A Stroll At Leisure With God

Daystar Plan, Day 31: A Report and Two Lifetime Gifts

Before I get into what I want to write about today, I just want to give a report about Andy’s surgery yesterday. Everything went well, and as things turned out, the operation took a lot less time than any of us had originally anticipated. Maybe, when the doctor told the family that it would take four to five hours, he was talking about initial recovery time as well. Who knows?

Thanks for your prayers. However, as a pastor that Andy Jr. talked to here said (relating to Andy), “Now is not the time to stop praying.” Please keep it up. Again, I really appreciate it. I heard from some folks at First Southern who told me they were praying for Andy. Thanks so much.

Well, anyway, I want to make a few more comments about yesterday, and I know they will sound a little selfish. I guess they are …

Let me back up first. A few days before I left to come here, my mom and sister and I were talking about the time when we first started attending Calvary Baptist Church of Englewood where Andy was pastor. Marilyn said something like, “It was a breath of fresh air.”

Absolutely right.

My mom and Andy had an immediate connection because both are from Kansas. Marilyn made some friends among her female contemporaries in the church—the main one was Connie, one of Andy and Joanne’s daughters, but Sharon and Karen (two other daughters) were also in that group.

The transition to the new church had a huge impact on my life and future ministry.

Please don’t take this as my blaming anyone at University Hills. I’m not. But for the first few years of my church life, I always felt like the biggest nerd in the world. I did not cavort with others in the youth group all that much. I sat up near the front by myself because I wanted to hear the sermon. I went to a private school no one had ever heard of. And I did not get that involved with youth activities, especially in the summer, because I was at the golf course six days a week.

By the way, I appreciate my mom and dad allowing me to do this. Not every parent would, but their philosophy was, “John, you have plenty of years to be adult and work; when you are a kid, be a kid.” So, I chose to play golf and hang out with the friends I had made at the golf course—not all of whom were believers.

I say all that to assert that the reason I felt like an outsider at church was my own fault, but be that as it may, when we left UHills and found Calvary, things changed dramatically because of gift number one. Andy and his family were and still are GREAT “includers.” It didn’t take long until all three of us were a part of the church.

Andy and his family NEVER made me feel like a nerd. That feeling was gone when we started going to Calvary. Andy’s family and Andy and Andy Jr. in particular were a big part of that.

I don’t think they will ever know this side of eternity what a huge impact they have had on my life. I am certain I would not be a pastor had it not been for Andy and his family AND watching them helped me learn how to include and affirm folks.

I watched Andy and Andy Jr. do it.

So, that is gift number one, and here is gift number two: laughter. Now, this is why I say that my comments sound selfish

But here is a very simple reason among many, many others why I like to hang out with Andy and his family—they make ME laugh. And, as I was pondering this last night, I realized: every single one of Andy’s seven kids has a great sense of humor.

Of course, Andy Jr. is at the top of that list. I know him the best. He is one of my best friends in the world. Would you say that one of the great hallmarks of friendship is laughter?

But I could go down the list: Sharon, Ron, Karen, Steve, and Stan. Connie is not here, but she definitely fits in that category—maybe has the “driest” wit of all.

Anyway, sometimes I find myself thinking about what one of them said, and I laugh, even when no one is around, sometimes in the middle of the night.

Doesn’t that say something? (No comments about my sanity here, please). I think that is a huge affirmation of the kind of parents Andy and Joanne are.

SO, I want you to get this scenario. Here we all are at the hospital most of the day yesterday, waiting for Andy’s surgery. This is a serious operation. Everyone is concerned. Of course they are. I was honored to be a part of a prayer meeting as all the kids and spouses and grandkids mashed into Andy’s room and we prayed for him.

This was somber business, no doubt about it and if someone heard, “John was at the hospital most of the day on his vacation. What a downer!” NOPE! Exactly the opposite. Exactly. Again, sure, it was a serious deal. I don’t want any of you to think it wasn’t. (Have I said this enough?)

HOWEVER, in that setting, we LAUGHED.

As I spend more time here, I realize that I just don’t laugh (I mean really laugh, belly laugh, almost to the point of tears laugh) enough.

Lord, thank you for bringing Andy through his surgery. Help him in his recovery beginning today. Speed it up. Thank you for the lifetime gifts of inclusion and laughter. All good gifts ultimately come from You. You are the ultimate Includer Who Laughs at us and with us. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 30: Andy's Triple By-Pass Surgery

I cannot begin to describe the emotion I felt as I walked down the hall on the fourth floor of St. Marks Hospital here in Salt Lake City.

When I found room 409, I noticed that some of the family was in there around Andy’s bed, but the surgeon was speaking to Andy at that very moment.

He seemed to be a rather stern man, peppering Andy with questions, at one point saying, “That’s not what I asked you. Answer my question.”

I guess when you are talking about heart surgery, there is no time to mess around, no time for pleasantries.

At the conclusion of his “interview,” he told Andy that tomorrow, IF he was able to complete another surgery in time, he would do the operation. If the other surgery took longer, then he would operate on Thursday.

When the surgeon left, Andy talked with those of us who were in the room as he was understandably trying to grasp what the doctor had just said.

I have to tell all of you who are reading this that during THAT time, my heart went out to him. Suddenly, the proverbial shoe was on the other foot.

Andy was with me when I made my first hospital visit.

I don’t really remember much of the details of what happened, except that, when we left I remarked on a couple of things. First, Andy did not freak out as we entered the hospital room. I’m sure that “freaking out” for many would be an obvious that one would NEVER do, of course. But that is precisely what I wanted to do.

Hospitals are intimidating places. Let’s just be honest. I’m sure that some who are reading this would disagree, I guess, but no one wants to be there. No one raises his or her voice in a hospital. You don’t just barge into a room, although I had to learn NOT to do this as well.

When you enter a room, usually a patient is sleeping OR hooked up to tubes and machines and is awkwardly vulnerable. Hospital gowns (who invented them?) never fit very well. I think I will leave my comments there.

Anyway, when I started visiting hospitals with Andy, I had to deal with a lot of baggage on my part. Hospitals always reminded me of people in my family who had died.

When my dad had cancer, my mom was very diligent not to make Marilyn and I hang out in the hospital for hours on end. We always made quick visits, but even so, I hated hospitals and patently didn’t ever want to go into them.

But there I was with Andy as I was thinking, “And I believe the Lord is calling me to do THIS the rest of my life? I actually have to visit people in HERE?”

Second, and this is one of the great ways that Andy trained and discipled me—after our visit and all the visits I made with him—I left thinking, “Humm. Not that big of a deal.” Andy just talked and laughed with folks just like he did in the foyer of the church. No difference. None. And here was the amazing thing: they actually seemed to like it.

No one lying in a hospital bed wants a “parson” to come in with a long face.

Andy taught me to talk and laugh and pray and leave after a relatively short period of time.

But here is my point: isn’t THAT what true discipleship should be—that after you are done, the one who is being trained says, “Humm, I can do this. Not that big of a deal. Humm.”

Every time I visit a hospital NOW and actually I love to do this—I think of him.

And NOW, he is in one of those beds.

Lord, I pray for Andy and the family today. I pray that indeed this surgery would happen today. Give the doctors skill and wisdom, Dr. Jesus. Doctor of doctors. Lord of Hospitals and Hospital rooms and Hospital patients and Pastors. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 29: Long Night

As it turns out, I am able to post on this site ....

I’m on the run this morning. Last night was crazy. A tornado actually touched down at Denver International Airport and things shut down for a period of time.

Well, you know what that means. All schedules were changed. My original flight time was 7:09. I ended up leaving around 8:30. I got in Salt Lake about 10:00 PM.

After securing my rental car and headed out, I arrived at the place where I am staying about 11:00 PM.

Okay, so let me tell you quickly about my “abode” for the week. I balked at hotel rates in this town. I just refused to pay $139/night for a room just for me. But Marilyn stepped in and saved the day. She found a website named VRBO—Vacation Rentals By Owner.

We found a possibility in the part of town I needed to be in. We made contact and all the arrangements.

This place is a “Mother-in-Law” wing of a house—it is it’s own separate little apartment. It has a little living room and kitchen, along with the bedroom and bath. It has a garage as well that contains the washer and dryer.

Jennifer, the owner, met me when I arrived at 11:00 and showed me around my little place. She has a notebook filled with every bit of information one would ever need. As she left, she said, “If you need anything, just text me. Have a nice stay. Good night.”

This place is awesome! I love it! And, here is the kicker: I am saving $400.00 over what I would have paid in a hotel and this place is way nicer than any hotel room, I guarantee you.

Jennifer has said a lot about VRBO. She said, “Once people try this, they never go back to hotels.” Hello, McFly! I may be in that number.

I’m glad to be here to spend some time with my pastor/mentor, Andy, and his family.

Please pray for Andy. He is in the hospital apparently. The doctors are running some tests on him. There was another mishap in the family yesterday as well. I’ll tell you about that later.

As Andy Jr. called me to tell me about all of this, I shared about my mom. Please pray for her. She had a health issue before I left Denver.

In spite of all of this, I’m glad to be here, Lord. Thank you for getting me here safely. Thanks for providing this very nice place to stay. I pray for Andy and my mom and Andy Jr. today. Let me be an encouragement today because I know I will receive it. Amen.

Going On Vacation

Just wanted to let you know that I may not be able to write on this site for the next few days. I will catch up the blogs when I return or you can find me on Caringbridge or Facebook. If you have trouble, please email me and I will be glad to help. Thanks!

Daystar Plan, Day 28: A Good Day But Too Much Going On for My Tiny Brain

Yesterday was an off-the-charts day for several reasons. I want to make that clear from the start.

But Jeremy and I were talking after he did another great job of teaching the prayer study in the Sunday school hour yesterday. I said something like, “Jeremy, great job, but I felt for you as you taught this morning. It just seemed more difficult. I felt that with you and for you.”

I experienced the same thing in the worship service.

The group from Bixby was there. They are an awesome collection of servants. I got to meet the pastor. We were able to spend a few minutes talking. I thanked him for coming to help us out, and said, “I wish I could hang with you guys this week. I’m actually leaving on vacation tomorrow so I won’t be able to.”

He smiled, “No problem. Have a great trip!”

But in the service, there were some special guests there as well. My great friends and former members of our fellowship were there—Lou, Pam, and Brit—along with Ray and Kim. I had no idea they were coming, but it was wonderful to see them.

Plus, a pastor friend and his wife were visiting as well.

As I stood up to greet everyone, I said, “You know what? I think we may have more guests today than members of our fellowship here!”

Anyway, all of that is good, VERY GOOD, but in the course of the message and service, it just seemed more difficult. As I sit here this morning, it hit me that maybe the reason for this is that you put more pressure on yourself when guests are there. … I don’t know.

I certainly don’t feel any from the group from Oklahoma or my friends. That isn’t it … I don’t know.

But please pray for Jeremy and the group as they minister this week. They will be passing out fliers in the afternoons and conducting services at the park and at the church in the evenings all the way through Wednesday night. It is going to be a busy week.

I have a couple of other distractions this morning as well. I will tell you about one of them tomorrow but just getting ready to leave town is always a challenge for me because I have to think about details such as how many pairs of socks I am going to pack and profound stuff like that. Ha. It taxes the brain.

But small things matter to the Lord. I love that story in Mark 14 of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet:

"But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’” (Mark
14: 6-9 ESV).

At first glance, this seemed to be a rather insignificant act on the part of this woman. Some who were present criticized her for “wasting” the expensive perform.

Jesus disagreed. Nothing any of us do for Him is EVER wasted. He commends her in two ways: “she has done a good thing” and “she did what she could.”

I keep that in mind after days like yesterday when I don’t “feel good” about my sermon.

The Lord is in charge of all of that.

We never know how He is going to use what we do for Him.

Lord, I’m so grateful for everyone who was there yesterday. Thank you that you use us in spite of ourselves. I pray for Jeremy and the group as they minister this week. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 27: Moses Blew It

One of the passages in the reading for today describes Moses’ response to one of the many times the people grumbled and complained about their life in the wilderness.

After Moses prayed, the Lord told his servant to speak to the Rock (I am capitalizing this word intentionally; I’ll explain in a moment), and water would flow so that the people could satisfy their thirst and give their cattle water to drink. All well and good so far.

"Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.’ These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy" (Numbers
20: 10-13 ESV).

God told Moses to speak to the Rock; he didn’t do it. He struck the Rock twice. He was put out with the complaints, the incessant complaints of the people.

Okay, here is the deal. This story has always bothered me for a few reasons. The analogy hits a little too close to home, especially because in more than one instance, the people in the wilderness, at least in the ESV, are referred to as a congregation (see for example, Numbers 20:22, ESV).

Moses was trying to lead his people to follow the Lord and trust the Lord, much as pastors and church leaders do today, but they were never happy. They were never content. They were always complaining and griping about what they didn’t have. And they were always complaining to Moses and making it personal.

And, Moses just got sick of it, and frankly, I don’t blame him. I can understand it.

So, out of anger and frustration, instead of speaking to the Rock once, he struck it twice. I’m not trying to minimize disobedience at all. Please don’t misunderstand, but what made THIS sin so bad that God said to Moses, “Okay, you blew it. You are not going to lead my people into the Promised Land because of what you did at the waters of Meribah.”

Does God still operate this way today? This seems a little harsh, after all the good that Moses did and his intimate relationship with the Lord, but right there—I think THAT is the point.

Sin has consequences. No matter what we do. As someone has said, “You can choose your sin but you can’t choose your consequences.” This is tragic and very sad. I know from personal experience, but it is true.

But back to Moses’ relationship with the Lord and his leadership position—I do think that both of those makes us more responsible. Isn’t that what James 3:1 says? I’m going to paraphrase here, but it reminds to be very careful when we aspire to be teachers because when we teach, we are more responsible.

A couple more things: my preaching through 1 Corinthians has reminded me about a very important fact related to the wilderness wanderings. Paul affirms it in no uncertain terms. He states, “They drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4, ESV). If anyone else would have said it, it would have been allegory or typology (two illegitimate approaches to biblical interpretation, always, UNLESS the New Testament gives us warrant to interpret something in the Old Testament in a certain way—as is the case here), but Paul clearly says that the Rock was Christ.

This gives the whole event at Meribah a lot more significance, in my opinion. Only God has the right to strike the Rock and then only once is necessary. In his anger, Moses stepped way out of line because he presumed to play God. Very serious.

Back to the analogy of the congregation in the wilderness and congregations now—I do get exasperated at times in dealing with people, but what tempers me is two things. First, I think of the extent of God’s patience and love and forgiveness in my life. I’m the worst complainer in the history of mankind, and the Lord still loves me.

Second, I get tempered when I actually share fellowship in the body of Christ. I can’t begin to say how encouraged I was as a result of our men’s breakfast yesterday. Nine guys showed up. We had enough food for an army. We ate and then shared. I was full, in more ways than one. I’m thankful for each of those guys.

One young man came. His name is Patrick. He visited the church just a couple of weeks ago. After one visit, Bernard asked him to help him with some work, but he already is a part of the group. I told him so yesterday.

Lord, I still don’t get everything that happened at Meribah. All I know is that You are more than merciful and patient and loving and forgiving with me. And I am forever grateful. Thank you for the group from Bixby. I pray that we can express our gratitude to them and the folks from Elevate Church in Stapleton who will be worshiping with us today. “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 26: The Tragedy of Unbelief; The Triumph of Faith

I have to keep things rather short this morning. Of all days, I overslept!

On those nights where I just can’t sleep (and last night was one), when I finally do fall asleep, it takes a crane to pull me out of bed. I hate this! Sleeplessness continues to be an issue with this pills that I am taking.

Plus, I need to get moving because I have to get up to the church by 7:00 at the latest for the men’s breakfast. Larry and I are meeting then to get things ready.

Plus, I have to allow a little extra time in travel this morning. Betty called me last night to tell me that she heard they were doing construction on a section of I-25 just south of the church. I appreciated that call very much. She knows me well. She knows how much I get stressed out trying to drive that highway.

Well, anyway, I just want to cite two passages from the reading today. First, the tragedy of unbelief:
"But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it" (Numbers 14: 21-23 ESV).

Only two guys and their families made it. Why? Out of the group of spies and the entire nation, Joshua and Caleb were the only two who trusted that the Lord could take care of them if they stepped out in faith. And, so, they both lived and survived the forty-year circular trek in the wilderness and eventually did make it.

Jesus affirms the importance of faith for prayer (and everything else in the Christian life): "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11: 24 ESV).

Joshua and Caleb were confident because they believed that the Lord had already given them the Land. By grace, we must have that same confidence in the Lord. Jeremy has emphasized this word (because the Bible does; this passage in Mark is a case in point) in our prayer study.

Lord, I choose to be among that very small percentage of folks, even in our day and time, who really do trust you. Thank you for the men of our church. Help us to have a great time of fellowship today. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 25: The Leadership of Moses and the Bad Report

Reading for today: Numbers 8-13 and Mark 9

A couple of things stand out in the reading for today.

First of all, Moses had a special place of leadership. In Numbers 12, Miriam and Aaron oppose him because he married a Cushite wife.

Let me stop right here: as far as I can tell, this is a clear violation of God’s standard of holiness. He married a pagan! We don’t have more detail on this whole thing.

It seems to me that Miriam and Aaron have a point, but the Lord called all three of them out and said, “If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself know to him in a vision. I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8, ESV).

It is evident that Moses enjoyed a special place of intimacy with God and the presence of the Lord (the cloud) was with him.

I don’t think I have ever noticed this before, but on the Mount of Transfiguration, after the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and Peter’s rather rash remark, a cloud appeared! “And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him’” (Mark 9:7, ESV). Same cloud, but in the Gospel, God gives Jesus the nod as THE ONE to listen to.

The language here reminds me of a statement in Hebrews: “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant … but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in hope” (Hebrews 3:5-6, ESV).

Jesus has prominence as the ultimate Head of the House. We can trust Him and we can follow Him and we can claim our position as Jesus’ household IF we hold fast our confidence firm to the end.

This is the rub. This is NOT talking about losing salvation. Hebrews emphasizes the pilgrimage aspect of our faith. IF we are saved, THEN we will hold fast our confidence and our hope FIRM TO THE END.

Unlike the people of Israel in the wilderness. Numbers 13 describes the sending of the spies into Canaan, and (you know the story), ten out of twelve came back with an unbelieving report and most people bought it! What a tragedy! After all the great experiences the Lord had given His people (the Exodus at the top of the list), most of the folks in that original group did not make it. Only two—Hoshea (as he is referred to in Numbers 13) and Caleb.

Tuesday, in staff meeting, this whole topic came up as we spent time with the church directory praying for people in the church.

To be honest, it is rather depressing to do this because you see how many people’s names you come across, people you haven’t seen often in months or years. What does this mean? Well, I need to be careful here. I’m sure some of these folks have just left our fellowship and are going to another church.

But my fear is that some, perhaps a majority, have just dropped out and don’t go anywhere. What does this mean?

Well, as we discussed Wednesday night, some of these folks maybe have just encountered a tough time but will come back soon. This is what we pray for.

However, some (and this is God’s business; we don’t pronounce condemnation judgment) MAYBE have dropped away and don’t go to church any more because they were never saved in the first place.

Lord, I thank you that you do an awesome job of being in charge of your house. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for keeping me saved, but I pray that I would continue on FIRM to the end. I’m thinking of certain folks on our church roll (not going to name names here AND I know that we are not different from other churches in this regard). I pray that they would come back to you and go to church again—hopefully at First Southern where they are members, but somewhere, anywhere. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 24: Don't You Remember?

One of the best sermons I ever heard—I still think I have it on cassette tape somewhere—was “Boats and Bread.” Ron Dunn preached it.

In the early years of his ministry, Ron served as pastor of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Texas. I don’t know the whole story of what happened but somehow, the Lord led him out of that place of service to an itinerant preaching ministry. He went all over the country and world leading Bible conferences.

His tape ministry was huge. My mom had a subscription. We got just about every sermon that was available in his ministry. She and my sister would listen to the messages and then send them on to me.

Up until just a few months ago, I still had most of those cassettes along with literally hundreds of cassette tapes from other preachers I respect.

As I sold my house in Thornton and prepared to move here, it dawned on me, “I probably need to get rid of some of these cassette tapes, one of the main reasons being that I don’t even own a tape player any longer.” I got rid of a bunch of the sermons, but many, I just could not throw away.

Among the cassettes I still own are “Boats and Bread,” Dunn’s message from Mark 8:14-21. Some comments that Ron made still stick in my mind.

“Have you ever noticed how often Jesus taught his disciples from a boat?”

“Have you ever realized how often, after a miracle of bread, Jesus and his disciples got into a boat?”

“Unbelief has a short memory.”

“The key part of the two stories of the miraculous feeding of the 5000 and 4000 respectively is the left-overs. After the second miracle, the disciples filled seven baskets the size of a man with leftovers. How do you forget that?”

The whole point of the sermon was that, when we get preoccupied with our unbelief, we miss what God has already done and what he is doing. Jesus was trying to teach his disciples about the false teachings of the Pharisees and Herod, but they just didn’t get it. They could not hear him because of their focus on bread.

Basically, Jesus replies, “Are you kidding? Of all the things that you should never worry about, it is bread. How much did you pick up after the first miracle? How much did you pick up after the second? And you are still worried about bread? Are you kidding?”

I do believe that we have to be careful to continue to trust God in the area of his greatest provision.

Case in point: yesterday, at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, I was visiting with one of Dr. Jotte’s medical assistants—Laura. She said, “Well, John. All your blood levels check out. You say you are doing well. We are just looking forward to the CT scan next month, and we hope, really hope, that your cancer has diminished.”

“What if it hasn’t? What happens then?” Almost as quickly as those words left my mouth, I felt arrested by the Holy Spirit.

If was as if He said, “John, with the first diagnosis of your cancer, how did THAT turn out? With the second, didn’t you go ahead and take the trip to India and didn’t I take care of you there? Don’t you remember? Why are you even asking this question?”

Laura said, “John, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Father, I confess the perpetual tendency, like the disciples in the boat, to get preoccupied with my needs while I forget everything you have done up to this point. How can I do this? I choose to remember and rejoice in what you have done. Yes. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 23: Consequences vs. Suffering--Distinctions

Readings for Today in the Daystar Plan: Leviticus 25-27; Numbers 1-2; and Mark 6

Something struck me as I read the passages for today. First, in Leviticus 26, the Word of God lists the blessings for obedience. This is a relatively short and straightforward section in this chapter.

From verse fourteen on, however, the passage turns to delineate the curses or punishments for disobedience. Another word we could use at this point would be consequences.

These descriptions are a lot longer and more involved. One such result stands out:
"And I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze" (Leviticus
26:19 ESV).

This is a curious statement. I’m not exactly sure what it means, but here is my opinion: when the people of Israel chose to follow off other gods and yet at the same time prayed to God on occasion, their prayers “did not reach the ceiling.” This is a modern, idiomatic way we have of saying that the Lord did not hear our prayers.

Why would He?

There are many more items in this list of consequences for sin. This could very well be an historical litany of what happened to the people of Israel as they were defeated and went into exile in Babylon.

Anyway, that is one side of the coin.

Now, let’s move to a very tragic story in Mark 6—the story of the imprisonment and eventual martyrdom of John the Baptist. Every time I read this story, I get angrier.

John never lacked courage. So, when it came to calling sin, sin, it is no surprise that when it came to Herod’s sin with Herodias, he was not silent. Thus, Herod threw John in prison and kept him there, but the Bible says that Herod was afraid of John and did him no harm (at first) because he knew that John was a God-fearing man.

But (you know the story) the King made a rash promise at a party and backed himself in a corner. He had John’s head cut off and brought to Herodias.

What a terrible story! I just can’t get over it—to think that the last Old Testament prophet and the forerunner for Jesus died in such a useless and pointless way.

Here is my point in all of this: how does one discern the difference between consequences for sin (Leviticus 26) and suffering for the cause of Christ (Mark 6).

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have sat with someone who in anguish and grief is saying, “My life is so hard. It doesn’t seem as if my prayers are reaching the ceiling. The Lord must be punishing me for something …”

Ok, here is the difference in my opinion: unless the Holy Spirit is convicting me of a specific sin, then indeed what is happening is suffering for the cause of Christ.

John’s life was difficult, not because he was an idolater, but because he preached the truth.

Back to the whole prayer issue: the same is true in this arena. I believe that we can have confidence that the Lord hears our prayers as believers. It may not SEEM as if He does in certain situations, but we can trust God and the High Priest work of Jesus and the ministry of the Holy Spirit who intercedes on our behalf. The Lord does hear—every syllable, all the time.

Lord, this morning, search me and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any hurtful way in me (any idolatry I am lapsing into) and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139: 23-24, John paraphrase, parentheses mine). Thank you that you hear my prayers this morning.

I have a visit with the cancer doc this morning. I put the results of that routine visit in your hands. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 22: The Trajectory of Life and the Subject of Blasphemy Continued

I certainly don’t want to “beat a dead horse,” as the expression goes, but in my reading through Leviticus this morning, I came across another reference to blasphemy. I will get to it in a moment.

Yesterday, in addition to all the studying I had to do, I spent some time visiting with my pastor, Andy. He called. I am planning to take a trip to Salt Lake City next week to spend some time with him and his family.

I did this last year and had such a good time that I wanted to make sure I carved out time to do it this summer.

A few days ago, I received an email notification that a pastor in Texas had passed away. His first name was David. He was a mentor for Kenny, a friend of mine who lives in the Denver area. I sent Kenny an email, telling him that I was sorry to hear about this pastor’s death. Kenny replied. Among the things he said was, “David impacted the trajectory of my life.”

I love that metaphor—“the trajectory of life.” I play a sport where trajectory is very important, especially in windy conditions. One’s ability to negotiate trajectory often is the determinative factor in wins and losses in golf, especially links golf in The Open, as Rory’s victory last weekend demonstrated.

All of that to say … the Lord has used Andy and his family to have that same type of impact on the “trajectory” of my life. I don’t know how many more opportunities I’m going to have to spend time with him. I want to take advantage of each one.

Plus, it is just a ton of fun hanging around with his family. I laughed A LOT last year and fully expect to do the same this year.

We are also going to play a lot of time on golf courses—an added bonus! I will certainly enjoy that, but I would go even if we didn’t play golf.

A week from Friday, we are going to play in the Andy Hornbaker (Memorial—ha) Golf Tournament again. I HAVE to call it THAT. Ha! A week from Sunday, I will be preaching in the church that Andy and Joanne attend—Alta Canyon Baptist Church. I appreciate Pastor Tim inviting me to preach. Last year, I was glad to hear a sermon—Andy Jr. preached and did a great job.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the trip and the opportunity of allowing the Lord further impact on my trajectory.

Back to the passages for today—in Leviticus 24, the son of an Israelite lady “blasphemed the Name of God and cursed” (Leviticus 24:11, MSG). After conferring about what this young man did, Moses and the people of Israel made the decision to stone him to death!

Again, a very serious issue—it almost seems “over the top,” to me. But, be that as it may, the Lord has no tolerance for blasphemy, and apparently this was a serious enough offence that it had to be dealt with immediately.

Here is the lesson for today: the community is a huge blessing, but as the Old Testament demonstrates, it is also called to be a tool of discipline in God’s hands when necessary.

Would we actually kill someone who blasphemed the Lord? No. We would leave that type of condemnation judgment up to God. BUT, that having been said, are we even ready to point out sin when we see it or hear it? I’ll be honest. It grates on me when anyone, especially a so-called believer, says, “Oh, God!” in a casual or off-hand way. There is no room for using the name of God or Jesus as a cussword, either.

Please understand: I am approaching this whole issue as one who OFTEN allows words to come out of my mouth that are not pleasing to God, and this issue is a whole lot bigger than cussing. Much more than that.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, John Paraphrase).

Lord, I thank for using Andy and his family in my life in huge ways. I lift them up, name by name to you right now. Help us to take very seriously the words that come out of our mouths. You said that you would hold us to account for every “idle” word that comes out of our mouths. Take heed, John, I say to myself. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 21: More About Blasphemy

Before I get into the topic for today, I wanted to say a word about the concert on Saturday night.

Dean and his daughter Julia along with her cousin Allison performed. They each donned India garb for the event. I had a couple of “long shirts” that I gave Dean and Phil, the drummer. Jeremy gave out his long shirt as well. I had brought one back for him and Jim from India.

The young women wore saris. Nancy and Pam helped with this.

Quite honestly, I was a little disappointed with the lack of attendance—not from folks at First Southern. I think we had good representation from the congregation for a Saturday night concert. No problems there.

Dean had publicized this event far and wide through varies forms of media.

Oh, well, it still went well. Yesterday, Dean told me that he was able to raise $600.00 for Pastor R and his wife M in their work with the school in India. I hope and pray that it encourages them in their work of reaching that area for Jesus.

Anyway, I just wanted to say a word about this event because time failed me yesterday.

On to one of the passages for today—Mark 3. One of the portions of this chapter is actually a cross-reference passage for the one we are studying on Wednesday nights—Luke 11:14-28. Last Wednesday, we spent some time on another parallel text in Matthew 12.

As usual, Mark does a good job summarizing this event. Here is the basic story: Jesus drove a demon out of a man and the religious authorities said that He did that because He was in fact the Head of Demons, Beelzebub (Beelzebul)—Satan himself.

I made this comment a couple of weeks ago: “Do you realize how off-base one has to be to look at a work of God and call it ‘Satan’?”

These religious authorities who ought to have known better had no clue.

Jesus replied to their folly in various ways. I won’t take time in this forum to get into all of that, but in all of the passages, Jesus turns the finger of accusation back on his accusers:

"’Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ — for they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit’” (Mark 3:
28-30 ESV).

There are a couple of things to note in this passage, and actually I referred to a commentary in Logos--the New American Commentary written by one of my former professors at Southwestern Seminary—Dr. James Brooks.

First, the reference to the Holy Spirit is noteworthy. Luke and Matthew bring this out as well. They differentiate between blaspheming Jesus (forgivable) and speaking against the Holy Spirit (not forgivable). This was a question that emerged out of the group. Essentially, we said, “Why the difference? Jesus is God; so is the Holy Spirit. What is the difference?”

Well, second, Mark brings out that the action of the scribes attributed a work of God to an unclean spirit (small s). And in so doing, they spoke against the Holy Spirit (capital S). Interesting.

But here is a key point that Brooks brings out: “they were saying” implies a continuous action. It is one thing to say something against Jesus (one time or rarely) but to continue to attribute the works of God to Satan implies lifestyle (my term). This is different.

So, if I had to summarize the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—the unforgivable sin—I would say that it is the lifestyle of resisting and rejecting the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. He is the one who convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. When we fail to respond to Him, we can’t be saved.

Brooks brings up the other point that there is not much said about this in scripture. He also alludes to a passage in 1 John. I’ll have to study that and get back to you.

I still have more work to do.

But the bottom line is: this is not a sin you want to commit. I don’t think a genuine believer can. But still … we need to be concerned about others who continue to resist the Spirit and reject the gospel.

Lord, I thank you that you are stronger than Satan and in charge of him and his kingdom. Thank you for the concert. Thank you for allowing us to spread the gospel—both here and in India—so that folks could be forgiven of all their sins. I’m glad I am this morning. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 20: The New Generation Bike Club

Okay, yesterday was definitely one of those times where I realized rather quickly that I was “in over my head.”

Earlier last week, Pastor Ilamarques, who serves the Brazilian congregation (the name of the church is New Generation Christian Community Church) that meets in God’s building where First Southern congregates, showed up one day in cycling “attire.”

He told me that he has been riding his bike a lot lately just to get in shape. He said that he is feeling a lot better and has more energy these days.

I replied, “When do you ride? I would like to ride with you sometime.”

Later on in the week, as we made contact again, he told me that some folks were meeting at the home of one of the members of the church for a ride, and he invited me to go along. He said, “It will be an easy ride.”

Okay, so in my mind, I had a picture of a few folks taking a nice leisurely ride down a trail …

Ah, no. No, no, no. NO.

As folks started to gather, we had a very good time of fellowship. I always do with these dear brothers and sisters. Bei and his wife offered me some coffee, a green Julius (it was awesome), and a Brazilian cheese bread treat (I can’t recall the name of it but the THREE I ate were very good). But it did not take me long to see that this was not going to be a leisurely ride. Everyone had “the gear.” The bike pants, bike shirts, shoes, clips … the works. Oh, boy.

Ilamarques led us in prayer, and we headed out. The part of town where we met—the Bear Creek area of Lakewood is very hilly. Most of the early part of our trip was downhill. I seemed to do okay in that leg of the trek, but as we hit the trail, one by one, people (including the women) were passing me with ease. I was last. One brother stayed with me. He was very kind.

At a certain point, we stopped as everyone waited for me. Someone said, “Pastor John, are you okay?” I could barely breathe. “Yes.”

A friend of mine—Roger--came into town yesterday. We had planned to get together around noon. By then, it was almost 10:00. I had to turn around at that point and start to head back. I was sort of glad.

Not because I didn’t enjoy myself thoroughly. A part of me wished I could go on, just to see if I could survive. Another part, a bigger part … I thanked them for letting me tag along. They were very gracious and thanked me for coming … No problems there.

But I was out of gas. I mean OUT. And I knew I had to turn around and go back—UPHILL.

Twice on my return trip—I literally had to get off my bike and walk it up a hill, as I was huffing and puffing.

When I finally got back to Bei’s house and my beloved truck, sweat was literally pouring off of me. It felt as if I were standing in the shower … but I wasn’t.

Later on My friend Roger and I had a good laugh about the whole thing. I said, “Roger, I knew I was done when the women in the group whipped by me, smiling as they did.”

I want to go with them again, but oh man, I’m going to ride a lot more before I do.

But I do want to say this: I had a ball with them. I love Pastor Ilamarques and New Generation. What a wonderful fellowship of folks who love Jesus and pray for me. AND, I am going to ride with them again.

Anyway, on to the passages for today—a blatant contrast between the ritual laws of the Old Testament and the ministry of Jesus in the New. Chapters 13 and 14 of Leviticus deal with laws regarding leprosy—a very long and detailed discussion of what to do in various situations and with clothes and houses and so forth.

But none of these laws actually HELP the leper! Jesus did!

"And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean" (Mark
1:40-42 ESV).

I love the contrast. In the Old Testament, two chapters of complicated ritual laws are replaced by four words, “I will. Be clean.”

Jesus, I thank You for Your cleansing and healing power. I thank you for the wonderful fellowship of the body of Christ—it can even occur on a bicycle! Thank you also for Roger and our fellowship time together.

Thank You, Lord, for the concert last night. It was awesome. Just not enough time to write about it now. More tomorrow. I love you, Jesus. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 19: The Ultimate Contradiction

First off—tonight is the night of the concert. Dean, Julia, and Allison will be singing tonight at the church from 6:00 to 8:00. The whole purpose of the concert is to raise money for the New Hope School in Uddyan Pally, the slum near New Town, a suburb of Kolkata, India.

If you would like to see what I am talking about, I will try to attach a link to my Facebook post this money. A few days ago, Pastor R sent me a YouTube video. We showed it last Sunday in the service. After an opening song at the concert tonight, we are going to show it again, and I will give a brief explanation of it. It is excellent.

Anyway, I am excited about the way this has caught on in our fellowship. Remember, money is rather tight for us right now, but in the first installment of this offering, the Lord moved folks to give $1,400 plus dollars! We are praying that He will provide more tonight through the generosity of the folks who come.

Here is the way I look at it: the Lord will bless and use whatever happens tonight. I just appreciate Dean taking the lead on this and serving the Lord in this way.

This goes back to the trip we took in March—the purpose of it was to make some contact with folks, develop relationships, and see how the Lord wanted to use us to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. I praise God that He allows us the privilege to be a part of the Great Commission.

Back to the passage for today—at the end of chapter twenty-seven, as the disciples laid the body of Jesus in the tomb, the chief priests and Pharisees were huddled with Pilate. They wanted to make sure they did everything humanly possible to keep Jesus in that tomb. They did not want any possibility of Jesus’ promise, “After three days I will rise” (Matthew 27:63, ESV) to come true.

They rolled a huge stone over the entrance to the grave, sealed it, and set a guard in front of the stone.

What did the sealing involve? Blomberg says sealing involved some type of soft clay, impressed with the Roman imperial stamp and it would be secured to the stone with a large cord or rope. In and of itself, it is not that much of a deterrent. The company of Roman soldiers would accomplish this. However, the fact that the grave was sealed made grave robbing a punishable offence.

In short, the Jews and Romans did everything to keep Jesus in that cave.

Fast forward to chapter 28, when Jesus rose from the grave (just as he promised, in spite of everything I mentioned above), it put the authorities in a bit of a conundrum. Ya think?

It is almost comical. They had to reconvene to concoct a story and pay off the soldiers who spread the ludicrous news that the disciples did indeed come in the night to steal the body—the very thing they set out to prevent.

It just confirms the power of the resurrection and the fact that Jesus always keeps His promises.

Nothing in heaven or on earth could keep the Son of God in that tomb.

A brother I was talking to yesterday asked me, “What is the greatest comeback in history?” I thought he was referring to some sporting feat. I stopped to try to figure it out.

He gave me a second and said, “The resurrection of Jesus!”

Oh, yeah, right!

Jesus, thank you today for the resurrection—the hinge pin of our faith. You are alive and well today—both here and in the slum in India. I love You and praise You! Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 18: Blood and More Blood

Before I get into the topic for the day, I just have to say that the Lord has used three visits I have had over the past couple of days as a huge encouragement. First, a couple of days ago, I got to spend time in the home of a family that the Lord led away from our fellowship. We had a meal together and spent some time catching up. There are three children in the family—each of them gave me a hug as I left. It was great just hanging with them again.

Second, I had a visit with a pastor friend. I am helping him with his D. Min. project at Denver Seminary. We spent about five minutes on that and almost an hour and a half chatting about personal and church stuff, as well as NBA basketball. He is a big Laker’s fan.

Third, yesterday, I had my annual and perfunctory visit with my health insurance agent, well, actually one of them. He works for a company that provides my disability and long-term health care. In our meeting, we spent zero time talking insurance and all of our hour talking about church. One of the things he told me was, “John, it seems as if all churches are struggling these days.”

I’m thankful that the Lord provided those avenues of encouragement outside the norm—people that I don’t see that often to give me another perspective of things. I appreciate each of them greatly.

Well, anyway, my reading today took me to the final two chapters of Exodus and the first three chapters of Leviticus. Notice these references in chapter one of Leviticus:

"Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting … And he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar…. And the priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head and burn it on the altar. Its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar" (Leviticus
1:5, 11, 15 ESV).

These are all rather violent and abhorrent actions, it seems to me. Sorry to be so graphic, but the priest killed a goat or lamb and reached into the body of a slain animal to get a handful of blood to throw it against the altar. This violent action would cause blood to splatter everywhere—on the altar for sure but all over the walls on the inside of the tabernacle as well.

Or, in the case of a bird sacrifice, the priest wrings its head and tips the critter over so that its blood gets drained out on the side of the altar.

There is blood everywhere.


I get kind of squeamish when I cut my own finger or especially when I am visiting someone in the hospital and they are getting a blood transfusion.

But the truth is that ours is a blood relationship. Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room and through the symbolism of the Supper commanded them to eat his broken body and drink his blood. In effect, the blood that he shed “splatters” all over our insides as Jesus puts himself in the person of the Holy Spirit inside of us.

The world wants nothing to do with this bloody Savior. When Judas felt sorry for what he had done—betraying the Lord, he threw his thirty pieces of silver on the floor of the temple, but in their feigned concern for righteousness, the Pharisees could not “take it back,” so they bought a potter’s field with the money, and that plot of ground came to be called, the Field of Blood.

Pilate washed his hands in front of the mob that persuaded him to crucify an innocent man, “I am innocent of the blood of this man.” Yeah, right. That will do it.

The theme of the day is blood, blood, and more blood. Blood, all over the place. Blood that makes it possible for me to be forgiven up to this day and beyond.

“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” From the bottom of my heart, Lamb of God, thank you. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 17: "Jesus Christ!"

This morning, as I got up for breakfast and sat down to eat it, I turned on our television near the table in the kitchen. I do this every morning and change the channel to ESPN to catch up on the sports news from yesterday (an urgent necessity).

Of course, I was thrilled to find not the usual litany of scores from last night’s games. Instead, the network was providing coverage of the British Open golf tournament from Scotland. Over there, it is in the afternoon right now. Tiger Woods was finishing up his round, and all eyes are on him.

He hasn’t played much this year. He was out of action several months as he recovered from back surgery. This is only his second tournament in a few months.

On the final hole, as he addressed the ball to hit his second shot on the par five finishing hole, a camera clicked. He backed away as his caddie barked at the crowd. This same thing happened a second time. Right in the middle of his backswing, another camera clicked. Tiger is one of the few golfers I have ever seen who can literally stop his swing in mid-stride. He stopped, looked over toward the perpetrator and said, “Jesus Christ!”

It was blatant. The cameras caught it. The commentators did not say a word about it. But I noticed it. Everyone else did as well, if they cared.

I used to be a huge Tiger fan. I am not anymore, after all the revelations of his extra-marital activities came out a few years ago. He may be considered a success in the sport of golf, but I think he is an outright failure in what is really important in life, no matter what he accomplishes from here out. And by the way, he has not won a major tournament since 2008, right about that the time all the “news” came out and his marriage ended.

Anyway, Tiger said, “Jesus Christ!” If he has any religious beliefs, he has made the claim that he adheres to his mother’s Buddhist beliefs. This probably means he practices no religion, but it may be the only time or setting in which he speaks the name of Jesus—as a cussword.

Last night, in the Bible study, as we studied Luke 11 and the corresponding cross reference passage in Matthew 12, we came across the whole issue of blasphemy in Matthew 12:32, “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

We talked about this passage and Dean asked the very good question, “What is the difference here? Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are both God. What is the essential difference?” I’m still pondering that question.

But, what Tiger did on the golf course in Scotland is a blatant sin. It does not rank any higher or lower than any other sin. It also is not different from any kind of words that come out of my mouth that are not appropriate for any reason. I want to make this clear. I am not in a position to pronounce condemnation judgment on Tiger Woods. I will leave that up to God.

The point is: the sin of speaking against Jesus Christ is a sin, but the Lord forgives us of this sin. However, rejecting the Holy Spirit—the One that indwells our lives by grace through faith through unbelief is the unpardonable sin. This is a heart issue and for each person, the Lord brings us to a crossroad where we make that ultimate decision.

Those who repent of sin and embrace the Gospel by grace through faith are part of God’s family though the sin or speak inappropriate words on occasion.

But for the others—who have committed the unpardonable sin—the picture is not pretty.

In the Matthew passage I read today (Matthew 25), each of the three parables Jesus tells in this chapter make a reference to the eternal destiny of unbelievers. First, for some, all good intentions aside, the door is shut, and they can’t enter in. Second, like the man from whom the Master took the one talent because he buried his opportunity like a corpse in the ground, he “cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30, ESV).

He tells others who had the opportunity to visit the least of these in prison or those whom we didn’t feed or whatever—“these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46, ESV).

All of this is deeply tragic. We don’t want anyone, including Tiger, no matter what he has done or said, to go there.

Lord, as I think of people I know, it awesome to think that at some time, we can so finally and fully reject the Lord that we can set our sail inexorably to an eternity that is separated from God. May the reality of hell compel me to share today, more than ever. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 16: The Seat of Moses

It is interesting how rather offhand references seem to emerge as one reads the Old Testament along with the New.

As I said at the outset of beginning this new reading plan, I have never done this before. I used to read from an Old Testament book OR a New Testament book and added a Psalm or Proverb in the mix. So, from that standpoint I have but never this way.

Anyway, here is a verse I read this morning from Matthew: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice" (Matthew
23:2-3 ESV).

The seat of Moses—what is that exactly? I’ll have to do some research on it. The term intrigues me. I’m not sure it is referring to an actual, physical, literal seat, but maybe, it is a reference to a place of honor among the Jews. The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day gladly accepted this place.

It is significant to see this reference have read some significant chapters in Exodus.

God called Moses up to Mount Sinai. The Lord wrote his Law on stone tablets. While Moses was up there, he left Aaron in charge of the people while he was gone.

The record in Exodus makes it clear that Aaron grew impatient with Moses’ prolonged absence from the group. HE initiated the idolatry that ensued, asking the people to bring their valuables so that HE could fabricate the calf around which they had their orgy. The situation quickly became unhinged.

Moses heard about what was going on. The Lord told him while he was still up on the mountain. As a result, he went back down, saw what was going, broke the stone tablets in anger, burned the calf, and rebuked Aaron and the people.

Also, there is a reference in Exodus 33 of Moses meeting with the Lord in the Tent of Meeting.

In other words, Moses was a man of God zealous for the Lord and His Law, interceding for the people of Israel in the wilderness who often strayed from the Lord.

Fast forward to Jesus’ day—you have the scribes and Pharisees who loved the moniker, who loved the position, “the seat of Moses,” but who had twisted things and moved them far from the One (God) and the one (Moses) they claimed to follow. Therefore, Jesus, in Matthew 23, levels multiple indictments on these groups of so-called religious experts—the “woes.”

As I sit here this morning, I believe that this is an inherent danger for leaders and churches as the years go by. Somehow, we move away from the simplicity of a relationship with the Lord and a simple obedience to His Word into minutia and technicalities and “religion” that ends up benefitting those who want the same respect as leaders of the past.

Jesus condemns the way that those who sat in Moses’ seat had twisted things around into a religion, which, several hundreds of years after Moses died, looked nothing like the life of faith the Patriarchs forged.

I have to be careful that I don’t get caught up in my position and fail to understand that I still need to love Jesus and follow Him and serve Him MYSELF.

Isn’t this what Paul was talking about when he said, “After preaching to others, I myself could become a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27, my paraphrase).

Ha. The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day in point of fact lived on Gilligan’s Island, far away from God.

Lord, I want to make sure that I focus today on my relationship with you and my personal obedience to you before I, in the seat of pastor, try to fix other people and tell them what to do. A word to the wise, hopefully. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 15: The Breastpiece of Judgment

It is the Word of God. I want to be careful how I say this, but the reading of the lists of laws and regulations in the chapters for today—Exodus 23 to 28—gets a little tedious.

I’ve joked about this with the church, but it is amazing how we develop the gift of speed-reading when we come to certain portions of the Old Testament and the New, for that matter. That shouldn’t be. I frankly admit it, but on the other side of the coin, I’m so glad that Jesus’ death on the cross did away with all this ritual requirements of tabernacle worship.

I think the other aspect of this section that makes it a little hard to read is the other laws pertaining to goats and hygiene and life in the wilderness.

Anyway, my eye did land on a section of particular interest. Let me quote the verses: "So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly" (Exodus
28:29-30 ESV).

I’m not sure that I have ever noticed this phrase before—“breastpiece of judgment.” The precious stones in his breastpiece carry the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. He takes those names into the presence of God when he intercedes for them. But the need for this—the whole reason for this in the first place—grows out of the reality of sin and the judgment that follows.

This is true for all of us. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). We are fully aware of this.

But these descriptions of Aaron’s breastpiece remind me of another part of God’s Word where twelve precious stones appear. Can you guess?

Right. The wall of the New Jerusalem. Revelation 21 describes it.

Several months ago, I was studying this chapter in Revelation and wondered where the whole idea of twelve precious stones came from. One thing that you can count on in the book of Revelation—its images and symbolism is derived from the Old Testament, for the most part. It is an awesome closing book for the canon. God knew what He was doing. No surprise there.

But let me back up. These precious stones were in the breastpiece of judgment in the Old Testament; they are part and parcel of the New Jerusalem in the New.

What changed? Revelation 21:22-23 tells us. In our future Home, there is no need for a temple (or tabernacle, for that matter) because the Lord and the Lamb are its temple.

These intricate discussions of the tabernacle and the clothing for the Aaron the priest are no longer needed. Their function, according to Paul’s teachings in Galatians and other places, is to point out our sin. But they do nothing to actually to solve the problem. That’s why Jesus came!

He turned the stones of judgment into the bricks in our new home forever—how about THAT?

Lord, I’m grateful for the salvation I have experienced in Jesus. Thank you for the brother I prayed with on the phone yesterday. He thanked you for forgiveness in the blood of your Son. I do too, today. “Were it not for grace, I can tell you where I’d be, wandering down some lonesome road to nowhere, my salvation up to me.” Now, I’m headed Home where “precious” stones are bricks in the wall and nothing compared to the Precious One on the throne. Amen!

Daystar Plan, Day 14: Code Words

That title sounds rather sinister, doesn’t it? Ha.

The more I read Old Testament books along with the new, the more I see all the organic connections between these two testaments. The Gospel of Matthew is replete with allusions and references to both the Law and the Prophets. The reading for today (in addition to Exodus 18-22) is a crucial case in point—Matthew 20-21.

In Matthew 20, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, there are two “code words.” The first is “grumble.”

You remember the story. The owner of the vineyard as he was hiring day laborers to work the field, paid the guys he hired at the end of the day—they worked about one hour—the same as he paid the guys who worked all day long in the heat of the sun.

The owner started with the “one-hour” guys. He paid them one denarius. Then, he progressively moved back to the guys who worked all day long. They got paid the same thing—one denarius. “Hey, what is going on here? This isn’t fair. I’m going to sue.”

Well, of course, they have no grounds for a lawsuit because they agreed on the pay before they started. Interestingly enough, the “one-hour” guys came to work under an agreement as well. It was, “Whatever is fair, I will pay you.” No dollar amount. Just “whatever is fair.” And the owner is in charge of the standard.

Anyway, this parable reminds me of the Prodigal Son. Likewise, it was directed toward the religious leadership of Jesus’ day. The older son said the same thing to his dad, “Hey, this isn’t fair. I’ve been at home. I’ve worked, and you throw a party for my brother who blew his inheritance on prostitutes and parties. Are you kidding me?” Essentially, he grumbled as well.

But the word “grumble” is a people in the wilderness word. It came up in the passage I preached yesterday—1 Corinthians 10. The people of Israel grumbled frequently after their miraculous departure from Egypt. “Hey, Moses, this isn’t fair. This isn’t right. You bring us out here to starve and to be thirsty. We had all the meat we could eat in Egypt and all the water we could drink as well. Sure, we were slaves and oppressed, but … “

The other code word is “vineyard.” It is the context for the parable I have alluded to in Matthew 20, but Jesus also uses it in Matthew 21. This reference hearkens back to Isaiah 5. Israel is a vineyard. The Lord expected a return from his hard work, but he got none. He sent servants to collect his share of the owner’s proceeds, but they abused all the messengers and killed the owner’s son, eventually. Tragic.

As I sit here this morning, it dawns on me that these two code words should serve as severe warnings for us all.

I’m an expert grumbler. Instead, I just need to keep my mouth shut and trust that the Lord will take care of me and focus on allowing the Holy Spirit to produce fruit from this vineyard—ME.

This is a summary of what Paul tells the church in Corinth as well, but I won’t preach or re-preach my sermons here.

This is about me today. Lord, help me take heed. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 13: Some Things Don't Change

The reading for today is Exodus 13-17 and Matthew 19.

It didn’t take long for the people of Israel to start complaining after the Exodus.

You would think that there would be some carry over. What I mean is that after witnessing such a miraculous delivery … well, sort of …

A few years ago, as I was studying these chapters in Exodus, something hit me I had never realized before. I had always thought that the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea on dry land as God parted the waters, got to the other side, and stood en masse there to watch the Lord take care of the pursuing Egyptian army.

That is NOT what happened. Exodus 14:19-20 makes it clear that the cloud that had been leading the people circled around and went behind them as well as the angel of God. The Bible adds the detail that “there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without on coming near the other all night” (Exodus 14:20, ESV).

Okay, so what?

Well, the Israelites never saw what happened to the Egyptian army. The whole defeat was hidden from their eyes. What they did see was dead Egyptians washing up on the shore. Then, and only then, did they realize that the Lord had taken care of business.

Be that as it may, it was still a huge victory for Israel, but the wave of emotion did not last long until they were grumbling and complaining about their lives and unmet needs in the wilderness. The narrative in Exodus uses a very specific word. Actually, it was Moses who said it, “Why do you test the Lord?” (Exodus 17:2, ESV)

Not good.

In fact, the Bible has nothing good to say about testing the Lord. Satan tempted Jesus to do it by jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple, but He refused.

And yet, he faced it all through his ministry. Matthew 19 says that the Pharisees “tested him” by asking about divorce.

I’ve never really connected this action with what the Israelites did in the wilderness, but the more I think about it, it is exactly the same thing. After hundreds of years of history, after seeing all that God did through all the history of Israel and now seeing the Messiah (even though they did not acknowledge Him as such, of course), they still are in the position of TESTING the Lord.

What exactly does it mean to TEST the Lord? Well, I am convinced that one of the major facets of it is unbelief. The people in the wilderness, incredibly, did not believe that the Lord was going to take care of them.

The Pharisees who questioned Jesus didn’t either. They were trying to find some loophole in God’s law to allow them to continue their profligate lifestyles and to deny God’s standards.

But there is another element to this. I’m not quite sure how to articulate it. It is almost as if both parties are trying to back God into a corner to force Him to act. That is what Satan was trying to convince Jesus to do—jump off and force God to save Him. The people in the wilderness were daring God. “You brought us out here to let us starve and be thirsty. Come on, God!” The Pharisees pointed to an Old Testament “accommodation” when it comes to divorce, but Jesus basically said that Moses allowed a certificate of divorce because of hardness of heart, but that was not His original plan. This is an exception of sorts, even though God’s standard never changes.

The Bible makes it clear that the Lord does not take kindly to testing Him.

I think, as I sit here this morning, the better course of action is just to trust Him AND to be content with what He has given me, even though it is hard, even though I may not “like” it as such. Otherwise, I fall in the category of the people of Israel, who, no matter what the Lord did for them, they were NEVER satisfied. NEVER.

Oh, Lord, thank You for the Exodus You have performed in my life. Thank you for your commandments and my current set of circumstances. I am well taken care of. I pray for Ethan as he is baptized today. I pray for the services. I pray for the men’s meeting following. Get the men moving in our fellowship, for Your honor and glory. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 12: Forgiveness

The readings for today are Exodus 8 through 12 and Matthew 17 and 18.

So much of what I read today strikes a cord.

Jim mentioned this in the Bible study on Wednesday night—the only plague that Pharoah’s magicians could not replicate (except the Passover, of course) was the plague of gnats. There is a specific reference in that narrative that comes up in the New Testament.

"Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said." (Exodus
8: 19 ESV). The finger of God—we discussed this reference as it comes up in Luke 11 as Jesus casts the demon out of the mute man. Jesus himself uses it—He casts out demons “by the finger of God.” What an amazing statement?

Whenever I am tempted to doubt God’s power, I need to remember that He has more strength in one finger than all the armies on this planet combined.

In fact, this is the purpose of the plagues, as the Lord states (the Lord is speaking to Pharoah), "For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth" (Exodus
9:15-16 ESV).

I have already said this, but the ultimate display of God’s power came in the final plague—the Passover. A lamb without blemish. The blood sprinkled on the doorposts. Eating this lamb “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And … in haste” (Exodus 12:11, ESV). This is a meal for people on the move out of Egypt, out of slavery, and to the Promised Land.

God also told the people to remove leaven out of their houses. This reminds me of the passage in 1 Corinthians that I preached from a couple of weeks ago—1 Corinthians 5 and 6. Remove the evil people from your midst. Paul says this to the congregation as he rebukes them for their laissez-faire attitude about the sinful man.

On to Matthew 17 and 18—somewhere in the verses I read in Exodus today, the Bible said that Moses was a very famous and esteemed man in Egypt. Hello! I would assume so. This is totally apart from his reputation in Judaism. He is forever linked to the Pentateuch and the Law of God.

And yet, in the Transfiguration, he pales in significance to the revelation of the glorified Son of God. God is pleased with His Son. Jesus does what no man can do.

He comes to establish the church. It is interesting that Matthew is the only gospel that actually mentions the church. Like the Lord did in Egypt, as He called the folks to prepare for the Exodus, Jesus calls for a separation from the world for believers. We better make sure that we don’t cause anyone to stumble or ourselves to do so. A crucial part of this is receiving and giving forgiveness.

I just realized this: forGIVEness.

Today, I am a recipient of the blood of the Lamb poured out over me. It is the only reason I am where I am today. God gave His only Son to do this for me. I must disassociate myself from sin and stumbling blocks of all kinds in order to be an agent of the forgiveness of God.

As I was visiting with that dear couple in their home Thursday night, their eyes lit up as I talked about forgiveness. This is one of the main ways I know that someone has indeed been saved. There is never any way, any true believer can take it for granted in his/her life. It is literally moving.

Lord, my heart breaks as I think of that innocent Lamb slaughtered for me. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 11: Sign or No Sign

Back in the day, as Moses approach Pharoah, God equipped his servant with some “signs” to validate his ministry before the Pharoah.

As he performed them, it was almost as if the pagan king yawned because his magicians and sorcerers were able to do exactly the same thing.

Stop right there. I’ve always wondered why God would direct Moses to do something that could easily be duplicated. Somewhere in my fuzzy brain this morning, I remember a statement about the hardening of Pharoah’s heart.

It is almost as if these repeated signs that we duplicated made Moses’ case more and more difficult.

Somehow this yearning of and demand for signs to validate a ministry continued through Old Testament history to Jesus’ day.

In Matthew 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, asking them to show them a sign from heaven.

In our “How to Study the Bible” class last Wednesday night, Jim alluded to this demand on the part of the religious leadership and said something like, “When the Jews were asking for a sign, they wanted something unusual to happen in the sky to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. It was no run-of-the-mill miracle.”

This quest for signs from both pagan (the Egyptian Pharoah) and Jew alike (the Pharisees and Sadducees and others) is common in scripture, but in Matthew 16, Jesus refusing to accommodate this mindset. “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:4, ESV). This is a striking statement.

In another passage, Jesus explains a bit—put Him in the ground for three days and nights and see what happens! We all know what did.

Of course, EVEN THEN, they concocted some story to explain away the resurrection.

I guess what I am gathering out of all of this is a statement I heard years ago: for those who don’t believe, no evidence is enough; for those that don’t, no evidence is necessary.

I had a great visit last night with a family that came to our church as a result of Sports Camp. Through an amazing series of events, culminating with an invitation to our deal, the Lord brought them our way. The husband had been saved as a youth; the wife got saved just the other day as the Lord was at work in her heart.

They met Jesus in a personal encounter and know Him to be the One and Only God.

I left their home last night deeply encouraged and even more firmly committed to sharing the gospel of Jesus. I went through the whole gospel from Genesis to Revelation and asked, “Can you guys go back to time where you repented from sin and believed in this Gospel?” Neither one had to answer. I could see it on their faces, but they both shared their testimonies with me. It was awesome.

I don’t get to do this type of thing enough. I walked into a home where God was already at work and witnessed his power in people’s lives. Turns out that the wife is working with a woman who came from a Southern Baptist background—her son is a pastor, and she has been encouraging her to go to church. Now they are and both met the Lord! No further proof or signs or evidence necessary.

Lord, you’ve already proven yourself through Calvary, the burial, and the resurrection. You are the One and Only. I choose to continue to share this Good News and leave the results up to you. Thank you for this beautiful family and for bringing them our way. Help us to encourage them to grow. Help me to continue to throw seed out there. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 10: Out of Water

Well, I have to take a moment to share a story—a huge encouragement at the church. I hope someone from the Oklahoma group is in a position to read this. Pastor Phil, Austin, and others are in Falls Creek for youth camp this week.

Anyway, on the Saturday before Sports Camp a couple of weeks ago, several of us were in a park in a neighborhood near the church. As we were walking along and talking to folks, I approached a family sitting on their porch that overlooked the park.

As I started talking, the lady said, “Is that you, Pastor John? Do you remember me? My name is Kathy. I used to go to your church.” YES!

We had a great visit. I invited her to come back since she indicated that she did not have a church home. We parted ways, and I have not seen her or heard from her at all.

Until yesterday.

She called and left a message in my voicemail at church. When I arrived at the church late yesterday morning, she was there!

So, get this: the Lord laid on her heart that she needed to give our church some money. She did! It was a fairly sizable amount—several thousand dollars!

Even as I write this, it is difficult not to be emotional. WOW! Betty and I thanked her and we prayed together.

As she left she said, “This was one of the strongest impressions from the Lord that I have ever had in my life. I had to come and had to give you this.” Again, I say, “Wow. Thank you, Jesus.”

Whenever I feel that somehow, in the midst of all the challenges churches face these days, we just tend to decline—the Lord does something like THIS. Oh me of little faith. I’m always a bit shocked.

This reminds me of a couple of other significant times. One year, between Christmas and New Year’s, a young man came by the church and wrote us a check for $10,000! He talked to Betty a bit, but he left and we never saw him again.

A few years after that, a family in our fellowship made a sizable donation. I talked with the wife who came into the office to share the news and give us the check. It came at just the right time since we were facing another financial crisis at that point.

For those of you who are reading this who are not members of the fellowship I serve, you need to know that First Southern is in a blue-collar neighborhood. We do not have any millionaires in the church or big givers (as far as I know since I don’t know what people give and don’t want to know). But the Lord just compelled these folks and Kathy to give.

He is taking care of us just as He has always done with His servants who are a part of His plan and purpose.

I remarked today, in reading the story of Moses’ rescue as the basket that contained him floated down a river to Pharoah’s daughter. His very name means, “Out of water.” I know I have read that before, but today, that definition stood out to me.

In the Matthew passage for today, as Jesus and his disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee in a storm, Jesus is walking on the water. Peter asks to join the Master. You know the story. He actually pulls it off. Peter did it! Like Jesus, He walked on the water. Everything was well and good, UNTIL Peter took his eyes off the Lord. Then, he began to sink like a rock.

What happened? Jesus reached down and pulled Peter up “out of the water”—Moses Jr.! Ha!

Actually, as I sit here this morning, there are a lot of rescues in scripture “out of water.” Water serves as a metaphor for crises and difficulty. Wow. Think about it.

Noah, the Exodus, Jonah, Jesus (began his ministry through baptism), Peter, and Paul (his famous shipwreck story in Acts 27). Humm. And, God calling a sister to make a special gift to a church just when we need it.

Lord, You are the God of Rescues. Thank You for thinking of us and tabbing one of your servants to act. This is a huge encouragement. I’m going to share this with the whole church on Sunday. In the meantime, I’m going to get a towel to dry off—ha. Another rescue. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 9: Small Things, Big God

Once again, the combination of passages has an awesome message for me today.

As I have said before, I love how the Word of God coheres—each part supporting and informing and supplementing the other.

What an awesome story in the Pentateuch as Joseph is reunited with his brothers and his dad! He could have been bitter and pushed them away, but instead, he affirmed the work of God through their betrayal: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5, ESV). What an amazing affirmation! Through all of his very difficult experiences, God used them all to put Joe in a position to preserve his family so that they could continue to propagate the race of the faithful.

And it all started because of a very bad thing that they did—selling their brother and telling pops that he was dead.

I have often said this (and experienced it): sin has consequences. We can choose our sin but we can’t choose our consequences.

We all acknowledge this. However, that is NOT the end of the story. Our sovereign God can even use sin to promote His glory and advance His cause. This is utterly amazing to me. I just can’t get over it today.

But right along with that is the whole idea of the Word of God as seed. The non-discriminating farmer just tosses it everywhere. He doesn’t really care where it goes at first because he has learned that a certain percentage of it WILL take root and grow.

I have no idea what the percentages are with seed that ends up being wasted on the road or lost in the short term on the rocky soil or snuffed out in the long haul with thorns.

But somehow those percentages are lost when one considers the abundant harvest that is produced when the five or ten percent of seed (pick a number) falls on good soil.

I stumbled across this little chain of events. Edward Kimble, a humble shoe salesman, led D. L. Moody, the great evangelist from Chicago, to Christ. The Lord used Moody, when he traveled to England to have a profound impact on the life of F. B. Meyer. I have a lot of his books. He reached a lot of folks through his ministry and through his writing.

Meyer aided the ministry of J. Wilbur Chapman who helped in the ministry of Billy Sunday whom the Lord used to influence Mordecai Ham. Ham was an evangelist who held a revival service in North Carolina in which a young man by the name of Billy Graham got saved.

Did you catch that? How about them apples—as a friend of mine used to say?

We touched on this in staff meeting yesterday. We are so quick to come to terminal decisions about what we do—whether it is sin or ministry. We make quick judgments, “My life is over” or “Well, that didn’t work” or whatever.

But again, God sees the bigger picture and works through frail and weak and yes, sinful human beings to accomplish His purposes.

Lord, thank you for this deep encouragement today. I really need it, needed something. I feel that I have been sinking the past few days. I just want to be a humble servant of yours, like Edward Kimble, and be faithful with the seed you give me to toss out today. I love you, Jesus. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 8: Rest and Prison Life

The readings for today are Genesis 37 to 41 and Matthew 11 and 12.

Let me go back to Sunday for a moment. One more thing happened that has proven to be a huge encouragement for me over the past two days. In his study on prayer, Jeremy made a couple of profound comments (among many) that stood out to me.

“Christianity is relationship of rest. It focuses on what Jesus has DONE for us. Most other religions focus on work and give us things to do as a result.” This is a paraphrase of what he said. What an awesome statement and so true! I’ve never heard it put quite that way. Well done, Jeremy!

I was reminded of this as I read Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew 11, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, ESV). I’ve never noticed this before, but the context of this verse is very important. At the beginning of chapter twelve, the Holy Spirit chronicles Jesus’ disputes with the religious establishment over his actions on the Sabbath.

Somehow, the Jews of his day had twisted Sabbath to be more about what one does NOT do instead of what one does. “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (12:8, ESV) and “So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (12:12, ESV).

I honestly don’t think we do a very good job of teaching about the nature of the Sabbath rest that the Lord makes available to us in Jesus. Sunday by Sunday, we just pile on more “stuff” (religious stuff weighs the most) on people and wonder why they seem so bogged down.

For once, I’d love to hear someone say as he/she walks out the door, “Pastor, thanks for showing me how to let Jesus give me rest. My load is lighter now. I have less to do.” Instead, I tend to give people more to do and add a guilt trip on top of it. Not good.

Anyway, that is one thing. The “prison thing” is the other. In the passages for today, we find the stories of two prominent biblical prisoners. Their stories, with two radically different outcomes, point out the need to continue to rest in the Lord and trust Him.

Joseph, as a young man in a foreign land, falsely accused, rotted in prison. He tried to get the cupbearer to put in a good word for him and get him out of there, but the man forgot. Years went by. You know the story. Through a set of circumstances, God brought Joseph out, and he ended up second in command in the whole nation of Egypt.

John the Baptist was also in prison. I’m sure he felt as forgotten or more so that Joseph. Here was a man that pointed people to Jesus but got so discouraged later on that he sent a contingent to ask the Lord if He was indeed the Messiah or not.

I think it is significant that Jesus never rebuked John the Baptist or his messengers. He just responded in a straightforward way, basically telling the emissaries to go back and tell John what they have heard and seen—validating His true identity.

Of course, things did not end well for John—very tragic and outrageous, really.

Pulling all of this together, I affirm today that the Lord has called us to a life of rest, in spite of what is going on with us, whether we are in jail at the moment or not.

Thank you for your prayers for my family and me. Keep them up. We had a little bit of a laugh last night. We got out a bit with my mom, just to get out of the house, to run some errands. In one place, they were playing “old time” music. Frank Sinatra was singing a song, “Rose-Colored Glasses.”

Okay, here is a confession. I might as well get this “out there.” I liked Frank Sinatra and his songs and listened to his music as a kid. How I came to that point or why I did this, I have no idea. Can’t explain it. This certainly differentiated me from all my friends who, even “back then,” had no idea who he was and didn’t care. It reinforces what Polly Holyoke, a girl in my 9
th grade class, wrote in my Year Book: “John, you are the average American boy of the 1930’s.”

Polly, not quite true. Sinatra’s heyday was in the 40’s and 50’s before his profligate lifestyle (the Rat Pack, Vegas, et al) started to take a toll on him.

Anyway, I digress … I heard that song and started to sing it, remembering the words verbatim. One of us said, “We are about as far from ‘rose-colored glasses’ as we have ever been!” We laughed.

Lord, thank you for your rest—the very essence of what Christianity is all about. Show both prisoners and rose-colored-glasses folk alike what it means. We need you and what you promise at the end of Matthew 11, now more than ever. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 7: The New Israel

Before I get into the topic for today, I just wanted to share a couple of things. I told several people this yesterday. I just have not been a hundred percent physically the past few days—not exactly sure what is going on—not sleeping that well and I just don’t have a lot of vim and vigor.

It may be coupled with the second thing: I’ve been a little down in the dumps. On the way to church yesterday, it really hit me like a ton of bricks—a very severe satanic attack. I could barely hold my head up.

A few things happened to lift me up a bit. Rob called. We got to visit on the phone a bit. The second Mitch got into my truck, he said, “Pastor John, each day this week, I read my Bible in the morning.” We celebrated a bit, as we drove along.

Funny, as I sit here this morning, I realize that I need to take my own advice. Mitch has been struggling with discouragement. As we have been talking, I challenged him to get in the Word and to talk to God every morning to get his day started off well.

Physician, heal yourself.

Lately, I have brushed over my communion with the Lord a bit. I’ve been in such a hurry. Humm. Again, it is easy to tell someone else what to do …

Anyway, a lot of families in the church were not there yesterday—out on vacation for the July 4
th holiday, but we did have some guests. One boy from Sports Camp brought his family a couple of Sundays ago. They were there AGAIN. It was wonderful to see them. They responded to the invitation as well. It is evident that the Lord is at work in their lives.

Another first time visitor—her name escapes me at this moment—was very responsive and vocal and encouraging as well. After the service, with tears in her eyes, she said, “Pastor, I live right up the street. The Lord has been telling me to come here, but I resisted until today. I’m so glad I came.”

This sounds weird to say, but right in the middle of the sermon, she raised her hand and said, “Pastor, would you repeat what you just said?”

I said, “Sure sister. ‘If you are Single, take the opportunity of your singleness to serve God and do it now.’” She nodded. And I went on.

Again, now, as I sit here, I realize I needed to hear that statement repeated MYSELF.

Anyway, the rest of the day, I just did not feel like doing a whole lot … If this continues, I will see a doctor, but right now, I think it is combination of things. And I just need your prayers. Thanks.

Pray for my mom and sister as well. My mom has not been feeling well the past few days, either. She and my sister could not make it to church. When they can’t make it, it is very discouraging for both of them—they miss the fellowship. Both of them are relatively isolated since we live on the other side of town from our church … just a tough day all around.

But back to the reading—I noticed today a couple of blatant comparisons that are emerging in the two books that begin the respective testaments of our Bible.

In both, the number twelve is prominent—12 tribes of Israel in Genesis and the twelve disciples in Matthew. The 12 tribes procreated and started the nation of Israel—this name was given to a liar and cheat named Jacob who wrestled with God and prevailed.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sent the twelve out to advance the kingdom of God and to share the Good News of the gospel.

Prominent in both books is the admonition not to fear. Jacob feared his brother Esau, but God delivered him through their meeting. Jesus told the disciples not to fear as they went out on mission.

Food for thought and prayer on that one—I believe that this is an area in which the Lord is dealing with me.

"“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:26, 28, 31 ESV).

Lord, I’m not exactly sure what is going on … but I just bring you where I am and where my family is and where the church is. Thank you for what you are doing—whatever it is. I have no idea. Help me to fear anyone or anything but You. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 6: The Patriarchs

Before I move on to the topic for today, I just want to say a word about yesterday’s post. While we were at lunch, Marilyn read some of your responses to me. I just have to say, “Thanks.” I appreciate each and every one. I will check this morning in a few minutes to see who else responded.

There are a couple more brief comments I need to make. First, as those of you who read this blog fairly frequently can tell, I do not often comment about my singleness. I am a little hesitant to do so for the reasons I enunciated yesterday.

That having been said, I do not ever want any of my statements or lack thereof to be construed that I do not struggle with it and have struggles. I just want to make that clear.

Second, as I thought more about this yesterday, one thing occurred to me. I know that there are several, perhaps many, who are committed to praying for me that I will get married, and they are undeterred in that prayer. In addition to my family, I think of one Korean brother—I am going to see him in a few days for fellowship. He serves a Korean Baptist congregation in our city. He is a great brother. He always tells me that he is praying for me in that regard. I appreciate this very much. I know there are others. Again, you know who you are. Thank you.

Third, as much as some pray for some of us to GET married, I feel compelled to pray for couples to STAY married.

I honestly think that some people will faint if and when I ever get married. They will immediately look to the east to see Jesus return, and they will cry out, “It is a miracle!” Ha. But as hard as it is for some to get married in the first place, I think it is equally as hard to stay married.

And I am not even talking about marital challenges—every couple has those. I’m just talking about all the forces at work in our culture today to pull couples and families apart.

Thus, while some pray that I get married, I’m going to pray for couples and families even more concertedly.

Anyway, enough said about that …

I tell you: just reading the patriarch narratives is so refreshing, especially the Jacob stories. He certainly lived up to his name—CHEATER. In every twist and turn of his life, he was on the receiving end of being cheated (his years with Laban) but he doled out his share as well.

To use modern parlance—Jacob was a swindler. I’m sure if we met him today, we would put him in the same category as Bernie Madoff. Remember him? I had to search Google just to retrieve his first name, but what an infamous cheater!

However, by faith, he became part of our faith lineage—so much so that Jesus makes mention of him in the New Testament passage I read this morning as he commends the faith of the centurion:

"I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11, 12 ESV).

Lord, it is not always neat and clean and pretty. There is nothing in and of ourselves that commends us to you—Jew or Gentile, Single or Married, Slave or Free—whatever—we are all on level ground when it comes to the way we please you—by grace through faith. I pray for today’s service and this message from 1 Corinthians 7—it is going to be interesting. Always an adventure! Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 5: Marriage and Singleness

Almost from the start, when I began writing this blog four years ago, I decided that I did not want it to be a “fluff” piece. By that, I mean that as I was diagnosed with cancer, I wanted to share my real feelings and emotions as the Lord was dealing with me through this disease.

I happen to have a real pet peeve in this regard. I do think a lot of Christians are phonies. We put on airs. We play-act. We try to give each other the impression that we are doing great when we are not.

Unfortunately, the way that church happens these days forces us into this mold. Anyone who is brutally honest tends to be excoriated or lectured to, “Oh, John. Get over it. Just trust God.” I HATE this kind of dismissal. I resent it deeply, as if any of us are not human. God made us this way.

Sure, there is a line somewhere. The person that always complains and gripes about absolutely everything becomes someone we don’t really even want to be around. But those folks are few and far between. Most of us don’t share how we really feel often enough, nor do we have any forum outside our family where we can do this. There is something wrong with that …

Anyway, as you are reading, you might be thinking, “What on earth is John going to share today? Argh!”

I am preparing to preach a sermon tomorrow from 1 Corinthians 7. As a result of that and the reading today in the Daystar Plan, the whole issue of marriage and singleness has been on my mind and rather heavily.

I am going to be honest this morning about some things. So, here we go …

I have pretty much given up on the fact that I will ever get married, and most of the time, I am okay with it. There are times, however, that I do wonder, “What is going on, God?”

Yesterday, I was visiting with three guys. At one point, we all looked at each other. All of us are single. We laughed and said, “No wonder we are so happy.”

All joking aside, I think any Single who says, “I don’t EVER care about marriage” is lying. I believe that God made a vast majority of us to be married. However, like every general principle, there are exceptions.

The Apostle Paul is a case in point, although there are some who argue that as a Pharisee, he was likely married at some point. Who knows? But 1 Corinthians 7 makes it clear that he is single and content and an advocate for the lifestyle.

The famous rector of All Souls Langham Place, the Anglican Church in downtown London, is another. I actually heard Stott preach in his church. I buy everything he ever wrote. He was a prolific writer.

John Stott never married and believed he had the gift of celibacy, and in his two-volume biography, made some sort of comment like this, “Be careful when you make a claim to have the gift of celibacy. You might turn a corner and meet someone you can’t live without and you will have retract your grand declarations.” This is a loose paraphrase, but it is the gist of what he said.

I agree.

Paul talks about the gift of singleness. Some are given the gift of marriage; some have the gift of singleness. I used to think that the “gift of singleness” meant some sort of permanent physical or congenital issue—whatever that could be. That could be a possibility, of course in some rare instances.

Now, I DON’T think that AT ALL. I believe now that it is just a set of circumstances the Lord gives you, and you are called to be content in those circumstances—single or married.

Married people are called to be content as well, and I know for a fact that many of them are NOT. I’m sure we can all agree that marriage is no panacea--the sixty percent divorce rate demonstrates this.

But back to singleness—if I am single, then I need to be content in that calling (this is what Paul names it) UNTIL God changes the call. This is the rub, I believe. I think a lot of singles just get tired of being single and close their eyes and say, “Um, I will take that one.” That is no reason to marry.

Conversely, many married people get tired of being married in our culture and just pick out a new model—in some instances, they do choose a “model,” if we are talking about Hollywood or sports figures or whomever.

Not long ago, I was visiting with someone in my office that was telling me about marriage issues this person was facing. I made this individual stop when I said, “Do you think if you get divorced and marry someone else that you won’t face a whole new set of issues in another marriage?” Did I really have to say that? Even I know that marriage is NOT two people walking off into the sunset happily ever after ALL THE TIME.

Anyway, what is the point of this rambling diatribe?

It is a struggle at times, but I’m thankful today for the gift of singleness. I truly believe it is a gift from God, and I take it as such. The gift of singleness has allowed me more opportunity to serve both the church and my family. I am in a position now to help my mom and sister out by living here. I would certainly not have been able to do this if I had a wife and kids of my own. I’m so thankful for this and glad to be here.

In addition, I’m more thankful than ever for the institution of marriage. What an awesome idea that God had! I say to married people as often as I can, “If you are married, thank God for your spouse and enjoy your marriage. Are you kidding me?” It is wonderful.

What about a change of marital status? I believe the story of how the Lord worked to bring Isaac and Rebekah is a standard. I know we don’t live in the same type of culture of “arranged marriages,” but clearly, God brought those two together. He is the key! Nothing less than THAT should be the goal of every Single adult.

I couple that story (no pun intended) with Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 7 to ask and keep on asking.

So, anyway, if you know of someone who is not married now, I believe the best thing you can do for that person is to refrain from lecturing or trying to “fix them” or “fix them up.” Just pray for them, in the same way you pray for your married friends. By the way, people that are married need prayer as well, right? It is harder than ever to be married and stay married these days.

Lord, thank you for my unique set of circumstances. I choose today to serve you with a glad heart. I pray for those three guys I talked to yesterday. I lift up other Singles I know. I also pray for the married people I know. Teach us all, help us to learn to be content. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 4: Intercession

There is a section of the Abraham narratives in Genesis that has always stumped me a bit. It relates to an aspect of the Patriarch’s life that we do not often talk about it—his role as an intercessor.

Let me back up a bit: Lot never did much to help Uncle Abe. In fact, the elder continued to have to “bail” his nephew out of trouble. Shortly, after the two made their epic decisions, Abraham had to send “troops” to rescue Lot who got caught up in a tribal dispute.

But the main issue for Lot was the notorious place he called home—“Sodom and Gomorrah.” When Genesis 19:1 talks about Lot “sitting in the gate of Sodom,” this means that he was a respected leader in town. He played the role of “elder.” Typically, men in this position served as judges and the city counsel for a community.

Thus, when the angels visited him, he was so concerned to retain his respected position that he was willing to hand over his own daughters to a ravenous mob of homosexuals both to appease them and exercise his prerogative of hospitality. Things were pretty twisted, and Lot was at the top of the list. This was the town and this was the place that Abraham prayed for.

Back up to the last part of chapter eighteen, where Abraham prays for Sodom, asking the Lord if he would spare the town if X number of righteous people were present. The number starts at 50 and drops all the way to 10. Why did he do this? I’m not sure.

What motivates Abraham in this prayer? Well, I think he was concerned about Lot and his family. But somehow, the whole tenor of the prayer strikes me.

It was very evident to Abraham that the Lord simply could not tolerate the evil in this place. Judgment was imminent. It was going to happen. Not a question of “if” but a question of when. This, I believe, was a huge impetus to his praying.

Yesterday, I was visiting with my good friend, Gary. Hey buddy, if you are reading this blog today—it was great talking with you.

I was telling him about the church I serve and about church in general—these are hard times. Gary asked, “Why do you think it is?” I gave him some sort of answer and then he said, “When we were kids, and someone would have told us that …” And he started to list everything that is going on in our state at the moment beginning with a burgeoning marijuana, legal marijuana, industry. He mentioned gay “marriage” as well and some other things. Then he said, “Do you think this has anything to do with it?”

Ah, yes. Absolutely.

And this morning, as I think about his right on target statements, I am convinced that all this affects churches as far as attendance is concerned, for sure, but also, am I convinced that it affects us as far as URGENCY is concerned.

Am I burdened enough about the way things are to take the approach that Abraham did—to intercede for our city and state and nation?

Jesus teaches us how to pray in the Sermon on the Mount. Jeremy has been teaching us about prayer. He urges us to pray, as the Bible reflects, with confidence.

As I look at the so-called Model Prayer, I am again reminded that it is very simple, very straightforward, nothing complicated. But I sense a burden to intercede for our state and nation this morning.

Oh, Lord, I confess my apathy as a believer. I’m so used to what is going on that I am insulated from it, in a sense. I pray for the church. I pray for our state and nation. Spare us, Lord. Have mercy on us for the sake of the few righteous folks who are left. Turn us around before it is too late. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 3: "Lifting Up the Eyes"

Genesis 11-15; Matthew 4

I thought it might be good to include the passages for my daily readings every once in a while. I have to tell you, three days in, that this plan feels like a piece of cake compared to the sheer amount of reading that one has to do in “The Bible in 90 Days.” Maybe this is a good way to do it—start in the deep end of the pool, so to speak, and back off a bit.

But I have to say that, even though I was a little hesitant at first, I love this new plan.

Here is one of the beautiful things about the Word of God (among many): take a random passage in the Old Testament (any book, any chapter) and then read a random passage in the New (any book, any chapter) and I’m sure one would find commonalities or linkages or a helpful contrast of some sort. Of course! Duh! The same Author, the Holy Spirit, wrote it all, right?

I knew this intellectually prior to starting this new plan, but now, I am seeing it played out. The reading for today is a case in point.

A couple of verses in Genesis 13 stand out to me. They point out the huge difference between Abraham and his nephew Lot. You remember the context here. The possessions and livestock of both of these men grew to the point where they could no longer sojourn together. Thus, they had to part ways. In one of the greatest acts of faith in the whole Bible (I believe), the great Patriarch waved his hand as he and Lot looked out over Canaan: “you take this land and I will take the other or vice versa.”

When we trust God, we don’t stress over the small stuff. Now, I wouldn’t have called this choice “small stuff.” But Abraham’s choice was based on faith; Lot had a different criteria. I believe it was the beginning of the end for him. Here are the two verses:

"And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)" (Genesis 13:10 ESV)

"The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward," (Genesis 13:14 ESV).

There is a curious idiom that the ESV brings out. The phrase is the same for both men. Each man “lifted up” his eyes.

Humm. Very interesting. Just had to do a little research. It is the same phrase in English but not in Hebrew. Lot “yisah”ed; Abraham “sah”ed.

The language here reflects Eve’s temptation in so many ways. It starts with the eyes. It focuses on a garden. In Lot’s case, the fact that he chose a garden masked the evil that was really going on in that region, at least at first.

That was Lot; Abraham was very different. The “lifting up of his eyes,” I believe, was visionary. The Lord was encouraging him to see all that He was going to give him, but it certainly did not look as impressive as what Lot chose.

One other thing: Satan tempted Jesus through his eyes as well, but the Son of God stood firm. He tempted him with the “garden” of all the kingdoms on earth; while Jesus choose the eternal and unseen kingdom His Father gave Him—one that far exceeded any temporal collection of earthly kingdoms at that time or ever.

Jesus, I thank You that you were indeed tempted in every way that I am; yet you did not sin. Help me today to follow in the footsteps of Abraham who trusted you and was totally relaxed with the “small stuff.” You are sovereign in all the choices and details of human life. No sweat! Amen.


Daystar Plan, Day 2: Water, Water, and More Water

I had a wonderful visit with a couple last night. They recently presented themselves as candidates for membership in our fellowship.

I went to their home last night for fellowship, a meal (of course, and it was good too), and to do the membership class with them. Over the past couple of years, our membership class has morphed from something I tried to do with a group of folks to one-on-one or one-on-couple. It is easier to schedule, for one thing, and I think works better.

Anyway, as we talked about their church history, Larry told me about a former pastor who had the ability to show how the Old Testament informs the New in just about every sermon he preached. This was a fascinating comment to me. I resonate with it.

I’m not sure we understand fully how everything that Jesus came to do in His life and ministry was INDEED a fulfillment of the Old Testament in one way or another.

Case in point: Jesus’ baptism. I have always used the passage in Matthew three with candidates for baptism, explaining that Jesus was baptized, not because He had to be—He was the Son of God—but He did it as an example for us. I certainly still believe this, but I don’t believe this is the whole story.

Let’s go back to the story of Noah. Today, in the Daystar Plan, I read Genesis 6-10 and Matthew 2 and 3. The chapters in Genesis are primarily about Noah. He, along with Adam and Abraham, tower over the Genesis narrative as three of the top guys.

Noah and what happened to him, I believe, is a transition between Adam and Abraham in that, God had to destroy the earth completely because sin had become so rampant. He ended things with a lot of water; the Lord began the new planet, so to speak, also with water.

Water didn’t save Noah; it was the means by which God saved him and made a new beginning.

I believe that the baptism of Jesus functions in this role—it signals a new beginning and a new era and a new kingdom. It marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

In Jesus’ case, the final Old Testament and first New Testament prophet, John the Baptist, laid the foundation. He preached outside the religious establishment in Jerusalem leveling a scathing indictment of the “religion” of His day. He pronounced God’s judgment on the Jewish religion in just the same way that Noah’s ark judged the world and condemned it (Hebrews 11 makes this clear).

Thank You, Lord, for the new beginning You made in Jesus—a beginning through water just as You did with Noah. Thank you that baptism pictures this for each of us—an ending to our old lives—dead, gone, and judged—and a beginning of a new life in Jesus. I remember this. I affirm it. Let me live for you today. Amen.

Daystar Plan, Day 1: The Supreme Court Decision and a Sharp Contrast

Okay, a couple of things are coming together this morning. I feel compelled to comment on the decision of the Supreme Court yesterday regarding their ruling concerning Hobby Lobby’s case.

Plus, I have started a new Bible-reading plan. In YouVersion, where several plans for reading the whole Bible are listed (several of you pointed me to this resource a few weeks ago, and I really appreciate it), I have chosen the “Daystar Television 6 Month Plan.”

What I like about it (and this is different for me) is that it gives readings in the Old Testament AND the New each day.

Even with the “The Bible in 90 Days,” I followed a procedure that I have adhered to most of my life—reading exclusively from the Old Testament OR from the New each day. Now, even as I write that, I realize that what I said isn’t quite true. For several years, my plan was to read from an Old Testament and then New Testament and then Old Testament book and so forth AND a Psalm or Proverb each day.

Be that as it may, this new plan is different, and I am already seeing a sharp contrast.

But before I get to it, I want to comment about yesterday’s decision. And again, I have no desire to be political here, even though my comments might be construed as such.

I stumbled across a website by Ed Stetzer. Do you know that name? I searched for him on Google just to make sure I accurately delineate his job (I didn’t know his job title before now). He serves as Vice President of the Insights Division of LifeWay. He often speaks out on contemporary issues.

Please see his article on He asserts that the Supreme Court decided in favor of the Green family (owners of Hobby Lobby) on the basis of religious liberty, and their decision runs counter to the views of many Americans who believe that their employer ought to provide contraceptive health care (including the four abortion pills) to their workers.

I urge you to read this article in its entirety. Toward the end of it, Stetzer challenges the church to pray: “Let's pray for our Supreme Court members as they continue to wrestle through complicated issues of ethics and morality. Let's pray they continue to defend our freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. Let's pray for President Obama and his administration, that they will embrace the cause of religious liberty for all Americans, including evangelicals like the Green family. Let's pray for our neighbors and friends who do not yet know Jesus, that the ruling will prompt discussion about morality and its source, the Jesus of the Bible.” I say Amen to this.

All of this is very significant given my first reading in the Daystar Plan for today. It had me read the first five chapters of Genesis and the first chapter of Matthew. I have never thought about the sharp and stark contrast in the beginnings of these two books that are the first in their respective testaments.

Two significant contrasts. Are you ready? I wasn’t.

First, GENEALOGIES. In Genesis 5, there is a genealogy of sin—from Adam on. Everyone lived a long time, but length of life never presumes quality of life and with the exception of Enoch, who walked with God and then he was not, it was not pretty.

In Matthew 1, there is also a genealogy, but it begins with Abraham, and it culminates with Jesus. It is a genealogy of FAITH. Beginning with Abraham, God pointed the way out of the trap of the genealogy of sin that started with Adam. And continues today, by the way.

Second, BIRTHS. Adam and Eve had two boys, but one killed the other and perpetuated the cycle of sin that Adam and Eve started.

Matthew 1 chronicles a birth as well—the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the Son of God. His birth perpetuated the deliverance of mankind from the cycle of sin and death that Adam and Eve started, not automatically, but when we repent and place our faith in the Son of God.

Again, I say, WOW. I’ve never seen this before, and it juices me up on the new plan.

But back to the Supreme Court and our country—all of this is further confirmation to me that our country is moving further and further away from God. Abortion is becoming more and more THE NORM. I’m thankful for the Court’s decision in this case, but I’m afraid it won’t stem the tide.

What is our only hope? The Virgin-born Son of God!

Oh, Jesus. Thank You that You are the only Hope for descendants of Adam who kill each other as Cain killed Abel. I cry out to you. Have mercy on us as a nation. I do lift up our President, our Congress, and the Supreme Court. Help us to stop our course of abandoning the principles upon which this nation was founded. But we do not place our ultimate hope in government. We place our faith in the ultimate descendant of Abraham. May the church, may I, proclaim Him with boldness today. Amen.