bookmark_borderOctober 6th, 2023

I’ve been reading a book called The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer as part of a class that I’m taking. Usually, I try to write my own devotionals, but in chapter five of the book, a few paragraphs stood out to me as something that was in my heart, but I was not a competent enough writer to express it with my own words.

Source: Tozer, A. W. “Chapter V, The Universal Presence.” The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine, Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2015. — Originally published in 1948.

The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.

The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.

For this great sickness that is upon us no one person is responsible, and no Christian is wholly free from blame. We have all contributed, directly or indirectly, to this sad state of affairs. We have been too blind to see, or too timid to speak out, or too self-satisfied to desire anything better than the poor average diet with which others appear satisfied. To put it differently, we have accepted one another’s notions, copied one another’s lives and made one another’s experiences the model for our own. And for a generation the trend has been downward. Now we have reached a low place of sand and burnt wire grass and, worst of all, we have made the Word of Truth conform to our experience and accepted this low plane as the very pasture of the blessed.

It will require a determined heart and more than a little courage to wrench ourselves loose from the grip of our times and return to Biblical ways. But it can be done. Every now and then in the past Christians have had to do it. History has recorded several large-scale returns led by such men as St. Francis, Martin Luther and George Fox. Unfortunately there seems to be no Luther or Fox on the horizon at present. Whether or not another such return may be expected before the coming of Christ is a question upon which Christians are not fully agreed, but that is not of too great importance to us now.

What God in His sovereignty may yet do on a world-scale I do not claim to know: but what He will do for the plain man or woman who seeks His face I believe I do know and can tell others. Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days.

Any man who by repentance and a sincere return to God will break himself out of the mold in which he has been held, and will go to the Bible itself for his spiritual standards, will be delighted with what he finds there.

Let us say it again: The Universal Presence is a fact. God is here. The whole universe is alive with His life. And He is no strange or foreign God, but the familiar Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love has for these thousands of years enfolded the sinful race of men. And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!) We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice.

O God and Father, I repent of my sinful preoccupation with visible things. The world has been too much with me. Thou hast been here and I knew it not. I have been blind to Thy Presence. Open my eyes that I may behold Thee in and around me. For Christ’s sake, Amen.

bookmark_borderAugust 25th, 2023

Luke 6:35-36 CSB – But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

Galatians 6:9-10 CSB – Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.

As you all well know, the political landscape is incredibly contentious. Each side has a person that they support, and it seems like if you support person A, then you are required to hate person B, and vice versa. Politics has become black and white with no room for gray, no room for debate, compromise, or even acknowledgment that the other side may have a good idea or two. But what does our God say about this? If you read the above verses, you can see that he’s pretty clear on how we should respond to the “other side”. We are to love them, and work for their betterment, for the good of ALL. Not just those you agree with.

I want to be very clear on my next point. If you are putting your politics above your lord, then you are guilty of sin. When God says “Love your enemies” and you post something on Facebook making fun of the person you don’t agree with, or making fun of their family member’s struggles, or calling them derogatory names, or slandering them, you are sinning. It’s not just lighthearted fun, it’s sin.

Here’s another command:

Romans 13:1-2 CSB – Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.

Another:

1 Peter 2:13-15 CSB – Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.

If you combine those two sets of commands, you get a very clear directive. Love the people whom God has placed over you and respect them, even if you disagree with them. Love them, help them, and do good to them. They are placed there by God, for his purpose, and for his glory. By submitting to those who are above you, you honor God. Putting another man or woman above Christ, and letting that motivate you to sin towards another human being, is idle worship, which is something that angers God more than just about anything else. Work to honor God by how you treat others, even politicians, and you will be blessed.

 

bookmark_borderAugust 18th, 2023

Matthew 6:6 CSB – But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6 contains the famous scene where Jesus taught his disciples how to pray (Our Father, who art in Heaven…) Immediately prior to his example prayer, he makes an interesting statement, as referenced in the verse above. He tells us to go to a private place, with the door closed, so that we may pray to the Father in secrecy. And if you do that, your Father, who knows and sees all, will reward you.

There are a couple of reasons why Jesus commands us to pray in this way. First, it allows us to leave our egos at the door and sincerely pray to our maker without having to worry about what everyone else thinks. In those hidden places, it’s just you and the Father in unity in prayer, and no one else is there to pass any kind of judgment on what you’re facing. Second, it shows the Father that you have faith in him and in him alone. When you pray to him in secret, it means that you’re relying on him and him alone to help you with your problems. You are acknowledging that the Father is the only one who has total power over your life, and you are submitting any control that you may have to him, in faith.

Jesus commands us to do a lot of things. We’re commanded to go make disciples of all nations and peoples, we’re commanded to take care of those who cannot help themselves, and we’re commanded to turn the other cheek when someone hurts us. However, some commands, such as this one, often go overlooked but are just as vital, maybe even more so because the command also contains a promise. If you go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to the Father in secret, he will reward you. What will he reward you with? More of himself.

bookmark_borderJuly 28th, 2023

Luke 15:1-2 CSB – All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

I think this verse often gets overlooked, but it’s a powerful summary of how Jesus intended us to be in relationships with others. The Pharisees and scribes were complaining that Jesus was *gasp* treating people with respect and dignity, even though those people were sinners. The attitude of the day, especially in Pharisee culture, was to reject anyone with any outward signs of sin. Somehow, that same attitude of the Pharisees has permeated modern Christian culture, and often times we’re enabling that attitude by not emulating Christ.

Several years ago, I was in a church where, about ten minutes before the service was to begin, a homeless man walked through the doors looking for help. His clothes were ragged, he wasn’t clean, and he was carrying a lot of his belongings with him in a backpack. Instead of welcoming the man with open arms and asking how we could help, he was treated with suspicion and led to a back room where one of the pastors could talk to him without the congregation having to involve themselves in the issue. I later found out that the man was just looking to go to church, and because of the suspicion of nearly everyone in the building, he was denied an opportunity to worship. We never saw him again. Honestly, though, and I’m not too proud to admit, I was suspicious of the man as well. He wasn’t someone we’d seen around, he didn’t look like one of us, and we were all thinking “Oh my, what will everyone think?” I was an enabler of this behavior, a behavior which I think is our default reaction a lot of times to things that aren’t familiar to us. However, Jesus, in the verse above, clearly shows us, by his own example, how we’re to form relationships with folks. We’re to welcome them and share what we have with them, whether it be our time, clothing, a meal, money, or whatever. By doing that, and with an attitude of hospitality, we are truly acting in the same grace and spirit of Christ.

bookmark_borderJuly 21st, 2023

Colossians 3:21 CSB – Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they won’t become discouraged.

As the father of two boys, this is a verse that I think of often, especially with them being so young. Anneke and I talk a lot about how to parent without breaking our children’s spirits because we want them to be strong adults. We’ve both seen too many instances of children whose parents have had them under their thumbs their entire lives resulting in the children not knowing how to live on their own or think for themselves. We want to be an encouragement to our children and give them an environment where they can thrive and feel safe to talk to us about anything, even if it’s something that may be taboo.

We’re still learning how to find the balance of discipline and freedom so that we don’t become parents who discourage or exasperate their children but also don’t allow our children to walk over us. When we grow older, and our kids are adults, we want them to want to hang out with us, do things with us, and share their lives with us. To that end, we include our children as much as possible in the mundane things in our lives, like emptying the dishwasher or cleaning a bathroom. They’re naturally interested in what we’re doing, and if we include them in those things, later, they’ll include us in their mundane things. Anneke is better at this than I am. I still sometimes get in a rush and will push Jack away when he wants to help with something. Six months ago, I was pushing him away every time and now it’s more like 1 in 4 times. So I’m getting better and it’s teaching me a level of patience that I didn’t know existed.

bookmark_borderJune 30th, 2023

Mark 6:30-31 CSB – The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.” For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.

It’s easy for us to justify spending our entire week working as hard as we possibly can. There are so many people that are depending on us, and we know that if we don’t deliver on a promise, we’ll be letting someone down. However, Jesus wanted us to take time to rest. He knew that we can’t endure forever without a break from our work. In the verse above, I don’t read it so much as a suggestion, but as a gentle command. “Come away by yourselves… and rest.” God instituted the Sabbath, not so much because he needed to rest, but because he knew that his people needed rest. Somehow in our modern Christian age, we’ve moved away from that idea, but I still think it’s something that God would have us do. Many of the Old Testament laws revealed the heart of God for his people, and that heart doesn’t change because Jesus came and created a new covenant. God still cares deeply about us and our well-being is of great concern to him. So, we should rest from our labors periodically so that we may be better able to do God’s work in the future. That is the twofold purpose of rest, first, for our own sake so that we may better serve Him, but also for His sake, so we may honor him.

I hope you all get some time for rest this weekend and on the 4th.

bookmark_borderJune 23rd, 2023

Psalm 3:3-5 CSB – But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me.

In the fall of 2019, we found out, after more than a year of trying, that Anneke was pregnant. In October 2019, we lost the baby. Not long after, Anneke got pregnant again, and in January 2020, we lost that baby as well. Both times leading up to the miscarriage, during, and in the aftermath, we were praying out asking God to deliver us from what we were going through. These were gut-wrenching, soul-crushing, hard prayers, that, at least in our eyes, went unanswered. We were both incredibly sad, angry, bitter, and ready to give up on ever having children.

After the second miscarriage though, something strange happened. When we were finally to the point where we could go out in public and attend church again, two couples that we both look up to surrounded us. Not in a spiritual sense, but in a very real, literal sense. For at least two months, every Sunday that we were in morning service, one of these couples would sit directly in front of us, and the second couple directly behind us. Both knew our situation, but both also had the decency to give us the emotional space we needed. However, they were there, acting as our shield when we felt so vulnerable. It was amazing. Just their presence was such a comfort. After a couple of months of this, and almost as if on cue, we all started sitting in different spots of the building.

Looking back on it now, that can’t be anything short of God providing provision for Anneke and me when we weren’t in a position to be able to take care of ourselves. We were shielded from a lot of people who have good intentions, but say insensitive things because they don’t know what else to say. We were shielded from people who were just nosy and wanted us to relive the trauma for their benefit so they’d be “in the know”. God shielded us from a lot of that until we were able to stand on our feet again. For me, it was a confirmation that God was with us, even though we didn’t understand why we had to endure what we had to endure. I still don’t understand why we had to go through all of that. But at least I know he was with us while we did and he provided for us in his own way.

bookmark_borderJune 16th, 2023

John 20:29 CSB – Jesus said (to Thomas), “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

John 14:12 CSB – Truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.

The first verse is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture. Jesus makes a distinction between the people that saw him and knew of his ministry while he was on Earth and believed, and the folks that would come to believe after he left Earth having not seen him. In the second part of the first verse, he’s giving all of us a promise. A promise that we will be blessed because we believe, not having seen him in the flesh, and only hearing about him from the testimony of others and through his holy word. To me, that acknowledges a greater level of faith required by future believers, which also serves as an assurance that I have at least the faith of an apostle, folks who had seen and believed.

And then Jesus tells us that since we believed, either by sight or by faith, we will go on to do even greater works than he himself did. A little later in John 14, he says “I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you.” This is part of the promise of the Holy Spirit indwelling within those who believe in Christ. We will do greater things than Jesus, not because of our own faith and belief and effort, but because of the power of the Father working directly through us via his Holy Spirit. 

Because we believe, the Holy Spirit, the essence of God himself, lives within us, to empower us to do his will, so that we continue the work that Jesus started. How amazing is it that he picked us, broken, hurting people, to continue his mission? And not only did he pick us, but he also gave us abilities and talents so that we would excel at specific things so that our work would have more of an impact on Christ’s kingdom. I can hardly fathom his perfect plan to help imperfect believers carry out kingdom work, but I’m thankful for it.

bookmark_borderJune 9th, 2023

This devotional is going to be a little different and I feel strongly enough about it to tackle it head-on. Last week began pride month for those in the LBGTQA+ community. Since then, I’ve seen a lot of Christians make disparaging remarks about the community as a whole based on broad generalizations and stereotypes. In the below verses, you’ll see how God defines love, who he tells us to love, and the limits of that love. Hint, there are no limits.

What is love?

1 Corinthians 13:1-8 CSB – If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…

1 John 4:16-29 CSB – And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. In this, love is made complete with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because as he is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love. We love because he first loved us…

Colossians 3:12–14 CSB – Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Who are we to love?

  • The Lord your God
  • Your neighbor.
  • The hungry.
  • The thirsty.
  • The stranger.
  • The naked.
  • The sick.
  • The prisoner.
  • One another.
  • The widow.
  • The fatherless (orphan).
  • The resident alien (immigrant).
  • The poor.

Matthew 22:36-39 CSB – “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 25:35-40 CSB – “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’ “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Zechariah 7:8-10 CSB – The word of the Lord came to Zechariah: “The Lord of Armies says this: ‘Make fair decisions. Show faithful love and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the resident alien or the poor, and do not plot evil in your hearts against one another.’

I have several friends in the LBGTQA+ community and as our friendships have developed over the years, they have gained enough trust in me as a person, by how I treat them, to be open to me witnessing Christ into their lives. A seed has been planted that otherwise wouldn’t be there. It wasn’t always this way for me. The church I was raised in was pretty harsh towards the LBGTQA+ community and the result was I had the same attitude as I grew into an adult. The person that changed my view was a man named Terry Morrison. I worked with Terry at my first IT job. When I met him, he was in a relationship with a woman, was a Christian, and became a great friend and mentor to me. At some point, his relationship failed, and one day he announced that he was gay.

My shields were immediately up and the attitude of my church overrode my previous personal feelings towards Terry. I began to treat him less than human and our friendship failed. A few months after that, due to some construction, Terry and I were placed into a windowless office by ourselves. I immediately complained to HR because I didn’t want to be in the same room alone with Terry because I didn’t agree with his lifestyle and I knew that it would make me uncomfortable. Do you know what happened? HR told me to suck it up.

At first, things were really hard. Terry was uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable, and that was that. After a month or so of not really talking to each other, Terry broke the ice by cracking a stupid IT joke. We both laughed and it was like the pane of glass between us shattered. Terry had chosen the path of love and wanted to repair a friendship that I broke because of my judgment of him. It was a humbling moment for me. Over time, while I still didn’t understand his lifestyle, I realized that Terry was still Terry. He was still the great friend and mentor that I met years prior. He has since passed on, but I’ll never forget him.

I say all of that, to say this. Whatever a person’s situation or lifestyle or belief system is, I choose to love them. “But the Bible says this or that or whatever…” At the end of the day, loving people is the most important thing. God commands us to do it. When you focus on loving the person first, all that other stuff tends to become less important. Love the person, the whole person, and you’ll show them a visage of Christ.

 

bookmark_borderMay 19th, 2023

Ephesians 1:22-23 CSB – And he subjected everything under his feet and appointed him as head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.

Over the last six weeks, I’d say, I’ve only been able to attend church in person, once. There were a few weeks where we missed attending because we were sick with Covid. Another week, Anneke was able to attend, but I was in Michigan at a convention. A couple more weeks were taken up by a family vacation where we roamed around Georgia and east Florida. The one week in the middle of all of that where I was actually able to attend felt like coming home but also felt like being introduced to a new group of people for the first time. I was so disconnected and felt awkward and nervous. Because I hadn’t been in regular communion with the body of Christ, I wasn’t functioning to my potential fullness. The verse above mentions… the church, which is his body… I am a part of the church, which is his body. I was disconnected from the body of Christ for a while because I was disconnected from the church, and I felt the effects of that. It was kind of a shriveling, fading feeling. That feeling serves as a stark reminder to me of how important it is to maintain connections with the body of Christ during busy times, sick times, and fun times. It’s essential to maintain those connections because if you don’t, you’re vulnerable to the machinations of the enemy.

Now that I’m able to attend again (and write devotionals again), I’m starting to get that “full” feeling back. I’m excited to be able to serve this Sunday and see folks that I haven’t seen in some time.