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We’re so glad you found our website. Whether you’re visiting us from another part of the world, or from right here in the Huntersville, North Carolina area — welcome!

Pastor Paul's Blog

Lenten Daily Devotions - April 1, 2020

Matthew 22:23-33 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
The Question about the Resurrection
23 The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, 24 “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. 26 The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman herself died. 28 In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.”
 
29 Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.   
 
(For a helpful study of this passage: http://www.crivoice.org/biblestudy/bbmatt17.html)
 
The word is anthropomorphism. It is what we are so fond of doing with God. It means that we have the tendency to take human qualities, characteristics, understandings, and cast them on God and the things of God. It is why we call God “Father”, meaning we take our human expectations of fathers and we project them onto God as his divine qualities. We want God to be strong, a protector, a provider, like a father. Now, it is true that the Bible uses this language in the inspired Word that God gave us, but such usage has its limitations. God is bigger than our human comprehension.
 
In this passage for today, the Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus by asking him a ridiculous question about marriage in the Jewish tradition. It is based on the idea of levirate marriage, explained in the link above. They want to trap Jesus into a question by taking it to an absurd place.
 
The question often is asked, and the answer assumed, that we will be “married” in heaven, like we are on earth. We assume that the parts of this life we like will be a part of the life we want to live in heaven. That’s why there are so many golf jokes and the like. The old joke goes something like this, “Is there golf in heaven? Well, there’s good news and bad news. Yes, there’s golf in heaven, but the bad news is that you have a tee time next Tuesday.”
 
In this passage, Jesus seems to answer, negatively, the question about marriage in heaven. And then he points out that death is not an end, but a beginning of a new and different way of being. God is the God of the living, not the dead. God is bigger than our human understanding, and the life that is to come will not be bound by our human understanding of how we think it is, or how it should be. We will be with God, and that will be enough.

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 31, 2020

Isaiah 58:9b–14 (NRSV)
 
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places, 
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, 
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
 
John Wesley, the founder of the movement called Methodism, called people to a “holiness of heart and life.” I understand that to mean that not only were we called to a holiness that manifested itself in the personal devotions, such as prayer, fasting, giving to God and his church, and a refraining from vices, but also contained a sense that how we treated each other, especially the poor and the disenfranchised, was fundamental to the faith. It was not an either/or, it was a both/and. Live a faithful life in private and public affairs.
 
This passage from Isaiah is a perfect example of what that means. In this passage, the prophet is exhorting the people to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. The call is to be kind in our words, not to speak evil, but to be people of peace. It also calls us to offer food to the hungry, to help the afflicted. This “blend” of personal and social holiness then comes with promises of fullness, light and blessing.
 
How are you doing with these expressions of the faith? Are you more likely to express your faith in prayer, daily devotions and giving to the church? Or, are you more likely to help someone who is in need, someone who is impoverished, or sick? The promise is for the person who remembers both that we will indeed be people of light, riding upon the heights and finding our connection to the ancient word of God. 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 30, 2020

Romans 8:6-11 (NRSV)
 
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
 
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
 
I think we might be understating the power of the Holy Spirit. Out of the three persons of the Trinity, we tend to ignore the Holy Spirit. We do so at our peril. The Spirit has been present in creation from the beginning. In Genesis, we read, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” The Hebrew word Ruach has several translations, among them “Spirit, breath and wind.” When Genesis says “a wind” from God swept over the waters, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. The wind, the breath, the Spirit of God, was present in creation and is still creating today.
 
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he describes the Holy Spirit’s work in us and says the Spirit dwells in us. When we are in Christ Jesus then we have the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. What difference does that make?
 
Are you alive? Really, are you alive? Most of us think we are alive. We breathe, we move, we sleep, we eat, we do things that are indicative of being alive. But, are we really living? Are we so caught up in the day to day things of the flesh (the moving, the sleeping and eating, etc.), that we are dead to the Spirit? If the Spirit is alive in us then we are concerned less with the things of the flesh, and are more concerned with the things of the Spirit. And Paul in another part of Romans lists the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 
 
Ask yourself this question, as I am doing for myself. Is God alive in you, creating that fruit? If Christ is in you, then the fruit of the Spirit will be as well.

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 29, 2020

Crowds.  
 
By definition, they’re big. 
They’re loud.  
They’re busy.  
They’re intrusive.   
Sometimes they’re even fun.
 
What they are not is conducive…
 
to hearing… 
 
God’s voice…  
 
…which is why we find Jesus, on several occasions, dismissing the crowd.  Matthew records one of those instances:
 
”Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd.” (Matthew 14:22)
 
If you want to hear God’s voice, you must dismiss the crowd.
 
Your crowd may not be people but iPhones.
 
Or the TV.
Or friends.
Or work.
Or the negative voices in your head.
 
And the primary reason why you must dismiss the crowd is not because the crowd is inherently bad but because of God’s most common style of communication;
 
He whispers.
 
Jesus knew, in order to hear His Father’s whisper, He had to get to a place where He would be alone.  
 
"After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Later that night, He was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23)
 
Whispers encourage attention.
Whispers bring faces closer.
Whispers tend to communicate importance.
Whispers create focus.
Whispers carry weight.
Whispers echo on mountainsides.
Whispers penetrate lonely hearts.
 
As we practice social distancing and comply with stay at home orders, may we take the time necessary to dismiss the crowds, even technological ones, and lean in to God’s voice.
 
He’s whispering.
 
He’s always whispering.
 
Are we in a position physically and spiritually… to hear it?

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 28, 2020

At a recent trip to the dentist, I found myself sitting in the chair with an increasingly sharp pain in my side.  When I entered the office, I felt fine.  Now, some 20 minutes later, the pain in my side was so great that it was all I was thinking about.    
 
As the dental assistant was doing her work, I kept trying to figure out why my side was hurting.  Then the experienced assistant said something to me that I haven’t been told in years.  In fact, her one-word encouragement is not something I generally need to be reminded to do.  I’ve been doing it, subconsciously, since the day I was born.  Conservatively, it is something I do about 23,000 times a day.  Literally.
 
She said, “Breathe”.
 
Why is she telling me to breathe, I thought?  
 
Ohhhhhh!  
 
Revelation hit me and I was now suddenly understanding her suggestion.  
 
I actually wasn’t breathing! 
 
Unbeknownst to me, I was holding my breath during most of this procedure!  In fact, my body was braced for pain and I had stopped breathing (regularly) in anticipation of it.  As a result, the lack of oxygen and tense muscles around my lungs created a sharp pain in my side… something that was cured rather quickly by… breathing.  
 
In John 16, we find the disciples sitting in the spiritual dental chair, braced for impact.  Jesus rightly observes that they are “filled with grief” (16:6).  It’s no wonder why.  
 
A few moments prior (John 15), Jesus shares the following with them:
  • The world is going to hate you (15:19)
  • The world is going to persecute you (15:20)
  • You will be put out of the synagogue (16:1)
  • They will kill you (16:2)
  • I am leaving you (16:5, 7, 10, 16)
  • You will be scattered, each to your own home (16:31)
They had just enjoyed three, uninterrupted years with their Master and Friend and now, in a few short minutes, their world was being turned upside down.  They stopped breathing as fear crept in to their reality.  
 
If we’re honest, we can relate.  It doesn’t take our minds very long to anticipate potentially painful scenarios in our day:
  • Will my driving teenage son make it home safely?
  •  Will my college-age daughter make good choices?
  • Am I going to keep my job in this unstable economy?
  • Is my loved one going to catch the coronavirus?
  • Am I going to commit a homocide while being quarantined with my family?
Jesus understands our fears and speaks to them, just like the dental assistant spoke to mine.
 
“Breathe.  I got this.”
 
In His own words to the disciples,
 
 “I have told you these things, so that in ME (capitalization mine) you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
 
Rest in that truth, dear friend.
 
God’s already ahead of us and has provided PEACE in HIM, in spite of the troubles we encounter.  
 
Breathe and trust Him. 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 27, 2020

Revelation 11:15-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
The Seventh Trumpet
15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
    and of his Messiah,
and he will reign forever and ever.”
16 Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 singing,
“We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty,
    who are and who were,
for you have taken your great power
    and begun to reign.
18 The nations raged,
    but your wrath has come,
    and the time for judging the dead,
for rewarding your servants, the prophets
    and saints and all who fear your name,
    both small and great,
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
 
Whenever I read these verses, especially the verse “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever”, I can’t help but think of Handel’s Messiah. It is a masterpiece that never fails to move me, especially the Hallelujah chorus. I am attaching the link below that connects the verses to the beautiful rendition so you can hear.
 
The basic message of the Revelation is the assurance of the reign of Jesus that will come. “The kingdom of this world” is the reign of the evil one, or Satan, or whatever name he is known by in various passages of the Bible. He is known as the ruler of this world, but this kingdom of his shall become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Messiah, or Christ. We are painfully aware that the trials and tribulations of this world are due to the presence of evil and are a part of the brokenness of our human condition. But, the affirmation of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John is that there will be an end to this evil reign, and when the 24 elders fall at his feet, and the heavens are opened, and all creation proclaims the greatness of the Christ, all will be revealed, and it will be good.
 
Hallelujah! Hold fast and keep singing that great chorus! Amen.
 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 26, 2020

Ezekiel 2:8-3:3 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. 10 He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe.
 
3 He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.
 
Ezekiel was a prophet of Israel. He writes his book of prophecy while in captivity in Babylon, having been exiled from his homeland during the siege of Israel by the Babylonians around the year 597 B.C. His prophetic ministry spans some 22 years, and in his book he predicts the coming fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., and a future restoration.
 
In our passage for today, Ezekiel is given a vision of a scroll, and is told to eat the scroll. He does, and the taste is as “sweet as honey”. The idea is that the scroll represents God’s Word, and Ezekiel is to ingest that Word as a sign of his complete dedication with it. The sweetness of the Word will be contrasted with the sourness of the message that he is to proclaim to the people. Much of Ezekiel’s proclamation is of destruction and coming judgment. Much later, the Word becomes one of reconciliation and a coming restoration. However, before the Word becomes sweet it is sour to the taste.
 
As a Preacher, it is difficult when you feel God has put a hard message in your mouth to proclaim. It is always so much sweeter to proclaim a message of love and grace and forgiveness. But, sometimes the Preacher is called to speak a Word on behalf of God that challenges, exhorts, and judges. Like Ezekiel, it can feel unpopular, unwelcome, and antagonizing to speak what God says speak. When you call out a culture for blatant worship of idols, when you ask for proper worship of God through service and stewardship, when you call people to repentance for sin, it can be perceived as a sour message. But, the Word of God is sweet to the taste and, in the end, the Word of Life. I believe my calling is to speak it, even when I must speak it into my own life first. 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 25, 2020

 

Isaiah 60:17-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
17 Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
    instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
    instead of stones, iron.
I will appoint Peace as your overseer
    and Righteousness as your taskmaster.
18 Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
    devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation,
    and your gates Praise.
God the Glory of Zion
19 The sun shall no longer be
    your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
    give light to you by night;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
20 Your sun shall no more go down,
    or your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21 Your people shall all be righteous;
    they shall possess the land forever.
They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands,
    so that I might be glorified.
22 The least of them shall become a clan,
    and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
    in its time I will accomplish it quickly.
 
Although there is no firm date for the years of Abraham in the Bible, it is likely that Abraham lived as much as 2000 years before Christ. It was during the time of Abraham that God made a covenant, a promise, to Abraham and his descendants. A part of the promise was that the land that Abraham was given would be his ancestors land FOREVER. There were many, many threats to the promise. Each time the promise was threatened, God found a way to keep the promise intact.
 
One of those times in which the promise was in greatest peril was during the time called the Exile. These were the years when Israel was raided by foreign enemies, drug away into exile in different countries, and all but lost hope. The passage we read for today is the prophet Isaiah reminding the people that are returning from exile that God will continue to bring them back, and bless them with light, and joy and peace and salvation from their enemies.  Though the days had been bleak, and 1400 years after the promise, it was all on-going.
 
But God does not fail in keeping his promises. The land is still Israel’s today, though there have been tremendous challenges and times of great peril.
 
I remember this today because this passage reminds us of God’s promises of restoration. As we go through our own crisis and we struggle to trust in the presence of God in the midst of this virus, we should remember that God’s promises are eternal. He will not leave us nor forsake us. Though we will struggle to see God’s work in the middle of this crisis, God is looking at the long haul and is doing things we cannot comprehend, yet. It takes a long time, sometimes, to comprehend what God is doing.

 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 24, 2020

 

 
Colossians 1:9-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
 
Have you ever heard of Epaphras? You kind of have to be paying close attention when you are reading the texts. His name is mentioned in verse 7 of this chapter, and again at the end of the letter, and again in Philemon, another letter of Paul. It seems that Epaphras was converted by Paul when he visited Colossae, and then Epaphras was quite effective spreading the gospel of Jesus and converting people to following Him.
 
Paul is praying for the converts, and is asking that they may be filled with understanding of God’s will, and live lives worthy of the calling. And then Paul says “may you be prepared to endure everything with patience.” Endure what?
 
I saw an interview this morning with retired General Stanley McChrystal, a noted General whose career spanned from the Operation Desert Shield to Afghanistan and the Iraq War. He writes and speaks on leadership. He was talking about the importance of being honest with people as integrity. He was saying that if he, for example, had told soldiers things were going to be easy, and the reality hit afterwards what a difficult time they would have, how disillusioned the soldiers would be and how they would not hold that their Commander had integrity. He likened the challenge we are facing today, that if we are told things will pass and we won’t be challenged, and then we are, how disillusioned we will be and how that will mean loss of integrity for those who lead us.
 
The Apostle Paul never lost integrity with those he led. He was honest. He knew and preached that the journey of faith is hard. We must be prepared to “endure everything with patience” as we will be tried and tested. Times, even for people of deep faith, will be challenging to the point that we will waver, fail, needing to be forgiven, and finding redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ. Times like what we are enduring now will require patient endurance, and that’s the honest truth, spoken with integrity.

 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 24, 2020

 

 
Colossians 1:9-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
 
Have you ever heard of Epaphras? You kind of have to be paying close attention when you are reading the texts. His name is mentioned in verse 7 of this chapter, and again at the end of the letter, and again in Philemon, another letter of Paul. It seems that Epaphras was converted by Paul when he visited Colossae, and then Epaphras was quite effective spreading the gospel of Jesus and converting people to following Him.
 
Paul is praying for the converts, and is asking that they may be filled with understanding of God’s will, and live lives worthy of the calling. And then Paul says “may you be prepared to endure everything with patience.” Endure what?
 
I saw an interview this morning with retired General Stanley McChrystal, a noted General whose career spanned from the Operation Desert Shield to Afghanistan and the Iraq War. He writes and speaks on leadership. He was talking about the importance of being honest with people as integrity. He was saying that if he, for example, had told soldiers things were going to be easy, and the reality hit afterwards what a difficult time they would have, how disillusioned the soldiers would be and how they would not hold that their Commander had integrity. He likened the challenge we are facing today, that if we are told things will pass and we won’t be challenged, and then we are, how disillusioned we will be and how that will mean loss of integrity for those who lead us.
 
The Apostle Paul never lost integrity with those he led. He was honest. He knew and preached that the journey of faith is hard. We must be prepared to “endure everything with patience” as we will be tried and tested. Times, even for people of deep faith, will be challenging to the point that we will waver, fail, needing to be forgiven, and finding redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ. Times like what we are enduring now will require patient endurance, and that’s the honest truth, spoken with integrity.

 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 23, 2020

Psalm 146 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
Praise for God’s Help
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
    on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed;
    who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
    he upholds the orphan and the widow,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
 
It is an anxious time, isn’t it? I find myself experiencing a sense of fear and uncertainty. And, it is for me on a number of levels. For one, we are waiting on the birth of our second grandson, Charlie. Mary Katherine will actually be going in to be induced today. Also, my Dad will have tests to see if he can have his gall bladder removed on Tuesday. He has not been feeling well, has been unable to eat much, and needs the surgery, in spite of his heart concerns. Then, there’s the coronavirus pandemic. We haven’t had our church together in two weeks, and I don’t know when we will be back together. With that comes the financial implications for the church. Those financial implications are directly related to the financial concerns of those in our church. I am hoping and praying that the people in our church are able to withstand the disruptions to the economy we are experiencing. I’m feeling anxious just writing about it!
 
The antidote to the anxiety and fear that is so prevalent in our world is summarized in Psalm 146. It begins with praise of the Almighty for the blessings we receive. When we stop and consider the goodness and blessings of God, we quickly realize that we have so much to be thankful for. The fear of the unknown dissipates in the remembrance of God’s steadfast faithfulness.
 
Secondly, we are reminded in this Psalm that it is God who is the One who comes to the aid of the anxious. Whether that anxiety is from being oppressed, or imprisoned, or from being a stranger, or as a widow or an orphan, the promise is that God will come to the aid of those in their time of need. And, we know he does. The aid may not always come as we anticipate, or when we anticipate, but God’s faithfulness and love are forever and ever.
 
So, let’s begin our day today with prayers of thanksgiving for the blessings we have. Let’s enumerate all of the vast ways we have been provided for by our God. And, let us consider the ways that God might be calling us to be His hands and feet, instruments of blessing for all of those whom God will protect and uphold. And the fears and anxieties will fade into the joy and hope of our gracious Heavenly Father.    

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 20, 2020

Simon Says.
 
We all remember playing this as a kid. “Simon”, the group leader, would bark out a few commands to the eager crowd of followers:
 
Simon says, raise your arms.
Simon says, stomp your feet.
Clap your hands.
 
If you clapped your hands, you were “out” because Simon didn’t say.  To make matters worse, “Simon” would often say one thing with his lips but do another with his limbs – in an attempt to disqualify you from the game.  
 
Then “Simon” would start again with another, more tricky series of commands with the entire goal of trying to confuse and trip up his remaining audience.  The game would end with the one person left standing who was able to mimic all the contradictory things that “Simon” said.
 
Life can sometimes feel like a game of Simon Says.  We receive instruction from all sorts of people growing up; our parents, our grandparents, our Aunts & Uncles, teachers, neighbors, Pastors… friends.  And sometimes, like the game, the messages can be confusing, if not contradictory… especially when their advice does not match their actions.  “Do as I say, not as I do” is Simon’s mantra.  Our parents may have told us to do something our teacher says we shouldn’t.  Our Uncles may have shown us an example that our Pastor says is wrong.  With so many “Simons” to choose from… it can be hard to know which voice to listen to, which example to follow.
 
The Apostle Paul tries to simplify the confusion with some biblical clarity:
 
 ”Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children   and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
 
Whose example do you follow?  It can be good and even wise to follow the example of your parents or your Pastor. Some of us might have Aunts, cousins or friends that live lives worth emulating. But above all, we should be following God’s example, as found in the pages of Scripture, and walk in the way of love, just like Christ.
 
Who is your Simon?  How are your imitation skills?  
Let’s aim to make Christ our “Simon” and follow what He says.   
 
Walk in the way of love.
Give of ourselves.  
Sacrifice to God.  
 
What does that look like for YOU this week?

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 22, 2020

Psalm 23 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible.  Written by King David, it is memorized by millions, quoted at most funerals and is near and dear to many a heart who are going through a trial or struggle. Below is a creative look at that passage with the actual verse on the left and the summary point it provides (in parenthesis) on the right.  
 
May this passage encourage you as you not only read it but internalize it for yourself.
 
God wants a relationship with YOU and offers rest, refreshment, healing, guidance, purpose, protection, discipline, hope, blessing, provision, abundance, security and His presence, not only now but for all eternity.  
 
  • The Lord is my shepherd (That's relationship!)
  • I lack nothing. (That's provision!)
  • He makes me lie down in green pastures (That's rest!)
  • He leads me beside quiet waters, (That's refreshment!)
  • He restores my soul. (That's healing!)
  • He guides me along the right paths (That's guidance!)
  • for His name's sake. (That's purpose!)
  • Even though I walk through the darkest valley (That's testing!)
  • I will fear no evil (That's protection!)
  • for You are with me (That's presence!)
  • Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (That's discipline!)
  • You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. (That's Hope!)
  • You anoint my head with oil; (That's consecration!)
  • my cup overflows. (That's abundance!)
  • Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, (That's blessing!)
  • and I will dwell in the house of the Lord (That's security!)
  • forever. (That's eternity!)
 
"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (I John 3:1)

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 19, 2020

 
Romans 5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
Results of Justification
 
5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
 
It’s scary, isn’t it? I’ve never been through anything like what we are facing now, and I’m pretty sure not many have. We didn’t see it coming. Yet, here we are, our lives having changed in a moment. We don’t know when we will return to a sense of normalcy. Yes, it is scary and I think it’s okay to own that.
 
So, what do we do? Well, this afternoon I did something that felt normal. I worked in the yard. I dug weeds. I cut grass. I spread mulch. I used the weed eater. I finished up, looked around at what I had done and felt really good about it. I created beauty. I was tired, but it was worth it. Going through the struggle of work to create something of value is worth it.
 
Paul says, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. . .” What we are going through as a people feels like a collective suffering. People are getting sick, the economy is being tested, events are being canceled, and things in general are weird. Will the suffering we experience produce in us an endurance, which will build our collective character, and then provide a hope that will sustain us?
 
It will if God is remembered in this time of trial. It is a tried and true way. There have always been challenges, and there will always be. What we need to do is create beauty. We need to create beauty in relationships and in the way we care for one another. We need to allow this time to re-shape the way we see things. We can slow down, look after one another, and learn to appreciate what we have, rather than grabbing for more. If we do this, the character and hope will be revealed, and it will be evidence of the love of God poured into us.  

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 21, 2020

God, through the prophet Samuel, told King Saul to utterly wipe out the Amalekites: 
 
“The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack [a]Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” (I Samuel 15:1-4)
 
God’s Word was clear.  Saul’s follow-through was not:
 
And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
 
Kill the Amalekites.  Every one of them.  Utterly destroy them and everything they possess. 
 
It’s a controversial command for us to read in the 21st century, with our tolerance-first, hate-crime sensitive, love-everyone, anti-profiling, equal rights mindset that has permeated our day.  
 
While we don’t have time (in this lesson) to unpack the moral reasons WHY God gave this command, it is important to focus on the WHAT.  Saul’s ability to obey was being tested.  Would Saul completely trust how God was calling him to handle this enemy?  
 
Unwisely, Saul decided he would view God’s Word like a cafeteria menu, picking and choosing what he wanted to obey.  In spite of God’s clear instruction, Saul wanted the “best of” and “all that was good” of what God had already deemed as “bad”.  
 
What happened when Saul ignored God’s command?  What is the consequence of picking and choosing the verses we want to obey?   
 
God’s Word, as we are told, will not be mocked.  
We will always reap what we sow.  (Galatians 6:7)
 
By I Samuel 31, we find Saul at the end of his life.  He’s on the run from his enemies and has just been mortally wounded by a spear. As he lay dying, we learn about his last moments on earth from an eye-witness account who is being interrogated by David, the newly appointed King:
 
Then David said to the young man who brought him the report, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”
“I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,” the young man said, “and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and their drivers in hot pursuit. When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, and I said, 
 
‘What can I do?’
“He asked me, ‘Who are you?’
“‘An Amalekite,’ I answered.
“Then he said to me, ‘Stand here by me and kill me! I’m in the throes of death, but I’m still alive.’
 
10 “So I stood beside him and killed him…”
 
Herein lies the lesson.  Had Saul completely obeyed God 15 chapters earlier, there would have been no Amalekites left. They would have been “utterly destroyed”.  
 
What Saul kept as the “best of” ended up taking his life.  The world’s best is always less than God’s good.  Sin, like the Amalekites, is imperialistic in its nature.  If you don’t remove it, it will remove you.
 
What areas do you need to obey God more fully?  Are you picking and choosing what you want to obey in His Word?  
 
May God give us the courage to face our Amalekites and fully trust Him with His solution for them. 

Lenten Daily Devotions - March 18, 2020

Jeremiah 2:4-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

What wrong did your ancestors find in me
    that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the Lord
    who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
    in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
    in a land that no one passes through,
    where no one lives?”
I brought you into a plentiful land
    to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
    and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
    Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
    the prophets prophesied by Baal,
    and went after things that do not profit.

Therefore once more I accuse you,
says the Lord,
    and I accuse your children’s children.
10 Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
    send to Kedar and examine with care;
    see if there has ever been such a thing.
11 Has a nation changed its gods,
    even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
    for something that does not profit.
12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
    they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
    and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water.

Israel was given two basic commands as the core of God’s revelation to them. The first is that God, the creating God, the One who reigns and rules over all things, is One. There are many, many false gods that vie for our attention, but there is only ONE God, the God of Israel. The second command, actually the first commandment in the list of the Ten Commandments, is that “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” If we keep the two commands here, we keep the basic premise of the Law.

The problem, of course, is in our inability to keep these commands. We have the tendency to place almost anything above God, from ourselves, to other things like money, fame, and even the trappings of religion over the real God.

In this passage from Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, God speaks through him and decries that “they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” A cistern is a receptacle, often waterproofed, that contains water, usually rainwater or from an underground stream. Cisterns would have been prevalent in the culture of the day. Jeremiah laments with God that the people have forsaken the living water (see John 4!), and created cisterns that seek to hold the things that give life, but instead are cracked and allow life to seep out.

So, the question arises for us, what are we elevating to the level of God in the place of the One true God? Are we drinking from waters that cannot satisfy and forsaking the living water that only God can offer? Certainly, God knows our tendencies and our failures. In the fullness of time, God would transcend time and space and become God incarnate in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Surely, this gift will convince us of the goodness of God and convince us to love him first?