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.
Grace Disguised: Pain Has a Purpose
A kidney transplant isn’t fun – neither for the donor, nor the recipient – but especially for the donor. In a matter of hours, doctors make a sick person well (in this case, me) and a well person sick (in this case, my wife). Besides the big gash the surgeon sliced in me, I was feeling better several hours after the transplant as the toxin buildup was finally being flushed out of me. My wife? Not so much. I’m not sure she’s back to some sense of normal health almost three years later! Until her lone kidney adapted to being, well, alone, the toxins that were leaving me, were building up in her.
We might wish for a pain free life but think of the implications. No children, no discovery, no growth. Psychologist Carl Jung (a contemporary and friend of Sigmund Freud, and definitely not a follower of Jesus) wrote, “Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health.”
They are especially necessary for spiritual growth. When we think of admiral traits in a person, we think of patience, kindness, generosity, reliability, wisdom, etc. Not a single thing on the list comes naturally. Good character must be developed, usually through pain. Unfortunately, rare is the person who willingly seeks out the means to develop them, so the Lord brings discipline.
John Piper (who is always good for a turn of a phrase) calls this being “weaned off the breast of self-reliance.” It’s only when God puts on us more than we can handle that we begin relying on him. Nobody says they’ve learned the deep lessons in life when there was plenty of money in the bank, no relational conflict, and in perfect health. But countless people have testified that it was during their darkest seasons that they felt close to God, and indeed grew in faith, developed contentment, and became less satisfied with worldly things.
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn was a decorated WWII veteran in the Russian army with all the accolades that come with it. But he spent years in the Russian gulags for criticizing Josef Stalin. While in suffering terribly in prison he came face-to-face with himself and learned that he was no better than his captors. He wrote, “Bless you prison. I have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there and I say without hesitations: bless you prison for having been in my life.”
Paul wrote in 2nd Cor. 1:8-9 – We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. 9 Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead…
Are you at a place in your faith where you can praise Jesus for the pain you inevitably experience? Can you say, “Bless you pain? You nourished my soul?”
Timeless: Turn Coveting into Contentment
As the widow of tobacco magnate William Garret, Henrietta Garret left a $17 million estate behind when she died in 1930. That’s about the same as leaving behind $265 million today. You would think someone with a fortune like that would be highly responsible in her affairs. Maybe she generally was. Except, she never got around to preparing a will.
That small detail led to 26,000 people, from 47 states, and 29 foreign countries (including Nazi Germany) making claim on the fortune. Records were faked, names were legally changed, baptismal records altered, resulting in 12 fines, 10 prison sentences, 3 murders, and 2 suicides. In 1937 the court even ordered her corpse be exhumed (you can watch the film. Really!) in case a will had actually been prepared but buried with her. It wasn’t. Finally, the estate was divided among three distant cousins and a few work associates in 1952, so don’t get any bright ideas.
What would drive people to such lengths? Ultimately, it’s coveting.
Guest speaker Jeff Dye did a great job of teaching about it last Sunday. Watching on Facebook Live the thought occurred to me that coveting is not so much the fear of doing without, but the fear of missing out. Jeff used the example of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They had everything they could possibly need or want. EVERYTHING! Yet, the devil found a weak spot and tempted them to covet more – that their lives are good but could be really good if only they had the wisdom God had; to know good and evil. Adam and Eve thought, “Hmm. You mean there’s something better? I need that! I can’t live without that!” Until right then, it hadn’t even occurred to them. They got what was promised – wisdom to know good and evil. They also got what God promised – death.
Another word for coveting might be discontent. Simply not being satisfied with what the Lord has provided. It results in a lack of peace and sense of well-being. It may not kill you physical, but certainly emotionally, mentally, spiritually. There is always something more to want – another shiny thing, another experience, another person’s life. It never ends and wears one out.
But Jesus said in Matthew 11, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
All our longings are satisfied in Jesus, not because he’s a cosmic genie, but because he fills that dry spot in the soul.
The Reality of Christmas
December 25, 2020.
Make no doubt, Lee Strobel was an atheist. He’s not now; he came to the truth of Christ a long time ago, and has written some of the finest apologetic material available. But before that he was as cynical an atheist as could be found. That might be understandable considering his line of work as an investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune newspaper. That lends itself to cynicism.
Strobel became a Jesus follower through the influence of his wife, and went on to write a series of books – The Case for Christ; The Case for Faith; the Case for a Creator. In his book, The Case for Christmas he writes about an experience he had when he was still a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. I quote it below.
I was sitting at my desk when my mind went back to a family I had encountered about a month earlier while working on a series of articles about Chicago’s neediest people. The Delgados, sixty year old Perfecta, and her granddaughters Lydia and Jenny – had been burned out of their roach-infested tenement and were now living in a tiny two room apartment on the West Side. As I walked in, I couldn’t believe how empty it was. There was no furniture, no rugs, nothing on the walls – only a small kitchen table and a handful of rice. That’s it. They were virtually devoid of possessions.
In fact, eleven year old Lydia and thirteen year old Jenny owned only one short-sleeved dress each, plus one thin, gray sweater between them. When they walked the half mile to school through the biting cold, Lydia would wear the sweater for part of the distance, and Jenny would wear it the rest of the way.
But despite their poverty and the painful arthritis that kept their grandmother Perfecta from working, she still talked confidently about her faith in Jesus. She was convinced that he had not abandoned them. I never sensed despair or self-pity in their home; instead there was a gentle feeling of hope and peace.
I wrote an article about the Delgados and moved on to more exciting assignments. But as I sat at my desk on Christmas Eve, I continued to wrestle with the irony of the situation: here was a family that had nothing but faith but yet seemed happy; I had everything I needed materially but still lacked faith – and inside I felt as empty and barren as their apartment.
It was slow news day so I drove over to see how the Delgados were doing now. When Jenny opened the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes. People who had read my article had responded with gifts – rooms full of furniture, appliances, rugs. A lavish Christmas tree with gifts piled underneath; carton upon carton of food, clothing, including at least a dozen winter coats, scarves and gloves. On top of that, they donated thousands of dollars in cash.
But as surprised as I was by this outpouring, I was astonished by what I was interrupting: Perfecta and her granddaughters were preparing to give away much of their newfound wealth. When I asked Perfecta why, she replied in halting English, “Our neighbors are still in need. We have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would do.”
That blew me away. If I had been in their position at that time in my life, I would have been hoarding everything. I asked Perfecta what she thought of the generosity of the people who had sent all these goodies, and again her response amazed me.
“This is wonderful. This is very good. We did nothing to deserve this – it is a gift from God. But, it’s not his greatest gift. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. That is Jesus.”
To her that child in the manger was the undeserved gift that meant everything – more than material possessions, more than wealth, more than comfort, more than security. And at that moment, something inside me wanted desperately to know Jesus – because in a sense I saw him in Perfecta and her granddaughters.
They had peace despite poverty while I had anxiety despite plenty. They knew the joy of generosity while I only knew the loneliness of ambition. They looked to heaven for hope while I had only myself. They experienced the wonder of the spiritual while I was shackled to the shallowness of the material – something made me long for what they had. Or, more accurately the One they knew.
If Jesus’ birth does anything, it should be that. The reality of His birth should make us more and more aware the differences between a life/Christmas with Jesus and a life /Christmas without Jesus.
If Jesus was not born, lived, died, as a real person, then all this Christmas stuff is meaningless, shallow, empty. Christmas would have no more meaning than Arbor Day. Christmas might as well be about an incredibly old man dressed in a red suit delivering presents while being pulled by flying reindeer. Christmas is just a fantasy we all engage in once a year that makes us feel warm and cozy and generous for a few days before we go back to real life. If Jesus birth isn’t real, just like the Bible records it, then life really is about hoarding up all one can get. Without Jesus, there is no reason to give anything and December 26th life returns to normal and nothing has change.
But Jesus is real and that changes everything. He really was born to a virgin mother in a barn and slept in the slobbery feed trough. God gave us the ultimate undeserved gift of His son. Because of the reality of Christmas, followers of Jesus have hope that the rest of the world does not have. We can’t maintain the fantasy of Christmas year-around. But we can live in the reality of Jesus’ birth every day.
For a Christmas morning devotion, read Titus 3:4-7. And Merry Christmas.
Timeless: Keep Sex Sacred
December 6, 2020
Murder and adultery are the same. Well, obviously not the same in terms of definition but definitely in result: profound loss. What was, cannot be recovered, and has implications for years if not decades. Both destroy what God has high value for – life and marriage. Their similarity may be why God put the prohibition for each next to each other in the 10 Commandments, (numbers 6 & 7) and made the penalty for each the same – death.
Marriage helps us understand the unity of the Godhead in the trinity. It’s an illustration of the fidelity Jesus has to his church, and in turn our fidelity to him. 80% of the time “adultery” or similar terms are used in the Bible, it’s used as a metaphor for unfaithfulness to him – spiritual adultery. It’s called “the great sin.” God takes this seriously!
This is probably why the devil works so hard to tear it down. He lies to us that unmarried sex is much better than married sex, it’s only physical, and one will be much happier exercising total sexual freedom in any way at any time. Those who advocate for biblical values are simply prudish and seek to use religion as a means of control.
We don’t have to wait to find out if any of that’s true. In the name of sexual freedom, millions of children have been killed; thousands more are exploited; some are born with STD’s passed to them by their mother; marriages are broken leaving the children scared, scarred, disillusioned, and adrift, often blaming themselves. (Notice a theme here? It’s always the children that pay. Sin never happens in a vacuum. Innocent people suffer. Thank you, sexual freedom.)
When God says “no” to something, he’s saying “yes” to something better – in this instance purity, and the protections it grants. A pure person is protected from guilt, disease, manipulation, embarrassment. Our witness for the gospel is not only protected but enhanced. One doesn’t experience the wreckage of broken relationships. Most of all, our relationship with Jesus grows as we continually deny what our sinful nature would have us do and carry his cross.
If that doesn’t describe you, it’s not too late. Under Christ, our disobedience can be overcome and overwhelmed by his freeing grace. He can take what we’ve turned to ashes and make something beautiful. He calls anyone to a new life made clean.
Timeless: Protect Life
November 29, 2020
Atheists never really seem to do their homework. Maybe I should say the keyboard atheists don’t do their homework. Some who are more scholarly might know better what they’re talking about, but not by much.
This is especially true when it comes to the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.” (Ex. 20:13 ESV). For example, former atheist (I say “former” because he died in 2011. I guarantee he’s no longer an atheist) Christopher Hitchens used to criticize God for commanding the Israelites to destroy everything and everyone when invading the Promised Land. He viewed that as a contradiction of the sixth commandment. He called a God like that a monster and not to be believed in.
He would be right… if what God commanded were murder. It wasn’t. Murder is the purposeful taking of an innocent human life. Key word: innocent. God made provision for the execution of murderers, what we call capital punishment, and commanded the killing of Canaanites (aka Amorites) because neither are/were innocent.
Canaanite religion was demonic, wicked. You can read about it in Deuteronomy 18, but the worst of it included the sacrifice of children in the most cruel of means – burning and roasting them alive, while partying themselves into a frenzy listening to the screams. Totally depraved and hardly innocent by any standard.
However, God granted mercy to even them. In a cryptic passage given during the time of Abraham, Genesis 15:16 implies that He will eventually deal with their abhorrent practices granting a reprieve until judgment through His people several generations later. And even though the Bible doesn’t mention it, it would have been God’s nature to send prophet after prophet pleading for repentance. They clearly did not.
God is not a hypocritical monster. He’s a God of justice who punishes wrongdoers. Isn’t that what we want? Do we want a God who lets awful people go? He doesn’t move as quickly as we might like – but rest assured: He will move. His righteousness demands it; we demand it.
So the critics and atheists just simply don’t understand (and probably don’t want to). God never takes innocent human life, but judges sinners. Which leads to an interesting question: are any of us innocent?
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.