Welcome to the Insights page. Below are devotional thoughts that might be of help for your walk with Jesus. At the bottom of the page is a form by which you can submit prayer requests, share what God’s doing in your life, or simply ask a question that’s on your mind. If you intend for your request to be confidential, please make a note of it and will leave it off our central prayer list. Blessings.
Timeless: Take a Day Off!
November 17, 2020
I loved, then hated, then loved , the COVID lockdown.
By nature, I am introverted. I enjoy good conversation, don’t avoid crowds, and generally like a party. But they drain me. Eventually I need to go home and read a book, listen to music, work in the yard – all of which refill the emotional, mental, and spiritual tanks.
When everything including churches closed and everyone stayed home, I thought, “Fine. This is the way the world should be anyway.” Whether I’m at home or the church office, I’m pretty much to myself already so I couldn’t tell any difference. I just saw it as more time to “refill the tanks.” I loved it.
Then came the issue of how to deliver teaching to our church. I mean, they don’t pay me to just sit home and read, mow my lawn, and find new (or old) music that amuses me. It was suggested that we video me preaching and upload to YouTube and our website. Getting the content ready was routine of course. I do it 50 or so weeks a year. The video parts? Not so much.
Every Friday around 5:00ish, I would pack up the ad-hoc video gear I had collected and drag it to the church building, where I would attempt to video myself. I say “attempt” because there was always, ALWAYS, a technical problem (see “ad-hoc video gear”). What should have taken an hour would turn into two, sometimes three. I hated it. THEN, I got to take it home, edit the thing on a computer not designed for video editing and send it to Joseph, our worship leader. He would add a worship segment the team had prepared, send the whole thing back to me, where I would then upload it to YouTube and the website. (He later shared with me what a hassle he was having too. See “ad-hoc video gear”). Due to the size of the files, this would take HOURS; generally, all day Saturday and into early Sunday morning. Every. Single. Week. I hated it.
However, one thing kept me going: Sundays. Once the teaching was uploaded, I had nothing to do. So, Leann and I would get up later than usual. We would eat a late breakfast; worship at South Jeff’s YouTube channel (challenge – try watching yourself preach sometime. I dare you); and relax the rest of the day with music, family, and food. No work, just rest. I had trouble convincing a certain driven someone to whom I’m married to see the blessing, but we generally took the time to recharge.
Sunday’s made me love the lockdown. It was a day off as I imagined God intended when he commanded us to do so in Exodus 20:8-11. It’s the devil who would enslave us to a life of constant work, convincing us that going a little harder and a little longer will eventually reap a time to rest. But it’s always a vague rest in the future. God grants it now.
Hebrews 4:9-10 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.
Our Father has his hand on the wheel and wants us – command us – to trust him. I promise you’ll love it.
Timeless: The Ten Commandments
Respect God’s Name – Exodus 20:7
November 12, 2020
Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
When an athlete endorses a product like shoes, there are always some conditions delineated in the contract. For example, the athlete must only wear that manufacturers products. Being caught publicly wearing the shoe or shirt of a competitor can mean serious consequences including voiding the contract and owing money.
Another condition has to do with conduct, often called “morals clauses.” An athlete is expected to behave in ways that would not reflect poorly on the company. These clauses are generally extreme in nature, meaning the athlete would have to be almost trying to behave in dramatic ways like being a drug kingpin or obviously cheating. More than one athlete has been fired and even sued for breaking this clause. Bicyclist Lance Armstrong was famously removed by the board of directors from his own foundation for his lying and cheating!
Why the conditions? Because the athlete is expected to represent the name of the company well.
Paul says in Galatians 3:27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (NIV). In Revelation 17 and 21, John describes the invisible name stamped on each person becoming visible – the name of God or of the beast (the anti-name).
As disciples of Jesus, we’ve been adopted into God’s family, and therefore committed to wearing the logo of Jesus. We’re personally stamped with his name. When we pray “hallowed be your name,” we’re praying that his name, through us, be lifted, honored, protected, made famous. To do otherwise is to violate the covenant and lift his name in vain – emptiness, for self-promotion.
The Lord takes the use of His name very seriously, to the point that it’s the one command out of the ten that comes with its own consequence: God will not hold guiltless the one who misuses his name (Exodus 20:7).
Taking God’s name in vain is far more than simply using it as an expletive or to endorse a decision. It’s about our lifestyle. Do we make decisions with godly wisdom? What worldview do we live by? Do we defend God’s honor in respectful ways? Does our conduct reflect well on Jesus’s family name, or does it bring shame and embarrassment?
To treat His name lightly is to treat his gift lightly. What gift? Himself. Devaluing his name is to devalue his majesty, his grace, his sacrifice, his nature. It’s the same as saying, “He doesn’t mean all that much to me.”
Finally… a new post!
Yes. It’s been awhile since I’ve added to the Insights Page. March, if you’re keeping up. But you must admit, a lot’s been going on since March. Not only that, I also don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to “blogging.” But I’ve learned some things and now understand how to be more consistent. Sort of.
This space will mainly be used to recap the previous week’s message, include some additional material, and/or share relevant information from outside sources. We hope it’s helpful in your walk with Jesus.
Timeless: The Ten Commandments
No Idols – Exodus 20:4-6
The second command tells us not to make an image of God or anything representing God to bow down and worship it. Easy enough, right? We’re surely more sophisticated than those third-world rubes who craft all kinds of statues and objects treating them as “gods.” Of all the ten, we’ve at least avoided breaking this one. That’s in the win column. Unless…
Idolatry is venerating something or someone else other than God as the means for personal blessing and/or spiritual fulfillment. It’s bowing of the heart in hope and reverence to something created rather than the creator. Someone said that “Idolatry is making a good thing an ultimate thing.” Why would we do that? Because the thing makes us feel good, and, in a very real sense, we being to worship it.
After his very first experience with alcohol, and later a serious drug addiction, actor Jason Isaacs said all he could think about was, “I cannot … wait to do that again. Why? I’ve no idea. Genes? Nurture? Star sign? I just know I chased the sheer ecstatic joy I felt that night for another 20 years…”
That’s worship talk. That’s idolatry talk.
Almost anything can become an idol. In our culture, money heads the list, followed closely by sex. Opioids are in the running for the top spot. Sports, alcohol, food, gambling, video gaming, and even ministry all compete for our affections and devotion over our Creator. But these are mere symptoms of the root problem.
The real issue is, and has always been beginning with Adam, the idolatry of self. It’s “self-worship.” The above are simply things one uses in ritual worship of self, to appease oneself, to fulfill self, to pleasure self. In it all, self is the focus. Author David Wells has observed that even the contemporary church is enslaved to the worship of self, preferring to preach a “gospel” of how Jesus can fix your flaws, your marriage, your finances, your self-doubts. In other words, faith in Jesus has benefits – for me! So we follow him for what he can do to make my life better.
Eugene Peterson writes, “We’ve all met a certain type of spiritual person. She’s a wonderful person. Loves the Lord. Prays and reads the Bible. But all she thinks about is herself. Not that she’s selfish, but she’s always at the center of everything she’s doing. ‘How can I witness better? How can I do this better? How can I take care of this person’s problem better?’ It’s me, me, me, disguised in a way that’s difficult to see because her spiritual talk disarms us.”
See how subtle and sinister idolatry of self can be? Sound like anyone you know? Sound like you? This is why the writer of Hebrews reminds us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2). Looking to Him makes it impossible to focus on ourselves, preventing idolatry.
Living in the Biosphere
James 1:2-3 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
In the late 80’s, early 90’s, millionaire Ed Bass sponsored an ambitious project called “Biosphere 2” (Earth being Biosphere 1). The centerpiece of the experiment was a 3-acre structure intended to be hermetically sealed off from the outside world, able to fully and indefinitely support human life for two years – much like what would be required in space. The designers included a rainforest, a savannah, trees, vegetable plants, insects, chickens, a goat – even a miniature ocean! They really believed they had included everything necessary to be a miniature earth. September 26, 1991, eight specialists were sealed inside.
In almost identical (and scary) ways Biosphere 2 was exactly like Biosphere 1 which ultimately derailed the whole thing, but that’s for a different article. (Hint: federal marshals were involved.) They also ran into another unexpected problem. The trees they were counting on for food and oxygen fell over. Ed Bass, dozens of engineers, scientists, and other reasonably intelligent people didn’t seem to know that when the wind causes a tree to sway, the tree responds to the stress by strengthening its wood. When in an environment without the stress, like in Biosphere 2, it only develops weak wood and can’t resist gravity. It falls over. For a tree to even be a stress is good.
It’s natural for human beings to desire a stress-free life: all needs always met; no relational conflict; success at whatever we put our hand to; no health issues. Ironically, we expend a lot of energy toward fashioning a life where that’s true. But is that always a good thing?
James says it isn’t. In fact, we should meet trials and testing with “joy” when (not if) they occur. Why? They cause us to develop the “strong wood.” But when stress or trouble comes to a follower of Jesus, our first question is almost always, “Why is this happening?” Or even, “Why is God punishing me?” James says instead to meet it with confidence. It’s an opportunity for growth. God did not necessarily cause it, but he can certainly use it for our good and his glory.
COVID-19 is not something anyone foresaw or intentionally caused, but it’s sure causing a lot of stress – People are sick, losing jobs, isolated, fearful, unable to meet with their spiritual family, cooped up, etc. There are many unknowns. Regardless of what happens, disciples of Jesus can embrace this season as one of growth, hardening the resolve of our faith. If nothing else, it keeps us longing for the day Jesus returns and sets things right.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Depending on Fireworks to Save Us
Matthew 7:21-23 – “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name and do many powerful deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. God away from me, you lawbreakers.” (New English Translation)
When in scripture we read the same word in succession like above, (Lord, Lord…) it’s usually to indicate strong emotion. The most famous example is when Jesus is on the cross and he cries out quoting Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
In the context of Matthew 7:21ff, these people have come to the terrifying realization that they spent their life working for God and even doing spectacular things but are not a citizen of the Kingdom. They’re calling out “Lord, Lord…” in a desperate plea to make their case for the Kingdom based on emphatic confessions and fantastic works. Put yourself in that moment. It’s a terrible thing to realize that what you thought to be true about your eternity isn’t true. Jesus is warning that great emotion and great works are no indication of a relationship with him. It may have simply been a way to get attention.
The Holy Spirit can, and does, sometimes work through people in dramatic ways who really have not been saved; even letting them be instrumental in genuinely bringing others into the Kingdom! (Why He allows this is yet another thing he’s neglected to explain to me, but I digress.)
In our own work and worship, it’s important to not get too swept up in the emotion of it, or lack of it, as a measure of our relationship with Jesus. Sometimes we’ll feel very close to him. Sometimes we won’t. That’s part of the ebb and flow of the relationship, or even our own physical condition. What the Lord does measure is our obedience to his moral law, which he’s just outlined in the chapters before. And even when we fail that, we still trust our salvation to Christ, for ultimately, it’s dependent on him.