Monday, March 31, 2014


Monday, March 31, 2014
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,  so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.   Isaiah 55:10 - 11 (NRSV)
If the rain which falls from above is supposed to bring water to grow the crops, but falls on solid rock, is the purpose of God thwarted?  Not according to Isaiah.  These verses declare that God’s irrigation process is without flaw.  Water that splashes off a rock will eventually find its way to the needy place.  God’s design at that point is always fulfilled.

So much for the farming metaphor – what about the power of God’s Word in the earth today?  The candle seems to be growing dim, eh?  Evidence points to the fastest growing segment of population as “nones,” people who are not affiliated with any church and don’t intend to change.  God?  No thank you!

Is the Word of God growing weak and ineffective?  That would mean the omnipotent God is not really all-powerful.  Or, if He ever was, He isn’t so now…he’s changed, weaker.  IF so, that would also mean God is untruthful, and, by definition…not God.

But God said His Word would accomplish His purpose.  And that purpose does not always result exclusively in harvest; sometimes it results in disaster.  Consider the rain Noah encountered; he preached to a whole generation of “nones”.  There was the salvation of eight souls – but the majority report was tragic.

For someone like me this is one of the most important truths to grasp…that God’s Word will not always produce harvest as we understand harvest; sometimes “crop-failure” points to the omnipotence of God.

Compare the “bumper crop” to the “dry-bones harvest”:

Billy Graham comes to town and there are 32,853 decision cards filled out; new Christians are popping up in churches all over the place.  What a harvest!

I have preached several revivals where not even a single person was saved.

Question:  Did Billy preach a different gospel than Russell?  Was it the skill of the preacher in focus?  Or was it the condition of the soil (rock-hard hearts)?  Or was it a season of drought?  Or was the Word of God effective in both cases?

The Glory of God Revealed

In both cases – whether it is a “glorious harvest of souls” or if the voice of heaven seems distant and silent – the Word of God is accomplishing its task, pointing to and glorifying the omnipotent God of Heaven.  Those who bow the knee to Christ glorify Him by obedience; those who refuse to bow will show His glory by judgment.

That is true now, and it will be true throughout eternity:

For the Scriptures say, 
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, 
‘every knee will bend to me, 
and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’”
Romans 14:11 (NLT)
That is an omnipotent God, Who is still so, and will be forever.

Today…for you

If your efforts to proclaim God’s Word seem ineffective and pointless, remember it is God’s Word which is tied to the omnipotence of God…not your effort.  God will, in His grace and because of His love for you, honor your effort. 

Don’t get discouraged, saint!

Remember, the Lord, God, Omnipotent reigneth!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Wednesday, March 26, 2014
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8-9 (NRSV)
…he knows everything.  1 John 3:20b (NRSV)
When someone calls you a “know-it-all” they’re usually not being very kind.  When God refers to Himself that way…well, His ways and thoughts ARE at a different pay grade.
Omniscience (in God’s case) is not just having all the information that can be gathered as facts.  As the Psalmist points out, the sum of God-knowledge is beyond all knowledge; un-understandable.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.  Psalms 147:5 (NRSV)
God’s knowledge not only sees our steps…
“For his eyes are upon the ways of mortals, 
and he sees all their steps.                   Job 34:21 (NRSV)
…His knowledge will be the central theme of judgment for where our steps have taken us.  We are accountable for our actions and God knows!  God knows, indeed!

And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.  Hebrews 4:13 (NRSV)
The “predictive” element in God’s omniscience has always fascinated theologians, philosophers and simple people like me.  How can He know what hasn’t even happened?  

And yet, so says the Scriptures, He is Alpha and Omega Rev 1:8; beginning and END!

Think Farmer’s Almanac.  (You knew I’d get around to the farming metaphor).

Year after year since 1792 this amazing little publication has predicted the weather and probability for crop productivity with an amazing 80% success.

But God’s “success rate” is 100%!

There’s a new fad called “open” theology, which holds God really doesn’t know exactly what is going to happen; it all depends on man’s choices – and then God responds accordingly.

The overwhelming number of references (both Old and New Testament) to God’s ultimate omniscience, make anything less than His ways and thoughts being beyond our comprehension, well….incomprehensible.

 “Fail rate” on open theology?  100%. 

Today…for you

Remember that sin?
I’m not talking about the word you said when you hit your thumb with the hammer.  Or the thought you had when that crazy driver cut you off on I-85.  I mean that little secret, deep down that you try to never think about, but it’s there….and it eats you alive when you try to pray…but you’re afraid to bring it up to God, because you might have to give it up?  

Remember that one?

Psssst….He already knows.  He’s willing to forgive, and help you forsake it; and even forget it!  But, it won’t happen until you own it, confess it, and let it go.

Not sound right?  That’s because His ways really are much higher than yours.  


Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  Isaiah 55:6-7 (NRSV)
We are using the farming metaphor this week to explore Isaiah 55.  And it is impossible to explore that passage without bumping into the “O” words.  (I’m not talking about Obama Care here).

The first of these words is “Omnipresent,” everywhere at once.  Isaiah wisely advises us to Seek the LORD while he may be found…while he is near.  This sounds like the opposite of everywhere at once, but it speaks more about opportunity than location.  We should seek God while there is time, and He chooses to be available!  In other places of his prophecy Isaiah makes the concept of omnipresence clear:
Thus says the LORD: 
Heaven is my throne
and the earth is my footstool; 
what is the house that you would build for me, 
and what is my resting place?                  
Isaiah 66:1 (NRSV)
The Psalmist tells us God will be everywhere we can imagine:

Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; 
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. Psalms 139:7-8 (NRSV)
In keeping with the farming metaphor, omnipresence brings to my mind the idea of weeds; they’re seemingly everywhere!  But that’s often the problem with our relationship with God – we see the weeds first.

Look at this box and tell me what you see…

You see a black dot, don’t you?  But yet, by volume, there is far more white space surrounding that dot; it’s like that with weeds.  I’ve got a lawn that is mostly grass, but sometimes all I can see is the weeds.  Any grass (sod) farmer will tell you that the best cure for weeds in your grass lawn is good, healthy grass.  Grow the grass and it will crowd out the weeds.

In our relationship with God the idea of good growth of the healthy practices of prayer, worship, Bible study, fellowship with believers and service/witness are vital.  The weeds of sin will proliferate in any untended garden…you can mark that down!

Today…for you

How’s your garden coming along?  You’ve made a good start today just reading this devotionally. 

Now, go deeper…stop wailing over how big the weeds (of sin) are, and how hard it is to stop them. 

Go on and water the grass (personal worship), 

check the ph (prayer), 

put in some fertilizer (fellowship with believers)

….and watch the weeds die!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Authentic Saving Faith

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.  He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  
The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”  But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.   
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.  But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.    John 2:13 - 25 (NRSV)
side issue related to the text this morning begs our attention:
·        How can an angry Jesus, whipping the money-changers, be the loving Lord we know?
            At least one author has stated it this way:  Spineless love is hardly love.[1]  God himself explains why He acted this way in the Jerusalem temple...
Discipline your children while there is hope;  Proverbs 19:18a (NRSV)
The reason Jesus chased the people and animals from the temple was to teach the people what is right.  In the same way a child must be taught what is right, God knows how to teach His children.  And, we must never forget that Jesus was God in flesh!
This is a valuable word to parents.  If chastening His children is good enough for the heavenly Father, chastening your own children appropriately is an important part of disciplining!  (Now that I’ve become an enemy of every child in the church, we can continue!)
John records this story depicting the great cosmic struggle between faith and unbelief.  He began with the wedding at Cana, the miracle of water changed to wine.  With the change there arose in his disciple’s hearts, a flood of belief.  John then immediately thrusts us into the pungent cesspool of Jerusalem’s decomposing religious structure.  We are forced to look upon the face of unbelief in its most hideous manifestation, religious insincerity – hypocrisy.
What is so alarming about these pictures is that John is not just reporting the news of the first century A.D.  He is like an artist, painting timeless portraits of humanity apart from God.  He paints our souls in 13 verses.  In just a few paragraphs he teaches us the kind of faith that invites the judgment of God.
I wish to point out for us this morning FAITH which INVITES THE JUDGMENT OF GOD. 
The first kind of faith that invites the judgment of God is...

Financial Faith

Everyone understands the bottom line of finances.  A wealthy old man was very enthusiastic about his lovely young bride but sometimes wondered whether she might have just married him for his money.  So he asked her:  If I lost all my money, would you still love me?   She immediately answered; Of course I would still love you. Don't be silly. I do love you dearly; I would miss you, but I still love you![2]
After the wedding at Cana, Jesus and his disciples traveled to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple.  What they saw was the ancient equivalent of carpetbaggers, trying to turn a quick profit at the expense of the poor who had come to worship. 
How did they do it?  The Temple tax was important.  Roman coins had Caesar’s image on it, and a coin with an image of the Emperor’s face was forbidden in the Temple.  So Roman coins had to be exchanged for Jewish script.  The money exchange was big business – and therefore subject to abuse. 
Let me illustrate.  Suppose our Finance Committee decided we would no longer accept anything but crisp, new $50 bills in the offering plate, and posted the ushers at the front door to inspect the $50 bills you bring to make sure the bills you bring are appropriately unwrinkled or spotted.  Of course they never would be good enough, but – not-to-worry; the committee chair would have a supply of nice, new crisp $50’s.  The price is $100 each!  (We could probably skip passing the plate)! 
At the temple in Jerusalem, THAT was precisely what was happening!  The money changers were making a “killing” so-to-speak.  They were raking-in huge profits in the name of religion, and driving the poor into the ground.  Jesus performed an exorcism, driving out those who were defiling the temple with their greed and dishonest practices.
Now, the whole problem with what was going on was not really the moneychangers – that was an important function.  They just shouldn’t have been charging exorbitant exchange rates. 
It is no wonder the disciples remembered David’s words when they saw their usually serene Master whipping the moneychangers, and overturning tables.
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.  Psalms 69:9 (NRSV)
God hates faith rooted in finances.  And someday the preachers of prosperity and financial religion will answer to God at the great judgment throne.  You cannot buy God!  Financial faith invites the judgment of God, and so does...

Institutional Faith

The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”    John 2:18 (NRSVA)
The religious rulers were a hard-working lot.  The problem was they’d given themselves to the institution of the Temple, and not the Lord of the Temple.  They missed the family of God in favor of the building of God. 
We can also make this mistake.  We invite the judgment of God when we place more importance on what He has given us (buildings, money, things), than on who He has given us, and what He wants us to do!
One writer put it thus:  Christianity is institutional in a good sense when its institutions are prophetically alive and instantly alert to God’s presence.  Christianity is institutional in the bad sense when it simply absorbs its culture, becomes an entrenched establishment, and perpetuates itself.[3]
The religious leaders believed in the stability of their system and its main symbol – the Temple. It was a massive, impressive structure.  The Temple had been under construction for 46 years.  It wasn’t yet done – and wouldn’t be for another 40 years.
The Jews were the established religious group.  They had the power.  They had the Temple.  They had influence in Rome and Jerusalem.  This was the controlling party.  The problem with that kind of thinking is – having a majority means nothing if you’re wrong!
In Denominational life there are plenty of “religious professionals” who set the directions and standards for what churches must do.  There are groups and committees for everything. 
The problem of institutional faith is lack of clear focus.  When you trust in institutions, everything you think, say and do will be slanted in the direction of maintaining and expanding the institution.  You miss the mark here because, in any endeavor the institution is supposed to serve the mission, not exist at the expense of the mission.
Institutions aren’t bad – as long as they serve the mission.  When the institutions become the mission, we then have institutional faith – and it invites the judgment of God!
Sometimes we church people place more importance on the institutions of the church, (buildings, programs, & other sacred cows), than people.  When this happens, the institutions become central, and the mission suffers. 
This, beloved, is the stuff of which church fights are made.  Institutional faith sprouts in dark places – and it always smells like smoke, right out of the pit of Hell.  Those with institutional faith usually have little or nothing to do with winning people to Jesus Christ.  They revel in the things that divide people; their favorite phrase is, we’ve never done it that way before!
Institutional faith, along with financial faith, invites the judgment of God!  And so does…

Sensational Faith

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.  But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
   John 2:23-25 (NRSVA)       
We note that many people saw the authoritative teaching of Jesus, and His miracles, and they believed in Him.  The word means that they were willing to commit to what they had seen.  To believe means to exercise faith towards.  They believed in Him because they had seen wondrous, sensational things. 
But, we also must see that Jesus didn't respond in like manner to them.  The text says He would not entrust himself to them.  Strangely, the word believe in verse 23 and entrust in verse 24 are the same word in Greek.  In short, Jesus was saying, you may believe in me, but I've got my doubts about you! 
The question is WHY?  Why would Jesus fail to believe in them?  We have always heard that Jesus accepts anyone who comes to Him.  That is true, but here we learn that there are CONDITIONS under which we must come.  You cannot come with a faulty faith. 
Jesus looked at the crowds who were following and understood the multiplicity of self-serving motives with which they followed.  It says that He knew ALL people.  Another translation says He knew people to their core (human nature).  In short, Jesus understands our weaknesses. 
Now, for you and me that's good news!  Jesus had said follow me to people like Peter and James and John – men He knew to be weak.  And if He loved them in all their weakness and sinfulness, it means He'll love you and me too!
But, some of those following in the crowd were not just weak in their ability to follow Jesus; they were selfish in their motive for following:
·        Some of them were just plain greedy.  They were hoping these miracles would continue, and they'd have a kind of golden goose at their disposal to make them rich. 
·        Others were zealots, extreme Zionist patriots who were looking for a national Messiah who would lead them to clobber Rome and bring in a golden age of Jewish ease. 
·        Others were just fascinated or curious, wanting to cover all the bases in case they'd missed something.  They were willing to follow, as long as the good times kept a-rollin'
But Jesus knew that when the shadow of the cross came into focus, they would all find an exit.  Fickle faith will fizzle when they want to nail your hands to crossbeams! 
The reason many people today are members of churches and movements with no more than faulty faith, is because they never entrusted themselves to the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They got their name on a church roll, but they will miss heaven by 18 inches, the distance between your head and heart!
Financial faith, Institutional faith, Sensational faith; all of these miss the mark of Authentic Saving FaithFaith in Christ is more than mere intellectual assent.  It believes with the heart, with the will – with adoration and with action. 
At the national mint a party of visitors was told by a workman in the smelting works that if you first dipped your hand in water, a ladle of molten metal might be poured over the palm of the hand without burning it.
A husband and wife were part of this party of visitors.  The workman said to the husband, Perhaps you would like to try it.  The husband gave him a look that firmly said, No thanks, I'll take your word for it.  The workman turned to the wife, Perhaps you would like to try it.  She replied, Certainly.  She plunged her hand into the water and calmly held it out while the metal was poured over it.  She was unharmed, because the man working with the metal knew what he was talking about.
We might ask, which of the two really believed the workman? 
The husband believed at one level – but he wasn't willing to put his belief to the acid test.  The wife, on the other hand, was willing to take the kind of risk that faith in Christ demands.  Her belief became behavior.
It doesn't take much to have a faulty faith.  You only need hold back a little.  Give yourself 1%, or 99% to Christ - it's all the will be LOST, because HE won’t accept less than 100% of you. 
Totally entrust yourself to the seat of his grace, and you'll never wind up on the floor of fall-away apostasy. 

[1]Gerald L. Borchert, The New American Commentary, Vol 25A,               (Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 164
[3]Joel C. Gregory, Gregory’s Sermon Synopses, (Nashville, Broadman        Press, 1992), 171

Before the Harvest

Monday, March 24, 2014
Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, 
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.  
Isaiah 55:6-13 (NRSV)

What farmer would think of harvesting first? 

I’ll tell you what farmer – the one who knows nothing about farming!  Uh…me!

The first (and last) time I got the itch to till the land we were living in Florida.  I had no clue about raising a garden; I only knew my friends all had shelves filled with wonderful stuff I had sampled at church dinners.  I wanted-in on that!

So I rented a tiller, marked off a modest 10’ x 15’ plot, hauled some manure and bought some seeds.  How hard could this be? 

Fast-forward two months:  from a $200 investment we reaped the magnificent bounty of 3 pencil-sized cucumbers, a tomato that resembled a marble I had as a kid, and one half-eaten squash (thanks to the bumper crop of squirrels that year).

Farming is not my gift!  I understand some theory about farming, but when you actually dig your hands in the terrain I begin to lose my way.  After years of reflecting, I have come to understand that my problem was I had great plans for the harvest, but little respect for the order and discipline of gardening.  

So let me stick to the theory; incidentally farming theory applies also to life:

Just as there is an order to agriculture (prepare the soil, plant, nurture, harvest), there is an order of relationship with God; you come to Him on HIS terms, and…….. repeat!

That’s it – don’t try to over-think this; it’s way-above our pay grade!

For the rest of the week we’re going to pick-apart Isaiah’s passage seeking the Lord while He may be found.  The road begins at His ways are higher than ours – all the way home to the fields clapping their hands.

I suggest you prepare to get your hands in the soil.

Today…for you

Meditate on farming as a metaphor for life. 

(If you care to, and have time, leave me a comment about it.  I love to know other people are rotten farmers too.)

Friday, March 21, 2014


Friday, March 21, 2014
United Methodists are aware that every four years we engage in a political free-for-all known as General Conference.  There, decisions are made (or muddied) regarding the “how and why” of Methodist’s theological, political and cultural company policy; this is how we do (ahem) holy conferencing.

The tongue-in-cheek tenor of that last sentence is necessary to describe the flurry of agenda and political machinations that fly like a plague of locusts, denuding the Conference of any sense of “holy”.

To be sure, I have followed General Conference and its decisions from afar, having never attended, but watching with interest and prayer.

For the years of my association with United Methodism (since 2005), but certainly much longer than that (some say the last half-century), one of the more hotly-debated agenda issues is full-inclusion for same-sex oriented persons.  What is desired by the lobbying groups is allowing LGBT[1] persons to join as members and be eligible to serve in any capacity within the church – locally and in District, Annual or General Conference. 

So, this is not new news; what is relatively new is bishops, both retired and active, flagrantly ignoring the church laws they were elected – and agreed to – uphold!  My view on this and the homosexuality issue in general has been previously published.[2]

I want to share with you today a resource which, in my opinion, clearly articulates why so-called full inclusion is wrong and those who are pushing for this are serving to de-rail the church from its mission.

Dr. Ben Witherington is a life-long United Methodist.  In a recent blog-post (one in a series of four) he wrote:

In regard to the issue of ‘welcoming’ and ‘affirming’ these are two different issues.  All persons are welcome to come to the church as they are.  No one is welcome to stay as they are since we are all sinners.  Everyone is expected to change, and no one should expect to have their sin baptized and called good by the church. (See Dr. Witherington’s posts)[3]

Among the other major points Dr. Witherington makes:
    1. Homosexuality is NOT Biblically sound.
          2. Same-sex marriage is NOT affirmed in Scripture.
          3. The church is to stand firm against such practices.
    4. If, within the church agreement cannot be reached, there should be separation.

This is a sampling of what you will find at the links provided below, and I urge you to prayerfully read all four parts of his series. 

Today…for you

Many of you who receive this daily devotional are United Methodist; about half are not. 

Methodists – you know we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to put this Gospel train back on sound Scriptural tracks.  Be informed; be involved.

Non-Methodists – pray for us, that we will turn back this listing ship to the days of Wesley’s hot pursuit to spread Scriptural holiness across the land.