InTheShadow

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October 19

Monday, October 19th, 2020

We live in an instant world.  Instant potatoes. Instant coffee. Microwave dinners. You get the picture. What we don’t have are instant gardens (although we do have chia pets) 🙂 , instant height, instant weight gain or loss, or (fill in the blank).  No, those take time. I used to hear people say, “Anything worth having is worth saving for.” Man, I wish I had followed that advice. I know an older couple who paid cash for everything. They didn’t even write checks! ‘Course that was back in the mid ’70s.

What great advice though to remember that good things are worth the wait. We tend to appreciate things more. Come to think of it, growing as a Christ-follower is like that. While we may get frustrated that we aren’t growing as we would like, growth happens over time. I’m always skeptical when someone comes to Christ and immediately wants public access. I’ve often thought that celebrities who come to Christ ought to be discipled first before leashed upon the world. How many do you or I know who weren’t ready for the backlash or scrutiny that came as a result of a public testimony?

Growth is not instantaneous. It takes time. Sowing. Cultivating. Watering. Fertilizing. I wish my growth could skyrocket, even now. But it never has and never will. Slowly. Somewhat methodically. But always at God’s timing. Then Psalm 1: 2-3 becomes a true picture of where I am and desire to be. “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither.”

“Father, it is frustrating sometimes that growth takes ‘steps.’ Sometimes slow; sometimes quick; but always incremental. Help me to be trusting so I can be like a tree planted by the water.”

October 16

Friday, October 16th, 2020

I read a story recently which struck my “interest bone.” It’s one I will look sideways at, ponder, tilt my head, ponder some more, give a little huh to, then move on. But it just struck my fancy so I would like to comment on it.

The story goes that two brothers, Billy and Melvin, were standing in their family’s dairy barn when they looked up to see a plane writing in the sky. The plane wrote two letter-“GP”-in the sky. One took that message to mean “Go Preach”; the other took it to mean “Go Plow.” The one who interpreted it as “Go Preach” you may have heard of- Billy Graham; the one who interpreted it as “Go Plow” was Melvin, who went on to faithfully run the family’s dairy farm for many years.

But here is what struck me as I read that. There would be people who would be skeptical (and rightly so) but let’s take it in another direction. There would be those who would look at those two brothers and deem Billy as “successful” and Melvin as “ordinary.” But I beg to differ. They both had significant roles to play in life. One preached; the other farmed. One gave the bread of life; the other gave physical bread. One sustained the spiritual health; the other sustained the physical health.

Question: which one was more important? Some might argue the spiritual. But I would argue both are. What good is the spiritual without bread to sustain health?  On the converse, what good is physical health if the spiritual is laid waste?

You see, nowhere in the Bible is one task, life choice of job, seen as more important than another. The Bible teaches us “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Col.3:17) {Emphasis mine}   It also tells us that “Whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord.”

Conclusion: No matter what I do-preach, teach, clean floors, stock shelves, take care of a patient, whatever-I am to do it for Him and His glory.

“Father, help me to show You in all I do and in whatever I do. Help me to remember I am representing You and everything is equally important.”

October 15

Thursday, October 15th, 2020

It’s a conundrum. Always has been and probably always will be. Well, at least it is for me. I think its that way for two reasons. One, because of my own questions. Two, because of my and others’ actions. I see a lot of damage done both ways.

What is the conundrum? 2 Cor. 6:14: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteous with lawlessness…”

The conundrum? What exactly does it mean to be unequally yoked; and two, what does it mean to everyday life? The picture in the Scripture is of two unlike animals (say an oxen and a horse) being yoked to plow a field. Not a good picture. Not a good working arrangement. Okay, I get that. But how does that translate to everyday life? I’ve heard it used to refer to marriage. Some validity. I’ve heard it applied to a business arrangement (a believer hooking up with a non-believer). Some validity. I’ve heard it used concerning leadership in a church (a good, but not godly leader in the business world being put into church leadership).  Some validity. Maybe you can think of more.

As I’ve expressed, I think all of those have some validity. What I see as the more important idea is that anytime an arrangement is made that would draw us away from Jesus or compromise our stand with and for Him needs to be seriously evaluated before we enter in. The conundrum is how far do we go? To go all in is bad-that’s called compromise. But to withdraw completely and do nothing with unbelievers is to turn a blind eye to engagement. How are we going to reach them if we withdraw from them?

I don’t have the answer, quite frankly. I do know that my influence for Christ must not be compromised by my social arrangements. From there on I’m a work in progress.

“Father, help me to be wise in my dealings, especially with non-believers. And whatever transpires may I never compromise my relationship with You.”

October 14

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

Can something be a favorite and challenging at the same time? I think so. Let me show you what I mean. One of my favorite but most challenging Scriptures is found in 2 Corinthians 5.

Favorite: It is hard to find a verse or passage more inspiring, more hope-giving, and more enriching than 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” There is no other way to look at that Scripture than to see the new birth and the new life Jesus gives to all.

But there is more following that.

Challenge: “…who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” I love that word-reconciliation. “Being made friends again.” A relationship gone awry patched up and put back together. Years ago I had a friend. He felt I didn’t believe or trust him in what he shared with me about the ministry of someone else. Guilty as charged. I chose to believe (what I found out to be) the lies of the other individual. Years later I went to that former friend and apologized, admitted I was wrong, and asked his forgiveness. It was granted and our friendship was restored. It has been years since I have seen him and I don’t even know where he lives now. (Pastors tend to move around some). But I know reconciliation took place.

That is what God wants for us all-a fractured relationship with Him to be mended. Jesus came to make that possible. The catch now, according to 2 Cor.5:19, is the message of reconciliation is left in my hands. I am/you are to take the message of Jesus and His death to others so they might be made friends with God.

Favorite and challenging: both in the same passage.

“Father, thank you that because of Jesus I am your friend. I have been reconciled with You. Help me to be an instrument in Your hand to show others that same reconciliation is available for them.”

October 13

Tuesday, October 13th, 2020

The church world goes through rages, as does the “secular” world. One of those rages of the past-probably in the mid ’90s especially-were angels. It seemed like everywhere one turned there was an angel. Go to a store and there were angels of all kinds wherever you turned. Books on angels. Children’s stories on angels. Even songs on angels (I can remember Alabama’s “Angels Among Us” being played over and over and over and…well you get the picture). Angel jewelry. Angel art. And, not surprisingly, picturing angels as they aren’t. Wings. Clouds. Harps.

What hits me even more is that what was happening at the time was the exact opposite of what they were created to do…except for one. Angels were supposed to be messengers, heralds; protect God’s people (angel armies); and deflect praise from themselves and toward the One they were to worship. Except one. He chose to garner his own praise. He chose to ascend his own throne. He chose to rival God.

What brought about this seemingly random devotion about angels? Reading a book on the characters of Christmas and finding out the key role they played-not only during the Christmas story-but also throughout the Bible story. Gabriel to Zechariah. Gabriel to Mary. Angels to shepherds. Possibly angels to Joseph in a dream; Simeon and Anna. Ultimately angels who encircle the throne and continually worship God. (Rev.4:8)

Angles don’t have wings, sit in clouds and play harps. They are messengers who will even go to battle and surround God’s people with protection.

“Father, angels are to be appreciated not worshiped. Help me to remember they are real and at my disposal and do continually what I am to do: worship You.”

October 12

Monday, October 12th, 2020

As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned a few things along the way.  That’s good isn’t it? In those early days in an obscure church on a main thoroughfare that shot from one city to another in Ohio, sat a little burgh. No stop lights. A few stop signs but really only at main intersections…where the country roads hit the main drag. My life was as obscure as that little burgh that had no store, no gas station, no post office, 2 churches and nothing else. It was there I learned…you make your own way. As a pastor I had no one. I had an occasional pastor “friend” but in those 5 years, I can count on one finger (okay less than a hand) how many of those there were. Pastoral life was lonely.

But as I’ve gotten older I now realize how important it is to have others. I’ve always been a social creature so there has always been a desire for others. But not always good. Some dragged me down. I needed to leave them behind. Some sucked the life and energy out of me by being so needy. I had to “kiss them goodbye.” But every once in a while I found one who was a friend and a kindred spirit. Strangely, more often than not, they were people (men) from the church I pastored. I soon learned I was not and am not an independent, self-sufficient, super-capable, all-powerful hotshot, i.e. God’s gift to the pastoral world. No, I’m just one of many-a vital link in a chain of amazing work accomplished by God. I’m not the end-all; no, I’m just one to help bring about God’s mission in this world: to draw people to Him.

As a common phrase will say: “We are all in this together.” We need each other.  What are doing to link with others?

“Use me as I am, Father. Take what I bring and link it with what others bring.”

October 9

Friday, October 9th, 2020

I turn 68 years old today. (Don’t applaud just throw money! 🙂 You can also throw in a shock emoji here). I was officially ordained on April 13, 1975, my late mother’s birthday. I could think of no better way to honor the one person more responsible for my faith walk (other than my grandfather) than her. So that means for 45 years I have been “officially” a pastor. But I have been preaching since the end of my Sophomore year in college (1972).  I’m not sure that little church in Irvine, KY ever fully recovered. Being a pastor has been all I have wanted to do (except play professional baseball or basketball.  But there was a huge roadblock to both. It’s called talent). 🙂

But it is time for a heart check. After reading 2 Cor. 2:17 I got reflective. “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” That verse led me back to I Cor. 2:1-5. (I encourage you to look it up or click on the link). It’s time for a heart-to-heart check with myself. Here are some thoughts based on the Scriptures:

  1. The word peddle used in 2 Cor. 2:17 means “to corrupt” in the Greek. It came to refer to corrupt hucksters, or con men who by their cleverness and deception were able to sell as genuine an inferior product. We would call them “cheap knock-offs.” It reminds me of the street vendors who sell “cheapies” that look original. People think they are getting an original but…nope. Fooled you!! This is a picture of a false teacher who worms his/her way in only to spew rank heresy couched in spiritual language. 
  2. Good language, perfect speech, even high falootin’ words cannot resuce a wrong message. I was visiting a couple Wednesday and was told that she really appreciated my sermon from this past Sunday on “What about Doubt?” She explained why and I cried inside that she lived so many years with inside turmoil. Our conversation went on and I commented how someone had said he didn’t think they (as a couple) would stay at OVCF (they came from a very strict, traditional church) because of our music. They both said, “Well, we don’t know the songs…although we are learning them…and do miss the hymns, but we stay because of the Word.  We hear the Word being preached.”  Is a pastor allowed to feel good? Proud…but not the bad kind? At peace? A sense of “I-did-okay?” I sure hope so because, to be honest, I felt validated. I hope that’s not wrong. I suspect if it is then God will bring me down a peg or two. 🙂 In a time of questions and evaluation, it was good to hear God say through them, “Good job.” I am humbled and eternally grateful that God chose me to do this.

I have no idea how much time I have left (who does?) but I do know this: as long as God gives me breath and as long as He gives me good health, I want to be found guilty of preaching the foolishness of the cross. I want to point people to the cross. For as long as I can remember my brother, Rob, has always signed his letter using Gal.6:14- “May I never boast except in the cross of Christ.” May that tribe increase.

And those are my ending words to this devotion/reflection.

October 8

Thursday, October 8th, 2020

I read the following statement recently:

Sin will take you farther than you want to go, it will keep you longer than you want to stay, and it will cost you more than you want to pay.  (Good Morning Lord…Can We Talk?- Chuck Swindoll-p.280)

That struck me. I have often said from the pulpit that sin is not ugly or distasteful or unappealing. To clarify: it is not made to look that way. Why would the enemy try to entice us with something that was a turn off? He doesn’t say, “Here try this drug. Oh…by the way…let me show you how it will end up if you do.”  Nor does he entice us sexually with a woman (in a male’s case) who is 200 pounds overweight and bald. No he entices with someone who looks inviting. He doesn’t entice a young athlete to use steroids by showing ‘roid rage or weight gain or unneeded hair growth to a young woman. No, he will not show the ugly side of sin.

What he does offer is paradise. A taste of heaven. A false reality. He’s like the circus shyster offering more than he can deliver.

Paul wrote about that. In Galatians 6:7 he wrote, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” In spite of what we think, there will come a day when each one of us will give an account. We will then find out that sin was not cheap, nor was it honest.

“Father, may I not be deceived by the ‘beauty’ or allure of sin. It is empty. It is ugly at the core. Its consequences are long-lasting. Help me break free from its pull.”

October 7

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020

Are you kidding me? Seriously? You have got to be joking with me. Consider how we use those phrases. We use them when someone says something incredulous to us. We are stunned. Flummoxed. Dumbfounded. It is not that we don’t believe it; we are just bowled over by it.

There is, on the other hand, another way to use them.  Cynicism. Confrontive questions. There is a questioning there but it is almost one of rebellion.  We “pshaw” something someone says because we simply cannot believe it is possible.

I’ve been reading The Characters of Christmas by Daniel Darling during my Quiet Time. (Yeah, I know its only October but…). He raised a good point when talking about Zechariah and Elizabeth. When Mary said “How can this be?” in her response to Gabriel, it was laden with trust. But then Zechariah responded to the announcement that he and Elizabeth were to have a child his response was laden with cynicism and doubt. I think what Daniel says is true. I also agree with these words:

“God loves to hear our doubts, to field our questions, and to hear our anguished cries.  But it is disbelief that is a sin, our unwillingness to trust that God can do the impossible.” (p.41)

And there you have it. One similar response; two different perspectives.  Which one is yours?

“Father, may my questions be laced with trust not cynicism and doubt.”

October 6

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

I believe if there is one thing which could change the course of our faith-derail it even-it would be the validity of the resurrection of Jesus.  If someone could somehow prove it never happened everything falls apart. I just finished reading I Cor. 15 in One Faithful Life by John MacArthur. In his commentary he gives Paul’s 6 disastrous consequences if there were no resurrection. Here they are:

  1. Preaching Christ would be senseless. (v.14)
  2. Faith in Christ would be useless. (v.14)
  3. All the witnesses and preachers of the resurrection would be liars.  (v.15)
  4. No one would be redeemed from sin. (v.17)
  5. All former believers would have perished. (v.18)
  6. Christians would be the most pitiable people on earth. (v.19)

As you can see quite a bit of weight lands on the resurrection. Quite a bit of truth is dependent on the resurrection. When you think about it, that explains why so much effort has been put in by skeptics to somehow disprove its validity.

And that is good news for us! We stand on truth.  If the resurrection were not true they would not be trying so hard to find loopholes and use flimsy excuses. Standing on truth is a good place and solid place to plant our feet.

“Father, thank you for the resurrection. It is the hope of all mankind. It is the rock of all Christ-followers.”