary to the calendar, all you can see is the back of the shelf?  All you can feel is that what in the world is happening thing; it’s like when you know you are supposed to be somewhere, but you can’t remember where.  As George Goebel once remarked to Johnny Carson, I feel like the entire world’s a tuxedo, and I’m a pair of brown loafers.
As we check up on this past year, if it appears to you that along the way your life got put on hold, then this message is for you.  I’d like for you to come with me for a peek at the life of the king of the back shelf – Jeremiah.
God had called Jeremiah to be his voice against the ungodly condition of His chosen people – to speak a warning.  Jeremiah’s call included the vision of a boiling cauldron facing the South; a picture of the invasion forces that would come from Judah’s northern enemies. 
In the 32nd chapter of Jeremiah’s prophecy we find that what got him thrown in jail was his insistence that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, would conquer Jerusalem.  Jerusalem’s king Zedekiah didn’t like that! 
While in prison, Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanameel offers the prophet the right to purchase land in his hometown, Anathoth.  How strange; if the prophet’s prediction came true (and it certainly did) then land titles issued under Hebrew law would be worthless.  And if the prophecy failed, Jeremiah would stay in jail.  It seemed odd to buy land under those conditions. 
What was Jeremiah (and God) up to?  The prophet was making a bold statement that God would truly bring judgment on the people, but the judgment would end and God would also restore his people.
·       Behold, I will gather them out of all countries…32.37a
·       And they shall be my people, and I shall be their God…32.38
·       And fields shall be bought in this land…32.43a
Jeremiah spoke truth about the coming judgment of God, and it did not exactly endear him to the king.  In fact, he got thrown in prison – several times, and finally died in Egypt under house arrest -- no fairy-tale ending to an epic life! 
Rather, the so-called fairy-tale endings to which we have become accustomed would have included Jeremiah’s famous word from the Lord…
·       Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which though knowest not.  Jeremiah 33.3
And then there would be a release from prison, return to favor, and eventual conquering of the bad guys.  Jeremiah never saw it; (from a human perspective) Jeremiah’s life got put on hold; he never again saw the light of day as a free man.
As a preacher, there have been times when I have found myself able to identify with Jeremiah’s position.  I’ve never run afoul of the law and been put in jail, but it is very much like jail for a preacher to not be able to preach.  This has happened a few times in my pastoral career.  It is not a pretty picture; you spend a lot of time whining to God about what to do, what to do….

I’d like you to meet “Wilson”. 
Wilson was my closest friend for seven weeks.  Every day my dear friend would pin me down to the radiation table, keeping me still in just the right spot so the highly-intensified beam of radioactive fire could scorch my vocal cords accurately.  Wilson was named after the soccer ball in the movie Cast Away; it was on that ball Tom Hanks painted a face and carried on a conversation for the four years he was marooned after a plane crash.
In Jeremiah’s life and ministry I find the model for my own struggling, as well as the answers I need in that process of finding God when I have to wait.  I find myself once again at five years old, waiting anxiously in the back seat of Dad’s ’48 Plymouth, asking:  Are we there yet?
This morning’s message is somewhat confessional – it is where I was twelve years ago.  I was a year into seeking God’s will for where I was to serve.  The problem was, each time a place seemed to open up it closed faster than a slap in the face.  I was on-hold.  I felt like Jeremiah in the pit, and I wanted some answers.  I wanted some sense of purpose in the midst of what seemed like wasted time.  Give me some rhyme and reason, Lord!
One of the great poets, Frost, I believe, was asked by a student how you go about writing a poem.  The answer was all about making rhyme and reason over the events of your life.  It went something like:  Well, first something has to happen to you.  Then you get alone with a pen and ink and write like the devil.  You ride it until it is done.  Then you have a poem.    
Jeremiah did have more than a few somethings happen.  His country was in trouble.  Morality was gone.  No one told the truth.  The government was not trustworthy.  Strong political enemies loomed on the horizon.  His ministry was like, as Frost described, writing like the devil – working on the national problems of Israel. 
When Jeremiah cried out against these things as a preacher of righteousness, proclaiming the Lord’s Word, he expected the people to listen – to change.  Yet they did not; they never listened.  They never changed in his lifetime.  His culture was as unconcerned with God as the vast majority of the world at the beginning of the 21st century! 
The people in Jeremiah’s day rejected the idea of God’s sovereignty, as does America in 2017.  They rejected God, and so have we, banning Him from our schools, government and just about every realm of public life.  Jeremiah wanted it to change; he went to extremes to preach the truth. 
He was the theatrical prophet, wearing an oxen yoke to symbolize the heaviness of Israel’s coming bondage.  He buried a garment under a rock near the river to rot and ruin, rather than stay close to the owner’s heart, symbolizing how Israel was out of place, far from God’s heart.
Great sermons, Jeremiah!  Man what a preacher!!  You would think they’d make him bishop of Lower Mesopotamia with sermonizing like that!  Instead, he got arrested, put on hold; Jeremiah was moved to the back shelf! 
He was born in Anathoth, which means answered prayer – yet here he was in the jail pit, and the nation he loved remained unchanged.  Jeremiah’s prayers weren’t being answered – they were bouncing off the ceiling. 
What’s going on here?  Why was Jeremiah stuck in a holding pattern over the airport, endlessly circling? 
This suggests several questions
1.     Why had God put Jeremiah on hold? 
2.     And the corollary – Why was Russell on hold?
3.     And your main interest – Why aren’t things moving better for you?
Now, before we gavel the Pity Party meeting to come to order, let me assure you that each and every human being who has ever drawn breath has (or will) experience this on hold syndrome.  As I studied for this message it became painfully-evident that virtually every major Bible character walked in this valley during his life. 
Let’s start at Genesis and fast forward through some of those lives on hold:
Adam…must have experienced a deep valley of depression and questioning the on hold after being expelled from the Garden of Eden.  He’d never really been on his own before, and now the produce came from the ground only by the sweat of his brow (Gen 3-4).  Life was tough!
Noah…spent the better part of a year in a dark, dingy barge, cooped-up with fifteen thousand smelly animals.  After it was over Noah stepped out into a world without people (Gen 8,9).  He and his little family were totally alone.
Abraham…had several periods on hold.  God had promised an heir.  But Abraham kept getting older and older.  He was approaching 100, and his wife was no spring chicken either.  What was God up to?  Didn’t He know you don’t have children when you’re in the old folk’s home?  Later, when Isaac finally was born, God told Abraham to take the boy to the mountain and kill him for a sacrifice (Gen 22).  How on hold did Abe feel during the trek to Mount Moriah?
Jonah…was disobedient about fulfilling his prophetic ministry role.  He got a holy submarine ride and several days on hold to think about his vows.
Moses…was no stranger to the on hold syndromeAfter being raised in a king’s castle he spent forty years as a convicted murderer, working for his father-in-law, tending sheep on the back-side of nowhere.  (Exo 2).
David…slept in the caves of Adullam (1 Samuel 22) while he was being hunted like a dog by King Saul.  He also spent time on hold after his first son with Bathsheba died.
The Bible’s list of people on hold reads like a who’s who of ancient heroes:  Solomon, Elijah, John the Baptist, Judas, The Disciples, Peter, John Mark, John, and the New Testament Jeremiah, Paul.
When Paul was converted he immediately began to experience opposition – from within the church.  He spent 14 years in the desert seminary on hold learning about God’s plans for the church.  He was beaten (as Jeremiah).  He was called a traitor (as Jeremiah).  He was imprisoned and died for the cause (as did Jeremiah, in jail).  Paul lived a life on mission, filled with times of being on hold.

From Jerusalem to North Carolina

The Bible stories are convincing – but what about the beginning of the 21st  century?  What about now?  What about us?
On Hold takes many forms, just as in Bible times.  Just a partial list would include:
·       A 38 year old bank teller who must give up her job to care for her Mother, who is an Alzheimer’s patient…on hold!
·       A 17 year old high school senior who won’t graduate with his class because he has to take radical treatments for Leukemia…on hold!
·       A business woman who faces bankruptcy…on hold!
·       A college professor who didn’t see a four year old on his tricycle, and is now sitting in a cell…on hold!
·       A late thirty-something woman who has just seen 11 years of investment in her marriage go down the tubes because he didn’t want to be married anymore…on hold!
Ministries come to a grinding halt.  Life changes occur.  People die or prepare to die.  It seems like you have been pushed to the back, out of sight on the highest shelf in the most forgotten pantry. 
It is certain God has forgotten your address, or at the least has forgotten that thing about not putting any more on you than you can bear. 
What can you do when you’re on hold, on the back shelf?

The Traps

Christian believers have a resource about which pagans can only hope…God.  But there are some traps to avoid when you’re practicing what to do when you’re on the shelf.

Running ahead. 

When God has you on the shelf, it is for a reason.  The worst thing you can do is try to scramble off before that purpose is worked out.  Abraham and Sarai tried that route.  They were supposed to have received a son.  It wasn’t happening.  Sarai thought she was doing well by manipulating the future.  She told Abraham to have relations with Hagar, her slave.  Ishmael was born, but he wasn’t God’s solution for the shelf.  The descendants of Ishmael and Isaac are at each other’s throats until this very day!  When you’re on the shelf, don’t run ahead of God’s timing

Force a solution. 

Sometimes a solution presents itself, and everyone urges you to take that way out.  It’s easy enough, and you have the world’s approval.  David was hiding from King Saul in the caves of Adullam.  Saul had been his friend and benefactor – but the man had lost it, gone off the deep end with jealousy over David’s popularity.  The whole kingdom knew David was now going to be God’s choice for king. 
And one night in the chase, King Saul fell asleep right in the cave where David was hiding.  It was so easy – David was standing over his problem; plunge the knife and it’s over.  So easy!  But David knew that it is never right to do wrong.  He would not compromise THE Kingdom for A kingdom. 

Physical & emotional weaknesses. 

Being on the back shelf is very stressful.  There’s a whole assortment of difficulties associated with job, career, relationship and spiritual stress. 
·       Physical ailments from rashes to ulcers come with a shelf life. 
·       Sleep loss is common among shelf-dwellers. 
·       Emotions run amuk. 
In every period of being on-hold on the shelf, be aware that you are occupying a frame made of dust, and dust can crumble under the load.

View From Above the Shelf

Professional basketball players play a brand of ball of which the average man will only dream; they play above the rim.  Christians are to view their shelf life from above, also.  That is, we are to see the situation as God sees the situation. 
Here are four ways to get above the shelf; they all involve what God said would happen in Israel, and what Jeremiah did, buy a field.  Remember that?  Jeremiah bought a piece of property when it looked like he’d never even set foot on it.  Jeremiah bought a field on faith!

1.  Buy a field -- Tend the Sheep

Moses was a convicted felon back in Egypt.  He thought he was doing God’s work when he killed an Egyptian who was oppressing the Hebrews.  It got him stuck out in the middle of nowhere.  He married a girl and tended the sheep of his father-in-law.  This was quite a far cry from the royal palaces in Egypt.
When on the shelf, remember that you can be useful where you are.  As a minister, I had to remember that God can use me anywhere to tend sheep.  They’re everywhere!  I don’t have to be a Pastor to listen to another’s burden.  Have you felt the splinters of that back shelf?  Buy a field; tend the sheep.

2.  Buy a field -- Ask the Questions

I have learned to live with the Psalmist:
·       I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry, He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.  Psalm 40.1-3(KJV)
I am not a patient person (just ask Elizabeth).  I want answers quickly.  I am, however a believer, and I have learned to ask What rather than Why?  What is the shelf supposed to teach me? 
Remember, it isn’t wrong to ask the questions, just keep your perspective…you’re dealing with almighty God.  Treat Him with respect.  He can pull you out of the pit, or off the shelf – or He can keep you after school. 
Jacob wrestled with God’s angel at the river Jabok.  It was the night before going home to a brother he’d not seen in twenty years.  That brother was angry enough to make a vow to kill Jacob the last time the two laid eyes on each other. 
Jacob had come to the end of himself, and the angel came to struggle with him in the night.  A belief that the ancients had was if you saw an angel in the daylight you would die.  The dawn was about to break, and the angel warned Jacob to let go; Jacob refused.  He would rather die than not have his answers. 
Have you wrestled with who God is going to be in your life; shelf or not? 
Buy a field…tend the sheep and ask the questions.

3.  Buy a field -- Listen for God

Elijah was alone with his fears.  The queen had vowed to put him to death when she found him.  Elijah felt alone.  He wanted to die.  But he listened intently, and God came to him.  It wasn’t in the storm, nor in the wind; the voice of God was still and small. 
It pays to get alone with God…because He whispers a lot.  It pays to get alone and authentic…get honest with God. 
Buy a field…listen in the Word.  Open that Bible – read, read with your heart.

4.  Buy a field -- Adjust the Sails

I saw the sign on an outdoor church signboard that spoke to me when I was on the shelf…
This means you can trust God, and you can act like it. 
Peter was shamed by his denial of Christ outside Pilate’s house.  But he stood boldly a few months later on Pentecost to preach and lead 3,000 people to follow. 
Abraham believed God, and behaved that way. 
Job’s shelf was under the ash heap.  His children were having a homecoming party.  The wind came and blew away the roof supports, and the roof fell on all of Job’s sons and daughters, killing them all.  But he trusted God.  He said, The Lord gives, and the Lord takes…He is the Lord.
Israel couldn’t understand their defeat by a tiny village named Ai.  When they finally understood it was Achan who brought his sin into the camp they stoned him and his family.  That’s adjusting the sails.  Do you have any Achan attitudes or secret sins that need stoning?

Living for Christ is still the Great Adventure. 

God has never lied, and He can be trusted.  The winds of our time blow this way and that.  God’s compass always points true north to doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with Thy God. 
Adjust your sails in this world’s storms, but don’t hear the wind howling in the world.  Buy a field while you look for God’s lighthouse.

         Life on the shelf has its worth. 

You learn things there which are invisible when you’re so busy with regular life.  I had a conversation with a young believer during my shelf-life.  It seems times of joyful worship at her church were so wonderful she just couldn’t wait for the next time with the family of God.  But then in some other situations her faith was being assaulted. 
I told her, Congratulations; God is trusting you to grow.  How else would you know your faith, which is grown in the loving atmosphere of your church family can stand in the world – unless you get tested and stretched?
Paul had a thorn in the flesh with which he had to contend on his shelf.  Often he questioned, pleaded with the Lord to take it away.  Jesus’ answer was always the same, my grace is sufficient for your shelf, Paul.
I love the story of the new recruit in boot camp.  During rare break times and as often as anyone was looking, the private spent his hours walking around the camp, staring at the ground.  Occasionally he would stoop down, pick up a scrap of paper, stare at it and shake his head back and forth – Nope, that’s not it, that’s not it, he would lament.  Over and over, Nope, that’s not it, that’s not it! 
The Master Sergeant had had enough after about six weeks, and thought to himself, This guy is driving me nuts with his picking up the papers – Nope that’s not it….  I’m gonna do something. 
So the sergeant put through a Section 8 mental discharge.  When all the papers were done, he took a copy of the discharge paper to the barracks and found the young recruit.  Here y’are, dingbat.  Pack yer bags & get on outa here – You ain’t no soldier no more!  The ex-private took the discharge paper from the Sarge, looked intently at it and said:  This is itThis is it!
Beloved, that’s what Paul found on the shelf – Grace that was greater than all his sin, all his thorns in the flesh, all his needs. 
That’s it!  And God has plenty of that grace on His back shelf for all of us!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!


[1] Title Image Courtesy of