Friday, November 30, 2012

Weekly Devotional - November 30, 2012

"His glory covered the heavens and his praise
filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise."
Habakkuk 3:3-4 NIV
For the past eleven months I've stirred from my sleep at 4:30 on most mornings to go walk and run with a few friends from church. By 5:45 I am back at home sitting in my chair in the living room with a Bible and a devotional book. I spend the next several minutes reading and praying.
The living room window faces east so I can watch the dark skies begin to brighten as the sun comes up. Unless the sky is completely cloudy, the sunrise is always spectacular. A perfectly clear sky allows the glow on the eastern horizon to explode into daylight. A few clouds cast streaks across the dark sky as the sun peaks around them. A sunrise is a splendid sight to see.
The prophet Habakkuk ministered to Judah's people just prior to their captivity by the Babylonians. It was a time when some looked to the Lord but many did not. Significant religious reforms put in place by Josiah were short-lived. The book of Habakkuk shows the prophet questioning God about the situation in which the Jews found themselves: threatened by and eventually captured by Babylon.
Don't you sometimes turn to God and ask, "Why is this happening to me?" That's understandable. I do, too. Then I take a look around and see God's glory and splendor in something as routine as a sunrise. The magnificent has become mundane to us because of familiarity, but when you take a closer look you'll see God's awesome power and consistent faithfulness.
Habakkuk ended his prayer with these words: "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and not cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior" (3:17-18). Pray that God will help you see his faithfulness even in the midst of trials.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Missed the Point

Honestly, I don't know who said it. I was in the kitchen making coffee. But I heard someone comment about the size of the group gathering in my home for Bible study. In the summer of 2011 we stopped meeting at the church on Sunday nights and began meeting in homes a couple of times a month. Attendance had gotten so low that I wanted to try something that might get more people involved. We've had some very well attended Sunday Night Bible Studies.

The comment I I heard was that if this kind of attendance keeps up we'll have to open up the church, turn on the heat/air, and go back to Sunday night services. My immediate thought was, "No, we could have two groups meeting and continue to get more people involved." My point in changing the Sunday night format was not to save money on utilities but to increase involvement.

Somebody missed the point. There's nothing wrong with meeting at the church on Sunday nights but that model has proven to be ineffective for us. Sure, it is comfortable, traditional, and known, but few people participated. Meeting in small groups in homes has helped develop fellowship and we still worship and study the Bible.

I think that's a much better way to do Sunday nights. And I'd really like to see us grow and add more groups. I believe that will promote even more participation. And more spiritual growth.

I learned a couple of things. First, our Sunday Night Bible Study has gained traction. Second, I didn't communicate the vision very well when we started. Or maybe I failed to stir the vision along the way.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday

Black Friday is aptly named. It's a dark day. Human instincts like meanness flow freely. Greed and envy are abundantly clear. If anyone doubts the depravity of man, just take a look at Black Friday.

It's been 19 years since I've worked in retail on Black Friday. Much has changed. And it's been 19 years since I was a shopper on Black Friday. Again, much has changed.

My first Black Friday experience was an early morning trip to Walmart in Russellville. A new Nintendo was out and my boys wanted it. I felt compelled to get it for them so I braved the crowd. Nobody was lined up at the doors waiting for an associate to unleash the crowd. Maybe twenty cars were in the parking lot with drivers casually sitting in their cars (me, too) waiting. Someone saw the associate opening the doors and the rest of us saw that person getting out of her car so we all headed to the entry. No stampede. No pushing. Nobody got hurt.

I walked - not ran - toward the electronics and saw a display of Nintendo neatly stacked at the end of an aisle. I picked on up and headed to the checkout. I was first to checkout. In and out in about five minutes. I didn't understand what the big deal was about Black Friday. I still don't.

My second experience with Black Friday was last night. That would be Black Thursday, right? But it's not right calling Thanksgiving "Black Thursday." Riley wanted to experience what he had seen promoted on TV and Deana had never done it, either - at least not the standing in line when the doors open variety of shopping. We all piled in the bed about 9:30 to get a two-hour nap before the big event. Too much excitement drove us from the bed and we headed to town around 10:30. Our plan was to go to Starbucks and then to Kohl's. Starbucks was open all night and Kohl's was to open at midnight. We left way too early. That was especially evident when it started raining.

We got our coffees and walked through the parking lot toward the stores. Lots of people were standing in line in the rain an hour before Kohl's opened. Target and another store were already open so we went in to get out of the rain. The line to get checked out in Target wrapped around and through and back. We spent about thirty minutes looking around and talking to an friend who had moved away but was back visiting family. By then the line was gone but we weren't buying anything so it didn't matter.

We shopped in the other store and ooh-ed and aah-ed over all the stuff but left without buying anything. The rain had let up so we thought we'd stand in line at Kohl's for the last 10 minutes. We passed the table where a church group was passing out hot chocolate. We passed on the free stuff because we had the great insight to buy Starbucks an hour earlier. The line was longer than it looked and we decided the fire marshall wouldn't let us all in at once and that it might be a long time before we got in the store.

So we went back to Target to get a few things we decided would be perfect gifts. The whole time Riley has been asking for this and that and everything else. We tried to explain that Christmas shopping was what you did for others, not for yourself. He's rebelling against that idea. But the parents prevailed and we got out of there without having to buy him anything.

As we searched for the car - we had parked about an hour and a half ago and had zigzagged quite a bit so this was an adventure, a long adventure - we noticed that the line in front of Kohl's was gone. No fire marshall, apparently. Riley and I continued searching for the car and Deana headed to Kohl's. We rendezvoused in a little while.

Kohl's was buzzing with activity but the check-out lines were short! How cool is that! So we looked at a few things but didn't really find what we wanted. As happens on most shopping trips, we migrated to Riley's stuff and ended up picking him up some clothes. So much for the lesson we tried to teach him earlier. We headed to the check-out but were re-routed to the back aisle to get in the line that wound all the way around the store. Unbelievable turn of events in such a short period of time. We had picked up nothing that was a "door buster" so we put it back and walked out.

Deana just headed out with her mother and sister to finish what we started last night. The shopping wasn't much but we had a good time. Nineteen years has really made a difference in Black Friday. I'm due to go again in 2031...if the nursing home van is making the trip.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I Am Blessed

God is good! I am learning to keep this in mind at all times. Cross Road Baptist Church met with two other churches last night for a Community Thanksgiving Service. You can listen to the message I gave here.

Now for a list of things I am thankful for...

  1. Jesus Christ, salvation, ministry
  2. Family, Deana, Jim, Caleb, Riley, marriage, fatherhood
  3. Heritage, parents, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws
  4. Crisp mornings, cool afternoons
  5. Health, exercise, running
  6. Education, books, study
  7. Grapes, blueberries, bananas, yogurt, Cheerios

What's on your list of things to be thankful for?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Browsing the Archives

A few years ago I had a blog for the church but quit posting to it when we put up a website. Now I rarely post to the website blog and mainly use this blog. Anyway, I was browsing the archives and found a couple of posts I'd like to share.

Saved! is about the night Riley gave his life to Jesus Christ.

Sufficient Grace relates a story of my sister's family's vacation.

It's good from time to time to take a look back at stuff we've stored away.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Weekly Devotional - November 16, 2012

"Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed,
giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before."
Daniel 6:10 NIV
Daniel was persistent. He let nothing keep him from praying and giving thanks to God. You may need a little of the back story to fully appreciate what this means. Let me share it with you.

Darius ascended to power over the Ancient Near East when Belshazzar died, marking the end of the reign of the Babylonians and the beginning of the Medo-Persian period. Daniel had been useful to the Babylonian kings and as a result had a pretty good standing even though he was a Jew in exile there.

Daniel even received promotions ahead of those native to the land. He was in line for another promotion and those around him could stand it no longer. They devised a plan by which Daniel's Jewish worship traditions would get him into trouble since they could find nothing really wrong with him. They conned Darius into issuing a decree that everyone pray only to Darius for a thirty day period.

The Bible says, "Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published" he prayed anyway. One might think that Daniel would curtail his prayers for thirty days so he would stay out of trouble and in line for the promotion. But the possibility of punishment either never crossed his mind or he didn't care. I think he was fully aware but was determined that he would pray anyway. So he did.

And his prayer was one of thanksgiving. Not for protection or deliverance. Even when the things of this world are uncertain, be certain that you can give thanks to the Lord. For he is good. His love endures forever.

Are you determined to be thankful? Have you let circumstances push you away from that goal? A quick assessment of any of our lives will show that we have much to be thankful for. Pray that God will help you see the reasons to be thankful and to be determined to give thanks.

A Good Epitaph

What would you want said about you at your funeral? Have you thought about what will be inscribed on your tombstone? All Pro Dads sent this in email today. You can read the full article here.
  • "This world is a better place because he lived!"
  • "He knew what was important in life!"
  • "This was one faithful man."
  • "His family is going to miss him…but he left them equipped to thrive."
  • "He lived to the full, and he didn't waste the gift of life!"

Friday, November 09, 2012

Weekly Devotional - November 9, 2012

"The king will reply, 'I tell you the truth,
whatever you did for one of the least of these
brothers of mine, you did for me.'"
Matthew 25:40 NIV
Larry Johnson is an author and motivational speaker. He travels the country speaking to groups bringing encouragement. And he is blind. He tells a story of checking into a hotel late at night in New Hampshire. When he asked where he might get some breakfast in the morning he was told there was a McDonald's across the street. Since Larry is blind, he asked if someone could help him get there and was told the shift changed at 7:00 and to be back at the office then.
Larry arrived at the office just before the shift change. Promptly at 7:00 the young man who had helped him the night before said, "Let's go." He led Larry to his car, drove him across what turned out to be a busy highway, helped him order the breakfast, and drove him back to the hotel.
The hotel employee could have said a lot of things the night before to get out of this. "No, sir. The nearest restaurant is a couple of miles down the road." "I'm sorry but we don't have a shuttle service." "Shift change is at 7:30. Be here then and I'll help you." Instead, the employee served someone in need.
Jesus commends that kind of attitude. And condemns the opposite attitude. Not only did Jesus say that serving others was a good thing, hedid it. He served others by healing them of sickness and disease. He served others by comforting them in troubling times. Jesus served others by giving his life for our sins.
How can we ever serve people like Jesus did? How can we ever impact the lives of others like Jesus did? The answer is simple yet profound. Are you ready? Do you have pen and paper? Here it is: love them. Jesus served and served and served because he loved them. He still serves because he loves us.
Do you love people like Jesus does? Serving will become more than an action, it will become love that is seen. Pray that God will help you love and serve others.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

It's My Money!

I've recently heard people say they voted for the candidate that was going to protect Social Security because they had paid into the system all these years and it's their money. Do people really believe that Social Security is a savings plan like an IRA or other retirement account? I looked at the CNN Money website to see if I could find out if Social Security really is a savings account. Admittedly, my research is shallow and limited. What I found was that the Social Security benefits are just that, benefits.

I don't think that term describes the money you will withdraw from your retirement account. When I think of benefits, I think of something I get that I didn't pay for. An employer may provide health insurance in whole or in part to its employees as a benefit. A civic or religious group may have a spaghetti supper with all proceeds benefiting a family who has incurred unusual expenses due to a catastrophe. A neighborhood may experience an increase in property values because they benefit from a few nicer homes being built there.

CNN Money uses the term to describe Social Security payments. I think this is how it works: withholdings from today's employees are given to today's retirees; tomorrow's employees will be taxed for tomorrow's retirees. So the money I pay into the system today is not kept for me to withdraw later, it is used today as benefits for people currently drawing payments. Today's retirees don't draw their own money from SS because that money was used yesterday as benefits to yesterday's retirees.

One of the problems facing our nation regarding Social Security is the number of people entering retirement is growing and those already retired are living longer. The aging Baby Boomers and the advances in healthcare mean more people are drawing money for a longer period of time. The retiring Baby Boomers are also coming out of the work force so fewer employees are being taxed, therefore less money is going into the system.

Bottom line...Social Security payments are not "my money" but the money of people working at the time I'm receiving payments. "My money" is long gone having been the benefits of those retired at that time.

So whatever your political posture may be and whatever your retirement concerns may be, please don't demand your money from the Social Security system. And realize that such a system cannot go on forever without the fiscal responsibility of taking out no more than is being put in. I did not say that you take out what you put in. Today's retirees cannot expect to get out more than today's employees are putting in.

With fewer employees, the pie is getting smaller. And with more retirees, the smaller pie has to be cut into smaller pieces. That's reality.

A biblical perspective would be for Christians to take care of the elderly who need help. The church is tasked with that duty, not the government. But as America has trusted man more than God and has turned to government more than to the church for answers, we are where we are. The solution is to return to a dependence upon God and turn from a dependence upon government. A little personal responsibility would go a long way.

A few years ago, a Christian told me this: "If you can't trust your government to help you out, who can you trust?" The answer is simple: God and his people.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day

The first Tuesday of November is marked on our calendars as Election Day in the USA. I'm glad we live in a country that respects the right to vote, protects it, and practices it. I'm glad I "early voted"! I've driven past several polling places today and the crowds are huge. Not so much a huge crowd of voters, but a huge crowd of campaigners standing as close to the polling place as legally allowed. I'm surprised there aren't accidents at these places with all the distractions taking drivers' minds off the road.

I'm thinking today of another election day. And it has nothing to do with politics. The first Thursday of August in 1972 was the day I chose to follow Jesus and entered into an eternal relationship with him. I just had my 40th spiritual birthday a few months ago. I know I've not looked, sounded, or acted like a Christian all those days since the summer of '72, but Jesus has always been King of kings, Lord of lords, and my Savior. The politicians elected today are likely to stumble or change their minds or just outright do the opposite of what they've told us they would do. Jesus is never like that. He's faithful and true.

Some people are disappointed with the choice they made four years ago. Four years from now some people will be disappointed with the choice they make today. But I've never been disappointed in choosing Jesus forty years ago and I'll never be disappointed for the next forty million years...or longer!

I have strong opinions about the choices you make in the voting booth today, but I'm more concerned that you choose to follow Jesus. That's the most important choice you'll make today or any day. Questions? Send me a message; I'd love to talk with you about following Jesus.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Weekly Devotional - November 2, 2012

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!
I have overcome the world."
John 16:33 NIV
Natural disasters, bitter elections, high divorce rates, economic downturns, shocking diagnoses. Jesus was right, "In this world you will have trouble!"
Do you sometimes wonder why the world is cursed with trouble? The Bible tells us that early in the history of humanity, Adam and Eve (the first humans) sinned in disobedience to God. This resulted in a change in the entire world structure. What had once been peaceful would now be tumultuous. What had once been easy would now be hard. What had once been of no concern would weigh heavily on our minds.
Thousands of years later, the results of sin still linger. In fact, we continue to sin and pile on the effects. We mistreat and misuse our bodies and have to deal with obesity, cancer, STDs, and other maladies. We live recklessly and have to deal with tragic and unwanted consequences. Self-centeredness fosters broken relationships. I could go on and on.
Is there a way out of this troubled world? Can it be fixed? How is the curse corrected? There's just one way: Jesus has overcome the world! Specifically, Jesus has overcome sin, its impact on creation, and its wages of death. But why does sin still exist, creation still suffer, and people still die?
What Jesus accomplished in this world will be fully experienced in another world. He promises a new heaven and earth in which all things will be set again in perfect order. That eternal world will be populated by God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit along with all those who follow Jesus Christ in this temporal world.
But for now we can live with confidence and hope that the trouble we now experience is limited because Jesus has overcome it all. Pray that God will help you take heart and live as an overcomer.