Trust The Lord

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

“I sought the Lord and he answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.”  Psalm 34:4                                                                            

The one positive fear that the Bible endorses is the fear of God. Wise Solomon said fearing God is the beginning of wisdom. It was Oswald Chambers who added, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”   

In Eritrea, Helen Berhane was frequently tortured during her almost three years in the shipping container prison. In spite of that she had no fear. Once when interrogated for teaching the Bible to the guards outside her cell, she replied, “I am always looking for opportunities to talk about my faith and to spread the news about Jesus. I am not ashamed of the gospel and I will talk to anyone and to everyone. Jesus does not just want me to tell the prisoners about him, he wants me to tell the guards too. Even if the president were to visit the prison, I would tell him about the gospel.

“I am not afraid of you. You can do what you want to me, but ultimately all you can do is kill my body; you cannot touch my soul. You cannot even kill me unless it is God’s will that I should die.”

Her persecutors had no answer and returned her to her shipping container.

David Aikman writes in his book Great Souls about the personal life of Pope John Paul II—especially his personal prayer life. When he became pope in 1978, the result of all that personal prayer was evident in his inaugural sermon. “Be not afraid!” he said.

He recognized that fear is a sin because it denies the sovereignty of God. And he recognized that as a leader of a large Church, and unwaveringly opposed to the powerful communist Empire, he had to give people the courage to resist evil.

And courageous he was. When he saw Russian tanks poised to invade Poland, the Pope announced he would go and stand with his people if the Soviets crossed the border. The Soviet tanks did not move.

The Pope knew he might face assassination—and indeed, someone did try to assassinate him—yet he continued to tell the world, “Be not afraid.” 

So today let us live in the positive fear of God so that we will not fear anything or anyone else.

Dear Lord, we pray that all Christians in fearful situations today will have the attitude of trust in the Lord and not fear for their lives, in and through Jesus. Amen

Grace and Peace


Fixing Bad Deals

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

(David said) “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and those whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Romans 4:7-8

The small town barber found himself facing some financial difficulties. 

When he was the only barber in town, he had made a reasonable, if not a good living, at his trade. But now he was no longer the only barber in town. A franchise had set up shop and, in two-foot tall letters on its front window, proclaimed, “All haircuts $3. Walk-ins welcome.”

Three dollars? The experienced barber had been charging $5.

He knew he couldn’t survive if he tried to beat his competition’s price.

Now there are certain advantages to living and working in a small town. One of those advantages is that many people still believe in supporting local businesses, even if that support is going to cost them a dollar or two.

Because of that attitude, the barber found many of his clients kept on coming. And although there was a slow, steady drop in profit, there wasn’t any mass exodus to the new salon. Even so, after two years the barber realized his business wasn’t going to survive. That’s when he visited with a wise friend and asked if he might find a solution.

The friend asked for a day or two to think it over.

On the third day, the friend showed up with a sign that he hung in the barber’s window. Very simply the sign read, “We Fix Bad $3 Haircuts!” Business turned around immediately and stayed turned around.

My dad could have used this place back on the day he refused to pay $3.00 for what had been a $1.50 haircut. He said he would have paid $10.00 to get that bad hair cut fixed.

Now, if we remember nothing else from this devotion, it would be good if we remember that Jesus fixes the bad deals we have made in our lives. Looking back at our years we can probably identify a good many times when we made a bad deal. We were tempted to do the wrong thing, and made a bad deal. Time and again we have been wooed away from the Lord and made a bad deal.

But Jesus fixes those bad deals.

Through the Holy Spirit we are called to faith. With faith in the Christ our sins are forgiven, and we are brought to see that we are encouraged to grow in the likeness of Christ. The bad deals are forgotten, and we are once again God’s children.

New life is ours all because Jesus fixes bad deals.

Dear Lord, I have made some bad deals in my life. Some of these deals could have been life destroying. But you searched me out and brought me home with you and made me part of your family. Dear Jesus thank you for loving me enough….  Amen.

Grace and Peace


Looking Back – Leaning Forward

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:6-13

A little while ago Shirley and I found and old box of pictures. It was almost like we had found a hidden treasure. We spent over an hour going through these pictures and remembering all the events and times they brought to mind. Like: Shirley and I standing in the snow a week before I made the trip to Paris Island for Marine boot camp. Our wedding pictures and remembering the rush of that weekend and how the Captain told me “If the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife they would have issued you one.” He didn’t want to let me come home and get married. Many pictures of our son, Stephen, in many different stages of his life. How proud we were and are of this young man. The houses we have lived in and the churches we have served… wow, what a life we have lived… and how we have been blessed to serve God through the church. And finally, we noticed the pictures which chronicled our increasing age – and how life was morphing our looks. I think that was when our journey through the pictures ended. I could go on, of course, as we did that morning, wading into all of those times and places until we were chest deep—heart deep—in nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a very natural and powerful emotion, particularly for those of us who are older.  But nostalgia has its dangers.  If it gives us renewed appreciation for the ways God has blessed us in the past, then it can be a wonderful occasion for thanksgiving. But nostalgia also can make us idealize the past and in ways that make the present pale by comparison.  So nostalgia can rob the present of delight and the future of hope.  

As Christians we draw on the past in a myriad ways, of course, but our faith is always forward leaning.  We are assured that the good old days, no matter how good, are nothing compared to what God has in store for us. Paul quotes Isaiah to remind the Corinthians, but perhaps also to remind himself: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” So the advice for all of us is to look back, yes, and be thankful. But lean forward to all that God has in store for us.

Dear God of yesterday, today and tomorrow, help us to look back in ways that keep us thankful, but leaning forward enough to keep us alive and real in the faith of Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


A Horrible Retirement Speech

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

“When he heard the words, ‘Chest of God,’ Eli fell backward off his stool where he sat next to the gate. Eli was an old man, and very fat. When he fell, he broke his neck and died. He had led Israel forty years.” – 1 Samuel 4:18

When I read this scripture for today I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I have just retired after forty years of leading the church. Some think I am old. Some even think I am fat. Thankfully, I got a well-intentioned roast as I got ready to retire – and there was no fire – and no neck breaking – just gracious people having a good time as they celebrated my leaving and the coming of a new pastor. That’s the way it should be… know when to retire… and expect and encourage a refreshing new spirit to follow.

What a horrible retirement speech at the end of a long career. No one wants to be remembered the way Eli was in today’s scripture. We’ve all seen that happen before. The leader who builds something impressive but can’t see when it is time to step aside. The retirement that happens a few years too late. If he’d stepped down a few years earlier, the retirement celebrations would have had a whole different feel to them. 

What are we going to do without you around here? Did you mean it when you said we could call you about anything?  I can’t imagine this place without you.

But when the person stays too long, people might say all those things, but they don’t really mean them. There’s a hollow ring to the speeches of people trying to be kind, when what they are really thinking is: It’s about time.

Eli, who had a genuine call from God, should have stepped aside and allowed the people to celebrate his years of work. Instead he stayed, and started listening to all the wrong people. His degenerate sons started stealing the temple meat, but even worse, they lost the ark of the covenant. How do you lose the ark of the covenant?! They took it into a losing battle and lost it. And when their father heard the news, he skipped the retirement party and keeled over. 

When the scripture mentions that Eli was fat, it was not a comment on his physical fitness. He was fat because he too had been eating the fat marbled temple meat. He had benefited from his sons’ corruption. He had truly lost his calling.

Why couldn’t he see it? Why couldn’t he see himself with any clarity? When did he lose his vision?

Dear Lord, guide us in accepting our callings and also in accepting when it is time to allow someone else to follow theirs. Let that be the right person, the one who has a calling too, one who will bring an exciting new spirit to us all, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


Hey! Knock it Off!

Steve & Shirley
Steve & Shirley

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” – Matthew 7:3

I wonder if you find it irritating that the Israelis are so insistence on building settlements on disputed, formerly Palestinian, territory. I also wonder do you want to join me in saying: “Knock it off, will you. Give peace a chance.”

Yeah, that is what I want to do. And then I remember mentioning something to Shirley yesterday about old Andy Jackson… and add to that the way we have done things here in the good old USA from the very beginning. We have done some of the same stuff. Including that we Americans were deeply into building settlements on other people’s land ourselves, and calling it “progress,” “civilization,” and even “providential design.”

In the 19th century there was a huge influx of immigrants from the U.S. into the then-Mexican territory of Texas. Illegal immigration from the U.S. to Mexico. Yeah, us.

In other parts of the West, Indians lost their homelands not because they had sold them or given them away, but because the U.S. government allocated their lands to its citizens for their settlement. Settlements. We, in North Carolina, are reminded of the “Trail of Tears” when Andy Jackson sold out the Cherokee Indians and made them walk to Oklahoma. Good going, Andy.

I still wish that today’s Israel would back off on settlements on the West Bank. But maybe we should be a little less self-righteous, a little less sure that we would certainly never do anything like that. Because, well, we have… and worse.

Yes, there is a place for a word of advice and correction to someone else. But there’s a big difference between saying, “I’ve made mistakes and can maybe share something from what I’ve learned,” and saying, “We the righteous will set you straight.”

Remind us again, Holy One: the world does not divide between saints and sinners; but between saints who know themselves to be sinners, and sinners who believe themselves to be saints. Move us into the direction of working together for the peace of the world, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


Prayer of St. Francis

Today, I feel we just need to stop and pray for our world and ourselves this Prayer of Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Grace and Peace