Tuesday May 17, 2022 – Weeding the garden of my life

Mark 4:7  Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it.

It’s amazing how many weeds have flowers.  I’m not talking about the ones that you see along roads or out in fields.  I’m talking about the ones that come up in your gardens along with the flowers that have been planted.  How often do we see that our gardens are loaded with both?  My problem is telling which is which.

Some flowers are easy to identify: roses, iris, tulips and daffodils.  Likewise dandelions are weeds.  Even though a field of blooming dandelions might be pretty, that beauty ceases to exist when they are in our yards and gardens.  The problem is all the other stuff that is coming up in the garden.

I have never been a gardener so when I look at the garden my thoughts are to get someone who knows this stuff and have them identify the flowers and the weeds.  When I look closely though, it’s apparent that some of the flower-bearing ‘growth’ is rapidly filling the garden and choking other plants out.  It’s almost like this ‘growth’ wants me to be distracted by its pretty little flowers while it takes over and chokes out the ‘opposition’ – the true flowers that are intended to grow.

Welcome to the spiritual garden of our lives where we have growing ‘cultural’ weeds and kingdom flowers – and each of us is responsible for what is found there.  The problem is that far too many who call themselves Christian have their spiritual gardens (read lives) filled with pretty little ‘flowers’ that are all weeds; and these weeds are choking out and obliterating the kingdom life that belongs there.

Jesus warned us about this in the Parable of the Sower from which today’s verse comes.  We must not underestimate the power of these ‘weeds’ in our lives when we allow them to become established instead of pulling them out.  Here is Jesus’ warning as given in The Message:

“The seed cast in the weeds represents the ones who hear the kingdom news but are overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it.”                   (Mark 4:17-18)

Pray that the Lord will help us identify the ‘weeds’ in our lives; and that He will enable us to see where we have allowed ourselves to become deceived into thinking they are genuine flowers that belong there.  The Holy Spirit will then enable us to effectively “weed” the garden of our life.

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Monday May 16, 2022 – A Special Prayer for young adults and the young at heart

A Special Prayer:  The Scriptures are filled with such wonderful men and women of faith.  The Lord helped me write this prayer several years ago for a conference.  It is particularly fitting this time of year with graduations, commencements, weddings and new beginnings – particularly given the pandemic and the lock down that is ending.  I trust that it will stir within you an increased desire to become everything you can be.  Regardless of our age, our focus can be sharpened enabling us to become more of what He wants us to be.  God bless you!

Oh Lord Jesus,

I pray that each of us will become

  • like Joseph – that we will stay faithful to You – even when the dreams You give us, seem like they will never come true.
  • like Moses – that we will turn aside when You place a burning bush in our path.
  • like Joshua and Caleb – that we will be brave and courageous in the face of giants in the land..

I pray that we will be

  • like Ruth – that we will live godly lives leading to incredible destinies
  • like Isaiah – that in response to hearing Your call, each of us will say, “Here am I.  Send me.”
  • like Esther – that we will recognize the times for which we have been created and face them with faith and courage.
  • like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – our commitment to You is not based on whether you will save us from a fiery trial or not.

I pray that we will be

  • like Peter and Andrew – that we will follow You when you call us to be fishers of men.
  • like the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus – that our hearts will burn within – whenever You speak to us.
  • and like Paul – that the day will come, when each of us can say, “I have fought the good fight.   I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith!”
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Sunday May 15, 2022 – Do we desire recognition?

Matthew 6:1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

President Reagan had this wonderful plaque on his desk: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”  The receiving of credit is a very important part of our culture.  It’s like earning grades in school.  We grow up expecting our efforts to be recognized.  Early in my sales career I experienced the disappointment of not being recognized.  The top salesperson was publically recognized each month, except they forgot to do it the first month I finished on top.

One aspect of this is the negative response most of us have when credit is given to someone where it isn’t deserved, i.e., someone has been cheating and then getting recognized for excelling.  Or in the workplace, to see someone recognized when someone else was primarily responsible.  What do we do if we are the ones who receive credit for that which is done by someone else?  Do we speak up and re-direct the credit where it belongs?

More importantly, are the good things we do linked to a desire to receive recognition?  Are we at peace with knowing that the Lord knows what we do?  Jesus warns us here of the problem of doing the right things we are supposed to do, but with an eye to receiving credit for them – to be seen by men.  The issue to me isn’t the idea that we lose the reward from our Heavenly Father, but the fact that our motivation is tainted by this desire to have our efforts seen.  It is bad for us and displeasing to Him.

The Lord wants our motivations to be centered in the joy of pleasing Him.  Living our lives in accord with Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit brings the joy of knowing that every action is an expression of our love for God.  Instead of the need to ‘be seen by men’, we live our lives to bring glory and praise to our God.   Matthew 5:16 speaks powerfully to this, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  That is the motivation that we want to fill our hearts!

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Saturday May 14, 2022 – The joy of overlooking offenses

Proverbs 17:9  He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

You’re driving down the road in wintery weather.  A truck goes by and suddenly your windshield is covered with slush and dirt.  Visibility has just decreased about 99% and you can’t see anything.  Even with your wipers on high it just becomes a brown blur.  At that moment isn’t it nice to push the button and have your windshield sprayed with washer fluid? In seconds you can see again.

One of the nice things about this illustration is that in real life the consequences of not having a functional windshield washing system are immediately apparent when the need arises.  For most of us, the one item that most likely could go wrong is to be out of fluid.  Driving and not being able to see just don’t go together.

We might not realize it but failing to overlook offenses in relationships is like driving in traffic without being able to see; accidents happen and damage occurs.  Such ‘mud’ on the windshield of life is normal.  Jesus followers have the ‘spiritual fluid’ and the practical ability to clear it away.  We don’t take offense.  We cover over the offense.  We overlook it.  We forgive.

We do not allow offenses to become wedges in relationships.  That is exactly what the enemy of our souls wants to have happen.  The Message puts today’s verse this way:

 Overlook an offense and bond a friendship; fasten on to a slight and—good-bye, friend!

The Amplified Bible spells out a bit more the actions involved in this:

 He who covers and forgives an offense seeks love, but he who repeats or harps on a matter separates even close friends.

May we have the spiritual eyes to see the ‘mud’ on our ‘windshield’ when offenses occur so that we will respond in a way that reflects the love we share.

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Friday May 13, 2022 – Do we view God through a ‘referee/fairness’ model?

2 Corinthians 5:7  We live by faith, not by sight.

Have you ever noticed how common mistakes are?  Fortunately we don’t have video replay in our daily lives where family and friends can relive our blunders.  It’s bad enough listening to our kids hilariously remembering them.  But the sporting world provides some wrenching examples of errors by referees / umpires, and usually there is video replay that everyone has to live with – for better or worse.  While no one expects perfection, you just hope mistakes are inconsequential.  Unfortunately, some errors that come to mind were anything but.

Some years ago a Detroit Tiger pitcher was deprived of a perfect game by an umpire’s mistake.  With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the umpire mistakenly called a runner safe at first when replays clearly showed he was out – the last out! Afterward, the umpire was devastated to see the video replay of his mistake that deprived the pitcher of a rare perfect game.  Yes, umpires make mistakes, but this one involved the final out of a perfect game.

Most sports use technology or video replay to some degree to ensure against significant refereeing mistakes.  Soccer does not.  In the World Cup, on the same day, Germany and Argentina advanced in games marred by refereeing errors.  The whole world saw that England scored against Germany to tie the game up before the half at 2-2.  Unfortunately the referee and his linesman missed it! Germany went on to win 4-1.  That evening Argentina beat Mexico3-1, but Argentina’s first goal should have been disallowed because it was scored by a player clearly offside.  Note: The 2018 World Cup was the first time video review (VAR) was used.

Such mistakes really offend our sense of fairness – particularly when video replay confirms the error!  If only the mistakes could have been corrected, the results might have been different.  If only the baseball Commissioner had overturned the umpire’s call… If only video replay had been used in World Cup games…  If only God had….

Our response in difficult situations reveals what we really believe about God – who we think He is.  Is He our rock, our refuge, our comforter, our sustainer, our enabler, our inspiration, etc….  Or is He a referee who occasionally gets it wrong – who allows things that aren’t fair?  Do we get upset because something happens that is ‘against our understanding of the rules’ and we complain and question and argue: “He should have caught that!”

We need to understand that walking by ‘sight’ leads us on the path to the ‘referee / fairness’ model that results in victims and blown calls.  Walking by ‘faith’ leads us to the reality of who God is and how incredibly secure we are in Him – no matter what our circumstances look like.  Remember, God never has an “Oops!”

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Thursday May 12, 2022 – Remembering the special people God has used in our lives

Philippians 1:3  I thank my God every time I remember you.

Let’s take some time to remember the very special people that God has used to bless and help us over the years.  They may be life long friends or they may be individuals that God brought into our lives for one moment in time.  As I write this I think of a lady who was sitting next to us in a meeting over 40 years ago.

Donna and I were as poor as church mice, and living on faith.  An offering was being taken and we had only $5.  We prayed and knew the Lord wanted us to put it in the offering, so we did.  Then this lady next to Donna turned and gave her a $10 bill.  We don’t know her name, but we thank God for her.

Think of people who have helped us when we needed it.  When Donna and I were going through a difficult time in our marriage in 1992, the Lord provided Ric & Val.  What priceless friends they became.  He was (and is to this day) a marvelous counselor but they were so much more than that.  Their love and friendship provided a safe-harbor for us to address the issues confronting us.

At work back around 1990 the Lord provided Mindy, a systems specialist who helped me navigate implementing major accounts on a new claims system.  She became a priceless resource for me and helped me innumerable times through the years.  I remember being in one meeting where I was representing marketing and the technical discussion was over my head.  Then someone made a statement and Mindy spoke up.  She said, “Don you need to ask about what he just said because it will negatively affect marketing and your accounts.”  Thanks to her, something I would have missed was caught and changed.  She also was a Christian who has prayed for my family and me for years.

There are so many people that God has used in all our lives.  Ask Him to help you to remember them and the situations that someone blessed you in.  Sit with a spouse or family member and help each other remember and focus on the positives.  It is such a blessing to have our hearts filled with gratitude when we remember those God has put in our lives.  Then take one more step and write, email or call and share today’s scripture with them and how they have made a difference in your life.

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Wednesday May 11, 2022 – 10 year old Tilly Smith and perceiving reality

John 1:45-46  45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

Have you noticed how powerfully we can be affected by our perception of things?  If we perceive something to be good or positive we respond differently that if we view it negatively – particularly if it involves us.   Our perception becomes our reality which is fine and good provided that it is accurate.  All too often we can find ourselves responding inappropriately because we are missing pieces of vital information that could radically change how we view something .

I am reminded of a story from the great tsunami in 2004.  In many places, people on beaches in that region were fascinated by what they were seeing.  The shoreline was receding accompanied by frothing bubbles.  If I had been there, I can see myself standing with others discussing this curiosity that was unfolding before us – unaware that it was the precursor of something incredibly deadly.

Tilly Smith is a British girl who, at age 10, was credited with saving nearly a hundred foreign tourists at Maikhao Beach (Thailand) by raising the alarm minutes before the arrival of the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

She learned about tsunamis in a geography lesson two weeks before the tsunami.  She recognized the receding shoreline and frothing bubbles on the surface of the sea and alerted her parents, who warned others on the beach and the staff at the hotel on Phuket where they were staying. The beach was evacuated before the tsunami reached shore, and was one of the few beaches on the island with no reported casualties.

Fortunately, Tilly was believed and lives were saved.  Credible information received changed something from a curiosity to a serious reality that required an immediate response.  It wasn’t dismissed because it came from a 10 year old girl. In today’s verses, we have the well known retort of Nathanael to Philip telling him about Jesus of Nazareth: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”  When Philip ignored the retort and replied, “Come and see,” Nathanael followed Philip to Jesus.

Fortunately, Philip was able to let go of his perception of ‘things from Nazareth’ and recognized the reality of who Jesus was (and is) and became one of the twelve disciples.  We too get to deal with our perceptions of who Jesus is or isn’t.  Either way our lives will be changed.  We must question the sources and validity of our perceptions because they might be keeping us from the truth.  They might keep us on the beach convinced tsunamis aren’t real.

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Tuesday May 10, 2022 – Right process produces right results

Romans 14:8  If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Upon entering Wheaton Grad School I was aware that I had the potential to do really well.  Mediocrity was no longer acceptable but I was also aware that I had never been a great student – my study habits had to change.  It’s one thing to think about becoming a good student.  It’s another to actually become one.  The Lord didn’t leave me to my own devices – He gave me a life changing idea and the motivation to implement it.

I needed to hold myself accountable for how much time I actually studied outside of class.  This resulted in the creation of my ‘Accountability Book’.  I tracked down to five minute blocks of time how much I actually studied, and I was ruthless with myself.  I remember going to the library to study for the morning.  My thoughts were I would study for four hours from 8:00 until 12:00.  The reality was a bit different.  After taking time out for getting coffee in the union, talking with friends, checking my mail, going to chapel, etc… instead of four hours of study, it was 1 hour and 40 minutes!

The lesson of the Accountability Book was if I put in the time to genuinely study, I got ‘A’s.  This led to the realization that my focus wasn’t to be on getting ‘A’s but upon the ‘process’ of studying – mastery of what I needed to learn.  This led to the liberating realization that right process produces right results.

Inherent in this is recognizing that we have a lot to learn and the importance of always being teachable.  Whether it’s learning a job, learning to be a spouse or a parent – or learning to do these roles better – we have invaluable resources to help us achieve quality.  First and foremost is our Lord who is intimately involved in our lives.  He will show us where we need to improve.  In addition, we have Scriptures, books, mentor/coaches, pastoral teams, Christian friends, bosses, co-workers, etc… as valuable resources.

We must recognize that being a good parent, a good spouse, good worker, etc… is consistent with (and required by) our faith.  He enables us to recognize our shortcomings and become better at these things than we currently are.  Never be too proud to ask for help.  Our Lord wants quality in all of the roles we find ourselves in.  He doesn’t separate the sacred and the secular.

Our life in Christ transforms us so that we are able to glorify Him and must glorify Him with ever-improving quality in everything we do.  This is what living to the Lord is all about.  Beginning today, wherever we find ourselves, Jesus has a redemptive path that will enable us to do just that.

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Monday May 9, 2022 – This happened to me

Philemon 22 – And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

This verse reminds me of dear friends and a memorable answer to prayer.  Shortly after we were married, we were living in Lansing, Michigan.  We were going through the normal struggles that many new ministries go through.  God blessed us with an older couple, John and Sue, who were wonderful friends to us and were an inspiration to many.  They opened their home and lives to so many young men and women to help them grow in the Lord.

Fasting and prayer were vital to John and Sue and a part of their daily lives.  They viewed them as essential elements in seeking the Lord and being empowered to be the man and woman God wanted them to be.  We were often amazed at how God spoke to them and used them to bless others.  They were loving, kind and selfless.

The Lord spoke to them about establishing a foundation and pouring everything they owned into it where they could minister to people in need of help or encouragement.  They purchased a big old house and 50 acres and it became the center of their work and a place of prayer.  It was a home where they could have people stay with them for various periods of time to minister and help them.

There came a time when I was struggling with the work we were attempting to do.  While praying the Lord put on my heart to call John and Sue and ask if I could come and spend a few days there with them to seek the Lord.  When I did they encouraged me to come.  It was a blessing to be there – spending time in the word and prayer and gleaning wisdom from John and Sue.

While there I was reading Philemon and the Lord really quickened this verse to me – so much so that I mentioned it to John and Sue at breakfast.  They grinned and informed me that the Lord had spoken to them a couple of weeks earlier that I was to come and spend some time with them there.  They had the guest room prepared for me and were confident that through their prayers I would come.  I am still blessed by memories of this simple yet profound example of God answering prayer and His using Christians to express His love.

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Sunday May 8, 2022 – Who we get to be in Christ

Galatians 5:16  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Computers are a vital part of our lives. You likely wouldn’t be reading this devotional without one (unless you have my book: Do You Love Me? Discover How To Deepen Your Love For God).  They are really wonderful when they are fast and have the software we need.  One thing about computers though, is that they are also targets and require protective software: antivirus, anti-spyware, firewalls, encryption, identity protection… the list just goes on.  We have spam filters, content filters and all manner of security to protect us from hackers, unwanted emails or to prevent access to sites with certain content.

Over the years Donna and I have been blessed to have friends who worked with computers.  They would help and advise us in setting up our computer with the appropriate protective software.  When we needed help, we knew who to call.

The focus in computers is what they can do – not that they are susceptible to all manner of negative things.  There is an old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  That really applies here.  Properly set up and maintained computers free the users from undue concern over vulnerabilities and enable them to focus on the things to be done.

The same principle applies to our Christian lives.  As Christians, we have the Spirit of God within us.  When we live by the Spirit, He enables us to overcome sinful desires we encounter.  By living in Him and God’s word, ‘firewalls’ are erected to keep sinful desires at bay. They keep us from going to those places where dangerous temptations are located.

Recognize that ‘those places’ can be websites, TV programs, books, magazines, video games, etc… as well as actual physical locations like bars, clubs, stores or hangouts; being with individuals or groups that  lead us astray by us becoming more receptive to the sinful desires and behaviors they manifest.  When we ignore the Holy Spirit’s warnings, the unacceptable can – and will – gradually become acceptable to us.  Unfortunately, this problem is rampant among far too many Christians.

The Holy Spirit helps us understand and apply God’s word in unfamiliar situations where danger might be lurking.  He is ever vigilant.  Unlike computer software, there is absolutely nothing that can get by Him – we don’t have to worry about upgrades.  He simply requires that we live by Him.

Remember, in a computer, protective software simply enables it to do what it is designed to do.  The same principle applies to us as Christians.  Living by the Spirit, enables us to become the men and women of righteousness that God intends.  I love 1 Peter 2:9 because it presents such a glorious picture of who we get to be in Christ:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

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