Tuesday August 11, 2020 – Expressions of love negated by our actions

Proverbs  8:17  I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.

Donna and I are going to celebrate our 50th anniversary this year.  They have truly been wonderful years and my heart is to learn to love her more and more with each passing day.

But in the early 90s we went through a time of difficulty that could have ended our marriage.  I loved Donna, or so I thought, except I was doing all kinds of things that were a mass of contradictions.  I would tell her of my love, take her on dates and trips, buy her cards and flowers, help around the house, etc…

On the other hand, I would walk away from her when she was talking to me or just ignore her.  I would lose my temper with her.  My frustrations with work were taken out on her.  My anger would flare and she got so she never knew when I was going to vent or even why.  There was no infidelity or physical abuse – it was all thoughtlessness, carelessness and blindness on my part.  All too often I was a real jerk.  This all exploded out as my oldest son John and I were leaving for a few days on the Outer Banks.  Fortunately, a Northeaster arrived just as we got there so I got to face this situation instead of fishing.

I have a notebook from that weekend with pages of things I was doing wrong – things that were communicating “I don’t love you!”  These things were effectively undermining and obliterating all the good things I was doing that were speaking of my love.  God in His goodness turned me every way but loose that weekend.  He opened my eyes and let me see all the contradictions between my expressions of love and the actions of my life.

The Lord just did a wonder in me at the beach, and I needed it because I came home to a very hurting wife.  Fortunately, our commitment to Jesus and to each other trumped everything.  The Lord provided a marvelous Christian counselor who was priceless.  Although it took months, the Lord brought us through.  Our marriage wasn’t put back together – it was transformed – from a caterpillar to a butterfly!

This experience with Donna had a profound impact on my relationship with the Lord.  It made me aware of how blind I could be – how my expressions of love could be negated by my actions.  The good things I do being trumped by my sin – sin I could be blind to see.

Loving God is the most important thing we can ever do.  We don’t want anything in our lives that undermines that.  We want to love Him more and more.  The marvelous thing is that the more we genuinely love Him, the more we experience His love for us.

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Monday August 10, 2020 – Untouchable until touched by Jesus

Mark 1:40-42  A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  41Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

Our son Andrew is a wonderful actor and businessman who lives in Denver.  Last night I watched a DVD of a marvelous Christmas program Andrew was involved in a number of years ago where he played the role of Nathaniel, the leper.  In that role he was the narrator of the program that told the story of Jesus and culminated with him telling his story.

He told of being a farmer, of his home life with his wife and daughter, of becoming a leper, and then losing it all and the years of being alone.  He was considered unclean – untouchable.  But then he told of hearing about Jesus and what led up to his encounter with Him described in today’s verses.

The scene is very moving to say the least but last night it seemed like the Lord just highlighted even more for me the fact of Jesus’ love for this man and the fact that Jesus touched him.  Seeing Andrew, as the leper, with tears streaming down his face describing with such passion this encounter with Jesus, left me totally captured by the wonder of being touched by Jesus. He described the look in Jesus’ eyes and the incredible fact that Jesus didn’t cure him with a word, but that Jesus reached out to him and touched him – an unclean leper. It was as though Andrew really had been the leper and Andrew was describing what had actually happened to him.

Sitting there watching this, I was so thrilled that I too had been touched by Jesus.  I had my own overwhelming wonder at what He had done for me – thankful that being touched by Jesus isn’t limited only to those who lived with Him 2,000 years ago.  Jesus Christ is alive – touching people every day!  Our God is not some distant, unapproachable, unloving being.  He is the very opposite.

This morning, I am consumed with gratitude and wonder that the God of the universe not only cares for us, but that He touches us and makes us His own.  The touch of God in our lives is every bit as real as the touch that healed this leper of his leprosy.  We are forever changed.  May we be forever captured by the wonder of it all!

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Sunday August 9, 2020 – When we think we’re not making progress…

Philippians 2:12b,13 …continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for
it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

In high school I took a reading improvement course.  It was a one semester speed reading course where we were taught to increase our reading speed (words read per minute) without losing comprehension.  Part of the course was regularly viewing films that were the printed text of a story.  All of the text was blurred except for a section of one line.  The purpose of the films was to teach us eye movement and to grasp all of the words that appeared in the readable section of the line.

Initially, each line was divided into three segments.  Rather than our eyes moving from word to word, the film forced us to absorb the words in one-third of the line at a time.  The highlighted, readable section would rapidly move across each line in three jumps and so on down the page.  Following the film we took a test over what we had just read to measure our comprehension.  In order to stay with the fast group, we were required to maintain a 70% comprehension score on each test.  Each film required us to read faster than the previous film.

Over the weeks, the films changed from showing three readable sections of each line to two sections and finally to one section.  In it, the entire line was then readable and our eyes had to take in the entire line of text in one moment as the highlighted section moved down the page.  I remember barely being able to keep up week after week, from the very first film until the last film at the end of the semester.  It was always a strain.  It never felt like I was making any progress except for the fact that I knew the word per minute reading speed was increasing.

I am so grateful that in our last class of the semester, the teacher showed us the very first film of the series we had worked through.  I was amazed.  This film, that 15 weeks ago seemed to move so fast that I could barely keep up with it, was now slower than molasses in winter.  It was one thing to know my word per minute reading speed was much faster.  It was entirely different to go back and see just how far we’d come.

Sometimes in our Christian walk we experience the strain of thinking we are not making any progress.  It can seem that we are always under strain from being stretched by our
circumstances and things in our lives that God is dealing with.  It is important to recognize that God is at work in us – and that He is a very capable worker.  Be encouraged!  Let your confidence be in Him.  He is making progress with us and accomplishing things in us that we might not be aware of.  Ask Him to open your eyes to see what He has done.

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Saturday August 8, 2020 – A great insight from golfing with Jay

Mark 12:32–33  “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Years ago, I had a friend who was a marvelous golfer.  Better still, whenever friends played golf with Jay, he made it into a golfing lesson to help us.  I really appreciated the fact that throughout the round he would give me tips and help me become a better golfer.  One day another friend of mine joined us for a round of golf.  I had told him that Jay would help him with his game.  As we started playing it became apparent that his golf game was really hurting.

We played the first few holes and Jay hadn’t said anything to him yet in terms of helping his golf game.  As we were walking down the 4th fairway, Jay came over to me and said, “I will help him, but he’s doing so many things wrong, I haven’t figured out where to start.”

Loving God and loving one another have some interesting similarities to playing golf.  They all take practice and it’s wonderful to have friends around who will help us do it better.  We have to be around them and be willing to listen.  If we want to become better at golf, we work at it.  Maybe we take lessons.  We watch better golfers to learn what we can from them.  We find time to play more golf.  We have to be intentional about it.  The same principles apply to our faith.

How good it is when we have individuals in our lives who exemplify what scriptures teach.  But we need to know what scripture teaches in order to really recognize genuine Godliness.  In golf, we have par.  In life, we have all kinds of different things claiming to be right.

That is where Scripture and the Holy Spirit are so important, along with being a part of a vibrant life giving church.  We have a lot to learn and God wants us to learn from one another.  One advantage of our faith is that we get to live and “practice” it everywhere: at work, at play, at home or out with friends.  No matter where we are, or what we are doing, loving God and loving one another applies. We need to learn to do it well.

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Friday August 7, 2020 – Recognizing God’s opportunities for us

2 Kings 13:18-19  Then he said, “Take the arrows,”  and the king took them. Elisha told him, “Strike the ground.” He struck it three times and stopped. 19 The man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.”

I was struck by a new insight into this story of Elisha, the king and the arrows.   It involves another layer of application.  This story has been a helpful illustration of the importance of doing things whole-heartedly, and not holding back.  The king had no idea that his response had prophetic implications – not only for him but for the whole nation.

God’s provision was predicated on how he responded to Elisha’s command – and Elisha didn’t tell him that it did.  “Oh by the way King; be sure to keep hitting the ground until I tell you to stop or you’re in trouble.”  When the king responded half-heartedly, Elisha angrily rebuked him and informed him of the negative consequences of his actions.  What a missed opportunity!

This is a specific illustration but the principle behind it is a treasure in itself.  What I saw is that the principle of whole-hearted response to given situations is only part of it.  Another application is having a whole-hearted attitude in ‘seeing’ and finding the opportunities that are available to us.

There are many opportunities that come our way – opportunities that allow us to be God’s hands extended – but how many do we see and take advantage of?  Remember the springtime illustration of me asking our sons when they were little what colors they saw when we went for walks in the woods?   They had to experience a change of what they were looking for to notice the many spring colors that surrounded them.

The colors were ‘lost’ in the black, brown and gray of the woods after winter.  Are we so busy that we avoid seeing opportunities?  Do we experience an “Oh no.” kind of mentality when we think we might be asked to serve – again!

I have to repent, because just as I typed the word ‘again’ in that last sentence, I thought of a very specific situation that I experience regularly where that is precisely my attitude.  Understand, we’re not talking about saying “Yes” to every opportunity that presents itself.  The issue is our attitude.  The Lord will guide us when we look to Him for wisdom in responding to the opportunities we find.

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Thursday August 6, 2020 – Are you weary and burdened?

Matthew 11:28-30   28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Thanks to the trees on our property, in the heat of summer I have the opportunity to plan my work in our yard to be in the shade as the sun moves through the day.  Working in the shade sure beats working in the sun when it’s hot and humid – and better still is to have a breeze come up.  Isn’t it amazing the marvelous impact that a cool breeze can have upon us when we’re working outside on a hot day?

This passage from Matthew is truly special.  How encouraging it is when we’re weary and burdened to hear that we can be given rest.  The key is the speaker, for it is Jesus speaking and He is telling us that rest is available if we come to Him.  He is our ‘shade’ and our ‘cool breeze’ as we work in the ‘hot days’ of our lives.

When we think of a yoke, we tend to think of oxen and work.  But Jesus says to take His yoke upon us and learn from Him.  When we do, we learn He is gentle and humble of heart and we find rest for our souls.  Even more amazing is the discovery that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  He has a way of transforming everything – no matter what kind of circumstances we find ourselves in.

One of the difficulties we often deal with is the tendency to allow our faith to be pushed to the background by the burdens and life-struggles that we contend with every day.  We get busy and overwhelmed and focus upon everything else – not fully embracing our Lord and our faith.  This isn’t our intention, it just happens to be the way it works out all too often for many of us.  He doesn’t condemn us or abandon us to our own devices.  But He lovingly pursues us to hear and respond.

This promise is true whether we are Christians or not.  Anyone can come to Jesus and find rest.  Better than that is the life He has for all who do come to Him.  If we are weary and burdened, we need to be reminded that we have the greatest resource imaginable in our Lord.  We must come to Him, put Him first and spend the time learning of Him to experience the refreshing wonder He has available for us.

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Wednesday August 5, 2020 – How amazing to encounter Jesus!

Luke 24:45  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

Have you ever been frightened to the point that it could be described as being terrified?  We use the term ‘scared to death’ rather casually, but taken literally it describes serious fear.  And we’re not talking just being startled or frightened by the unexpected.  We’re talking about a fear provoking reality that is also startling and unexpected.

These words describe the reality experienced by the disciples when Jesus first appeared to the group of them together after He was crucified.  The disciples were excited because the evidence was mounting that Jesus had risen.  He had appeared to Simon!  But their excitement was tempered by that fact that their fear of the Jews caused them to have the doors locked.   I assume they were fearful that those who killed Jesus could be hunting for them.

Then the two men returning from Emmaus shared their wonderful story about Jesus being with them and their eyes being opened when He broke the bread!  Can’t you just feel the electric atmosphere that would have been in that room as they talked about all this?  Their Lord was alive!  Then “lightning” struck!  One minute they’re talking excitedly about how Jesus has risen – and the next minute Jesus appears in their midst and they were terrified!

Think about that.  They were terrified at seeing Jesus appear suddenly in the room.  He didn’t knock on the door – and they didn’t unlock it to let him in – He just appeared!  They thought they were looking at a ghost.  He asked them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (Lk 24:38)  Then Jesus showed them His hands, feet and side, and told them to touch Him.  A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones as He did.

They still were having difficulty believing because of their joy and amazement.  Then He asked them for something to eat.  After eating He explained again what had happened and why and, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”  Think how powerful it was for them to all of a sudden have everything make sense.  Praise God that He does the same for us!

Why was it important for them not to understand what was going to happen to Jesus prior to this?  I don’t know – but I do know that it was!  God has His reasons.  It is so exhilarating to see how this group of frightened men and women were so utterly transformed by an encounter with the risen Christ!  Isn’t it amazing that He transforms us as well when we encounter Him!!

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Tuesday August 4, 2020 – What do you delight in?

Proverbs 11:20 The LORD detests those whose hearts are perverse, but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.

What things come to mind when you consider the idea of being delighted with something?  They might involve people, food, travel, hobbies, special moments – but whatever they are, they are special.  They are things that give extreme pleasure, satisfaction or joy.

The first thought in my mind this morning when I think of being delighted with something is playing with my grandchildren and seeing them laugh.  I delight in my wife, Donna; in beautiful sunsets; seeing flocks of Canada geese; being with our children; walks on the ocean shore; being with good friends; seeing the Ohio State Buckeyes football team win; talking about the Lord with young men and women.

You might delight in a quiet time with a good book or sitting in front of a fire place on a winter evening with a good cup of coffee.  There is delight in helping others; in doing a job well; in persevering and overcoming a difficult obstacle; in worshipping the Lord and experiencing His presence.

There are so many things that can bring us delight – but shift your thinking from what brings you delight, to the sensation of delight itself.  Think of the pleasure, the joy, the warm feelings – the satisfaction – the sensation of not wanting the moment to end.

‘Delight’ is far beyond being merely satisfied or pleased with something.  It is truly something special.  This is what God experiences in us when our ways are blameless.  Think of it! – We are able to bring our God delight – extreme pleasure – by living our lives the way He wants us to.  May we delight in delighting Him.

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Monday August 3, 2020 – We are the ‘coffee shop’

Romans 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Imagine going into a coffee shop to have a cup of coffee and being told that they were all out of coffee – not just a particular flavor we wanted – but out of coffee.  That would be strange if it happened once but suppose it happened again and it wasn’t because they were so popular that they sold out.  We’d suspect they wouldn’t be in business long.  Coffee shops are supposed to have coffee.

Now imagine going into a coffee shop and ordering coffee and they serve you but the coffee doesn’t taste good.  We try different choices they have, but they all were unpleasant.  Again, we’d think it strange and wonder how they were going to stay in business.  We wouldn’t go back.

With these examples in mind, let’s consider today’s verse.  There is such beauty contained in it.  It talks of God’s people trusting in Him and being filled with joy and peace and hope.  These are qualities that people long for and are very apparent when they’re present.  From one perspective, we as Christians have the blessing and excitement of recognizing that this is the life God has for us.  These are qualities that He wants us to have.  But there is another side to this coin.

These are qualities that He expects us to develop in Him.  They are required of us and not optional.  We are the ‘coffee shop’ and theses qualities are the ‘coffee’.  The world and those around us might not realize that they are asking for ‘coffee’ when they encounter us, but God has placed within them a hunger for this ‘coffee’ – real joy, real peace and real hope.  They want someone or something they can truly trust in.

We are surrounded by people in all stages of coming to know our God.  If these qualities are absent in us, or if they are ‘sour’, important opportunities are missed and negative perceptions result.  But, when people are able to ‘taste’ these qualities in our lives, they are attracted to Him even though they might not know it (think salt making someone thirsty).  They want more.  God uses us to bring people to Himself.

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Sunday August 2, 2020 – An amazing gift: the ability to forgive

Today’s Scripture is at the end of the devotional

A few years ago in early spring I had the joy of watching part of our granddaughter’s soccer game.  Other than the fact that it was 37 degrees, breezy and raining – it was a great time.  I did my grandfatherly duty by taking her younger sister to our van and sat with her in it with the heater on for 10 minutes during the game when her toes got too cold.

Fortunately I had on hiking shoes that are warm, lightweight and waterproof.  I was dressed warmly, with a winter hat, gloves and coat and of course my favorite big golf umbrella.  While it was still cold and wet out, and my face was getting the brunt of it – I was prepared for it. The ‘gear’ that I had protected me from the elements.

Think of being out there with wet shoes and wet cold feet; no hat and soaked to the skin by the rain and shivering in the cold.  Your little umbrella got turned inside out by the wind and is over in the trash can.  Your nose is running and you’re sneezing and the game just seems to be going on without end.

Does this scenario bring back memories to you?  It sure does to me!  Times when at outside events the weatherman couldn’t have gotten it more wrong – or we failed to take note of updated forecasts and we didn’t have the ‘gear’ we needed to protect ourselves.  Whatever, we became cold and miserable.  Of course if it was a sporting event and our team won, it made it a bit better!

This morning when I got up, the Lord brought to mind one of the greatest gifts that He has given us.  It is an absolutely vital component of our spiritual ‘gear’ that provides incredible protection regardless of the ‘inclement’ spiritual situations we encounter.  Better still, this gift can become such a part of our lives that it automatically kicks in whenever we need it.  What is this gift?

It’s the ability to forgive!  No matter what we encounter; no matter what kind of hurt, disappointment, offense or insult – our ability and practice to immediately forgive provides a priceless protection to our lives.  It frees us to respond righteously to whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.

Unforgiveness has been described as putting arsenic in your own body with the intent to get even with someone else.  It’s imperative that we recognize just how vital forgiveness is to our spiritual well-being.  It keeps us dry, warm and healthy no matter what kind of inclement spiritual storms we encounter.  Let us renew our commitment to this truth Jesus taught us Luke 11:4 that describes how we are to live:

“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us [who has offended us or done us wrong]. And bring us not into temptation but rescue us from evil.” (AMP)

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