Thursday, June 30, 2016


Thursday, June 30, 2016

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.  Romans 1:25(NLT)

Sometimes I think I’ll simply explode if I read one more bit of advice from the experts on how to grow a church with techniques designed to grab the attention of people who don’t like church; it’s a kind of tripe that is superficial (at best) or (at worst) heresy!

And then I read some more.  Here’s one that nailed me this morning, about attracting people who don’t go to church:

"Spiritual-but-not-religious folks are not anti-group, anti-growth or anti-God. They are anti-boredom. There are too many other options out there to waste time on experiences that don’t deliver." — Rebekah Simon-Peter[2]

Anti-boredom!  Of course we are being urged to amp-up our game, to make our worship experience more energetic and relevant, so the show will attract attenders who are spiritual-but-not-religious.

[Insert gag reflex here]

Borrowing a thought many others have used previously, I’ve been laboring under the assumption that genuine worship is not an experience to excite the human, but rather an offering of praise, adoration and fealty towards the only One who IS worthy.  God is the audience and we who gather are the players. 

Worship is not a show for the ungodly.  Worship is our show-up time to be inspected by God, and to continue to grow our lifetime commitment to bring glory, honor and praise to our Creator and Sustainer of life. 

If there is a performance, it is in how well our hearts are turned towards heaven, and not how exciting and titillating we can arrange things to please people who are after the next level of experience.

Frankly, if it’s got to be that, count me a hopelessly-less-than-acceptable-in-the-new-millennium-fossilized-dinosaur, who isn’t about pleasing those who disdain simple worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This kind of makes me out-of-step with the current generation’s fascination with “experience”.  And for that I will probably be dismissed and labeled religious-but-not-spiritual

So be it. 

For You Today

When you go to church this weekend (if you’re not among the bored who opt for one of the many options that doesn’t include God), it would be a healthy step of preparation for worship to check why you’re going.

If you’re going to see the show, stay home; there's enough on TV to keep you entertained!

If it is to present yourself, your gift and your allegiance to an Almighty God and report for service…well, I can’t say the “experience” will deliver, but I can tell you God will be ready to receive your worship and speak to your heart about your place in His Kingdom!

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Sigurdas (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Taking the Test of Faith

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine.  Test yourselves.  Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.   2 Corinthians 13:5(NLT)

I dislike tests; always have!  Generally my reasons are two-fold:

1.     Sometimes (okay, a lot of times) I just haven’t paid enough attention to preparation.  There’s nothing worse than having your ignorance tested!

2.     Nerves – I hate anxiety, the kind of apprehension that, even though I have prepared, and know the material, my mind will misunderstand the question, or my learning will prove faulty…and I will fail even though I tried.

These two reasons are why I have supreme interest and, at times, deep admiration for, those who constantly put themselves through testing.  To me it would seem masochistic to put myself through the humiliation of a test if it weren’t required. 

On the other hand, it is a healthy practice to measure where you stand when you’re trying to accomplish something.  And this was Paul’s point entirely when he strongly suggested that the believers at Corinth take the examination of faith.  This church had a myriad of disputes, power-struggles and weird practices that the apostle had to deal with.  Their idea of what Christianity looked like was more worldly than Christ-like, and Paul spent much time correcting their mistakes.  He now told them to self-examine for evidence that Christ was indeed among them.

That self-examination sounds an awful lot like what my Mom used to say to me when I left the house – remember who you are!  Paul was reminding Corinthian church folk to remember whose they are; they belonged to Christ, so He should be visible in their actions, daily relationships and attitudes.

I still don’t like tests, and this testing of my faith in Christ – after more than forty years of following him seriously – is no exception.  When I take an honest look at the way I serve the Lord, the fail points of my faith can be a painful experience.

But I do it anyway.  And I’ve learned it’s not masochism – it’s healthy, because when you look back and see how Christ has led you through difficult times, and how you responded in faith here and there, and you see the different way you look at things now than you did five years ago…understanding, like Paul suggested for Corinth, that Jesus really IS among all of it, that, as the hymn-writer put it, He was leading me all the way[2].

And if I wouldn’t take that test of faith, just because I’m afraid, or it’s inconvenient, or some other excuse…how would I know where I stand in my discipleship; how would I know if I’m growing in Christ?  I’d be like the farmer who chose to NOT plant beans, cotton or corn because of weevils, blight or drought; he just wanted to play it safe.  He might avoid the disaster of failure, but how will he feed his family?

And how would I feed my soul?

For You Today

The test of faith isn’t about embarrassment or test-anxiety; it’s about learning how to feed your soul, serve your King, and getting ready for that great gettin’-up mornin’. 

It’s a test worth taking!

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph R. Schmitt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[2] All the Way My Savior Leads Me, Words: Fanny J. Crosby, Music: Robert Lowry,

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Learning to Love Your Thorn

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth.  But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God.  So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.  Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.”  So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.   2 Corinthians 12:6-10(NLT)

Have you ever just blurted something out, and regretted it before the words finished falling out of your mouth?  I have.  It’s one of those things that just happen; it is obviously not planned.

I recall one such time I greeted a man who was a church member with what I thought would be a lighthearted and funny tease; it turned out I was wrong; big time wrong!  The man was grouchy, didn’t want to be there, and only came because his wife insisted, and in no mood for a preacher’s stupid teasing. 

I should have realized something was wrong; he was scowling like a bulldog with a stomach issue.  But…out it came…open mouth – insert foot!

I, along with millions of other believers, do not know exactly what Paul’s “thorn” was; it’s almost unimportant.  But we know the reason God allowed Paul to suffer with it; that thorn was Paul’s humiliation, and it helped him stay in God’s will.

Paul learned to embrace that thorn, because he was a hard-driving, self-motivated, type-A mover and shaker, so he had a tendency to be full of himself because of his accomplishments.  And the one thing Paul eventually realized was that thorn kept him from the kind of pride which could have undone every good thing he did in God’s name.

I don’t know what your thorn is, but I understand mine, and have begun to embrace it, because, like Paul, deep down I want nothing more than to follow God’s leading and stay in his perfect will. 

If it takes a thorn, Lord, let me live in a rosebush, please!

For You Today

Today let me leave you with a stanza from a hymn entitled David’s Harp written by a 17th century clergyman, Paulus Gerhardt.  John Wesley thought so much of the hymn’s meaning he translated the German for his English-speaking Methodists.

O knit my thankful heart to thee,
And reign without a rival there:
Thine wholly, thine alone, I am;
Be thou alone my constant flame.[2]

For us, today this hymn speaks of thorns to embrace and use as a weapon to drive out of our hearts every competitor for God’s love.

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Klaus Gremmels (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
[2] David's Harp, Paulus Gerhardt (1607-1676) translated by John Wesley (1703-1791) 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Transparent Prayer; Not for the Faint of Heart!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Be good to your servant, that I may live and obey your word.  Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.  I am only a foreigner in the land.  Don’t hide your commands from me!  I am always overwhelmed with a desire for your regulations.  You rebuke the arrogant; those who wander from your commands are cursed.  Don’t let them scorn and insult me, for I have obeyed your laws.  Even princes sit and speak against me, but I will meditate on your decrees.  Your laws please me; they give me wise advice.  Daleth
I lie in the dust; revive me by your word.  I told you my plans, and you answered.  Now teach me your decrees.  Help me understand the meaning of your commandments, and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds.  I weep with sorrow; encourage me by your word.  Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.  I have chosen to be faithful; I have determined to live by your regulations.  I cling to your laws.  Lord, don’t let me be put to shame!  I will pursue your commands, for you expand my understanding.   Psalm 119:17-32(NLT)

You can start almost anywhere in Psalm 119 and read what appears to be schizophrenia on the part of the praying person.  One second there is a request for guidance, the next there’s assurance that the pray-er wants to be faithful – IS being faithful; in the next heartbeat there is an agonizing cry of repentance and plea for forgiveness. 

You get the idea praying transparently, from the heart, is not for the faint of heart!

But doesn’t this beg the question:  why pray at all if it isn’t FROM the heart with all the transparency you can muster?

David, the model child of God, AND publicly-exposed murderer and conspirator, offers these agonizing, transparent, fervent, confident, meek and trembling prayers.  Long and rambling, like a tent revival sermon, the king pours out his heart to God.  Confession pours from his lips with hand-wringing uncertainty, bathed in humility and willingness to do anything to hear from heaven.

How transparent is David?  Note what he asks God:

Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.  I have chosen to be faithful;

Only the most powerful influence of heaven could keep a man from lying to himself.  Let’s face it, when we want to believe something, we will move heaven and earth to rationalize the untrue, and believe the fantastic.  But David at least knew he was capable of such self-delusion, but he CHOSE to want the truth to dwell within.

And so he chose to be faithful – against all odds – to leave it in God’s hands to reconstruct his inner self into an obedient and useful child of the Most High.

That’s a prayer God is waiting to hear…always!

For You Today

Are you tired of the little prayers?   You know – the kind you throw heavenward in the hope God will leave you alone?  Pray Psalm 119 along with David; it’s not for the faint of heart, but it is the pathway to the kind of blessing your heart really wants!

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Ion Chibzii from Chisinau. , Moldova. ("In meditations" (60th years).), via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The "Each Other" Teachings of Jesus: #6. Build-Up Each Other

 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.    1 Thessalonians 5:11(NLT)
Encouragement is sometimes in short supply. 
I once saw a Peanuts[2] comic strip that had Lucy van Pelt reading Charlie Brown the classic riot act after the final loss in a very long season of nothing but losses.  “This is the worst team that has ever existed, Charlie Brown; we never win, and you are the most horrible manager a team could have!” 
With that Lucy turns and storms off.  In the last panel Charlie Brown calls after her, “That’s not very encouraging!”
The late Bishop Paul Martin tells of the time when he "received a new church appointment early in his ministry.  The congregation planned a reception for him on his first Sunday.  During the reception, everyone came around to greet him except for one man who lingered in the rear of the room.  After everyone else had greeted him, this man came forward and simply stood there. 
The future bishop asked him, 'What do you do here?'  The layman said, 'I look for the preacher's weaknesses.'  And he added, 'I'm good at it!  But when I find them, that's where I get beneath him, and then I lift him up."[3]
This defines for me the command of Apostle Paul to encourage; it is the sense of lifting each other.

Encouraging Strengthens People for Tough Times

People need lifting in tough times – times like we face today.  Our text contains one of the each others of the Bible. 
Paul had said to love each other, help each other, be kind to each other, not to judge each other; here he says to strengthen or build-up each other with encouragement.
Paul’s friends at Thessalonica had tough times.  They had questions about their departed loved ones, and how God was going to bring them back for the gathering of the saints at His second coming.  Paul told them not to worry, they were believers, children of light, and God would remember them. 
He also cautioned them to put on their combat gear – faith, love and hope – and stay awake like responsible soldiers.  He then told them that their faith will be strengthened as they remind each other of the fact that God hadn’t saved them to abandon them; they were his!
Tough times call for that kind of fellowship – bright spots in the long, gray road.
Patsy Clairmont tells of “riding my bike down a street when I turned a corner.  An endless, gray pavement that stretched out to meet the drab curb and dingy sidewalk greeted me.  Running alongside the walk was a dusty patch of earth that piled up against a beige wall.  Then, into this colorless picture an absurd addition intruded itself.  Atop the wall and spilling down its side was a vibrant swath of fuchsia flowers[4].
Suddenly the boring became breathtaking.  The dismal became dynamic.  The mundane became magnificent. 
Like a cup of cool water in a desert, a sudden breeze on a stifling night, a rainbow as the storm clouds part, the unexpected appearance of something grand caused my heart to skip a beat.
Isn’t life often like that?  Think about it.  You’re experiencing one of those days when you’re tired of yourself, and then someone steps into your landscape and plants words of encouragement.  The person values you, and you begin to bloom.  Or your work has become a drag, and you think if you have to file one more useless paper, change one more messy diaper, or listen to one more grumbling client, you’re going to scream.  Then you receive a promotion, the baby asks to go potty, and the client becomes your husband.
God tends to use blah settings to display marvels.  We mustn’t give up when we experience a succession of gray days and beige encounters.  Some stunning surprise awaits us around the next bend.”[5]

Encouragers Always Get Encouraged

Paul had spent the better part of his life encouraging and building-up others.  The final couple of years he spent in jail…a dark, foul place with no company.  Talk about needing encouragement! 
This points us to the reality that we will eventually find ourselves on both sides of any equation.  If you’re an encourager, there will come a time (like Paul) when you need encouragement; you’ll need it like you need the next breath. 
And if you’re constantly in need of encouragement, don’t lose sight of the fact that you can also bring encouraging words or even just your presence to others.
Mr. Redden was a part of the church of my childhood; he’s now with the Lord.  One time he was a chaperone for our youth group.  He was very much on the edge of a great spiritual defeat.  I was only about 12 or 13, but Mr. Redden found himself sharing his tough time with me.  I don’t remember a thing he said, or what I told him, but I do remember how he looked at me and thanked me for listening. 
Some months later he tapped me on the shoulder at church and gave me a wink.  Without words he told me the victory was his.  That bit of counseling has encouraged me over the years like little else.  A grown-up taking a teenager seriously, respectfully…WOW!  That was like manna to my soul.
A Freshman English comp professor kept a copy of an essay I turned in; she said it was just in case I became famous for my writings!  I cannot tell you how much that meant to someone who didn’t think his words were worth hearing!
Barnabas was Paul’s friend, and his name actually means son of encouragement.  People were often named in that time according to their most outstanding characteristic.  Barnabas was the encourager, and even his name said so!
Friends, there are always going to be “gray days” in need of fuchsia flowers.  God has provided Barnabas for just such days. 
What would be our name…collectively and individually…if we asked the community to name us? 
Whatever it would be right now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our community started calling us Barnabas? 
They’d say I know where to find those encouraging, helpful people – they’re down there at that church in Bennett or Seagrove.
The grace we find at this table has the power to change us; He said so!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!


[1] U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jennifer A. Villalovos, via Wikimedia Commons
[2] By Mk2010 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
[3] Zan W. Holmes, Encountering Jesus (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 54-55.
[4] By Dominicus Johannes Bergsma (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
[5] Patsy Clairmont, The Women of Faith Daily Devotional (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002), 127.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Whom Do YOU Trust?

Friday, June 24, 2016

I’ve been having conversations about the current political cycle lately; a lot of conversations.  There is a lot of “back-and-forth” about the virtues of this candidate versus that one (well, at least a lot of trying to point out virtues).

I find myself getting worried at times what this country is coming to…and then it hits me like a ton of bricks – I’ve got no business worrying!  And the reason it hits me is because I open Scripture early in the morning and God doesn’t hold anything back; He says, Russell, look here and stop your fretting, son…I’ve got this.

And so, I thought I’d share with you what God spoke through Jeremiah about his day and the foolishness of ungodly leadership.  Listen closely:

Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O Israel!  This is what the Lord says:  “Do not act like the other nations, who try to read their future in the stars.  Do not be afraid of their predictions, even though other nations are terrified by them.  Their ways are futile and foolish.  They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol.  They decorate it with gold and silver and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails so it won’t fall over.  Their gods are like helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field!  They cannot speak, and they need to be carried because they cannot walk.  Do not be afraid of such gods, for they can neither harm you nor do you any good.” 
Lord, there is no one like you!  For you are great, and your name is full of power.  Who would not fear you, O King of nations?  That title belongs to you alone!  Among all the wise people of the earth and in all the kingdoms of the world, there is no one like you.  People who worship idols are stupid and foolish.  The things they worship are made of wood!  They bring beaten sheets of silver from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz, and they give these materials to skillful craftsmen who make their idols.  Then they dress these gods in royal blue and purple robes made by expert tailors.  But the Lord is the only true God.  He is the living God and the everlasting King!  The whole earth trembles at his anger.  The nations cannot stand up to his wrath.  Say this to those who worship other gods:  “Your so-called gods, who did not make the heavens and earth, will vanish from the earth and from under the heavens.”  But the Lord made the earth by his power, and he preserves it by his wisdom.  With his own understanding he stretched out the heavens.  When he speaks in the thunder, the heavens roar with rain.  He causes the clouds to rise over the earth.  He sends the lightning with the rain and releases the wind from his storehouses.  The whole human race is foolish and has no knowledge!  The craftsmen are disgraced by the idols they make, for their carefully shaped works are a fraud.  These idols have no breath or power.  Idols are worthless; they are ridiculous lies!  On the day of reckoning they will all be destroyed.  But the God of Israel is no idol!  He is the Creator of everything that exists, including Israel, his own special possession.  The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!    Jeremiah 10:1-16(NLT)

For You Today

If you’re like me you worry about the election process.  Well, get over it; whatever happens in November, God can handle another Democrat or Republican in the White House.

Like Jeremiah, weep for the righteousness of our country, but trust in God.

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…have a blessed day!


[1] Title Image: By Donald Trump August 19, 2015 (cropped): BU Rob13 Hillary Clinton by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons