Getting Stuck

We spent a couple of nights in our motorhome in Oxford, KS last week. It rained a lot, but we spent time with good friends and enjoyed it.

While we were gone, the batteries in the thermostat in the house corroded. The thermostat stuck on… doing what thermostats do when they engage the heating/air conditioning system. We walked into the house at 67 degrees. Repairing the thermostat, we put things away and recognized that the house wasn’t really warming up any since I didn’t turn the heater on. So I watched my ball game under a blanket.

Like the thermostat, we have certain things that we are designed to do. Christians are saved by grace, through faith,… created in Christ Jesus for good works that God designed for us to walk in. I would assume, that like me, you make a conscious effort to embrace this calling of God for good things.

We talk with others about the blessings of God, we attempt to discern good from evil, embracing good while shunning evil. We use both internal and external disciplines to keep ourselves on track. Sometimes in these things we can become unwittingly stuck.

During Jesus’ day, there were those who tithed mint, dill and cumin seeds, giving every tenth one to God (a bit stuck in the details) but neglected the weightier provisions of the Law, justice, mercy, and faith. It isn’t that they shouldn’t have shared their tithes, but when our obedience doesn’t arise out of our sense of justice, mercy and faith, it has become misplaced or stuck.

Today, we can become focused on Biblical things, like observing the Lord’s Supper, or studying the Scriptures, but if we do these things without being aware of the connection to God, we are stuck. Paul cautions the Corinthians in their observance of the Supper to “discern the body”. They could not share the body and blood of Jesus if they were unaware that they were not sharing fairly with the body of Christians around them.

We are not to neglect the designs of God for our lives, however if we become stuck in our activities without remembering the “whys”, we fail to honor God.


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The “But I Don’t Want To” Exemption

“They are being mean to me. How should I respond?” It is a pretty common question that people struggle with when relationships fracture. Among friends, family, or ex-spouses, the question arises repeatedly.

As a therapist, I understand the dynamic; a desire for balance, equilibrium, fairness. It is as old as man himself, the desire to be treated correctly. In a distorted view, there is a desire to retaliate. How am I to act when I am mistreated by others?

If I framed the question back to the person in this way, they might be able to answer, but likely they believe that there is an exception for when the pain is too much.

We are to “go the extra mile’, unless this is the third time the offender has done this in the past 30 days. We are to “turn the other cheek”, unless they are just doing this to spite me.

The point in all these situations is, we are not called to “right the ship”, to make sure that “everything is equal”, or to make sure that no one takes advantage of us. We are called to regulate our own behavior, to act godly in a godless situation. The question is never “what should they do”, because we don’t control them.

When the clouds roll back, at the dawning of the new heavens and new earth, when Jesus reviews our lives with us… we don’t answer for them. At that throne room scene, when we stand before the judgment seat of God, it isn’t about anyone else’s behavior at all. We will want to have done the right thing.

The mystifying thing about the account of the life of Jesus as recorded in Scripture is how focused he is on the end goal. As his disciples want to call down fire from heaven, he anticipates bearing the sins of the world, none of them his own, for the greater purpose.

I know, when we get mistreated, it is natural to want to get even. The idea of blessing the one who causes your babies to cry themselves to sleep at night is repulsive. The concept of treating with grace and kindness the one who treats you with disrespect and hurtfulness is painful. But, God has called you to view this world through a different lens. He calls you even when it is hard.


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Fair is Fair, Or Is It?

You must not pervert the justice of the foreigner or of the fatherless, nor take a widow’s cloak as a pledge.  Deut. 24:17

Just reading that, I doubt that anyone would object. It sounds ethical, morally responsible, like a way that good people should function.

It is more than that, far more than that. It is a peek into the heart of God. A quick glimpse into the very nature of the Lord God Almighty.

It is an abomination before God to have two standards of justice, one for the good guys, another for the vulnerable. Neither money, connections, family nor appearance is to cause the standard of what is just and fair to be changed from one person to the other. So says God.

It sounds logical, reasonable, and fair to the ear, but putting it into practice is a far more difficult process.

Walk through a public area, a large store or down a city street, a perfect stranger smiles and nods their head and you will likely respond with a smile. In that same setting, what happens if the person is ragged, smelly, or disheveled? Does your mind run to condemnation, avoidance or fear? Do you move toward a different doorway, or try to change aisles? Do you have the same patience if you are behind them in the check out lane while they count out loose change as for the woman fumbling through her expensive purse looking for her debit card?

God spends lots of time in Scripture, pressing the idea that those who are different should have the same access to fair treatment as those who look like us. Accents, language, skin tone, clothing style, and social advantage should never enter into our thoughts when considering how to treat someone.

James reinforces this concept in the New Testament, “Pure and undefiled religion before God is to remember the widows and the fatherless and to keep one’s self unspotted from the world.”

Honestly, it is easier to speak about than to do consistently.


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Bruce Cox and Don Ferrill are two cousins I haven’t seen in decades. In different family conversations their names come up from time to time, but since we were children gathered in a little front room around a Christmas tree in Sidney, Texas our paths seldom cross. For our adult lives, 700 to 1000 miles have separated us.

Last week I spent another 700 miles north in South Dakota with Christians I’ve known over the past 30 plus years. Janet and I were in our motorhome, the Hindenberg (it is big, grey and a probable disaster) camped in a church parking lot where I would be preaching the next morning. A friend dropped by to tell me that another camper would be joining us that night, from Texas.

He really stopped to tell me that those camping next to us would be Aggies. In a few minutes a little camper pulled up and we met Karey and Hank Hayes. We exchanged greetings and we got their unit hooked up to utilities.

Exchanging history to get to know one another, Hank mentioned he had gone to vet school at Texas A&M. I attempted to make a connection, “While I am a Longhorn fan since 1963, I do have extended family who attended A&M, a daughter in law, a number of cousins… In fact, my first cousin Bruce Cox attended vet school there. Hank’s face looked shocked. He knew a Bruce Cox. I clarified that Bruce’s dad was a dentist.  ‘In Waxahachie’, he concluded. I know another cousin of your’s, Don Ferrill. They are dear friends.

Thus began my week, connections through relationships.

My good friend, Bruce Goodwin, taught class last week and I preached for the Northern Hills church in Spearfish, SD. That presented a foundation for a number of Bible talks throughout the week between us. I crave those discussions as Bible students explore the meanings and understandings of Scripture, looking for application in our day-to-day lives. It is especially meaningful with Bruce as we have been having these talks for about 35 years.

Who we are, our values, actions, passions, and inclinations become more pronounced, and clearly manifest themselves through our relationships. It is in the context of relationships that we become real with one another. Our deepest desires, most passionate needs and even the darkest secrets are revealed, rewarded and hopefully regulated by the ones we allow closest to us.

In the context of deep relationship, Scripture teaches that we are to confess our faults, pray, forgive and grow. The Bible is set in the language of families, relationships, and connection. Finally then my brethren….  Beloved, understand this…  My brothers, these things ought not to be so…  …loved him like a brother…   ’Greetings Rabbi!’ And kissed him. ‘Friend’, Jesus asked him, ‘why have you come?’

We see so much more clearly, the impact and significance of thoughts, behaviors and actions when they are silhouetted against the backdrop of the trust, love, and expectations of those we love the most.

Brothers who cast Joseph in the pit, then Joseph’s forgiveness years later in Egypt. Jonathan’s testimony to David that one day David would be first and Jonathan would be second in the kingdom. Samuel’s running to Eli as he hears the voice in the darkness. These are all occasions when character, trust, and confidence shine through brightly.

So, in your closest relationships, what is evident about your life? Relationships form over superficial things, common work relationships, interests in sports or recreation, or having children of similar ages. But the meaning, the significance of the relationship is defined in what it says about you.

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A Good Man Has Died

Spiritual growth isn’t an instantaneous activity that can be marked on a daily chart. It happens a bit at a time, gradually, but you don’t see it each day.

Today I read where an old friend died of pancreatic cancer. Denny was not someone I was particularly close to, we had only a handful of conversations. The ones we had were at important times in my walk with Christ.

I first met him about thirty some years ago at the Tulsa Workshop. We were standing at a booth he was manning, promoting an idea he had for Image magazine. I had been toying with the idea of a magazine as well, along the same lines but not nearly as well developed as his concept. We spoke for 45 minutes, while Janet wandered off to other booths.

I was frustrated spiritually. I knew that some of the approaches that I had used with Scripture that reduced it to a rule book were failing me. Reading the Bible as a book full of rules that unlocked a hidden code had failed me. It left it lifeless and powerless, needing my intellectual energy to empower it to free me. That wasn’t going to work.

I was reading the Scriptures as letters now, one disciple writing others, telling them about the journey, offering encouragement to keep moving forward. It was refreshing to me, hopeful, personal. I described it to Denny and he shook his head knowingly.

Our conversation was a mutual exchange, one person talking about a change in vision, the other excitingly taking up where the first left off. We both knew that most of what we read didn’t reflect this vision, I wasn’t sure how it could change.

We spoke a handful of other times, seldom seeing each other. I would read his publication, sometimes agreeing, other times shaking my head. What surprised me was how when we did speak, the conversation just continued from where we left off.

Today is the first time I’ve ever thought of it. In some way those conversations were mile markers in my spiritual journey. I have other friends who have served the same purpose for me. A few, very few.

Today I acknowledge a debt to a friend, a fellow traveler on a journey toward Jesus. Denny Boultinghouse, I miss you and look forward to our chats in the new heavens and the new earth.


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When Truth Runs Amok

All he wanted to be, his focus was right

So he worked at it daily, with all his might.

Correction of error, refinement, realignment

These, the tools that shaped the assignment


But along the way he lost sight of the goal

All of the benefits buried deep in a hole.

Helpful, insightful, at times a bit bold

The shift of his focus too quickly was old.

I know where you are wrong, amiss in your life.

From stranger to neighbor and even his wife.

The advice wasn’t asked for, often unwanted

But his efforts at “right” were not to be daunted.


If you just did it my way, the way I have learned.

I am sure that your success will easily be earned.

No asking, without thinking his counsel was given.

He never once noticed his friendships were driven


Far from him it seems, as right is from wrong.

He drove off the others, his words were too strong.

Not that he didn’t try, to set things aright

He pressed forth his case, by day and by night.


The more he possessed it, the worse it became

To those all around him, was assigned all the blame.

Amid the shattered dreams, hope all askew,

The lessons appeared, he noticed too few.


Being right is a good thing, but a personal task.

Imposing on others, especially unasked

Breaches all of the boundaries, of your space and mine.

It severs the value, truth loses each time.


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To Post or Not to Post?

James tells me, Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of a man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Implicit in his statement is the concept that followers of God are motivated by achieving the righteousness of God. I find that a worthy goal.

How then, do I allow my daily walk to reflect that value? What things must I abandon, modify, or implement to accomplish this goal?

Perhaps we can find a hint of the answer by returning to the verse? Quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger… This, given the impulsive nature of our culture, might prove more of a challenge.

Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook are all popular methods of “instant” communication. We can all post or repost whatever catchy little phrase or meme’ that says exactly what we believe. Perhaps the shock value of the photo will tug at the hearts of others exactly as it has tugged at our own hearts. Maybe untold thousands will abandon long held beliefs and positions because of this pitiful little puppy, or an unborn baby, or picture of the latest school shooting. After all, it made me look.

Unfortunately, these don’t draw the reflective attention of those who disagree with the position. For most who hold an opposing view, it tends to cause them to dismiss, discount, or disregard the “repost”. Our friends who hold the same position might repost the statement. You won’t find someone who views the world differently stating, “I’m reposting this because I’ve never considered this in this light.”

What does it matter, what we post or don’t post? Perhaps nothing at all. But, perhaps it matters a lot. Maybe it caters to our impulsive nature, so that we say things without regard to how it might seem to others. Perhaps the posts that express our frustration with the “police” or the “police haters”, or the “gun advocate” or the “gun opponent”, or whatever other issue we want to speak about… perhaps it arises from our fears and biases.

If I don’t take the moment to reflect, “Will this achieve the righteousness of God?” I may be speaking too rashly. I might be correct in my position, but closing the doors for meaningful conversations.

Before the next Twitter post, ask yourself, “Will this come across in such a way as to draw together or to push apart?” If it incites strong emotion in you, reflect on how it might be seen by those who disagree. After all, the goal is not to take a side, the goal is to be like God.

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Do Good, Keep Doing Good

I like to help people. I like to help those who are struggling with their walk in the Christ. I like to help those who are entangled in sin. I like to help those who are trapped by what they see as normal and need to be exposed to other ways of doing things. Helping others has become a natural form of interaction for me.

Jesus is described as one who went about doing good, healing those who were oppressed by the devil. That is a pretty good pattern to follow. I may not be able to heal physical illness, but if I can do good and thwart the devil a bit, I will have made an impact.

I’d like to think that somewhere, off in a spiritual realm, that the devil and his minions are having a conversation from time to time about how I, working alongside and at the direction of Jesus, am a real irritation to them. If I am going to vex someone, I’d like to think it could be the devil.

Doing good is fundamental to the Christian walk. Paul reminds us not to grow weary in doing good in Galatians 6 and 2 Thessalonians 3. If we are going to put our backs into something, let it be in doing good.

Romans 2:7 reminds us that by patiently doing good, we become recipients of eternal life. While in Titus 3, he gives what could well be the challenge for each of us. “Let our people also learn to continue doing good works to meet urgent needs, that they might not be unproductive.”

It might help us to take the focus off of our task being “going to heaven”, and shift toward bringing the kingdom of God into the lives of those around us. Effective kingdom living is not sitting back talking about platitudes and attitudes, it is being in the trenches of life with those who struggle and bringing good to them.

Make no mistake, doing good, doing the right thing in the face of evil does not result in smiles and being patted on the back. Resisting evil and instilling good, results in rebellion in others, rejection by some, and avoidance with others. You will be misunderstood, misrepresented, and underappreciated. Scheming, slander and jeering might all be things that you face. Your motives will be questioned, you will be labeled as gullible, misguided and naive.

Do good anyway. It is the high calling of God, and if you stick to it, some will begin to see that you look like Jesus

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Us or Them?

So, how can I keep silence in the face of injustice, or turn a blind eye to the abuse of others?

Now before you think I am going to post one of the memes that you’ve seen in Facebook of little children separated from parents, or not separated from parents. Or a meme that wraps itself in a mantle of righteousness espousing one political agenda over another, you are going to be disappointed – if that is your expectation.

There is enough corruption in the camps of any political camp that I will not align myself with any, as well as some well documented truths that cause me to momentarily gasp, just  to see a bit of hope.

I so love people on both sides of every issue that I want to support their movement toward a loving God rather than question their sense, integrity, and loyalty by blindly lumping them into disposable categories and pushing them aside.

My question is some pondering for myself. What is it in me that allows me to keep silence in the face of injustice? I grew up in the 1960s-70s, used language of bigotry, and acted as though the circumstances of the inner city blacks in Detroit was the result of their own choices. After all, they chose to live in marginal areas of town. They dressed differently, drove different vehicles, ate different foods and were all about “Soul” this and “Soul” that.

We, on the other hand, were not like them. We left areas when they began to become run down, moving further into the suburbs. We preferred to shop in our own area of town, eat in our own restaurants, and enjoy our own entertainment. We just did normal things, typical things, things like everyone else who were like us.

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Secret Money

One of the faith building things that happens in my life takes place when we put out an appeal for a particular project. They don’t necessarily happen every week, but usually I have the experience monthly.

Someone will come up to me quietly and say, “I can help with that.” Sometimes some cash is pressed into my hand, other times perhaps a check. I’ve had people contact me over Facebook, who have listened to me mention something in a sermon, then send money to help. I’ve had others bring items, household goods, and clothing, whatever is needed. Once in a while I will get the question, “How’s your freezer space?” Someone has some beef that they want used for Monday lunches, or families in need in the community.

I make sure that the shepherds know of the generosity, often at the request of the benefactor, anonymously. I made it a policy many decades ago to never handle cash without accountability to leadership. But what I’ve noticed, what I’ve been blessed to notice, is how often people are incredibly generous without any desire for others to know about it. Sometimes it might only be 20$, but sometimes it has been thousands of dollars.

Get it done. Let me help. Can you get this to that situation? I want to be a part of that. Those are common expressions. I walk away humbled and offering praise to God for such hearts.

Because I am at times a “point person,” these experiences come about. Tom and I have often shared stories of people in different situations who have used us to funnel funds to accomplish things that glorify God, ease suffering, create opportunity, and lift burdens.

I’ve been surprised by some who have been very cautious over the years. Jaded by televangelists who expect followers to buy them jet planes, they slowly become some of the most generous in trying to help local efforts. This happens when they see the results of the generosity of others. Those are acts of faith planting seeds of faith.

You might not see as many of these things, but I want you to know about it. I want you to understand that “without letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing,” people of faith do incredible things. From widow’s mite to a banker’s millions, people of faith have a heart of generosity.

Today, we will do a very “routine” Sunday assembly. Singing, praying, teaching, the Lord’s Supper, and an offering.  The offering might seem like “paying dues,” but it is far more than that. It is a discipline to instill generosity in us, so that faith might grow in others.

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