Friday, February 27, 2009


Power / Companion
Lectionary: 1 Peter 5:8-9

Be Alert!

The greatest tactic a lion has is surprise. Once its prey realizes there is a lion in the thicket, there is a good chance the lion will go hungry that night.

Peter posts a warning sign right in front of every follower of Christ. There is a lion in the thicket! His warning resounds throughout history. Satan is still alive and active. His tactics have not changed. His intentions are still as evil and destructive as they have ever been. That's the bad news.

The Good News is that we have the Power to resist. We can stand strong against the enemy and be victorious. James puts it this way: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (Jas 4:7). John says it like this: "The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 Jn 4:4). There is a battle at hand----no question! But there is Power for Victory in Jesus Christ. (Women of Faith Study Bible)

When you consider Peter's life as a disciple of Jesus, would you say that you are serious in the same way he was about being taught by Christ? Dallas Willard in "Renovation of the Heart": "Disciples of Jesus are those who are with Him learning to be like Him. That is, they are learning to lead their life, their actual existence, as He would lead their life if He were they......They are learning how to walk with Jesus and learn from Him in every aspect of their individual lives."
What aspect of your life has Jesus been focusing on recently? What is He teaching you?

"By all means remember to pray earnestly for me.....Emulate each other in prayer with holy rivalry, with one heart, for you wrestle not against each other, but against the devil, who is the common enemy of all the saints......For your conscience is responsible to God; to each other owe nothing but mutual Love. May the Lord, who is able to do above what we ask or think, give ear to your prayers." (St. Augustine, "Letter 130---to Proba")

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the Faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (Col 2:6-7)

Shalom, Jim

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Making Points With God by Jon Walker

“For no one can ever be made right in God's sight by doing what his law commands. For the more we know God's law, the clearer it becomes that we aren't obeying it. But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight—not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago.” (Romans 3:20-21 NLT)

Brett Favre, the lion-hearted quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, is one of my favorite players in the National Football League. He’s courageous and tough-minded, showing a rare grace under pressure, yet his boyish enthusiasm for the game is infectious as he celebrates each Packer success.

A couple of Sundays ago (Sept. 30), Brett threw a pass that set a new record: the most touchdown passes by an NFL quarterback – 421.

Although the Pack was playing in Minnesota, the officials temporarily stopped the game in order to honor Brett’s achievement. And Brett, in his customary humility, later said he was more interested in a team win than an individual record.

In surprising contrast, the very next week (Oct. 8) Brett tied another record: the most interceptions thrown by an NFL quarterback – 277. This game also was stopped after this record was achieved, but only because the interception ended the Packer’s last-second attempt to win the game.

The most touchdown passes and the most interceptions! It reminds me that there was a time when Babe Ruth, the baseball player who was one of the greatest hitters in the game, owned two records simultaneously: the most home runs hit in a career as well as the most strike-outs in a career.

Here’s the thing: We tend to think of life as a balance sheet that we’ll eventually present to God. As long as the number of our touchdown passes exceed the number of our interceptions, then we’re cool with God, right? To echo the Apostle Paul, God forbid this to be true!

“For no one can ever be made right in God's sight by doing what his law commands. For the more we know God's law, the clearer it becomes that we aren't obeying it.” (Romans 3:20 NLT)
In other words, we can never be made right by throwing touchdown passes – because the more we learn about the Law, the more obvious it is we can never throw enough touchdown passes to make things right with God.

“But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight—not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago.” (Romans 3:21 NLT)
In his own geek-Greek way, Paul is saying we should forget the balance sheet – ignore the scoreboard, give up on tracking good and bad statistics. Listen, there is good news! There’s another way to get right in God’s sight, and it has nothing to do with your own achievements. It’s based on a promise made by God long ago – a promise is fulfilled through Jesus Christ.

Can I get an amen?

We are saved by grace and not through faith. It is a gift from God, not by our own works, so that none of us can boast of the ability to tip the balance sheet in our own favor. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

No doubt you’ve heard this over and over again, including many times in these devotionals. Yet many of us still live as if we get right in God’s sight by what we do – by our works, our achievements, the records we set.

We do this because it is, as Paul says, an offense to think of the Gospel as so simple and, therefore, it becomes a stumbling block to our pride. Getting right in God’s sight by what we do appeals to our human pride, or as the poet-king James would say, it appeals to our “flesh.”

It makes us feel good, as if we’re doing something to earn our way into heaven. If we cling to the idea that we can, even in some small way, contribute toward our salvation, then we also can cling to the idea that maybe we’re not that bad – maybe we aren’t included in the “all” of “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.”

Put that behind you and get on with the truth: You, my friend, can never be made right in God's sight by doing what is right – because the closer you get to God, the more you’ll realize you’re not even close to getting it right (see Isaiah 6 and Romans 3:20).

The one thing you can do is to move in loving obedience to your gracious heavenly Father, doing and saying whatever he tells you to do and say; allowing your life to be energized by God’s Spirit within you.

What now?

· “Balance sheet” fear – Good news! You are free to follow the Father instead of living in “balance sheet” fear. You can be who you were meant to be and you can live how you were meant to live. You don’t have to be good enough – you just have to trust in the redemptive power of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. And you don’t have to fear if you hold both the record for most touchdown passes and the record for most interceptions – love God and live accordingly!

· Record of faith – A record of your faith in Jesus is more important than any record of your wrongs or resume of your achievements. If you haven’t already done this, set a spiritual marker as a reminder that you have received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Write it down – or establish some other kind of tangible memorial for this event – and every time the devil tells you you’ll never be good enough for God, or that you’re so good you can remain independent of God, take him to that marker and remind him that you are right in God’s sight because of Jesus.

· Big play – Next time you’re watching a sporting event and one of the players makes the big play, turn to the person next to you and say, “That was a great play, but it won’t make him right in God’s sight.”

· Huge error – Likewise, next time you’re watching a sporting event and one of the players makes a huge error, turn to the person next to you and say, “That was a huge error, but the good news is it won’t keep him from getting right in God’s sight.”

· Pray for others – Ask God to show you who to pray for, related to getting right in God’s sight. It may be a non-believer or someone who believes but struggles in this area. Pray that this person will know God’s “different way of being right in his sight—not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago (Romans 3:21 NLT) And pray that Brett Favre and his family will come to know this truth, so that when he retires from football he can spend the rest of his life preaching how to be right in God’s sight.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Getting Practical With Love by Jon Walker

Getting Practical With Love

“Little children, let us stop saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.” (1 John 3:18 LB)

The heart is the control center of all actions. How you act reflects what your heart trusts. Dallas Willard says, “You can live opposite of what you profess, but you cannot live opposite of what you believe.”

Eventually what you believe will show up in your actions. If you believe God loves you, then you’ll begin to love others. If you believe God forgives you, then you’ll begin to forgive others.

Your experience of God results in an overflow of his life into the lives of others.

As we allow the Holy Spirit to continually fill us, we become a spring of his love and life to all around us. John would say we have “rivers of living water flowing out of us.” We become a conduit for the life of Jesus.

The life of Jesus is a practical life. The disciples were expected to live out what they heard Jesus say. Jesus told his disciples they would be known by the way they treated others.

He gets specific in Matthew 25:35-36:
· You gave food to the hungry,
· You gave drink to the thirsty,
· You invited a stranger into your home,
· You gave clothes to the naked,
· You cared for the sick,
· You visited the prisoners,

And this isn’t an exhaustive list on the ways to offer practical help. Jesus constantly provides us with down-to-earth examples meant to get us started.

What now?

· Love language – Make a list of people you love and pray through it, asking God to show you what you can do that will speak love to each person.

· Take initiative – When someone is in crisis, we genuinely want to help, and we’ll say, “If there’s anything I can do, please, just let me know.” Start changing that to express a concrete form of love: “I’m going to do this for you.” Maybe you offer to bring over a meal or watch the children.
Perhaps you offer to cut the grass. Maybe you bring a roll of quarters to the hospital so the family can grab snacks and drinks from the vending machine. Be creative – and let the Holy Spirit guide.

· Fake it ‘til you make it – C.S. Lewis said, if you don’t love someone, then act like you do. Eventually the feelings will catch up with your actions.

· Pray – Be still and ask God to show you someone you know who is in need, and ask him how you should help your friend. Seek God about the timing of your help. Ask him to use your act of service to make his presence known to your friend.

by Jon Walker.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Modern lessons and Commands from Joshua

Joshua, Chapters 1-3.
Modern lessons and Commands from Joshua:

1. Have faith in God and hopefully a spiritual leader. Joshua trusted Moses, and realized people had to trust God and him.

2. Be yourself, but do not use it as an excuse to be lazy or sloppy. Joshua could have said: “I’m not Moses and will never be Moses so I will just get by. I do not need to work that hard”. But Joshua did not say that. Joshua trusted God, worked hard, and simply tried to be himself.

3. Improve each year on yourself and your Christian life.

4. Joshua set goals and had dreams of what he thought God wanted him to accomplish. We need to dream dreams and set goals also.

5. Joshua did not give up even after set backs. Joshua was not successful the first time, or every time, but he kept working toward his goals.

6. Joshua commanded the people to remember God’s Word and to study it. They were to pass it down to the next generations.

7. Joshua prayed and called on others to pray.

8. Joshua served God and his fellow humans with all of his heart and called others to serve faithfully as well.

9. Joshua gave to God the first fruits and tithed and called on the people to give their best first fruits in the form of crops to God.

10. Joshua remembered the law of Moses that Jesus would later say is the summary of the entire law and the prophets: “Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love by Thomas Lane Butts

Looking at my calendar for the month, I realize that I am scheduled to speak to the Business Women of Monroeville at noon today on the assigned subject of "Love." And, St. Valentine's Day has just slipped by. Hope none of you are in the "doghouse" for not remembering. So let me reflect with you on the meaning of that slippery, kaleidoscopic word: Love.
New Testament Greek, which is rich in synonyms, has words with shades of meaning which English does not have. In Greek there are four different words for love. Briefly, they are: storge (family love); eros (passionate, romantic love); philia (brotherly love, best friend); and agape (unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill). Love is a very large word! When we speak of love without some differentiation, what we mean may not be what is understood by the hearer. Be careful. Let us think of the kind of love that leads to the relationship of marriage, with the understanding that this kind of love may have some shades of several meanings.

On St. Valentine's Day our hearts and minds lead us to think of how we can best express an intangible feeling in some tangible form. Perhaps this was easier when we were young and ignorant, and the fires of love were stoked with an abundance of hormones. Do you remember the ecstacy of young love? You thought it would last forever!

Some say that it has. But for more people than you might guess, the fire went out, or at least cooled down to warm embers. And for those for whom romantic love (or its more stable successor) is still alive, you may be sure that it not only took some work, but it has required some changes from how it started out.

Those who thought the fun and feeling of young love would last forever, but who did nothing to adjust to the changes that inevitably come with the years are likely no longer together, and if they are, they are probably somewhat frustrated and unhappy. The myth of romantic love is just that. Unless the myth is transformed by some very practical changes, which pushes love to another dimension, then there is profound disappointment, unhappiness and/or a quick trip to Splitsville, U.S.A.

If you are young (or old) and in love, for heaven's sake, enjoy it. Relish and cherish every minute of it. It is one of the good gifts that God gave to get people together initially. Some may say that it is a subtle (and delightful) trick of nature designed to perpetuate the species.

With whatever words you choose to describe the experience, it is at least memorable. For those who thought it would last forever, or those who fell in love with someone who did not reciprocate, the experience may be remembered with some disappointment.

Wise people savor the taste of romantic love but soon learned (if they did not already know) not to count it as the sole support of a marriage relationship. Romantic love should be remembered with a sense of joy, and occasionally rediscovered with surprising delight.

Some social scientists would say "never marry for love." Those who have spent a lifetime working with intimate human relationships understand that there is a degree of truth in that statement if it refers to romantic love. We would probably more likely say "never marry without love, but do not count on romantic love to solve all of your problems."

Love that lasts changes. If it does not change, it does not last. People change. If love relationships are not adjusted to accommodate those changes, the relationship begins to die.

People often have unrealistic expectations of the person they marry. They want someone who will meet all their needs and in their romanticized understanding of reality, they believe that person is out there - somewhere. When we marry with that exaggerated expectation, in a sense, the person we marry becomes a substitute for someone who does not exist.

In her book Brief Lives, Anita Brookner tells of a woman whose unhappy marriage ends with the death of her husband and her lover. Asked if she missed her lover she said: "Oddly it was not Charlie that I missed, but rather the person for whom Charlie had always been a substitute, whoever he was."

No one person is going to meet all our needs. If we are unable to accept partial fulfillment by someone who cannot measure up to our total expectations, we feel cheated. Because he or she was not perfect and could not measure up to that ghostly composite of a person who never really existed, we often demean that person, despite his or her efforts to meet our needs.

This business of love and marriage is more complicated than most of us realize. Unless we enter into a marriage with willingness to adjust and change, then love disappears into a gap that widens exponentially with the years when it is all about "me" and not about "us."

Hope this does not frighten anyone contemplating marriage! But, do be careful. (You may email Dr. Butts at )

AN ENCOURAGING WORD written by Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Common People by Thomas Lane Butts

Today is Abraham Lincoln's birthday. He was by all appearances a very common man. It seems to be a good day for us to think about value, and values, of common people.

In October, 1864, Carl Schwarz wrote a letter to Theodore Patrasch in which he said: "You are underrating the President (Lincoln). I grant that he lacks higher education and his manners are not in accord with European conceptions of the dignity of a chief magistrate.

"He is a well-developed child of nature and is not skilled in polite phrases and poses. He is a man of profound feeling, correct and firm principles, and incorruptible honesty. His motives are unquestionable, and he possesses to a remarkable degree the characteristic God-given trait of this people, sound common sense."

Lincoln was a common man.

On the night of December 23, 1863, Lincoln dreamed that he was in a party of undistinguished, unattractive people; when they found out who he was, they commented on his appearance.

One of them said, "He's a very common-looking man." Lincoln retorted, "The Lord prefers common-looking people; that's the reason he makes so many of them."

Judging people by outward appearance is a common but dangerous practice. First impressions are important, and you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That is a good thing to remember if you are going for a job interview or on a blind date. Wise people do not judge by first impressions and outward appearances. Sometimes there is gold underneath a common outward appearance.

Some of the greatest gifts in life come from common people. I have read more than one version of this story. This is the essence of the story.

Charles Elliot was president of Harvard University in the 1800's. In the spring of 1885, a humble-looking couple from California showed up at his office. The only reason he agreed to see them was the man had recently been elected to the U.S. Senate.

The couple, Leland and Jane, told Dr. Elliot that their only son had died of typhoid fever that year. His dream was to attend Harvard University. They wanted to give the university a gift.

Dr. Elliot looked at this rather plain-looking couple and asked them what they had in mind. They wondered if the school could use a building. Dr. Elliot sized them up as a kindly, but naive, couple whose grief was most likely deeper than their pockets. He told them that it would be quite costly. He suggested that maybe they might consider endowing a chair in honor of their son. Perhaps they should go see the academic dean, he said.

When the couple stood to leave, he asked what Dr. Elliot thought it would cost if they just built a university out in California and endowed it so that students would not have to pay tuition.

Dr. Elliot was stunned. He said he thought it would cost something like $5 million. Leland and Jane looked at one another and agreed that they thought they could do that. The couple left and within the same year, they began plans to build a university in California in honor of their son. Today we know that fine school as Stanford University.

One cannot help but wonder if Dr. Charles Elliot ever stopped kicking himself when he realized what Harvard University might have looked like if he had responded differently to that common working couple from California.

The best people I have ever met were common people. If you consider yourself to be a common person, stand tall, be proud. We are "legion." (You may email Dr. Butts at )

AN ENCOURAGING WORD written by Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Quest for Success by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts

What can we do to help our children find success in life? It certainly cannot be done by making them an extension of ourselves by trying to fulfill our thwarted ambitions by pushing them to become what we wanted to be. Every person is different and it is essential to recognize that individuality. We help people move toward success when we set them free to find their places in the world. This is not always easy when we want a child to adopt our specific standards of success. Henry David Thoreau observed that if a person does not keep pace with his peers, it is perhaps because he/she hears a different drummer. Respect and encourage the child who hears a different drummer and you will be helping that child on the road to success.

Henry Ford once had an efficiency expert evaluate the running of his company. The expert gave a favorable report, but said he had reservations about one employee. He said: "It is that man down the hall. Every time I go by his office he is sitting there with his feet on his desk. He is wasting your money." Ford replied: "That man once had an idea that saved us millions of dollars. At the time, I believe his feet were planted right where they are now." Ford kept the man who could think better on his seat than on his feet.

There is a plaque on the wall just outside my home office that suggests a pretty good philosophy regarding success. It was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Read it.

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived."

This is to have succeeded. (You may email Dr. Butts at )

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Courage by Thomas Lane Butts

AN ENCOURAGING WORD written by Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

A few years ago I started a column with what I characterized as an old adage: "A brave person dies only once, but a coward dies a thousand times." A learned friend and retired teacher of English literature gently reminded me that this was a "corruption" of a passage from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Being thus informed, let me give you the setting and the exact quote.

Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, has had a dream in which her husband was murdered. At Caesar's request, the priests sacrificed an animal which, upon being cut open was discovered to have no heart. They send word to Caesar to stay home on this fateful day, the Ides of March, which the soothsayer had already warned him about earlier in the play. Caesar muses: "What can be avoided whose end is purposed by the mighty gods?" If he is already fated to die, how can he avoid it? He proceeds to encourage his wife with the now-famous lines, finding it strange that we fear death so much, when death is inevitable in every person's life. Caesar has been a strong and brave man, and now he will not waste precious hours of his life anticipating tragedy.

So, he says: "Cowards die many time before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once." (Julius Caesar,II,ii,32-37)

When fear is mingled with the instinct of self-preservation at the point of a crisis, sometimes, in a fleeting moment, we lay the basis for a life-time of guilt. When we do not pass our own test for courage, or measure up to the minimum standard of what is right, we unchain a ghost that prowls the cellars of our souls for life. Most of us could easily find an example in our personal lives, but to save you from the pain of such search, let me give an example from literature. You can look for your personal example later.

In his novel, The Fall, French philosopher and writer, Albert Camus, paints a frightening word-picture of a man haunted by a fleeting act of cowardice in his past. Time and geography bring no relief. The story is recalled by him one rainy evening in a shady Amsterdam bar, where he has sought refuge from his past.

He was a respected Parisian lawyer, a pleader of noble causes, secure in his self-esteem and immune to judgement - he thought. A silent listener at the bar hears his confession of the painful moment when the ghost in his life was unchained.
"That particular night in November, I was returning to the West Bank. It was past midnight, a rainy mist was falling and there were few people on the street. On the bridge, I passed behind a figure leaning over the railing and seeming to stare at the river. On closer view I made out a slim young woman dressed in black...I went on after a moment's hesitation. I had gone some 50 yards when I heard the sound - which despite the distance sounded dreadfully loud in the midnight silence - a body striking the water. I stopped without turning around. Almost at once I heard a cry for help, which was repeated several times. Then it ceased. The silence seemed interminable. I wanted to run, and yet did not. I told myself I had to be quick and then an irresistible weakness settled over me. 'Too late...Too far', I told myself...then slowly, in the rain, I went away. I informed no one."

This was the terrible failure of nerve perpetrated on the Seine River in Paris, which he believed flowed from water to water to await him wherever he went in the whole world. Nowhere he went was far enough. On the last page of the novel he returned (either physically or in his mind) to the scene of his cowardice and cried out into the night: "O young woman, throw yourself into the water again so that I may a second time have the chance of saving both of us."

James Russell Lowell put it clearly. "Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide; in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side; some great cause, God's new messiah, offering each the bloom or blight, parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right, and the choice goes by forever, twixt that darkness and that light."

Each day in small, but important, ways we prepare ourselves for that moment in life where we shall die once the death of courage, or live to die a thousand times a coward. (You may email Dr. Butts at )

AN ENCOURAGING WORD written by Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church