Category: Devotions

Senator Blumenthal and Me

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47)

Watching the Justice Kavanaugh hearings, I disagreed with what some of the Senators said, but one Senator in particular took me beyond disagreement into angry resentment : Senator Blumenthal.

Senator Blumenthal said that if Kavanaugh told even one lie about his personal history, then he should be totally disqualified for consideration for the Supreme Court.  But there was a huge problem : this Senator was known for misleading  statements about his own personal history.

Since many of the other Senators had their own annoying traits,  I wondered why it was only Blumenthal who got me so riled up ?

Well, after watching the hearing, I went to a physical therapy session for my tender left shoulder.  I heard a fellow patient ranting bitterly  against Blumenthal, but I kept quiet. Later, though, I considered the  gap between  my polite outer exterior and my own secret agreement with that gentleman’s angry rant! Yes,  I like to project a certain  image…an even-keeled man who doesn’t express nasty, ranting  thoughts. But wait a minute —isn’t that a gap between how I present myself and what I am really like …. just like Blumenthal ?!

The Lord used my reactions to Blumenthal to switch me to dealing with my own deceit instead of ranting at his !

I am glad we have a Lord who is so patient with our inconsistencies! And he loves us so much that he engineers circumstances to expose them, so they can be corrected.

I can’t yet say I am just like Jesus’ disciple Nathaniel in whom there is no deceit. But by God’s grace I can say I’m willing to admit it when I’m being deceitful. Then I can pray for help in putting off two-faced deceit and putting on single-minded transparency and honesty.

I could never live up to that!

bingo 3

 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:35-36)

As Christians we’re called to do good, loving deeds.

I often hear of people who are constantly doing tons of loving things for Jesus. Then, an accusing voice tells me, “You could be visiting more sick people than you do…. And how can you even call yourself a Christian if you are not involved in a prison ministry?” It’s easy to start feeling insecure.

Where does that insecurity come from ?

Here’s the problem : If  my focus is on comparing myself to others I will always either  feel bad because I come up short compared to them or feel superior because  I think I am doing better than they are. If my measure basically revolves around me, I am trapped…….I need a remedy !

Thankfully, Paul points the way towards a solution :

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

I think Paul’s advice helps us both to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought and also not to think more lowly of ourselves than we ought.  For at the heart of this verse is getting rid of  comparing ourselves to others.

So, in faith, our small group looked for ways to serve in our town. A couple of activities we tried weren’t quite a right fit. But some people in our group had gone each  Christmas to sing carols and give out cookies at a local adult residential care home. So we began to wonder — how could we reach out to the residents during the rest of the year?

We started a monthly Bingo Night for them.  Now, for years, they always look forward to our visits and enjoy the games and prizes. And I love joining them, not grudgingly or under compulsion, but  propelled by faith and love.

Secret Decoder Ring?

secret decoder ring

There are loads of passages in the Bible about the future. Lots of them are obscure or hard to understand, perhaps the most difficult being those in the book of Revelation. Since people have argued about the timing and meaning of Revelation’s details  for centuries, I am skeptical when someone says they have discovered exactly what these mysterious passages all mean. It sounds  like they have discovered  a secret decoder ring that decrypts the prophetic passages in the  Bible.

Today I will argue that Revelation gives us great encouragement in living our Christian lives, even if we can’t decode lots of the prophetic details.

Today let’s look at one passage with lots of mystery, the tale of  the two witnesses. These guys appear in Revelation 11:3-12. I’ll give more Scripture than I usually do in my posts:

 And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.  They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.  Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified.  For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.  Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. (Revelation 11:3-12)

You can find many attempts to decode just who the two witnesses are. Are they  Moses and Elijah? Are they someone else ? And what in the world is the significance of 1,260 ?

So many theories ! But let’s look at what’s more important. We know that all scripture has something of use for us to live more fully for God today. So — How do the two witnesses affect how I live now?

Let me suggest three ways.

  • The two witnesses speak the truth in spite of opposition—- and God wants us to boldly, confidently speak the truth even when we face opposition.
  • The scorn of wicked people for the two witnesses ends. God sets it right. And here’s a promise : Later, God will set all wrongs right. We don’t know the timing, but God promises that evil will end.
  • The two murdered witnesses come alive. And, Jesus brings us back to life. First, we were dead in our sin and Jesus brought us back to spiritual life. And Jesus promises that sometime after we die, he will return and give us new, live resurrection bodies.

See, we don’t need a secret decoder ring for Revelation to be helpful.  Even though the details of the timing and sequencing of future events remain hidden, Revelation encourages us to live more fully for Christ today, and strengthens our hope that our Lord is fully in control of our future.

Help ! I’m Stuck

truck stuck rt 202

On Route 202, down the road from our house, there’s  an underpass under the New Jersey Transit tracks. (It’s a few miles south from the underpass you see in the picture.) Recently a truck got stuck right in the middle of rush hour. The unfortunate driver did not first compare the height of his vehicle versus the number on the overpass sign. The mortified driver caused a traffic tie-up until the police let some air out of his tires to free him.

This leads us to today’s quote from Jesus.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,  saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ (Luke 14:28-30)

Now, sometimes you hear people say that Jesus guarantees a life of health and prosperity.  But coming to Christ  is not costless. It’s false to say that believing in Jesus guarantees us our best life now.

The writer of Amazing Grace has it perfectly :

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Contemplating the stanza, we see how Jesus’ cost is well worth paying. Yes, on life’s way we face dangers, toils, and snares. But Jesus safely sustains and guides us, giving us a final home with him.

Even though we have determined to do our best for Christ, we are not immune to bad choices and misjudgments. Too often we get stuck in our own life underpasses.

But each time that happens, our patient Lord loves us too much to leave us there. As we repent,  he lets the air out of our overinflated opinion of ourselves. Once more forgiven, we are able to roll on forward with Jesus again !

When Does Jesus contradict me?

I think Jesus likes to contradict me both when I think too highly of myself and when I think too lowly of myself.

First, I’ll give you an example of each from scripture and then explain how it might apply to us.

In John 4, Jesus meets a woman at the well who thinks  too lowly of herself. Due to her messed up personal life with multiple divorces,  she is viewed locally as a low life. Plus, being a member of an outcast ethnic group, she was shocked that Jesus would even bother talking to her.

 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) (John 4:9)

Jesus regards her as full of worth and dignity, and dialogs with her anyway.

Now meet the Pharisees, who thought too highly of themselves. When Jesus confronts them in John 8, their attitude is : How dare you challenge our beliefs ! We are always right ! Jesus  is not as mellow with them as he was with the woman at the well —  indeed in  John 8:44  he goes so far as to say they are listening to their  father, the devil.

Do you see yourself in either of these categories? I see how both of these can and do happen in my life. So when I sin or err and  beat myself up and feel like a worthless piece of filth, that’s the “too low.”  Jesus contradicts me :You are a new creation. You are a forgiven man who has life and worth from me.

It’s easy to cheer for Jesus  being especially stern to those  hard-heartedly closed Pharisees.  We may even pat ourselves on the back for not being like them.  But sometimes that hard-heartedness sneaks into us.

Here’s how : Someone confronts me  about something wrong I said or did and they are spot on— but my first reaction is to think: How dare they say that to me?  I know I am in the right ! Now I am thinking too highly of myself.

I’m glad we have a merciful God. I need to do one thing that the Pharisees refused to do : when I am in the wrong, I quickly need to grab on to Jesus’ offer of repentance and forgiveness.

Today’s takeaways :

  • When you are on a high horse – listen to Jesus and repent.
  • And when you are beating yourself up —-stop !— listen to Jesus and see your worth.

Do I Worship Jesus With Awe ?

The Jewish priests were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord. (1 Chronicles 23:30)

Recently, reading through the book of 1 Chronicles in my daily Bible time, I encountered descriptions of various worship services and rituals. It used to be that I’d read that old stuff and say it was not too meaningful —- after all,  now we have Jesus.

But this time through, I felt a sense of awe reading  these descriptions that I haven’t had before. For these worshipers knew that  the almighty God of the universe was present as they gave thanks and praise; this was far from being only a meaningless ritual for them !

And from our Christian perspective, as we look backwards at this Chronicles worship, we see that these  services were previews and tastes of what we would experience with Jesus Christ.

Today, we hear so much about Jesus being our friend, which is fine since he does walk with us as friend and brother.

But I want to ask :

Do we also experience Jesus as the almighty awesome God when we worship him ?

When we do, that has a real implication  for our daily lives. We experience Jesus as more than just our day-to-day buddy. We begin to get a taste of eternity in our worship. This taste of eternity reaches down to affect how we live during the day…the stuff that gets me riled up with petty feelings of annoyance somehow begins to seem less important.

Jesus is my friend but at the same time he is almighty awesome God. The more I enter into worshiping this Lord who is closer than a brother but also far above my daily life, the more what I think, feel, and do in my daily life begins to change .

Breathing in Bugs

Finally our long hot humid oppressive suffocating summer has ended, and fall has begun. Towards the end of summer I set an unpleasant, unofficial, new personal record. Running in Mountain Lakes early one morning, I sucked in yet another bug. Reminded me of when my wife and I went to a bluegrass concert in Overpeck Park in the Meadowlands back when we lived in Bergen County. One  band had to stop their set early—-the poor woman who was their lead vocalist had breathed in one bug too many !

My bug-breathing led me to reflect more generally on when things seem to just happen to us.  Where it is not our choice—and yet —stuff happens. Yes, my bug-sucking is  a picture of what it means to be living in a fallen world.  After all, when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they didn’t have to worry about breathing in bugs on their morning runs.

My bug-sucking is an example of what economists calls a negative externality. It’s when someone else’s activities harm you and cost you and you’re not compensated — like a  nearby factory that creates stinky toxic smoke that you breathe in. Or someone doesn’t clear their yard of places where bugs breed.

When that happens, what are  our choices ?

Sue the bums? Call the EPA?

Or just put up with it?

You mean we can’t always fight it? Yes, sometimes we need to put up with certain crappy things that are out of our control.

At first glance that sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it ? And it would stay so if we didn’t believe that things will be finally set right. I’m not advocating inert passivity when we should act — but sometimes there really is no action we can take. (I mean, should I have run with a netting over my face?)

But we believe that Christ will set all things right, if not in this life then in the next. We have cause for optimism in spite of the slop. That’s what Christian hope is all about !