Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Rafael Septien was the field goal kicker for the Dallas Cowboys in 1985.  In one of the home games that year at Texas Stadium he missed a kick badly.  It was among the poorest kick attempts ever viewed by mankind! 

In a post-game interview he had an excuse.  He whined, the grass was too long.  Rafael’s excuse didn’t float any better than his kick; Texas Stadium doesn't have grass, it has artificial turf. 

As a society we are so quick to offer excuses for our behavior – we call it syndromes, maladies, unfortunate choices – we call it anything but SIN! 

George Washington didn’t lie, or offer an excuse for why he chopped down his dad’s cherry tree, and the difference is impossible to miss – he knew he’d done wrong and said so.

New Year - Resolve

Resolve to know Truth and speak truth this year.  It will set you free!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Apostles' Creed

       I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord.
       He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
       and born of the Virgin Mary.
       He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
       was crucified, died, and was buried.
       He descended to the dead.
       On the third day he rose again.
       He ascended into heaven, 
       and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
       He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

The Apostles’ Creed is the summary statement of the core of our faith.  Dating to the first century, this part of the creed (above) begins where the Old Testament leaves off, just before the manger…and ends where eternity begins…with Jesus as judge, coming in clouds and great glory.
That third line whizzes-by when we say it in unison in church:  Born of the virgin Mary….
But, at Christmas season we (hopefully) slow down just long enough to savor that.  “Born of a virgin” is not a usual occurrence; it’s only happened once!  
The word “virginity” carries with it the express aura of purity and chaste cleanliness; yet the next phrase in the creed “suffered…” proclaims we dragged him through the worst of what humanity has to offer.
This is the wonder of the event we celebrate this season – the spotless Lamb of God becoming sin for the likes of us. 


Spend a few minutes envisioning the spotless virgin-born Son of God being dragged through the sin of the world on the way to the cross.

See if that doesn’t make you hang the tinsel a bit more carefully.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

After Christmas

Thursday, December 26, 2013
The “day after” –  it’s always such an anti-climactic letdown! 
·              You’ve sent a zillion Christmas cards
·              You’ve spent countless hours decorating the house and the tree
·              You’ve spent twice the National debt on toys, sweaters and food
·              You used up four month’s-worth of calorie allotment on fruitcake
….and….worst of all….
·              On Christmas Eve Santa brought forty-two toys for your kids that require 900 screws and other thing-a-ma-jigs each, and you wore out three screwdrivers and used up the entire year’s allotment of cussing!

What is left on Dec 26th?

That’s also a list….which includes, in part, three refrigerators-full of leftover fruitcake, mounds of wrapping paper and flattened cardboard boxes, piles of screws and thing-a-ma-jigs that didn’t fit in forty-two toys and a gnawing feeling inside your stomach due either to the turkey stuffing you ate at four in the morning, or realizing your credit cards had a meltdown….or, worse, both!

What was I thinking?

For a great many of us, we get involved in more than we can handle because we get swept away in the moment.  Wanting to have “the perfect family holiday” we overspend and over-commit our schedules (and, I’ve heard we over-eat as a means of comforting ourselves that it’ll be alright…pass the punkin’ pie, please).

A little comfort please

While taking away the impressive new number on your credit card balance, or the ache in your tummy from four pieces of apple pie is beyond the scope of this devotion, let me point you to what Peter said about the “precious promises”:  they are made for us to escape our greed which leads to impulse buying, running and eating.

Most of us imagine we cannot do what the Bible requires. That is to withstand our own natural Greed and lust.  But Peter tells us we have the great and precious promises of God that we can do it.  

You can overcome.

You've got a whole year to practice.

Get started!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ho, Ho, Ho...and other elevator sounds

Wednesday, December 25, 2013
My friend, Peter, has this really neat white beard; he’s also got a red jacket and hat with white trim.  Peter’s built a little like me, so he doesn’t need the pillow to complete the uniform!  (How he gets his wife Jackie to dress in that elf costume, I’ll never know.) 
Anyway, earlier this month Peter went for an eye checkup.  He was in the elevator travelling upward (it was a tall building), when he noticed (in his words)…a little kid kept scoping me out in the elevator so I did a “HO HO” and his eyes lit up…then I hit him with a shhhh finger on my lips….freaked him.
There are all sorts of ways of delivering good news.  Peter spreads good will in an elevator; God chose an unusual star, a heavenly choir and some really-smelly sheepherders to share the Best News. 
Ordinarily this time of year I take pains to remind people not to mix Santa with Savior.  But when I think of events that spread joy, how can you not include the elevator and the wonder of a small boy? 
It was that same sense of wonder that overcame the rough-cut shepherds, and the highbrow wise men outside the stable that night; it’s been doing that ever since.
So, whether it’s elevators, football games, Wal-Mart or a manger, spread the wonder of a Savior who was born in a very low place, with a mission of coming to the lowest of places – a cross…to die, so he could come to an even lower place:  my heart…to forgive me and set me in the highest place…a child of the King.  Wonder, wonder and wonder!
We are most blessed!

From our house to yours this Season of Christmas…blessings indeed!
and, of course, Gracie
*Many thanks to Peter and Jackie and their grandchildren for permission to use their Christmas picture above.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Grace Alone - Part II

Yesterday’s devotion contained the story my friend, John Mehrling sent to me in an email about his church Reformation class, and how one of the 6th grade students found grace.  Today – my answer to John about how grace is so surprising…even when it takes years to bear fruit:
Twenty years (or more) ago I performed the wedding for a couple who came in off the street looking for just the right sized chapel.  They had no sense of God entering in to what was their day.  She was the original "Bridezilla".....as obnoxious as can be. 
I spent 5 counseling appointments with them (my requirement)...and then 3 meetings with florist, wedding coordinator and "the mother".  In all, when the ceremony was done, I had about 40 hours in this thing.  My low-ball estimate was that they spent around $10,000 for the flowers and gowns.  They gave me a card with a $20 bill signed "Thank you for your help".  (I gave it back to them as a wedding present).
Ten years later I got a call one Sunday morning as I was preparing for worship.  It was Bridezilla.   She and her hubby were still together.  They were going to be baptized that morning, and wanted to thank me for those counseling sessions.  
She remembered one thing in particular, that I had told them they couldn't have a marriage without Christ.  They could live in the same home....eat at the same table.....do all the things that married people do – but only Christ could sanction a marriage.  Without Him in their hearts there would only be a ceremony and a common address. 
Remembering that, she wanted to thank me for being faithful to God's Word.  It had been a very long, stubborn ten years, trying to prove me wrong.  But, she and her guy were ready to surrender to Christ.  
Is grace amazing or what?  I preached differently that morning. 


You’ve got maybe a dozen to eighteen hours before you lay your head back down on the pillow tonight.  The question is:
In that time frame will you plant seeds that God will cover with His grace?

No matter how long the growing season?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Grace Alone - Part I

My brother’s brother-in-law, John Mehrling, is a friend who serves in many ways in their church.  One of his privileges is to teach Reformation history to 5th & 6th graders.  
What follows is an email John sent in response to a sermon I’d preached on grace:
Many years ago, I had a student who had a difficult family situation and some developmental problems.  He craved to be part of the class, either walking or bicycling to church.  I'd meet with him on Saturday morning to help him do his memory work for Sunday School.  
After that year, his family moved away with no forwarding address.   Some 15 years later, one of our Pastors was doing visitation at the prison in Riverhead.  He saw Pastor Hoefler and recognized him.  He told his story: loneness, alcohol, striking back at tormentors, murder. 
He told Pastor that he remembered a verse from Sunday School, which he recited.  Eph 2: 8-9.  He wanted to know if it was true, was it true even for him?  Pastor talked and prayed with him, visited with him several more times. 
A short while later he was tried and convicted of murder and sent to Sing Sing.  Less than a year later he was killed by a fellow prisoner. 
We failed him.  But God's Word came through to him and His Grace remained with him to the end.
Grace remained; and if that’s all that remains, that’s enough!


Upon which side of grace are you standing?
      Need – do you feel all that weight of the burden of your sins?  Need God’s grace to forgive?

Or is it that you need to extend grace?  Is there someone who is broken and needs your forgiveness?

God's grace is sufficient for all your needs.
Tomorrow - the rest of this story

Friday, December 20, 2013

First Things First

On the day of dedication of "Solomon's Temple," the king erected a brazen platform in the outer court.  All the people gathered, as the king ascended the platform, in full view of the altar.  The altar would be the site of many offerings, many sacrifices.  However, before the first sacrifice, the first exchange of money for doves or lambs, the king offered himself on the brazen platform. 

This is much like the Macedonian Christians whom, Paul said, "first gave their own selves to the Lord" (2 Corinthians 8:5).  When we give, pray, lead, witness, conduct business, change a diaper, do homework, drive to the mall, there is a calling to "do all as unto the Lord." 

We may want to do much "for" the Lord, however we must be surrendered "to" the Lord's will for those deeds to be acceptable. 

Thought for Today

  • When it comes to giving, put yourself in the offering plate first! 
  • When it comes to business, determine He will be the Senior Partner. 
  • When it comes to anything -- remember Solomon's Temple -- it was immersed in consecrating prayer and surrender to the Lord's will before a single sacrifice was placed upon the altar.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why There Should Be Seatbelts on Dentist's Chairs

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when GOD returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations— “GOD was wonderful to them!” GOD was wonderful to us; we are one happy people. Psalms 126:1 - 3 (TMSG)

My bride, Elizabeth, once (long ago and in a faraway galaxy) held a position as an orthodontist's assistant.  When she first trained for the job, she was given instructions on how to operate the controls on the dental chair.  Her job would include getting the patient settled in the chair, reclined and comfortable. 
Her first patient was a rather large man in his fifties.  After the customary talk about weather and family, the man was shown to the "seat of honor".  Staring at the control panel, Elizabeth's training somehow seemed to vanish; the instructions looked like an alien language; she decided to "wing it". 
The first button she pushed had a promising result as the chair backrest started toward the reclining position.  Unfortunately, when the huge fellow was nearly horizontal Elizabeth pressed what she thought was the stop button; it turned out to be the emergency release.  The back rest toppled backwards, turning the man upside-down.
Elizabeth is not afraid to correct mistakes; neither is she afraid to do it quickly.  Pressing one control after another, the seat carrying her guinea pig jolted upright, forward, and then banked slightly to the left.  Another few stabs at the panic buttons, and the chair (with its passenger holding on for dear life) banked and looped like a crop-dusting plane on crack cocaine. 
By this time the patient began to exhibit some minor concerns about the turbulent flight, mostly with questions that began with "Are you....whoops....hey, what's.....whoaaaaa......can you stop this....aaaaahhhh".  
Now, my bride is a compassionate, caring person, but she does one thing which no human being can properly understand when it happens – when nervous, she giggles!  It is uncontrollable, and as predictable as April 15th at the IRS.  Once she was told about a death in the family and she had to go into the ladies' room to keep from being misunderstood. 
When criticized or embarrassed in any way she smiles in a way that can frustrate her children or husband in ways inventors of "water-boarding" never imagined. 
When the "bucking bronco" of an examining chair had finally been subdued, the nervous Mrs. Brownworth was unable to breathe, unbidden tears of laughter pooling at her feet.  What seemed like an hour was probably only half a minute, but even at the World Bull-Riding championships the professionals only have to stay on for 8 seconds!
Now, there is one other thing about Elizabeth’s laughter – it is infectious!  By the time the chair had gotten tamed, the patient and four other dental assistants were also in stitches. 
Somehow the situation eventually calmed down enough for the doctor to do his thing, and Elizabeth did keep her job.  It may have only been kindness, or a sense of humor on the patient's part, however. 
At the end of the day the receptionist came to Elizabeth and reassured her that all was well; in fact, the man had paid her a compliment.  He told the receptionist to tell the doctor to make sure he kept Elizabeth on staff, and maybe consider giving her a raise.  He said, That lady sure knows how to show a fella a good time!

Remember This

Christmas is on the horizon; it’s not all sugar plums and candy canes.  The holidays can test your reserve strength and patience.
Remember to smile a lot and enjoy the ride.

Remember….it’s a birthday party!

Good News!

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.  And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”      Matthew 28:18 - 20 (NLT)

While attending seminary our two older children, Jennifer and Jason, seemed to attract every other child in the mobile home park for after-school games of hide and seek.
Our youngest, Carrie, was not quite 3-and (in the minds of the older siblings) always in the way. It was something you could count on; ten minutes into the games our little one would get pushed aside or skin a knee.
One afternoon she came through the front door crying for mommy.  She had gotten the worst again.  My wife, Elizabeth, attempted to comfort her by giving her two freshly baked cookies.  "Now, don't tell the big kids yet," she cautioned, "I haven't finished; I haven't got enough for everybody yet."
It took less than three seconds for Carrie to make it to the screen door, fling it wide, and announce to the big kids, Cookies, I gots cookies!
Great news should be shared with enthusiasm!                         
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Great News!
Unfortunately most Christians don’t share this news at all.  You almost have to get a subpoena to get the truth out of ‘em, that Christ is their Savior.
I asked a member of a church I served to tell me how he came to know Christ.  He said, that’s a personal matter.           While  that is decidedly true, it is not something God wants us to keep to ourselves.


What about a fresh start?  How about today beginning with a prayer that God would make the Gospel like warm cookies placed in your hands. 
Great for you…better if shared with your neighbor!
Then tell your pastor – it will be great news there too!
And, while you’re at it, tell your children, and cousins, and barber, and your broker (she might be able to use some good news).  Tell the man who picks up your garbage, and the guy who works on your car.
Go ahead…Jesus said he’d go with you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Malchus' Ear

December 17, 2013
Would you like to have the kind of confidence in your life that lets you live with an untroubled heart?  Malchus must have lived that way. 

But, it wasn’t always that way.  

If you recall, the night Jesus was arrested, Malchus was in the posse.  He was only a servant, but he was betraying the Son of God.  Peter sprung into action, but he had terrible aim.  He took a swipe with his sword intending to cut Malchus in two, but missed…he just got an ear.  Jesus stopped the fiasco, picked up the ear and put it back on.

Now the Scripture doesn’t let us in on what happened further, but can you imagine the scene at the Malchus house that night? 

Mrs. Malchus:   “How was your day?”
Mr. M.:  “You wouldn’t believe it.”

Mrs. Malchus:  “O come on; we never talk anymore.”
Mr. M.:  “Well, alright…I went to help arrest this trouble-making Jew, a prophet they called him.  There was a little trouble.”

Mrs. Malchus:  “Are you alright?”
Mr. M.:  “Yeah…I wasn’t, though.”

Mrs. Malchus:  “What do you mean?”
Mr. M.:  “It’s kind of difficult to explain.”

Mrs. Malchus:  “Will you come out with it, already?”
Mr. M.:  “Okay, okay…one of the prophet’s men, a big one with fire in his eyes took a swing at me with a sword.”

Mrs. Malchus:  “Oh my…are you sure you’re alright?”
Mr. M.:  “Yea……uh, well….actually the big slob cut off my right ear.”

Mrs. Malchus:  “What…let me see…..hmmmmm…looks ok to me.  You've been drinking again, haven't you?”
Mr. M.:  “No, no, I swear!…it was off!  I saw it on the ground.  Look at this blood on my sleeve.  That prophet stopped the big guy and picked up my ear.  Then he touched me and the ear was back on; not even a scar.”

Mrs. Malchus:  “Look, if you just don’t want to talk when you come home, say so…you don’t have to try to make me out to be a fool.  Cutting off your ear, putting it back on.  Come on, dinner’s ready.”
Mr. M.:  “But….but….”

From then on…

Malchus may have had difficulty living with a troubled marriage, and with anyone else who didn’t believe his story, but I guarantee that from that day on he knew – he knew who Jesus was.
Do you live with the assurance of Who Jesus is? 
Is He more than an historical character? 
Is He more than a good man, wise teacher or prophet? 
Is He anything less than everything?
If He’s not that in your life, He can be.

One prayer – one commitment begins an eternity of “ear-certain” relationship with the one who heals cut-off ears and anything else standing between God and you.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Titanic's Last Hero

John Harper was born into a Christian family May 29, 1872.  He became a Christian 13 years later and had already started preaching by age 17.  He received training at the Baptist Pioneer Mission in London, and in 1896 he founded a church, now known as Harper Memorial Church, which began with 25 worshipers but had grown to 500 members by the time he left 13 years later.
In 1912 Harper, the newly called pastor of Moody Church in Chicago was traveling on the Titanic with his 6-year-old daughter.  After the ship struck an iceberg and began to sink, he got Nana into a lifeboat but apparently made no effort to follow her.  Instead, he ran through the ship yelling, "Women, children, and unsaved into the lifeboats!" Survivors report that he then began witnessing to anyone who would listen.  He continued preaching even after he had jumped into the water and was clinging to a piece of wreckage (he'd already given his lifejacket to another man).
Harper's final moments were recounted four years later at a meeting in Hamilton, Ontario, by a man who said:
I am a survivor of the Titanic.  When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought Mr. Harper of Glasgow, also on a piece of wreck, near me.  "Man," he said, "are you saved?"  "No," I said, "I am not."  He replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved."
The waves bore him away, but, strange to say, brought him back a little later, and he said, "Are you saved now?"  "No," I said, "I cannot honestly say that I am."  He said again, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed.  I am John Harper's last convert.
He was also one of only six people picked out the water by the lifeboats; the other 1,522, including Harper, were left to die.[1]

The Rest of the Story

Kit Carson, a member of Hyde Park Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida, told me "The Rest of the Story" regarding Rev. Harper, who was Kit's Grand Uncle. 
It seems Harper was noted in his congregation for giving things away.  Once, during a fierce winter in his native Scotland, John's mother had gone to great expense to get him a new overcoat.  He was a student at Bible College, and poor to boot.  Within a week he had given the new coat to a street person, saving the ratty old one to wear for himself. 
It is natural for people that unselfish to give the gospel away too. 


Are you willing to give away your most prized possession?

[1] Elesha Coffman, "Sacrifice at Sea," Christianhistory.net (8-11-00), adapted from The Titanic's Last Hero (Moody Press, 1997) © 2000 PreachingToday.com / Christianity Today, Inc.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Friday, December 13, 2013
Then the LORD sent this message through the prophet Haggai:  “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins?  This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says:  Look at what’s happening to you!  You have planted much but harvest little.  You eat but are not satisfied.  You drink but are still thirsty.  You put on clothes but cannot keep warm.  Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!  “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says:  Look at what’s happening to you!  Now go up into the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house.  Then I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the LORD.  You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor.  And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away.  Why?  Because my house lies in ruins, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses.  It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops.  I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.”  Haggai 1:3 - 11 (NLT)
Not much is known about Haggai, except that he and Zechariah were partners in the task of rebuilding the temple in the 6th Century B.C.  There was opposition to the project from neighboring communities, and the rebuilding work had long since stopped when the Lord began to speak through this prophet. 

And God wasn’t happy!

Frankly, when you’re on God’s short list for disciplinary action, there isn’t much about life that is satisfying or filled with hope.  The Psalmist says God’s discipline is like a moth in the closet:

When you discipline us for our sins, you consume like a moth what is precious to us.  Each of us is but a breath.    Psalms 39:11 (NLT)

Was it really about the Temple?

God did really fine without a Temple for many generations before Haggai, way back to David, and even Abraham.  He did fine without a Temple in the Garden of Eden.  Why was neglect of this Temple such a “bone to pick” with Israel?

The message was pretty clear – God said:  You’ve neglected my House; I’m taking that as a sign you’re neglecting Me, and it’s going to affect everything that’s dear to you!


If you draw the parallel lines from Israel then – all the way to us, now – the lesson is hard to miss – it matters where God is on your “To-Do” list.  

God has never settled for anything less than first priority.

In the United Methodist Church we have five promises we keep as a sign of not neglecting our Baptismal Covenant as faithful servants of God:
       ·        Prayers – to undergird all peoples and the Kingdom of God constantly
       ·        Presence – to be consistent in worshipping with the covenant people
       ·        Gifts – to be faithful stewards of what God has placed in our hands
       ·        Service – to be active in service to others as we would to God
       ·        Witness – to live in word and deed in such a way to bring glory to God.


We all have a big enough “To-Do” list; we need to be careful what we add to it.  

Perhaps the list above needs to be at the top of our list.  It is, after all, the way God builds His house IN us.

And that project never stops!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Blank Check Theology

Thursday, December 12, 2013
Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Psalms 37:4 (NLT)
Once I was young, and now I am old.  Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.   Psalms 37:25 (NLT)

“Blank check theology” is imagining God will give you anything you want when you ask.  The Bible verses above are two of the favorites quoted by many who push this kind of thinking.  This is so, especially by those on television shows where the end of the show encourages you to send your check.

The reasoning (or rationalizing) in the Prosperity Gospel is that God promised you the desires of your heart.  After all, what’s so hard to understand?  You just put your prayer request up, and, ka-ching, out pops your answer.  Your blank check has been signed by God, who is just waiting to bless your little socks off!

One Small Problem

Whether it is praying for money, power, prestige, a new Cadillac or making a godly decision between a face lift and liposuction, the blank check theology of The Church of Materialism NOW is not – never has been – nor will it ever be – what God has said in His Word.

The problem with an unconditional god of the vending machine variety, where he simply exists to fulfill all your desires, is that it reverses the roles; god is your servant, and you give the orders; you are now god.  In case you were sick the day that was taught in Bible class, taking God’s place is technically called SIN.  God is to be worshipped, not manipulated to make us happy.

So what DID God really mean here?

Check out the meaning of the words of Psalms 37:4:  Delight and Desires:

“Delight” is a word that means “pliable” or “soft”.  It means to place yourself in the hands of someone else’s decisions – in this case, in Jehovah’s hands.  So that could not mean you are driving the bus…it means God decides what you need.

“Desires” indicates the center of your will, intellect and feelings.  It has to do with what you set your heart on and love.

So….do the math

To be pliable, placing myself in Jehovah’s hands, allowing my desires, my will, my choices and what I love to all be centered on him, I would have a hard time praying for a new Rolls Royce.  

Rather, I want what He wants….and that, stated over and over and over in Scripture…is for me to stay close to God and love Him, and love my neighbor as myself.

Jesus said it this way:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  Matthew 6:33 (NLT)


You place your heart in His hands and let your desire be for Him….He gives you more love than you can imagine; the desire of your heart is fulfilled.

Come to think of it, you really do have a blank check on that!

Guess I’m a Blank Check Theology kind of guy after all!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Summer Fruit

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Then the Sovereign LORD showed me another vision.  In it I saw a basket filled with ripe fruit.  “What do you see, Amos?” he asked.  I replied, “A basket full of ripe fruit.”  Then the LORD said, “Like this fruit, Israel is ripe for punishment! I will not delay their punishment again.   Amos 8:1 - 2 (NLT)

Amos, prophet from the Southern kingdom of Judah, had been sent by the Lord to the Northern Samaritan king Amaziah, to announce God’s judgment on Israel for their constant wickedness.  Amos presented three visions of judgment, but each time God delayed bringing the hammer down! 

King Amaziah railed against Amos; the prophet stood his ground.  It’s hard to imagine this as a standoff; that presumes there are two nearly equal opponents.  Amaziah was a king with an army; Amos was a poor country boy who had a few fruit trees and sheep.  This was not going to be a fair fight!

King Amaziah didn’t stand a Chance

Amaziah was merely the king of Samaria; Amos was the prophet of Jehovah, owner of Samaria and the rest of everywhere else in the universe!

Summer Fruit

God directed his prophet’s attention to a basket of summer fruit.  The word for “ripe” comes from “cutting” (as in ready for harvest).  The word for “punishment” comes from “end” (as in no more time).  The two words sound alike in Hebrew.  The point is made in picture (the basket) and sounds (of similar words)….Amaziah, Israel, your time is up!

Sometimes Quite Uncomfortable

God’s Word has a way of making one quite uncomfortable at times…a lot of times!  Have you ever had that awful sense, down deep in the pit of your stomach that Scripture is speaking to you?  (Well….only every moment of my life!).

But, by comparison with God, my life is lived in absolute wickedness.  I think one of the reasons I gravitate to using a daily devotional guide like the Book of Common Prayer, is that it always begins with confession:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.  For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.  Amen.

I need this every day.  It’s hard to go six minutes without a thought that should have gone “un-thought”! 

My lack of doing that which I should do is awfully like Amaziah’s group…content to let the world go by while I do my religious stuff and feel good about it.  

Yesterday we went out Christmas shopping and there was that homeless guy…again…..  I gave him the cup of coffee that the drive thru had messed up.  Hey, it was still hot, and I wasn’t going to drink it anyway; and why waste a $2 latte?  Ooooh, that’s real spiritual, Russell!  When’s the last time I got up close and personal with meeting the need of human touch?

Where are you going with this?

Before this just becomes confessional unleashed, let me make a relevant point:

Amaziah had no idea his world was about to come crashing down around him.  And none of us has any assurance that ours won’t do the same.  With all the hurry up and intensity of the Christmas season, it’s easy to get lost in tasks and tinsel while the summer fruit basket over-ripens.  

Try to keep in mind that, no matter what the calendar or your To-Do list says, as a follower of Jesus Christ you are on a mission….always!  Giving out a “throw-away” latte isn’t evil, but it isn’t exactly missional either!


Find some way to be a genuine blessing in someone’s life.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Words Like Morning Dew

Tuesday, December 10, 2013
These words are part of “Moses’ Song” as the leader speaks of God’s loving desire for His people to be nourished by God’s ways and protection.   Water was scarce in the desert wilderness; morning dew was often all for which a plant could hope.  In comparing God’s Word to gentle rain, Moses spoke the very promise of life to those for whom life seemed to hang on finding the next oasis. 

Gentle rain has enveloped our days for the last week or so; it is relentless.  While it is soft-falling, gentle enough to nourish even the tenderest new plant, given enough time even gently-falling drops could wear-away the Rock of Gibraltar!

Does that tell you something about God?

God’s ways are often times gentle and seemingly in the background – just like a gentle mist, or dew.  But He is relentless and His way will eventually be like the streams that split solid walls of rock and form Grand Canyons.

God’s Word will accomplish God’s will.  His Word can either nourish you with strength that comes like the morning dew, or it can sweep you away in judgment if you stand against it. 


Embrace His will and be strengthened!

Monday, December 9, 2013

When God Measures

Monday, December 9, 2013
Amos was a “rough-cut” prophet.  He is not as well-known perhaps as John the Baptist, but their messages were similar and simple:  REPENT!  NOW!

God had shown Amos several scenarios of judgment and suffering that was marked out for Israel; in each case Amos knew the people couldn’t endure under what God had planned, so Amos had interceded for the nation, and the Lord relented.

But that didn’t mean remedial punishment (read that:  woodshed experience) was entirely off the table.  In fact, the first judgment scenarios were only warnings – samples of what God planned to do to (and for) His disobedient children. 

It’s something like a parent getting ready to discipline a child and giving them a choice, “…do you want the paddle or time-out.”  The child wails… “NOOOO! Not the paddle….anything but the paddle!”  With the choice of discipline selected, the child marches off to the corner to serve his time-out sentence.  God was lifting the curtain for the prophet to see what was ahead…Amos cried, Lord, who could stand that?  So God agreed and shifted the judgment methodology – but the issue of judgment would remain.

So, why was God taking Israel to the woodshed…again?

The reason for loving discipline is as unchanging as God’s nature; God always draws His petulant child, Israel, back to God’s loving arms and protection.  Israel was like a child constantly playing near the railroad tracks; the Father must make a lasting impression for the child’s safety and future.

This was the record of God’s people from Abraham to Jesus:
       ·        God’s people sinning by living apart from God’s standards
       ·        God’s grace sending judgment and hard times
       ·        God’s people responding in humble repentance followed by a brief period of obedience, then wandering away into spiritual disobedience, living apart from God’s standards…again!
       ·        Repeat…Repeat….and Repeat!

Hey, America…Don’t sit there looking all spiritual

We have a tendency to shake our heads over Israel not learning the lesson that to BE God’s people you have to ACT like it!  We have the same problem.

Somehow Western culture has gotten the idea that, because God is a God of grace and love, forgiveness is our birthright and will be there no matter what we do.  Check out this verse:

I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab.  I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down.  2 Kings 21:13 (NLT)

Now read it again – and where you read “Jerusalem” substitute “Washington”.


I know you cannot always equate a national punishment (or blessing) for Israel with America, but the principle is hard to ignore – our sins, nationally and personally are just as black as at any time in history. 

And God still sees sin the same way!

So…the message of repentance, preached by John the Baptist, Amos and any other place in the Bible you care to look, is still relevant.  If we want judgment and hard times, keep on living the way Americans have chosen, with our pervasive sexual obsession, wanton violence and economic oppression of the weak.

On the other hand, if you want grace and forgiveness, turn it around; humble yourself, pray, and seek his holy face.  God doesn’t change…but we should.