Category Archives: Devotional

Prayer from the Heart

I’ve used this little devotional Augustine Day By Day over the past 22 years… some years following it “day by day” while most years I just pull it out whenever the Spirit moves me. This was one of those days. 

You see, I’ve been sensing a deeper call to prayer. I mean, I’ve always prayed… pretty much the way I talk (and even write most of the time)… in a conversational style. I’ve never been a big one to pray long fancy, polished, prayers… In fact, I felt the call to pastoral ministry at an altar rail when I was 17… but the “joy” (most people spell that as “f-e-a-r”) of praying in front of people paralyzed me inside. I eventually did step into the pulpit at age 34… and was still scared of that public praying aspect of the job. I mean, I talk to God all the time… but I talk to Him like I talk to a friend… and sometimes it’s absolute silence… because I’m simply listening.

Anyway, in the May 6 entry of this devotional, the editor shares a quote from Augustine from a commentary Augustine wrote about Psalm 118. The closing verse (118:29) of the Psalm is exactly the same as the opening verse (118:1). They both read: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” (NAS=New American Standard version)

As Augustine reflected on that verse (those verses?) and all that had been sandwiched in between that opening and closing verse, he drawn to consider the way we Christians try to pray. And, he was overwhelmed by the awareness that the out loud voice in prayer can be used to connect with God in true prayer but it sometimes can just as easily simply try to fool the humans nearby into thinking the one uttering the words is connecting in prayer with God when there is NO real communication going on at all.
Check out Augustine’s thoughts from the devotional…

“If the cry to the Lord uttered by those who pray is made with the sound of the bodily voice without the heart being turned to God, who can doubt that it is made in vain? But if it comes from the heart, even if the bodily voice is silent, it can be concealed from everyone else but not from God.”
“Therefore, when we pray–whether aloud as required or silently–to God, our cry must come from the heart.”

Augustine recognizes that the REAL prayer, is the prayer from the heart… and sometimes that’s also expressed out loud and others can listen in as one is praying from their heart and it happens to come out in their voice as well. But sometimes, the real, true prayer, the ‘heart prayer’ comes from such a deep place in the heart that it rises straight to God’s heart without anyone else even hearing a peep.

It reminds me of a story I once heard about a meal at which President Lyndon Johnson was in attendance. The president asked a friend to ‘share grace’ or ‘say the prayer.’ The man proceeded to pray and, after a few seconds, Johnson spoke out and said something to the effect of “Speak up, we can’t hear you!” And the praying friend calmly responded, “I wasn’t speaking to you, Mr. President,” and calmly returned to his praying.

I’m not arguing against vocalized prayer, but as that presidential friend reminded Johnson, and Augustine reminds the rest of us, we listeners who happen to be near enough to someone to hear them pray out loud or to hear them in prayer when there is just silence… we need to recognize that we cannot always hear the true prayer… but God can! And none of us ever fool him!

-Augustine in Commentary on Psalm 118 (29), 1 in Rotelle, John E., ed. 
Augustine Day By Day (Catholic Book Pub.Co., New York) 1986,
(entry for May 6 on p. 71).


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Jesus Is Lord?

This “stay-at-home” order has me out of my normal groove… So here I am at my home office and I went to look for some notes (that are probably at the church office) and stumbled across some notes I took while listening to another preacher give a sermon at Cherry Run Camp Meeting back in 2016. John Oswalt is one of my favorite preachers to listen to… He is an actual Bible scholar and helped to translate the Old Testament in both the New International Version (NIV) and years later, the New Living Translation (NLT). I love hearing him preach!

Back to today… I came across my notes that I had jotted down while listening that summer day almost four years ago. Based on 1 Corinthians 12:1-3, I’m going to give you a rundown of what the Lord was speaking to me this morning through those notes from then.


1 “Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. 2 You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. 3 So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” –NLT

Picking up on that verse three phrase “… Jesus is Lord …” Oswalt explained that anyone of the Jewish background, whether in the city of Corinth or somewhere else in the Roman Empire, were inheritors of the tradition that came down from Moses himself (based on Exodus 3) where the name of God, in transcribed Hebrew, was “YHWH.” This was God’s personal name, and the English translation says it meant “I am that I am” (or “I was that I was” or “I will be that I will be” … there is no tense with God’s name… that’s why we so often in Christian liturgy talk about the God who “was and is and is to come”).

Oswalt explained that every time a good, faithful Jew of Jesus’ day wen to read that passage, or any passage with the “YHWH” they IMMEDIATELY said “LORD” instead… to ensure they never “took the name of the Lord in vain.”

So when we read about people like these Corinthians saying “Jesus is Lord” it truly freaks out the faithful Jews! Because the phrase “Jesus is Lord” is equal to saying “Jesus is God!!!!”

That piece of explanation helps explain why “Jesus is Lord” was such a bombshell in Bible times… but it also presents a new thing for us in our day and age to be thinking and praying about: If Jesus IS our Lord (and God!), then shouldn’t that mean He is Lord of all of our life?

I don’t remember how he preached this next section, but in my notes, I made a table of sorts…

If Jesus IS our Lord, then He should also be Lord of…

  • OUR LIPS – Is He Lord of all that comes from our mouths? If so, there should be no foulness or filth or cruelty coming through our lips.
  • OUR BODIES – Do our actions show that He is Lord of our bodies? Our sexuality? Our modesty? Our eating? The fitness of our body?
  • OUR ENTERTAINMENT – Does our watching, listening, and reading show that He is Lord of what entertains us? Murders, destruction, hatred, immorality, sexual fornication… What is the focus of our TV? Our movies? Our books? Our music? Our video games? Our online time?
  • OUR HOME – If He is Lord of our home, then there should be godly behavior even between family members. Gratitude, respect, kindness, patience, our conversations, …
  • OUR BUSINESS – Is He Lord of our money? Is our business and work known by the godly behaviors Jesus taught such as integrity, compassion, and stewardship?
  • OUR PLANS – We used to use the Latin phrase “D.V.” or “Deo volente” when talking about the future. That phrase means “God willing…” A recognition that we need to set our priorities after learning what God’s priorities are. Nowadays, in our families, our businesses, and even in our churches, we too often set our plans and then ask God to bless them.
  • OUR FEARS – If He IS our Lord, then we go to Him when faced with the fear of what could happen or the fear of our loss of control, our health, or even world events…

As we continue to walk through (or stay-at-home through) these troubling times of fear and worry, ARE WE STILL DEMONSTRATING THAT JESUS IS LORD?

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Another Year Is Dawning

I saw a Twitter post yesterday highlighting the first verse of this 1874 hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal, called Another Year Is Dawning. I’ve never sung it before, but I’ve been captivated! Check it out:

1 Another year is dawning:
Dear Father, let it be,
In working or in waiting,
Another year with Thee;
Another year of progress,
Another year of praise,
Another year of proving
Thy presence all the days.

2 Another year of mercies,
Of faithfulness and grace;
Another year of gladness
In the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning
Upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting,
Of quiet, happy rest.

3 Another year of service,
Of witness for Thy love;
Another year of training
For holier work above.
Another year is dawning;
Dear Father, let it be,
On earth or else in heaven,
Another year for Thee.

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When Adversity Shows Up

I’m sitting in a school parking lot with a dead van when I thought I was heading to a church weekend conference near the New York border. Had already told myself that this hadn’t taken God by surprise, so I have his guarantee that he’ll redeem what I face even when it’s bad (Romans 8:28). 

While waiting for the tow truck, I opened the only book I have with me, The Imitation of Christ, and the book fell open to this following passage (that I had already highlighted sometime in the past!):
“Adversity is the best test of virtue. The occasions of sin do not weaken anyone; on the contrary, they show that person’s true worth.”

-The Imitation of Christ. Book 1, chapter 16, section 4.

OK… I hear you loud and clear Lord!

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Faith AND Works?

When I grew up, many people tried to claim that all I had to do was believe in Jesus and pray the sinner’s prayer and I was good to go… forever. While that’s a great starting point, I was challenged by James’ words: “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” -James 2:17 (NLT)

And today, I ran across this Christian writer from antiquity who summed up the knowledge part of faith and the role of the “works” of faith really well:

“Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice.” – St. Mark the Ascetic, Philokalia, vol. 1, p 126, #12.

Maybe “faith put into practice” is a better way of thinking about faith and works! If our faith is based on on our head knowledge, it’s dead! But if we can put the faith we believe into practice, then we’re REALLY living out our faith!

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Ask In My Name

Chambers COMPLETE WORKSYesterday I came across The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, a book I picked up back in 2002. One section is the book of prayers published after Chambers’ death under the title Knocking at God’s Door. Chambers’ wife created this book by pulling some of her husband’s personal, spiritual prayers he had written out at the beginning of each day into his diaries.

The prayer she assigned to today picks up its theme from John 14:14 (Revised Version 1885):

“If ye shall ask Me anything in My Name, that will I do” (RV). It is all so mysterious, O Lord, and all so simple — I pray, and believe that Thou dost create something in answer to and by the very means of my prayer, that was not in existence before.”

I’ve known this verse for years… but never thought about it quite like this. My prayer is the impetus for God to create an answer for whatever it is I prayed about! My prayer is the spark that gets the answer started! NO WONDER the book of James (4:2) says that the reason we don’t get what we most desire or need is because we don’t ask for it! The engine doesn’t do much until it is started!

I also am aware that there is that disclaimer in there that says we don’t get just anything we ask for… but rather, when we ask in Jesus’ name, the Father will do whatever we ask. I take it that means that if I know something is clearly NOT in God’s will, then I can expect no result from praying for that thing. Asking in His name implies I come alongside Jesus and ask for the very things he’s offered… the very things that carry out his will on earth… and I get to be a part of what He’s doing!

–Chambers, Oswald. The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers. Discovery House Publishers, associated with RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, Michigan. copyright 2000. (Complete Works

–Chambers, Oswald. Knocking at God’s Door: A Little Book of Prayers. 1957. in Complete Works pages 635-652. August 19th entry found on page 646.



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Fear of the Lord

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”           — Proverbs 1:7

I heard a radio preacher talk about the fear of the Lord yesterday. i expected him to go to start talking about the fearful, terrified, condemnation-style fear and how God was, well, almost like a bully that we’d be afraid of running into. But he didn’t! Instead, he talked about the kind of fear that I would call reverence.

And then this morning, I opened up a devotional called Augustine Day By Day and today’s entry, “Chaste Fear,” was bringing out this same approach.

Just from the fact that you try to avoid evil, you improve yourself, and you begin to desire what is good. When you begin to desire what is good, there will be a chaste fear in you.

That fear by which you fear being cast into hell with the devil is not yet chaste, since it does not come from the love of God but from fear of punishment. But when you fear God in the sense that you do not wish to lose Him, you embrace Him, and you desire to enjoy Him.


When I was growing up, so many of the gospel presentations were not GOOD News, but rather FEARFUL WARNINGS!

  • ‘You better make the right decision or you’ll go to Hell!’
  • ‘If you accept Jesus, you’ll be saved from Hell!’
  • ‘Turn or Burn!’
  • ‘Make sure you’ve got you’ve signed up for your eternal  fire insurance!’

I have one fellow pastor and friend who is always dwelling on the negatives. And yes, I know that seems like a generalization, but in this case it’s pretty accurate! He tries to draw people’s attention to how horrible, bad, awful, and sinful the world is around us. And that’s his attempt to share the “good” news! I love him and he has the sweetest wife, but I can only be around him for short periods of time and generally avoid reading anything he writes. It’s all pessimism and fear based. I don’t need more of that in my life!

It seems to me that that radio preacher (I don’t even know who he was) and St. Augustine have the healthier, more Godly approach. Yes there is a gratitude for what Jesus saves us from eternally in regards to punishment, that’s NOT the motivation for my walk with Christ or my understanding of God. Instead, there is a JOY in getting to know God better as I walk with Christ… as I learn to be His disciple and become more like Him. My relationship becomes more and more about love and respect and gratitude and reverence… not fear of punishment.

After all, the definition of “gospel” is supposed to be “GOOD news.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

entry for July 29 “Chaste Fear” in Augustine Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Catholic Book Publishing:New York, 1986, page 113. Quote drawn from Augustine’s sermon on 1 John 9, 5.

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Knowledge and Humilty 1

When I haven’t been working on funerals or preparing for Holy Week over the past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on the Christian ideal of humilty. Today follows that pattern, but I’m in Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ this time.

In chapter 2 of book 1, he starts with the idea that “knowledge is a natural desire in all people. But knowledge for its own sake is useless unless you fear God.”

He then compares an unlearned, humble peasant who fears God with a learned person who is proud of their learning but neglects their own soul. The peasant wins hands down, a Kempis writes.

For centuries theologians have quipped that pride was the first sin, and I never understood why. But as I have reread this section, it finally hit me. Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve weren’t content with God knowing best and them only knowing good. They wanted to be like God and know both good and evil. There was a developing pride that said ‘We want to know it all!’

a Kempis writes that the knowledge we really ought to be seeking is self-knowledge.

True self-knowledge makes you aware of your own worthlessness and you will take no pleasure in the praises of others. If your knowledge encompasses the universe and the love of God is not in you, what good will it do you in God’s sight?

I’m reminded of Paul’s words in First Corinthians 13, verses 1-3:

 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

In God’s view, based on God’s standard, my great learning is no advantage… unless I have love. My pride in my vast knowledge is a hindrance, not an asset.


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Augustine: Without Humility

Augustine Day By DayIn 1998 I picked up a little daily devotional book called: Augustine Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A. (Catholic Book Publishing Co., N.Y.: 1986). I’ve used it as an everyday companion a couple different years, but I just happened to run across it again a couple of weeks ago and started reading some of the entries on which I had made notes. One of the first ones that caught me was titled “Without Humility Pride Will Win.”

This Augustine quote was the entry for January 8th and was drawn from Letter 118,22:

“Grasp the truth of God by using the way He Himself provides, since He sees the weakness of our footsteps. That way consists first, of humility, second, of humility, and third, of humility.

“Unless humility precede, accompany, and follow up all the good we accomplish, unless we keep our eyes fixed on it, pride will snatch everything right out of our hands.”

This has been a good reminder during this last week for me. On Saturday, my wife and I met with the Pastor-parish committee of the new church I’ll be moving to in June (First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA). The District Superintendent was there to introduce us and at one point he’s reading off a list of qualities, about me, that had made the bishop and his cabinet believe I might just be the right next pastor for this church. I can’t list what they were, I wasn’t taking notes. But I remember thinking as he finished, “Man, I’d like to meet THAT guy!”

Did he exaggerate? No. But I always see my flaws, my overweight body, and my list of things I want to do better. Augustine’s warning to do self-examination with “first, … humility, second, … humility, and third, … humility” is good counsel!

Now if we could just infuse our presidential candidates with a little bit of humility… !

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First Fruits

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

–1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV)

I grew up around a farm. I didn’t really live there, I just hung out there a lot. It was my grandfather’s and I basically just visited on the weekends and stayed most of every summer, but I proudly considered myself a “farmboy.”

Truth is, I helped in the haymaking each summer, and usually got to go out with Grandpa gathering sap once or twice each Spring, and a couple of times gathered eggs from the henhouse. That’s it. Not much of a farm life after all.

BUT, I remember the wait for the fresh peas and green beans from Grandpa’s garden. Oh, and the corn on the cob, too! I could hardly wait for Grandpa to say they were ready, ‘It’s about time we tried some of those peas and beans.’ (He actually liked the onions and turnips and asparagus too, but even grandparents can’t always be perfect, I suppose).

And that first small serving of fresh vegetables, that first taste of the fruit of Grandpa’s hard work, was delicious! But with that first taste of those “first fruits” came the knowledge that much more was on its way! We wouldn’t have to wait much longer!

It doesn’t take much of a farm boy to recognize the parallel in our Christian walk when Paul talks about death and uses Christ’s resurrection as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection to eternal life that all believers will experience. If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we can look at Christ and recognize that His resurrection is merely a “firstfruits” of ALL believers’ resurrections to come. There is HOPE of what is yet to come! For us… and for our loved ones in Christ who have already “fallen asleep” through death.

Oh Christ, You are only the FIRST fruits of resurrection. HALLELUJAH!!!

I stumbled across a devotional I wrote for the Lenten Devotional our worship committee created in 2001 at our Trinity UM Church in Patton, PA. We invited the congregation to reflect on a list of Scriptures and pick one to write a devotonal about.

This was my meditation reflecting on 1 Corinthians 15:20.

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