Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Keeping Your Wits When Others Are Insane- Day 9

Note: I would like any reader, especially my international readers to send me an email: jayopsis@gmail.com. I would like to know more about how these devotions may be helping you and how you are holding up in the crisis.

Psalm 127

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain. 

2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

3 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward. 

4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth. 

5 Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!

He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

I have always loved this Psalm, but for years had a hard time reconciling the two stanzas.

On first glance, it seems to be about two different things that don't really work together. But as you meditate on it- it makes sense in a variety of applications.

What is your primary call of discipleship? 

If you have children.... they are your primary mission field. and you labor to train them to be warriors and laborers for the kingdom of God.

And believe me.... it is an IMPOSSIBLE task... one that you will never regret working on and one where you are completely dependent on the Lord to accomplish.

If you are stuck at home with children right now... young or old.... begin praying about what you can do with them and how you can love them and help move them in a direction to love God and love others.

I think this is what the Psalm is most about.... not professional labor primarily- but the broken call we feel like we have fallen so short in... and we really want to give up many times!

Working in vain is one of the great disappointments in life. To invest time and energy in a project only to see it 'vanish' in the wind builds a flood of frustration and stinging anguish. And it doesn't matter if the project is BIG or small.

Just think back to a time where you wrote a paper, or project (or blog post) and experienced a computer crash without saving it. See what I mean?

Are there relationships you spent your life cultivating only to see them vanish like vapor?

One of the most heartbreaking conversations I ever had was with a retired basketball coach. He was thought to be one of the finest men and expert coaches to ever work locally in the sport.

He spent two decades building a quality JUCO (Jr., college) program, even taking it to national prominence. It was a showpiece of the school.

This well respected coach retired, and soon after that, the school disbanded the entire program!

It hurt him for years. He told me that it was difficult to see all the recruiting trips, sleepless nights, fund raisers, and battles end up as a handful of sand.

We have experienced this as well recently with the sudden stoppage of life. I am still hurting for seniors who had a chance to chase a championship or experience the wonderful memories of competing together as a team.

Is it possible to keep singing in the aftermath of such a circumstance?

We have an entire book in the Bible around this theme,  Solomon exclaims in Ecclesiastes that all of life under the sun is in vain.

The overall principle in today's Psalm helps us.

All endeavors connected to the Lord in acknowledgement, worship, and sacrifice are NEVER in vain.

All endeavors NOT connected to the Lord in acknowledgement, worship, and sacrifice are ALWAYS in vain.

Let's look at these two scenarios in both a negative light and a positive light.


The Psalmist says that without Him, all efforts and achievements are ultimately worth nothing. Jesus says it is like a man building a house on sand. Even if we have great talent. Even if we work to high standards of excellence. Even if we receive the acclamation of the world.

Eventually the crash will happen- and it is swift and sudden.

Look at selected verses of another great Psalm (Psalm 37) and pay attention to what it says:
Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb. 
For the evildoers shall be cut off, In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. 

 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him, 
 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.
I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree. 
 But he passed away,  and behold, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found.

One of the big issues of people who live a life rejecting God is that they accept all of God's gifts without gratitude, humility, or obedience. They are actually throwing it right back into God's face. The greatest insult is a rejection of God's Son- which I believe is the 'unpardonable sin' in Mark 3 and Matthew 12.

  • Frantic work without productivity, joy, or peace. 
  • Anxiousness- it can all be taken away.
  • Selfishness- you think that you earned it and deserve it
  • Improper priorities- the sacrifice or worthwhile things for worthless pursuits.
  • Ruined relationships.
  • No impact for the kingdom of God.


PSALM 37 AGAIN.......

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act. 

 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.
Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked. For the Lord upholds the righteous.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand. 

I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread. 

He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing. those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

NOW.. Here is where the 2nd stanza of this Psalm 127 comes in.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lordthe fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

  • Work with productivity, joy, AND peace. 
  • Peace-- He gives and takes away for our good and His glory
  • UN-Selfishness- It is His and I can share
  • Proper priorities- They love people more than things
  • Restored relationships.
  • Huge impact for the kingdom of God.

Unless The Lord builds your house... you can't start some new 15 step program today to create God- loving children... You have to wait on the Lord. 

You can't 'whack a mole' and beat them to holiness.....

You can't change their heart......

The key is to seek the Lord and beg Him to change your heart.

The fear and panic we are seeing over this virus is small compared to the panic I see in parents at times that fear their kids are going to run to a life of ruin. And that is me many times as well. This is a mountain of a climb and one that we HAVE to wait on the Lord - unless God builds the house.... we are working (and worrying) in vain!

Parenting is the most heart-breaking, sleepless night- soul disturbing task in the universe!

Go back up through what I wrote: What is more true of you right now?



Which of these two do you WANT to be?

start TODAY- it is never too late- stop toiling in vain... you can't fix your kids, they have the same sin you have... NO,  love them (and yes, that means discipline) and let them see you struggling well to love God and love them. Let them see you acknowledge where you have failed.

Ask for their help to build your home in a way to honor the Lord. 

Pay attention to your marriage... when your kids see you love your spouse, it helps them! When they see you admit that you don't do that well, they appreciate the honesty!

Don't DEMAND respect.... love them well, love God, be authentic in your failures,  and you will earn that respect. Even when you discipline them, don't do it in anger- tell them that though they can't understand why you want them in your house by (time) or that you say 'NO', it is because you love them and God expects you to be the one to hold them to clear and reasonable boundaries. (Hebrews 12).

I was helped by this devotion in a weird way. I actually have time these days to watch movies!

And I watched a movie called "Blinded By the Light" based on a true story of a young Turkish muslim trying to find his way in the suburbs of London in the 1980's.

As hard as the young man fought his family, and felt ANGER toward his dad.... deep down, there was always a longing for unity. Love covers a multitude of sin!

Could it be that the Lord shut all of us down for a time to re-evaluate where our pursuits are headed?

We ALL have dysfunctional families.... unity does not mean unanimity...  you may be worried about where your son is heading , don't freak out... have an honest discussion and LOVE him. He may be really angry at you right now because you are gone all the time.... tell him you love him and that you understand his pain. It will not be an instant cure.... it is simply a seed,

Your daughter may be doubting her self worth right now, and you keep badgering her about how messy her room is. It may be time to discuss it and make sure she knows that yes, you do want to keep a clean house, but that you love her way more than a perfect house. Keep beating that drum long enough and you will have a perfect house one day and it will be all empty as well.

I'm not casting shame.... I am sounding an alarm.... my children need to see me running after God, loving their mom, and make sure they know I love them and I am proud of them.


Of course, we all know the difference in idealism and sin tarnished reality. But I have seen godly men endure life with a song BECAUSE they devoted themselves to their marriages and their children as a direct response to God's presence and grace.

May we all have the courage to forsake worthless pursuits that can disappear in a microwave moment and invest in those things that really matter.

If we do that- we have more songs to sing on our journey upward and onward!

That is why my life song is this verse....I Corinthians 15:58

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Keeping Your Wits When Others Are Insane- Day 8


When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.

2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!

5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!

6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him

I have an incredible blessing to have some championship rings.  Three football state championship rings, one state fishing championship, and two national fishing championship rings are in my office. They gather dust, are sometimes a conversation piece, and represent seasons where it just all fell right. It was the right mix of players, right match-up of opponents, good fortunes with injuries, weather, calls, and funny bounces of the ball, or a fish that just decided to bite.

But it is good to point back to those times- it helps. Not only were these grand memories, these were times of celebration and prosperity. Tangible victories.

But these are fleeting things as well. I coached 7 years before experiencing the first one. I worked and waited 5 years before the next one. The last football state championship was 2003, coming close to two decades now. There have been a lot of close misses along the way. And some seasons where it was a grind. We waited 8 years before we had any fishing success, and then it all happened dramatically in a short time.

Psalm 126 is an interesting tool for those who walk the path of long term discipleship. Past victories soothe us and propel us to find that time of celebration again.

Every championship brought on that same idea- immediately, by the way:  this is awesome... I want to do it again! And the enjoyment makes the desire to experience it again even greater.

I think that fire burning in our belly is a secret to youth and vitality.

I am always reminded of G.K. Chesterton:

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. 
But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.
It is possible that God says every morning, 
“Do it again” to the sun: and every evening,
“Do it again” to the moon. 

It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.
It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. 

The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

—”The Ethics of Elfland,” chapter 4 in Orthodoxy.

When we get the victory (and we still have a long journey to get there) the excitement will be uncontainable.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.

2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

You have experienced this before, the problem is that we forget.

And it is OK to LONG for the restoration of these things... we want the water to flow like streams in the desert (Negeb).

Now let me ask a deeper question.... What if the restoration we desire seems too long ago and we cry out for dreams long past.

I want to be young again... I want to run free, I want my scars and days of tears cast away!

I have good news for you!

Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!

6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him

Do you dare to lay hold of this?

And yes, there are good days ahead.... but there is an even greater reality waiting on me.

I will burst forth one day like an atomic explosion and find a new body, a new world, an eternal energy, and eternal bliss.

I will see my Savior, I will see my mom totally free and beautiful, my brother has been basking in God's glory many years now. I plan to play golf with Mr. Stegall, talk football with Coach Farris, and go on a boat ride with Terry Warren singing praises to God. I will wrestle Hardy Walker, and my grandmother will wipe away my tears of joy!

I miss them all so much!

That is why Paul never flinched:

Yes, and I will rejoice, [19] for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, [20] as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. [21] For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. [22] If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. [23] I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. [24] But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:18–24 ESV)

We found out yesterday evening that our days of social distancing were going to be extended... another two weeks!

But we can do it and WE HAVE TO do it! And we will have a day to play ball again, go out and eat, travel, work..... but we don't have to ever give in to hopeless angst!

As we climb today.. never forget the past days of true victory, hope, and celebration. Days of singing and dancing! Days where the goodness of God was so good we tasted it. We smelled it!

So that in the dark days we remember that times were good.

And we know God does not change.

We know that the dry streams will flow again.


And I want to see Jesus now more than ever!

Note: I would like any reader, especially my international readers to send me an email: jayopsis@gmail.com. I would like to know more about how these devotions may be helping you and how you are holding up in the crisis.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Keeping Your Wits When Others Are Insane- Day 7

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.

3 For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
on the land allotted to the righteous,

lest the righteous stretch out
their hands to do wrong.

4 Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
and to those who are upright in their hearts!

5 But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the Lord will lead away with evildoers!
Peace be upon Israel!

“If you can keep your wits about you while all others are losing theirs, and blaming you. . . . The world will be yours and everything in it, what's more, you'll be a man, my son.” RUDYARD KIPLING "IF"

 The opening of this Psalm is so interesting to me. If you think about the climb to Jerusalem, there were so many unknowns. For an ancient Hebrew seeking to travel that path, everything posed a life changing hazard. A sprained ankle, or robbers, or severe weather, or illness all meant that the journey might not end well.

As they are walking precipitously, with the mountains in full view, the goal also becomes a symbol. A symbol of security and strength.

How do we act when all chaos breaks out?

Notice two different Biblical dispositions:

I Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Ephesians 4:14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

How steady are you?

If there is a lost virtue in our culture today, it seems to be what the Fathers called 'fortitude'.

Here is how C.S. Lewis defined it:

Fortitude includes both kinds of courage—the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that ‘sticks it’ under pain. ‘Guts’ is perhaps the nearest modern English. You will notice, of course, that you cannot practice any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play.  
So how can we 'keep our wits', while everything else seems to be spiraling out of control?

I think it is developed, over time, as we continue to sing and continue to climb. You learn that trials fester in a hurry and flash a bright fire of panic- but they do not last.

The Psalm here says it so well- God is so committed to justice and the security of His children that He will destroy the destroyers. We just have to stay steady and patient. Justice delayed in NOT justice denied.

The more we learn to wait- the more we become strong in the waiting. The more we trust in His strength, the more we acquire His strength.

I am quick to share many of my faults- but here God has given me a strength. He has given me a calm demeanor that has served me well in the fires of life.

God had to give me that disposition. Most of my professional life has put me in the midst of conflict. Teacher, student, parent issues can create quite a spark and intense fire. I have been on the phone with people blistering me with criticism and anger and I have been in meetings where it looked like two parties may come to blows with each other.

My calm in the midst of chaos (most of the time) helps to diffuse the emotions and then begins the process to find common ground.

What have I learned from years of practicing this:

1) People vent, and in the venting there is an addition of drama that MOST people later correct when the emotion subsides.

2) If you take the venting without reacting, most people will settle down more quickly than if you bow up and fight fire with fire.

3) Really listen to the complaint and try to see their point of view.

4) In your measured response, try to communicate a sense of understanding their position and empathize with their emotions. Sometimes I say, "If I understood the situation as you see it, I would feel the same way." At that point you can begin to sort through the details.

5) Be willing to own up to mistakes and admit wrongdoing. There have been times I have looked a parent in the eye and said, 'Mr. Smith, I am sorry. I did not handle this well at all' and if I am sincere, it is amazing how quickly it disarms even the angriest of people.

Now, all of this sounds good- a list of what to do- but not much help as to how to do it.

There is an ultimate winning edge is in this Psalm. God is my refuge, my help, my strength. He is more secure and steady than even Mount Zion. And if I abide in Him, I begin to take on characteristics of the mountain itself. I become like the thing I am pursuing. And if it is God I am climbing to, I actually begin to reflect His countenance.... though it be imperfect and fleeting at times.

Because I KNOW that he is good and in control... I NEVER have to push the panic button.

There is a dark side to this Psalm. The evil doers will be destroyed. We don't wish it- we don't rejoice when it happens- but trust God's promise here... It will happen.

It may not happen for days, weeks, months, or years... but there is sudden destruction for those who continually do evil, especially those who are hostile to God's people.

And peace can reign in that quiet confidence in God's authority and power. This becomes a great fortress of security and builds fortitude within.

Walk upward today in peace and strength my friend!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Keeping Your Wits When Others Are Insane- Day 6

1 If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,

let Israel now say

2 if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,

3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;

4 then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;

5 then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

6 Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!

7 We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!

8 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth

Psalm 124

Have you ever had the privilege to look back and see proof that the Lord had come to your rescue?

Psalm 124 is a look back at a terrible conflict where it looked like all hope was lost, but the Lord showed up and gave the gracious victory.


People rose up against those who had chosen to live by faith. These were angry people and the circumstances posed great peril. The images used by the Psalmist conjures up being swallowed alive, a sudden sweeping flood, facing the teeth of an enraged predator, in a snare set by a trapper- the conflict is planned and the destruction appears as if it will be swift and sure.

Have I been there? Interesting question....... I think a mistake I tend to make in my self-absorbed journey is to think of this too much as my personal journey, when the major gist of this Psalm is the rescue of a Nation or a group.

The Psalms of Ascent seem to be a story of an upward journey of a group of Pilgrims. We add to our number as we climb.

Psalm 120-  I called in my distress
Psalm 121- I lift my eyes up
Psalm 122- " I was glad when they said Let us go to the house of the Lord"- "Our feet"
Psalm 123- "Have mercy on us"

So, I ask again have I been there? Well I should be- If the attack is not on me, it is definitely on the church. When I read or see the venom that can be unleashed towards the people of God, I need to know that unless God rescues US, we have no hope to survive in a world that is hostile to all that we are about.

The blood of the martyrs still flows fresh around the globe. I do not walk this path alone, I am part of the universal Church of Christ and had the Lord not been on our side, we would have been crushed a long time ago.


This is a corporate song...."Let Israel now say"- we too belong to spiritual Israel and their enemies will hate me as well.


We think that we don't deserve to be rescued. But even if we give up on ourselves, He NEVER gives up on us.


This Psalm is distinctive in the way it says that our help is in the NAME of the Lord. It is His name on the line and it is to His glory that we survive.


This is not simply a time where the Lord came through when you were having a bad day. The metaphors here are stark and seemingly hopeless.

When the Psalmist says.... the flood and torrent... he is not exaggerating!

Because these verses were fresh on my mind, I meditated on them for awhile the last few days.

I looked very close at raging waters yesterday as I watched tons of water per second pour through the spill ways of the Logan Martin dam. I couldn't help but think and pray about the fisherman who lost their life earlier this year at Pickwick and I had read reports of another boat that went through the Lake Mitchell spillway on Thursday, and though they lost their boat, all of the members survived with but few scratches.

I also have vivid memories of the power of the raging floods in Nashville flood in 2010. The force and devastation of those floodwaters will never be forgotten.

When the crisis is raging.... nothing is more helpless. So when God rescues in those circumstances... you have to cry out in praise!


If God has done this in the past, will He not continue to do it in the future?

Why then should I ever fear?


I think some of issues in my life are magnified because of my natural inclination to shrink away from people and try to walk the path alone. The current culture helps me in this problem because it is so easy to hide in communication technology. Solitude is good for hours, but we need one another for days or weeks. That is what is the hardest part of this current practice of social distancing. When my wife was finally approved to work from home... it was a GREAT help! But I also worry about people who live alone!

The old analogy is still true- take a log out of a fire and set it off by itself and it will burn out quickly. Keep it in a bundle and it will burn bright. We need to be more bundled in our struggles and in our victories.

You can't truly be bundled via twitter or facebook- you need old fashioned time together in the flesh with open, vulnerable, transparent, authentic conversations. I suggest that we make phone calls during this time and I have been more encouraged by Zoom conversations, at least there is a human there to see and interact with.

The enemy doesn't give up- God doesn't give up- so I never need to give up.

Lord, help me to sing my song in a way that others will walk with me. I need them and they need me.

HEBREWS 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Keeping Your Wits When Others Are Insane- Day 5

We have had many days of social distancing and self quarantine. We have had many days of graphs and projections. We have had many days of conflicting reports and partisan rancor.....

And I was really saddened by the news from Gov. Ivey yesterday that athletics will be finished for the year. My heart broke for our seniors!

We are in an early phase still in the Psalms of Ascent. The early mood is gone.

Psalm 123
To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!  
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.   
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

Ever had burnout? Even quarantines get old quick!

All journeys reach that stretch called the 'lull'.

The beginning of the journey had such strong motivation and direction. Whether it was the draw of beauty or fleeing pain- something made me move.

But each day represents a passing of time and humans tend to forget what we felt like at the beginning.

The older I get, the more the burnout can visit and stay. Perhaps it is a little of a jadedness where I almost see young enthusiasm with a splash of contempt. "So you think you will change the world", you say to that young, excited idealist. "You'll learn." However, I miss that youthful part of me!

One of my mentors got a job in a factory when he was a college student to help with tuition and expenses. He was boxing items that had just come off of an assembly line.

He attacked his new job with a passion and boxed, and boxed, and boxed.

At the first break, he experienced the rebuke of the elder worker.

"Slow down, son, you're making us look bad. Besides that, our union contract stipulates that we only do so many an hour."

Is there a way to keep that youthful fire on our path up the hill?

Yes and no.

It would be idealistic to say that you can make that climb without ever feeling fatigue, discouragement, distraction, boredom, listlessness, or depression, or doubt.

But the hard part is not staying in that negative spin cycle.

Is there a route out?

This Psalm holds keys to the principle involved in getting off neutral and re-engaging the pursuit.

1) Eye on the prize. This is such a simple fundamental but we lose our longing for a journey when we take our eyes off the destination.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2
We should fix our eyes on Him and He fixed His eyes on us. It was the prize of winning the redeemed that kept Him going!

But when he (Peter) saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Matthews 14:30
When Peter saw Christ, he fearlessly stepped out on the water. When he took his eyes off Christ, he began to sink.

So this Psalm starts off with our eyes:

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
 Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.
Are you fighting depression? Where are your eyes?
Tired of the fight? Where are your eyes?
Feel like you are behind? Where are your eyes?

You know the gospel song: Turn your eyes upon Jesus- look FULL in His wonderful face- and the things on earth will grow strangely dim- in the light of His glorious grace.


Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt. 
 Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.

The 1st stanza said- let us look to God and keep looking until He has mercy.

There is a treasure hidden in this 2nd stanza.

If I am honest, I will say that when I get knocked down on the journey it is due to evil and sin. What are my sins that plague me on this upward climb? Selfishness, laziness, anger, greed, envy, idolatry, gluttony..etc.

And I also experience the sin and evil of others: accusations, betrayal, dishonesty, selfishness, criticism, gossip, theft, violence, persecution...etc

Even if I am knocked down by sickness...it is a part of the universal curse of sin.

And there is only cure- MERCY

But mercy is an intersection. If it is to flow to me, it has to flow through me. If I expect it to come to me, it has to also come from me.

Yes- I get aggravated at the God mockers in this world who make my journey difficult. But listen to Scripture:

And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. I Corinthians 6:11 

But for that very reason I (Paul) was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. I Timothy 1:16 

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Luke 23:34

The next time you get down in life and feel ready to chunk it all, try this.


Lord, I am burned out. Help me take my eyes off myself and look to you.

I am waiting for your mercy, so help me show some mercy.

And then pray for sinners and the downhearted

2) SEE

Look for those who need encouragement or help


Go and do something for someone else- not even to be noticed. Help someone out.

And I will guarantee that you will take another step with that song in your heart!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Keeping Your Wits When Others Are Insane- Day 4

These are a series of thoughts based on the 'Psalms of Ascent' and inspired by Eugene Peterson's devotional entitled "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction". I have especially tried to apply them in this time of unprecedented war versus the Covid-19 global crisis.

My prayer is that this would be a time of exponential revival and return to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. and that the Church would be awakened to gospel proclamation.

May this be a great time of prayer and service in love!

Psalm 122
 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!

 Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!
 Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together,
  to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for  Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
 There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David.
 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
May they be secure who love you!
  Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!”
  For my brothers and companions' sake
I will say, “Peace be within you!”
  For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Never in my lifetime did I ever expect to see churches completely empty on the Lord's Day. And though I have been encouraged by our great efforts in streaming the services..... it has been a void in our land.

Psalm 122 is a reminder that a source of our joy is worship. It has been said that 'without worship, we shrink'.

The longer I try to live this daily goal of an uphill walk, the more I understand how I have missed and mis-understood worship.

I have blogged before on this fleeting topic:

Arch Bishop of Canterbury- William Temple had this definition of worship:“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, nourishment of mind by His truth, purifying of imagination by His beauty, opening of the heart to His love, and submission of will to His purpose.And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.”

But even this seems mechanical.

Let me write a minute on the nature of worship and then express an obvious problem.

When I catch a bass on a beautiful lake, I often don't see it for what it is- pure worship. My heart leaps at the intersection of beauty and competition, amazement and adventure.

When I am running or walking on a beautiful Fall day and feel the cool breeze and experience the splash of a columbia blue stained skyline- I experience worship.

I have been listening to some old playlists lately during this time.... music stirs worship in me as well.

I experience a worshipful joy when Bruce Springsteen sings, "come on and RISE UP" and rebuild the city of ruins. I clutch my fist and echo his sentiment. Or Bob Dylan sings "Pressing ON" or George Strait sings "What Goes Up"- another King George masterpiece.....

I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Caught a glimpse of Heaven when I couldn't catch my breath
I felt His presence in the darkest of days
I've asked for direction,
And I've been shown the way
And I believe when I pray, Somebody hears
When I fall on my knees, my words aren't fallin' on deaf ears
And He has the answers
When the answers can't be found
I know without a doubt what goes up comes down
I've been lead from temptation
Though I was standing at it's door
Delivered from evil when I could run no more
I've seen the eyes of God through the eyes of a child
I've thanked Him for my blessings
And I've felt it when he smiled
I raise my hands when my burdens are too heavy
And He lifts me up just like that cross
He didn't have to carry
My greatest prayers will be answered
When he returns to claim his crown
I know without a doubt
What goes up comes down (I believe)
What goes up must come down (I believe)

I have also experienced worship when I confess sin or sit at a sunset.

But herein lies the problem- I'm pointing largely to ascetic responses of emotion that may or may not be true worship.

John 4:24, "God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." 
Is it possible to worship in spirit and not truth? Is it possible to have truth and not spirit?

Let me complicate it further: I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go to the house of the Lord!

How many Sunday mornings have I felt that way? Why not more?

I went to Graceland one time. I walked into a time capsule back to the 1970's. Like a stopped clock, the jungle room was once a cool place to hangout, but now seemed so plastic.

I am saddened when I see what the church did to historical sites in the middle east. They would build a sanctuary on top of it. I'm sure it was a monumental architectural achievement in its day- but the covering now seems to hide the beauty of what was real and authentic.

Before I am misunderstood here, I need to make the point clearer. My joy in worship is hampered when I just keep it to the same routine I have been doing for decades. What type of heart preparation am I doing to pull off the shag carpet and trash the plastic?

What am I covering up in man made structures that God wants to let out?

And we need to challenge the corporate body to do the same. You can't control the spirit and truth never changes- but truth is also true from all angles.

Here is a truth. When I take time in my week for personal and corporate worship- I have a better pace and more endurance for the journey.

When I grow weary of worship- I quickly fade in my climb.

I worry that we skip from church to church in some nostalgic reach for the past when what we need is a new forward leaning freshness toward our worship to reclaim the passion that encompasses truth.

And maybe that is what I am climbing to. The Psalm here is a look forward to the TOP of the mountain. I AM GOING TO JERUSALEM! Glad to go- but it will be some work to get there.

This is what we are looking forward to ... literally, "I am going to be able to go back to church...soon!" and figuratively, "I am going to be in the new Jerusalem...soon!"

At the top of the mountain will be the culmination and climax of all that is lacking in my pitiful attempts to worship.

You may be familiar with C.S. Lewis "Footnote to All Prayers"- I might need to tag this on my worship as well.

 He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
      When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
      And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
      Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
      Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
      Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
      And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
      The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
      Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
      Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
      And all men are idolators, crying unheard
      To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
      Take not, O Lord, our literal sense.  Lord, in thy great
      Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

Let me try to summarize this and link it back to the Psalm.

The Psalmist here is excited about the destination. He is going to his city, the Lord's city, and the great temple to worship.

The city not only is under the care of the Lord- it is said to be unified and peaceful.

All of this is a type and shadow.. of both the Savior and the heavenly Jerusalem.

So we should show that same type of excitement and anticipation of our type and shadow... private yes, but primarily corporate worship.

I should prepare myself to enjoy with gladness the worship in a place of unity and peace.

This preparation should not be hindered by style or my distractions or fatigue.

And this gives me inspiration and endurance for the climb. These are small tastes of a city which will stand forever. I wish I were there right now!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Keeping Your Wits When Others Are Insane- Day 3

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. 
He will not let your foot slip—

he who watches over you will not slumber; 
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121

There is something about this Psalm that has always stirred my soul. I first started running longer distances in 1983 and 1984, just as my college football dream was quickly dying. Back then a long run was 2 miles.

Russ Polhemus, Glenn McWaters, Al Miller, Kent Johnson and Tom Caradine were mentors who pushed me to increase my physical endurance and fitness. Coach Miller and Coach Johnson pressed me in the weight room and I ran with both Russ and Tom. It took time to grow... learning to go 3, then 4, then 5 miles at a time. My longest run in those days was a run at Oak Mountain where you went 4 miles UP the mountain and then a record 4 miles down. My joints would ache for days if I tried that now.

But the summer of '84 or '85 was where this Psalm became my running inspiration. We didn't run with IPODS back then. SO I would take a section of this and repeat it over and over it in my mind.

I differ from Peterson in his analysis of this Psalm, and he may be more right exegetically (not sure of the Hebrew here)- but for me, it was 'as I look at the majesty of the mountains, I know where my help comes from'.

There was so much I didn't know then- I had no clue about the Psalms of Ascent- but I knew that this Psalm was fuel for my climb. As I said it on my way up a big hill, my legs burning, sweat pouring, every breath a struggle- this Psalm surged with energy in my inner man.

You can imagine when I heard the worship song "I Lift My Eyes Up"- how that only deepened my need and love for this message.

"I Lift My Eyes Up"

I lift my eyes up, unto the mountains
where does my help come from?
My help comes from You, maker of heaven
creator of the earth

oh how I need you Lord
You are my only hope
You're my only prayer

so I will wait for You
to come and rescue me
to come and give me life

So what is it about this Psalm that has this amazing impact? How can it help us in that quest:

The Goal:
I am marching uphill to the Holy Mountain of Zion with a song in my heart and joy in my spirit because I am loved by the King of the Universe. All I need to care for is this day's walk. May I be found obedient today. I start my day with a gospel help: "I am crucified with Christ" and I will end the day with a gospel hope: "There is therefore now no condemnation in Christ Jesus."

1) It is a strong declaration of trust in the Creator of all things to protect us.

When I first saw the Rocky Mountains, it literally took my breath away, and I experienced God's presence and power at the same time. So when I look up at the mountain of my climb- I am OK because my God made the mountain. Sure it looks impossible, but there is a bigger Helper behind the hurdle.
We are helped when we see God in the struggle, providentially in control, and not only able to help, He is WILLING to help.

2) It is a sweet promise. There are dangers, but the believer has His promise that they will not prevent us from getting home safe and secure.

He promises to watch me with diligence. He is active in keeping me secure.
He is a covering, at all times.
I will not get sun struck (not exhausted) or moon struck (not insane).
The security is there, but it is also there ALL the time.

3) It is a secure providence. God manages my journey, He plans it, He is the maestro over my daily comings and goings. The larger the sovereignty, the more peaceful the response to all of life.

But I'm about to share a secret.... the content of this Psalm is important, but it is not nearly the whole story of WHY it is such a powerful force.

I believe the rhythm and poetic devices in this Psalm act as a delivery system straight to the soul. That is why the musical form of this unleashes and highlights the message.


I have shared this quite a lot.... I even debated whether to add it or not, but I do think this may encourage someone reading this....

On Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 I was called into a meeting and fired. No need to go into the why's or whether I agree with the decision or not. But unless you have been there (and I have met a lot of people since who have) it is so hard to describe the depth of the pain, shame, and disappointment.

I remember almost tasting the pain as I drove to my wife's office to tell her this life changing news. I was so concerned with what her reaction would be and what impact this would have on my children. My oldest daughter had just a week before committed to a very expensive college and we crunched the numbers and knew we would be living on little, but barely could make it. I was also filled with questions. This school that just fired me was where my daughter was going to graduate from in 5 months, what are we supposed to do with that? A joyous celebration was now dark and muddied.

It was a dark day. I had no clue what I was going to do. That day, a mountain appeared. It was larger than Everest in my mind. It was a mountain of fear and shame, regret and vanity. My guess is that this seems overly dramatic- but this pain was deeper in my soul than I had personally experienced before.

I woke up the next morning- a Friday. I was in my house all alone.

I sat at my computer and I clicked on I-Tunes and pressed a playlist called "Praise and Worship" and then I heard it... "I lift my eyes up..... to the mountains.... where does my help come from? My help comes from You..... Maker of heaven........ Creator of the Earth."

It was a supernatural moment of such force that my life and circumstances changed in a heartbeat.

God was on His throne... what could mere men do to me?

God had seen this coming.... He had me as spiritually strong at that moment as I had been in years.

God was going to see me through this.

Now is the cool part. I almost hate to write this, because it makes you realize what a spiritual wimp I must have been for God to come so quickly to my rescue. I know of many godly men and women who walk dark journeys for months and years after a knock down.

My rescue came in less that 12 hours.

I read the Bible. Made a list of people to call. Went for a run listening to that same playlist (which became my song list/routine for months) and when I got back I received a phone call.

It was a generous job offer. Not only an offer, but a request that I NOT take it immediately. This amazing man, with a heart of compassion I had not experienced in a very long time, told me to put his offer in my back pocket, pray, search out all the opportunities before me, and just let him know before March or April if I wanted it. He wanted me to come only if God led me to that decision.

I accepted his offer after many weeks of prayer and discussions of all of the offers with my family....

Now, every time I read Psalm 121 or hear the praise song, I get chills and sometimes I cry. These were not just words, this is HIS WORD of promise.

Do you see where this journey is headed?
We get kicked to the ground in a myriad of ways.
We want to lay there in defeat, but we get up.
We see the mountain and it looks overwhelming.

But GOD is bigger than that mountain and He made that mountain.

What is your mountain in these unprecedented days?
Fear of losing your job?
Missing out on some special moments?
Worried about a grandparent?

He will see you through.

And so you climb a little more up the path today. One day 2 steps...one day 6.. one day you slide back 3 or 4... then you get up and go 7 or 8!

My hope is that You get to experience Him in this way as well and keep your song for the climb handy!

By the way, I did take that job and I have been in that new place 9 years and 4 months to this day.

Amazing to see that God knew what He was doing. I still am walking through some things including forgiveness, but I find myself getting stronger and healthier day by day.

My wife and children have been very well cared for. Thank you Lord!

This is not to say that a mountain may appear again soon- but I know where my help comes from!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Keeping Your Wits When Others Are Insane- Day 2

This is a Day 2 of writings to encourage us to CLIMB out of pits of despair, worry, and hopelessness. It starts hard... but like any time of improvement, we will get better. Slow down and ponder what the Lord has for you today....

These writings are inspired by an amazing book- 
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson

You can get it on Amazon

Today's Reading

Psalm 120 (The Message Version)

I’m in trouble. I cry to God,
desperate for an answer:
“Deliver me from the liars, God!
They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth.”

Do you know what’s next, can you see what’s coming,
all you barefaced liars?
Pointed arrows and burning coals
will be your reward.

I’m doomed to live in Meshech,
cursed with a home in Kedar,
My whole life lived camping
among quarreling neighbors.
I’m all for peace, but the minute
I tell them so, they go to war!

Psalm 120 begins with the most honest prayer we can ever utter:

I’m in trouble. I cry to God,
desperate for an answer:

Have you ever been there? 

Eugene Peterson labels this Psalm "Repentance" which is a fundamental piece of any real change. Even our introduction to the Kingdom of Christ is born out of true repentance and true saving faith. The reason I add 'true' is that we can be fooled by our emotions and deceived by self rationalization. "True" means from God, and bears fruit of the substance of that repentance and faith, albeit over time and through trial.

When we say to God, either for the first time as a cry for salvation, or frequent other times as a believer as a cry for rescue- "Help me, I'm at my end"- it is a heart breaking but beautiful moment. 

Things are about to get real.

This is why Jesus cries out in Matthew 5- "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven"- And the reality is this- All real change begins with pain or disillusionment. But the pain needs to drive us to the source of our help, and it is not found in us, nor the world, nor our 'friends', not even our family or church- the source of this is the Almighty God, King of All, and the Supreme Lover of Your Soul.

Now... I hate that I have to get to this point over and over. But I have to say this prayer WAY MORE than I should. But it is a reality.

I say with the Apostle Paul in Romans 7- "For I know that nothing good dwells in me".

Peterson drives it home this way:

A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. As long as we think the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the anxious uncertainties of the life of faith.

So where are you? Are you tired of seeing that same person in the mirror day after day, a victim of your own bed of circumstances? How long are you going to believe in that idol that drops you time and time again? Do you still have hope that those people will come through? That that job will matter? That that trip will fulfill? That that program will produce?

When we fall down and finally say, "Lord, I'm in trouble" then the journey can really begin. And unfortunately it 'begins again' time and time again. But the Lord is too good to not hear the true cry of His child.


“Deliver me from the liars, God!
They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth.” Psalm 120 vs 3

This is so hard to write about. The premise of the hit TV show, House, was "All people lie". I have to reluctantly say...'True!' and that means I am guilty. Some lies are more subtle than others. Broken promises hurt. The spreading of untrue or inaccurate gossip wounds. Betrayal and infidelity are consistent piles of rubbish in the wake of human interactions.

It is especially exasperating to me to see the horrible disinformation campaigns during this current crisis of the Coronavirus. The 'news' actually makes the situation MUCH worse than it should be.
If it weren't so serious, it would actually be laughable.
But again- though the culture is full of gossip and rumor, the reality is a useful tool. Because in brilliant juxtaposition is the COVENANT KEEPING GOD. Jehovah never breaks His promise, even to the point of suffering and death. It males Him hard to deal with because He is a 'man of His word'- but it means that He is trustworthy when all men are not.


Do you know what’s next, can you see what’s coming,
all you barefaced liars?
Pointed arrows and burning coals
will be your reward.

The Psalmist here drips with anger. Real hurt brings raw reaction. I am not sure it is healthy, but it is reality. The key is what to do with the anger.

I read a facebook post one day that said:

No need for revenge - Just sit back and wait... those that hurt you will eventually screw up all by themselves ... and if you are lucky, God will let you watch.

Remember, we are in step 1 of a change. Hopefully, in time the anger will be harnessed under the streams of grace. But the Psalms are always so true to real life existence.

When I get angry, I go out for runs. After I was fired in 2010, I was so angry and ran so much that I actually ran the Music City Marathon. My body won't let me do that much anymore, but I do think exercise is a good outlet to pour out deep frustration.

But I also need to know that I too have caused hurt that results in that type of hurt and anger. Mostly unintentional... but at times with full knowledge of my wrong.

The good news of the gospel must always be in line with the bad news as well. It is clearly here. THERE WILL BE UNSPEAKABLE PUNISHMENT by the Just and Holy God of the Universe.

It is contained even in the most beautiful proclamation of grace in the Bible:

For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son. That whoever believes in Him SHOULD NOT PERISH, but have eternal life. John 3:16

This REALIZATION is two fold:

1)There are bad people who will not ever repent and grow colder and bolder. These are the liars and mockers. Wolves in sheep's clothing. Men of evil intents and iniquity. Manipulation and deceit. Insatiable selfishness. Shakespeare said: "He will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month". These are the people who listen and watch for any small opportunity to take someone down. They twist words and float tiny white lies that are as deadly as the virus we are fighting right now. 

If that is you or me... we must cry out for change.... because these people will have to drink the fury of God's Holy wrath to the last drop for all eternity. He will not back down from that promise either. 

And the 2nd realization is.......
2) There are bad people who come to/or brought to their senses and they desperately cry out for mercy. They SEE the Lamb of God who was slain and fall down in awe of what was done. HE drank the cup of that fury and wrath. They will desire to 'turn' ... they admit their failings, and they walk in deep humility and love because they have received the gift of grace and mercy.

Because this is true- why stay in the mud of depression? Get up and walk uphill in praise to this King of Grace! Bring someone with you along the way! Proclaim this all who will hear. Leave this broken place behind!


I’m doomed to live in Meshech,
cursed with a home in Kedar,
My whole life lived camping
among quarreling neighbors.

I’m all for peace, but the minute
I tell them so, they go to war!

I LOVE how this Psalm closes because it is a daily dose of reality that keeps me from going back to where I was. 

In fact, I love that this Psalm closes with Kedar and the next Psalm opens in worship.
The reference to Meshech and Kedar are parallel analogies to nomadic wandering in barren places

You and I walk dust trails in the remote outposts of a cursed land.
Do we want to stay in the valley of our little pity party? There is nothing here for us.

No ... let us cast our eyes to the mountain. The upward journey that ends in an eternity of no more tears and no more pain and freedom from regret and shame.

You will not find peace here. Your job, marriage, stock portfolio, or weekend activities will not be without thorns and mosquitoes!

You are a pilgrim... a royal ambassador... but serving in a place that is not your ultimate home. Enjoy the journey, but never be in anything but a tent. Even your body is a temporary structure.

2 Corinthians 5:1–10
[1] For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. [2] For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, [3] if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. [4] For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. [5] He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

[6] So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, [7] for we walk by faith, not by sight. [8] Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. [9] So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. [10] For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (ESV)

So this first song for the journey is a song of pain that leads to repentance. No one really likes sad songs, but they are representative of real life.

My sad songs help me REMEMBER where I was and motivate me to never want to return.

Thank you God for hearing my desperate cry for help! 

Time to move on.........

Today, I challenge you to do something I bet you haven't done in a while- pray on your knees.

Get up right now and go to a small quiet place and physically get on your knees. It is a very humbling posture... a posture of submission... a posture of poverty.

And then cry out a simple prayer.... Lord, I am in trouble...HELP!

And He will run to you... faster than the speed of light.

Why are we waiting?