Author Archives: Pastor Pat Rowland

1 v 1 • Devotional #4: “Shut the Door and Open your Heart”

I am a fan of personality and gift testing. I have done them all: DiSC, Myers Briggs, Enneagram, and Strengths Finder. I am a high I-D, ENTJ, 3 Wing 2, and the top 5 strengths are Belief, Responsibility, Significance, Futuristic, and Analytical. If you are familiar with these tests you would know that I am wired to get things done. I can be addicted to achievement and the recognition that comes with it. These tests have helped me understand who I am and be comfortable with that. They have also helped me understand that what is a strength God blessed me with can also be a weakness leading to unhealthy behaviors. 

Being wired for achievement and motivated by recognition has at times in my life lead me to use my gifts of execution for self-promotion. Being recognized for your accomplishments by others is not wrong, nor should it be discouraged. The core issue with a motive for recognition is self-seeking promotion. Though today’s social media platforms have permitted and expanded this characteristic, it is not a new problem. Jesus recognized over 2,000 years ago the potential flaw in humans. It was one of the first things he talked about in the very early days of His ministry. The famous “Sermon on the Mount” is recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7 as Jesus’ first sermon which covered many topics. For our purposes we need to zero in on Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Whether it is praying, worship, giving, serving, or any of the spiritual disciplines taught in the Bible, they are personal, not promotional. God is more concerned about the work He wants to do in you and through you then He is with the response you receive from others. The actions of our own hearts must be driven by the recognition of the Heavenly Father not by attaboys, likes, and reactions. Jesus commands us to “shut the door” on the recognition of others and to open our hearts to the work He wants to do in us. 

Lesson Fifteen • Devotion #1: Command

“You better not be texting me in that tone of voice!” Have you ever felt like saying that back to a friend, spouse, or your teenager? Better yet, have you ever been misunderstood in a text or email due to the fact that your tone, facial expression, and body language were absent from the message? I am a fairly direct person, especially when I go into task mode and need to clear my email inbox. A few years ago, I was sitting with the staff team I was leading and we had just finished taking a strengths finder assessment. One of my top strengths is “command” and after reading about it I said to the team, “I am not sure this is really me.” They started laughing and proceeded to read out loud text messages and emails from me. Absent from those messages was the heart and tone in which I was sending them. I was grateful for their grace and willingness to help me see a blind spot in my leadership.

As we move into chapter ten of 2 Corinthians, we see there is a different tone with Paul as he defends his ministry against a group that questioned his authority and heart toward the Church. One of their arguments is based on the strong tone in Paul’s letter to the church as opposed to his behavior in their presence. There is a tension for anyone in a church leadership role when it comes to leading and discipling, similar to that of a parent-child relationship. The leader cares yet at times has to strongly speak to explain the importance of the message. 

As imperfect people, sinners by nature, we will always drift towards the need for correction. The source of that correction is not the messenger, but the message.  When we recognize that the battle is not with the messenger, we can begin to see our own blind spots and need for change. The Gospel leads to repentance, or at least that is the purpose of proclaiming it to the world. Paul says in verse 8, “For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed.”  The next time you listen to a sermon or teaching, focus on the message of the Scripture, not the person delivering it. As humble servants of Christ, they are trying to build you up with spiritual discipline through the Gospel. Unless we are willing to support a spiritual disciplining, that discipline will be largely ineffective.  

Lesson Ten • Devotion #6: Changing the Default Setting

My family, especially my wife, has heard me often say, “Can we just stick to the plan?” I am cursed with this need to plan and to know what the plan is. I do not have to be the one always making the plan, I just need to know what it is so I can prepare myself for what is ahead. For example, if we are going out for dinner tonight I want to know where we are going. I do not like just winging it, I want to decide so I can begin thinking about what I want to order at said restaurant. Come that evening, I do not want to change the plan to the last minute suggestion, because most likely I have already decided on what I am going to eat. I am capable of going to a different restaurant, I am not some kind of crazy control freak. However, my preference or the default setting is to plan. 

Default settings are the base settings of a system that can be changed, but when the machine is restarted it will fall back to the “default” settings. For example, I am using Word to type this devotion and my default font is Calibri, but I am typing this in Century Schoolbook because it is the format we use for these devotions. When I go to open a new document, the default font will automatically be chosen. 

There is a motivational default setting within each of us that is called “ME.” Though we may want to do things for others it will not come natural because our default setting is to do things for ourselves. We cannot will ourselves to change that setting. It is the make-up of our operating system. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, that the only way to overcome our default setting is to let the love of Christ have the controls of our system or ourselves: For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Jesus’ default setting was us. He died for all of us and for us to overcome the ME setting we have to die to ourselves much like Christ died for us. It is not a physical death for us, but one of choice, to surrender ourselves, our motivations, our dreams, and our desires to Christ.  

In a selfless act Christ died for our sin. He paid the price for our sin, so that we will no longer live for ourselves, but for Him. When the motivation or default setting moves from me to Christ it completely changes the perspective. It is not just on restaurant choices or plans changing, but on valuing others over my desires.  

If Christ is not counting my trespasses against me, then I should not count them against others. The only way that will happen is if I change my default setting from “ME” to “CHRIST.” 

Lesson Two • Devotion #6: Scenarios

Life can be rough: Divorced after 18 years of marriage, laid off again, losing someone very close to you, sitting in a courtroom with your child again, begging a spouse to go to counseling, worrying about your family’s safety, or hearing the doctor say the test is positive. These are not the scenarios we plan to face in life, yet if you have breath in your lungs, you have experienced some level of a life struggle. Life is always coming at you, and to cope, we look for something to bring us comfort. 

The Apostle Paul understood challenges, trials, and life struggles. He highlighted a few in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, “I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

It is when we face the toughest challenges, the overwhelming stresses, and the daily hardships that we need something on which to hold. We long for the strength of a helping hand to pull us up and to give us hope. A major theme of Paul’s letters, and especially 2 Corinthians, is strength found in the comfort of Jesus. In the opening chapter of this letter, Paul mentions comfort ten times in just five verses.

Feel free to count them in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ, we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”

It is through suffering that our hearts draw closer to God because He is able to comfort us. As we look to Him over other forms of coping, Jesus is working in us for our good, molding us into His image.

I Am: True Vine • Devotion #2: Pruning

As I write this devotion (April 2020), Spring is upon us and I am preparing to plant my garden. This will be my fifth year gardening and I have to admit I am kind of a hack when it comes to gardening. I should probably study more and plan more for crop location, ground preparation, and fertilization. There are a few things that I can actually grow and one of those is tomatoes. What I have learned about tomatoes is the importance of supporting the vine and pruning the shoots or branches. 

As Jesus was speaking to His disciples in John 15:1-5, He used an analogy or parable to illustrate the relationship of the disciples to Christ. In essence, it is a description of the relationship we are to have with Christ. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus describes Himself as the “True Vine” and His followers as “branches,” and that we first must remain connected to Him. Any branch apart from the vine can not and will not ever produce its fruit. He also identifies the Father as the “Gardener,” or the one that prepares the ground and cares for the plant.

The purpose of a garden is the harvest. I do not plant a garden in the spring, pull weeds all summer long, cultivate the soil, and water it just to look at it or to say I have a garden. The benefit of the garden is producing a crop or as Jesus says, “much fruit.” I have had some good years and not so good years at harvest time. The good years are directly connected to my effort throughout the growing season.  Jesus explains that the gardener pays close attention to his crop and through pruning increases the yield, Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

There are two aspects to pruning. The first is the removal of deadwood or those things in our life that will never produce fruit. Did you know there are 168 hours in a week, and if we remove time for sleep (56 hours) and our work (50 hours), that leaves just 62 hours of our week or about 8 hours a day? How are you leveraging those hours to produce much fruit? The second aspect of pruning is the removal of extra branches that would produce small fruit, so you can have fewer stronger branches that produce healthy fruit. Sometimes we have to let go of “good things” for “better things.” Are there good things in your life, those you enjoy that could keep you from investing time in the better things? Deadwood trimming is easy. Cutting away a good thing for a better future not so much, and it cannot be done without looking to your gardener.

Remember the Father is your gardener and He can be trusted to help you see where trimming needs to be addressed in your life. As you abide with Jesus, listen to the pruning He wants to do in your life.

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