Thursday, December 31, 2015

Fresh Start

This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. Through the LORD'S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I hope in Him!"  Lamentations 3:21-24 (NKJV) 

We are entering a new year and many people are making New Year’s Resolutions, which represent changes that they want to make in the coming days ahead. There seems to be a bit of backlash against making resolutions, but seeing and seizing the opportunity to make changes can be spiritually significant. The process called “Christian Discipleship” is all about progress and transformation…and it should go without saying, “transformation” and becoming a “new creation” is all about profound and substantial change.

Jesus made it clear to Nicodemus that birth into the kingdom of God requires a new birth. (You can read the story in John 3)  A fresh start, a reset, a new beginning, a clean slate, another shot, renewal; all of these phrases and words point us in the direction of hope. Hope that life will work out for our good. Hope that we can make the necessary life changes that point in a more beneficial direction. With God’s guidance and strength this possibility for change moves from unlikely to possible. With our submission to God’s transforming work we move from possible to probable.

Here is an encouraging word: God’s mercies are “new” every morning. That means that you can have a fresh start every day. Regardless of the past—it’s failures and disappointments—today is a new day full of possibilities. The future looks extremely bright, not from wishful thinking, but from the provision of an Almighty God who is overflowing with grace, mercy and love. Make a fresh start today!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I Am Not Good

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 (NKJV)

I am really not a very “good” person. Really…I am always more concerned with how I look than how you look. I am always more focused on what I eat and don’t give a second thought to what you are eating. I care more about how much money is in my bank account than what you have in yours. I could go on…’cause you see, I’m really not a very good person, and that’s a real problem.

The scribes and Pharisees were pretty amazing when it came to being good. They were miles better than myself when it came to following God’s rules. They probably did a lot more “good” kind of servant works than I will ever even consider doing. (Moment of truth—they were a lot more “good” than I am!) Let me tell you that I feel a bit out of sorts, because Jesus said that I will not enter the kingdom of heaven unless my righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. "Are you kidding me? Jesus, are you really expecting me to be that good?"

Further into this teaching, Jesus doubled down and said that the expectation is that I (Ron Dugone) should be perfect, even as God is perfect. My goose is so cooked! (Poetic Pause) “What’s that Lord? What are you saying? That Your grace is sufficient for me? What does that mean?”

It means that I will never be “good” enough to “earn” my salvation, but that God’s grace will cover my short-comings. As far as my righteousness is concerned, I am covered in the beauty of Christ’s righteousness, a righteousness that far surpasses the religious works of the scribes and the Pharisees. One more thing before I go…knowing that I’m called to be perfect as God is perfect causes a new wave of humility. I have an incredible journey ahead as I humble myself and chase after the God who calls me to be like Him.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The List

One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple. Psalm 27:4 (NKJV)

When I was a young man I desired a lot of things. Maintaining a relationship with God was on the list, but in practical terms of how I lived, He certainly wasn’t on or maybe even near the top. It’s not that I was a wild and crazy guy diving into the vices of the world, because, I did not have a desire to be like the prodigal son. So, what were the things that occupied the top of my list of desires? To be successful, to be popular with my peers, to be adored by my wife, to be worshiped by my children, to make a better than average income, to be praised by my parishioners, to be in control… I could go on ad nauseam.

Everything in the way I lived screamed, “I want to be somebody!” This leads to an unconscious preoccupation with comparing and measuring yourself against everyone else who seems to be accomplishing “your” list. It triggers envy. It depresses with insecurity. It strokes and manipulates the ego. It frustrates in its endless futility. In the center of this maniacal firestorm is you…you sitting on the throne of your own heart. Alone, and still preoccupied with the person in the mirror.

One day I woke up…and I realized that Solomon was on to something when he wrote that all in life was vanity. That is when it dawned on me that God needed to be at the top of my list and "yours truly" thrown off the throne! Life is not about the image that I see in the mirror, it is about the one who is preparing a place for me beyond this life. I now understand the words of the Psalmist David, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Being with the Lord, life does not get any better than that!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

When it Rains...

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job spoke, and said: "May the day perish on which I was born, And the night in which it was said, 'A male child is conceived.' May that day be darkness; May God above not seek it, Nor the light shine upon it. May darkness and the shadow of death claim it; May a cloud settle on it; May the blackness of the day terrify it. As for that night, may darkness seize it; May it not rejoice among the days of the year, May it not come into the number of the months. Oh, may that night be barren! May no joyful shout come into it! Job 3:1-7 (NKJV)

There is a saying that I did not really understand as a child.  "When it rains it pours."  Growing up on the high desert plains of Idaho, it never poured when it rained.  I did not know what buckets of rain falling from the sky was all about until I moved to Texas.  In Texas, "When it rains, it most certainly pours!"  This figure of speech, called an idiom is pointing to a truth concerning life.  Sometimes, a lot of bad things happen to people all at once.  According to the musical, "Fiddler on the Roof," you should just give a toast to life, for life has a "way of confusing us, blessing and bruising us!"

I had a day when life "poured" on me.  I was on my way to a wedding, where I was officiating the ceremony.  It had been raining heavily and I live on the wrong side of a creek; so, dressed up in my Sunday best, I took the trolley across the creek.  The seat was a bit small and the chain securing the seat punched a hole in my pants and my pants remained caught in the chain link.  The only way to get "loose" from the chain link was to take off my slacks--which were brand new and now had a brand new hole in them.  In order to take off my slacks I had to take off my shoes--which meant that my socks were now in the mud--and to complicate an already complicated situation, I had cut the top of my hand on the trolley's chain.  I finally, got my pants loose, got redressed, and made it to the wedding. On the way home I decided to take a chance on the trolley...again.  This requires gloves as you pull yourself across the creek.  I was about three-forth's of the way across the creek, flash light string in my mouth to provide light in the pitch darkness, when I heard a "chir-ping" as the chain holding the chair decided it was a good time to break.  Suspended in the air, I had a decision to make. Firstly, the chain-link was once again caught in my pants and I could not pull them loose.  As I let loose from the trolley cable, my pants were utterly and totally ripped--about a foot long rip.  I straightened my body so that as I fell from about ten feet up in the air, I was trying to land in the creek in such a way that I would not twist an ankle.  "Splash!"  With ripped pants--flash light still hanging out of my mouth--soaking wet in my dress clothes--I climbed the 10 foot muddy bank--and hiked home to the sloshing sound of wet shoes and socks.

As I hiked across the field to my home, I thought of Paul and Silas singing, I thought of the great testing that Job endured, I thought about how blessed I was to have survived the trolley ride, and with a grateful heart and a smile on my face I began to sing.

I have no way to relate to the testing of Job's faith.  He got clobbered by Satan!  I mean a tsunami of disasters devastated his life.  In this moment of despair Job had a wish.  He wished that he had never existed.  That he had never been born.  That he had never had children. That he had never been around to suffer from the loses that had come to roost in his life.  He lost everything...  Let's add it all up:

  • He lost all of his possessions and wealth.
  • He lost all of his children and their families.
  • He was married to a woman, who also suffered through all the loses, who in her own misery, advised Job, "to curse God and die."
  • He was physically afflicted and tormented by pain.
  • He was surrounded by fair weather friends who lacked both in tact and spiritual understanding.
  • His reputation was destroyed.
It is doubtful that anyone could endure what Job endured and not have a death wish.  And yet, in the midst of his troubles Job declare, "Even if God slays me, yet will I trust Him."  Talk about real faith.  It is what every Bible hero has in common: A faith that defies the odds; a faith that refuses to quit; a faith that will not bow down; a faith that believes and keeps on believing; a faith that hopes and keeps on hoping; a faith that loves and keeps on loving.  Job was such a man... 

Blessed Be Your Name!

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD." In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. Job 1:20-22 (NKJV)

I am about 99.9% sure that if everything that I care for on this earth was suddenly ripped away from me that I would not react with the righteous understanding of Job.  I am not a hot tempered person, but if my children and grandchildren were all killed for no discernible reason, I think that I would probably punch a couple holes in the wall.  Would my relationship with the Lord be enough to sustain me through the season of grief and inner turmoil?  I don't have the answer to that question, but I would think that the emotional pain would be overwhelming.

If there is a deficiency in my character, it is probably that I lack in the area of empathy.  Honestly, I have had a good life and haven't experienced the hits and hardships that would cause me to be more empathetic.  From my easy seat it is a temptation to look at what Job suffered through and as a armchair quarterback not empathize or understand the magnitude of the impact of the multiple tragedies that landed on Job all at once.  It had to be crushing.

Job, tore his robe--shaved his head--fell to the ground...  (I think I understand Job's reaction up to this point)  Then Job...worshiped?  He what?  He worshiped?  Why??????  This is certainly not the reaction that Satan was counting on.  We know from the rest of the story that it was not the reaction that Job's "friends" were expecting.  And if I'm perfectly transparent--I'm not sure that I would have been inclined to worship under the circumstances!

The Apostle Paul cast a demon out of a girl that was disrupting the missionary work that he and Silas were undertaking.  This angered the people who were making money off the girl's demonic abilities, and so they took their case to the governing authorities, who in turn, arrested Paul and Silas.  Paul and Silas were then beaten, stripped and thrown into prison, where they were put into a cell and chained to the wall.  (You can ask my wife and my kids the following question: "Have you ever heard RJ utter a swear word?"  And they will tell you that they have never heard me curse, because, I do not use such language to express myself...ever)  I think that if I suffered the indignities and injustice that Paul and Silas experienced--I might be tempted to just "go off" verbally.  What was Paul and Silas' reaction?  They worshiped.  "Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening." Acts 16:25 (NLT)

What did they sing?  Probably a song that expressed something like this: (Lyrics by Matt Redman)

Blessed be Your Name, in the land that is plentiful, 
where Your streams of abundance flow, Blessed be Your name.

Blessed be Your name, when I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness, Blessed be Your name.

Blessed be Your name, when the sun's shining down on me,
When the world's 'all as it should be, Blessed be Your name.

Blessed be Your name, on the road marked with suffering,
Though there's pain in the offering, Blessed be Your name.

Every blessing You pour out, I'll turn back to praise,
When the darkness closes in, Lord, Still I will say.

"Blessed be the name of the Lord, Blessed be Your name,
Blessed be the name of the Lord, Blessed be Your glorious name!"

You give and take away, You give and take away,
My heart will choose to say, "Lord, Blessed be Your name!"

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

An Astounding Response

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. And the LORD said to Satan, "From where do you come?" So Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it." Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. Job 1:6-12 (NKJV)

Job was directly attacked by Satan.  Everything that he had, in terms of possessions and family, was unexpectedly ripped away from him.  The Bible tells us that we have an Enemy.  This enemy is real, and he is like a lion seeking whom he may devour, and does not resemble a laughable man dressed up in red pajamas with a pitchfork in hand.  In Job's particular case, Satan slammed into his life full speed ahead and destroyed the hedge that surrounded and insulated Job.

In terms of earthly possessions, Job was a man of great wealth.  The Bible tells us that he was the richest man in the East.  More importantly, Job was a rich man in the things that matter the most in life.  He was the patriarch of an amazing family.  His children loved each other and celebrated life together as a family.  Job was a righteous man and the spiritual leader of his home.  He made sacrifices unto God for each of his children, making sure that their sins were "covered."   

In a moment, it was all gone...  The wealth, the possessions, the servants--his dear and beloved was all gone.  Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer in Chicago.  He was also known for being a Godly man and a good friend of D.L Moody.  Life was good for the Spafford family, when suddenly it all seemed to fall apart.  The tragedies were piling up.  Firstly, Horatio's youngest child and only son died.  Then the Spafford family lost much of their wealth in the Great Chicago Fire, as the fire completely destroyed most of their holdings.  Horatio decided that with so much trauma, the family needed to get away from it all, and so he sent his wife and four daughters on a vacation to England.  The next wave of tragedy was almost more than Horatio could bear.  The ship that was carrying his wife and four daughters collided with another ship at sea and all four of his daughters were lost.  In the midst of great emotional despair, Horatio boarded a ship to England to join his grieving wife, Anna.  It was on that journey that he penned the following words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord haste the day, when my faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul, It is well, it is well with my soul!

Often, it is the response of the saints, that in the face of great difficulties, that we write psalms and sing hymns to our God.  King David wrote the 23rd Psalm.  Horatio Spafford wrote "It is Well with My Soul."  Paul and Silas sang after being beaten, imprisoned and put into chains.  And finally, Job squarely looked at all that Satan had done to him and his family and he declared, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD." 

When All Is Well

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. Also, his possessions were seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large household, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East. Job 1:1-3 (NKJV)

There is a place in life where many people find it difficult to serve God. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion let me interject that I am probably going in the opposite direction of what you might suppose. I'm talking about serving the purposes of God when everything in life is going right. When you are wealthy...when close personal relationships are working out...when you are surrounded by friends, colleagues and neighbors that like those times when it seems as if everything you touch is turning into gold. It can be a real challenge to live for God when everything in life seems to be blessed.

This is one of the more impressive, but seldom mentioned facets of Job's story. He was "The greatest of all the people of the East." The words that describe Job during that period of life would be wealthy, influential, fulfilled, and in some circles, he was probably considered to be a "lucky" man. In spite of the easy life, Job was blameless and upright. This makes him unique. Through the years I have observed people, who were raised in the church, who really struggled with their spiritual life when they became famous or wealthy. In discussing this phenomena Jesus said, "I'll say it again--it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!"

This makes Job an exceptional example. In spite of everything that was going “right” in Job’s life, he was a good and upright man. The Bible tells us that God evaluates people differently than “we” do. We look at the outside appearance and pass our judgments. Which are subjective at best. God looks past everything that defines us to others and looks at the heart. It is in that place that God really knows us and sees us accurately. What did God see when He examined the heart of Job? He must have been impressed. "Then the LORD said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?' " When God is impressed by an individual you can take it to the bank, we are talking about a really, really, really good person. Job was such a man.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, "How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!" So David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor." 2 Sam 6:20-22 (NKJV)

Are you inhibited by what other people might think? I am sad to admit that in my case it might be true... (Talk about finding it hard to be transparent) IT IS TRUE! Herein is the problem; it is difficult, if not impossible, to be an effective leader if you are always worried about what people might think. A spiritual leader is not called to be a politician, trying to make decisions based on how it effects one's popularity. A spiritual leader is called to be obedient and to lead as God instructs them.

When the Ark of the Covenant was being returned to King David's hometown, he, in a moment of great passion, threw his inhibitions aside and danced before the Ark. It was quite a spectacle as David cast off his outer garments and danced with reckless abandon. As the parade came to an end, David was met by the disapproval of his wife, Michal. Her words dripped with sarcasm: "How glorious was the king of Israel today..." LESSON NUMBER ONE: If you step out in uninhibited faith--you will face criticism from some quarters.

David responded to his wife's critique: "I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight." LESSON NUMBER TWO: When you step out and lead, realize that it may only be the first step of doing more of the same. You may be even more undignified--and mortify your critics. However, there are two benefits that overshadow all else: The fruit of humility is given a great opportunity to grow in our lives. Secondly, God is glorified through our acts of obedience and passion. We need to continually weigh the question: Are we trying to please man or God?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2 (NKJV)

Everything in creation is in a state of flux. Nothing is static—everything in the known universe is in motion and changing. Obviously, some people embrace change while others prefer life to be more predictable. Some change is inevitable, such as growing old. Most children desperately want to grow up, but at some point in time the aging process makes us wish that we could somehow put our bodies into reverse and regain the strength, vitality and waistline of our youth.

I have a sister-in-law who loves change—at least when it comes to her hair. This is probably an over-statement, but it seems as if there is never a month that goes by without some change to her hair. Her hair is continually changing in length, in style and in color. (At this point—do I even know what her real hair color is? Probably not!) I am also having my own hair issues as my hair becomes increasingly gray and even worse—is thinning out. A little something that “they” call male-patterned baldness. A change I could live without!

It could almost go without mention that some changes are welcomed and others not so much. Generally speaking, most people are happy when they lose weight and not so happy when they gain weight. Happy when we graduate from high school or when we finally get that college degree. Not so happy when we get laid off from a job or even worse, get fired. Happy when the weather is beautiful. Not so happy when the air conditioning in the car stops working, and it’s the second week in August, in Texas, and the temperature is 105 degrees. Happy when that healthy baby is born, not so happy when they are screaming at 3:00 in the morning.

The question is this: “How does one emotionally survive all the challenges of change?” Let me suggest that there is a place that is more solid than shifting sand. A place of refuge where the love is constant. A relationship where one is always received with open arms. It is a rock of consistency in the midst of instability and insecurity. King David declared, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer!” The great hymn of the church, “The Solid Rock,” declares, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Amen!