Author Archives: jeffb

Devotional: Prayers for Harvey

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” asked the Torah teacher.

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” The Torah teacher answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” Continue reading

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Devotional: Lord! Where Are You!

Lord, you promised! You promised to deliver us. You told us that you are the shepherd who protects us. You assured us that you are our shade when the intense rays of life’s desert sun seek to take our lives. You said that you would guard our coming and our going. Lord, where are you? Continue reading

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Devotional: No One Knows the Day

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36

September 23, 2017 has come and gone. I am in the process of writing this devotional on that day. I waited until 3pm passed in Israel just in case. No need to write a devotional if the world is ending, right? I took a long morning walk instead. Cynicism aside, what if this is the day? Continue reading

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Devotional: The Sun Will Not Harm You

The desert is a metaphor for life. Our lives are a desert journey. There are times of respite and refreshment. There are times when the intense heat of the desert zaps our energy, numbs our consciousness, and causes us to wonder if we can possibly take another step on the path of life.

In those intensely dark times, God’s Word speaks most clearly. As one rabbi said, “The deeper we go into the desert, the greater are the miracles of God.” As another rabbi said, “You can take me out of the desert, but if you take the desert out of me, I will no longer be faithful.”

The desert metaphor is powerfully illustrated in many of the psalms, including Psalm 121. My help comes from the Lord! The Lord will not even let my foot slip on a desert mountainside. He guards me even when I sleep. He is my shade when the sun threatens my life. He is my blanket when the cool desert night makes me tremble. He keeps me from harm, protects my life, and watches my coming and going.

When we dig deeper into Psalm 121, we discover a disconcerting paradox. In times when the heat is intense and we experience God’s protection, the psalm is comforting. But when we find ourselves in a dark valley, we ask, “Where is our God who promised that the sun would not cause us harm, because the Lord is protecting us?”

My nephew Kevin Witte

One year ago this week, my nephew died suddenly in a freakish traffic accident. My wife and I were awaking to a vacation day at Lake Louise. Then the text from my sister arrived. “Pray! Pray!” The early report was bad. The accident and head injury were very serious. And then we learned that the medical team could find no brain activity. We were in shock and numbed. It is moment that has left a hole in the hearts of his family that will never close completely. It will always be there, but with edges that are a little less rough as time passes.

Our family is not unique. No one is spared. Each of you has a deep desert story too. The blazing sun of our desert lives seeks to destroy us with sickness, broken relationships, workplace issues, and even death. The metaphorical desert sun rises every day, and its direct heat is brutal. It is the condition of life in a broken world.

In desert times and places, Psalm 121 speaks. When the sun is most intense, Bedouin shepherds know that the most vulnerable part of the body is the head. If he or she can just get his or her head into the shade, the sun will not harm. The sun will still be beat down intensely. It will still seek to destroy. But it will not prevail, because shade protects. The Lord is our shade.

The words of Psalm 121 are not for my nephew. The intense heat of the sun or chilling cold of the night are not attacking him any longer. The Lord has already welcomed him into his presence. The Lord is protecting him under his own wings and he is experiencing eternal refreshment.

Psalm 121 is for those who remain on this earth until their appointed time, when our Father calls us home and Jesus is there to greet us. Psalm 121 is for those of us as we experience the desert journey of life. It is for each of us as we struggle with brokenness. The blazing sun will not harm us, because God is our cooling shade. God is our blanket when we are shivering alone at night. God is the shepherd who guides our path when are eyes are too filled with tears to see.

God doesn’t take the desert from us, as much as we wish he would. God has chosen for us to live in its harshness. Why? Maybe because the desert is the place where we experience God’s presence most acutely. Maybe because it is the only place where we understand our total dependence on him. Maybe because he longs for us to walk with him, and he knows that we be drawn closest to him in those desert times and places.

My nephew no longer needs the shade or a blanket. He is at home with Jesus. Those of us left behind and dealing with his loss need the life-saving shade which God provides to survive the intense sun that remains in our lives.

The tree that provides that bit of sun for our heads in the deep desert is a broom tree. On a trip to Israel together I convinced my nephew Kevin to lie down with his head beneath the tree, because someday I wanted to use that real picture to talk about Psalm 121. Never in my wildest imagination did I think that this photo would be a part of a devotional that included his story.

Are you in a desert time or in a desert place? If you are not right now, you will be someday. When you find yourself there, remember. The Lord will protect each of us while we walk the journey of life on this earth. The Lord will be our shade when the sun is blazing. The Lord will be our warm blanket when we shiver alone at night. And just like Kevin, those who claim the Lord as their Savior will one day be welcomed out of life’s desert and into his presence forever.

In Jesus!

Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services

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Devotional: a Rod and a Staff

“His rod and staff comfort me.”

Spare the rod and spoil the child. My dad believed in corporal punishment. His words still ring in my ears: “If you ‘get it’ at school, expect to ‘get it’ twice as hard at home.” I believed that he meant it.

That is why I found little comfort in the rod image of Psalm 23. My experience did not lead me to experience any comfort in a rod.

A good shepherd in biblical times and even today cannot be defenseless. The flock is vulnerable, and the flock is pretty defenseless. The good shepherd lovingly cares for the sheep and does so with tools. Those tools include a rod, a staff, and stones.

I have seen few large predators in Israel. That said, the eastern area of the land is the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley corridor runs from Syria to Africa. The Bible mentions predatory animals such as lions and bears. It is quite possible that African predators ventured north at times in history. It is also possible that biblical lions were a smaller cousin of the king of beasts. Those things are unclear.

What we do know is that the shepherd protected the flock from predators. There is a Syrian bear that lives today in the mountains of Syria. Large predatory cats have been seen in the far back country of the En Gedi nature preserve. Hyenas have been observed in the wilderness Makhtesh in the south. I have startled a fox in the Negev (or actually it startled me).

One of our friends was leading a trip not long ago. They were on the bus and observed a man driving a flock down a Bethlehem street and striking the reluctant sheep with a rod. Having learned that a good shepherd used the rod on predators but would never strike a sheep in the flock, they were perplexed. “Is he a bad shepherd?” they asked. The guide replied, “No, that man is the butcher.”

The flock is comforted to know that their shepherd will protect them. They need not fear predators, because their trust is in the shepherd. That is their comfort and our comfort.

Shepherds have a third tool. It is found in abundance in the land. It is the stone.

Good shepherds become skilled stone throwers. The flock is filled with individuals, too, especially the goats! The goats always think they have a better idea. They seek their own paths and wander from the way that the shepherd knows best.

Lovingly, carefully, compassionately the shepherd sharpens his or her stone-throwing skills to fling stones to the left and right of the flock to guide them back onto the straight paths of his choosing.

The Lord is our shepherd. His rod and his staff comfort me. His stone-throwing skills are the best and will guide me to the paths I should go. I am called to lead. I am not only a sheep in his flock, but a shepherd to the flock in my care. I am called to sharpen my skills and use them for his purpose.

Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services

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Devotional: Creating God in Our Image

“After the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).

The past few months have been filled with devastating events in nature. As much as our round-the-clock newscasts in North America cause us to think we are global citizens, in reality the decision-makers in the media overemphasize events that spike their ratings and ignore events that decrease their ratings. Continue reading

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Devotional: On Right Paths

“He guides me along straight paths”

It was June 2004. It was my second trip to Israel with an outstanding teacher. God gave him the gift of teaching and insight. Because of the passion that I developed on those trips with him and a third trip to Asia, my biblical sight became clearer, and I have been given the gift of leading others to the land to experience the story in its context. Continue reading

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Devotional: Quiet Water

“He leads me to quiet water”

The prophet Jeremiah wrote words from God, “My people have committed two sins. They have forsaken me the spring of living water. They have built for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that do not hold water.”

Shepherds bring their flocks to the hillsides to eat. They bring water to the flock to drink. They either find a safe spring or pool, or they draw water and pour it into a manger (water trough) for the flock. Sheep must drink in the morning and evening, or they will die. Continue reading

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Effective Leaders Deliver

In a Harvard Business Review Article, May 2017 authors Botelho, Powell, Kincaid, and Wang name four characteristics of highly effective leaders including:effective leaders decide with speed and conviction reliably on their commitments.

Effective leaders deliver. They set realistic goals and align expectations to those goals. They surround themselves with strong colleagues. They hone their own skills. They use accurate metrics to measure accomplishments. They have clear accountability standards. They are willing to reset the course when it becomes necessary.

And faith-based leaders have other crucial characteristics – a humble spirit, a servant’s heart, and a clear sense of their calling.

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Devotionals: I Lie Down

“He makes me lie down in green pasture.”

Oh, to be a sheep in the flock of God! Psalm 23:2 could be the theme verse for the prosperity gospel preachers. Just picture the veggie-loving sheep lying down in a lush alfalfa field. Surrounded by more food than the creature could possibly consume in its lifetime, the sheep’s only work is turning its head for the next savory bite. Continue reading

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