Friendship

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December 29

Tuesday, December 29th, 2020

It is 2:30 in the morning. Ive been up since 12 and tried to fool myself into going back to sleep. It didn’t work. 🙁 So going on the assumption God wants to get my attention or teach me something, I got up. If not, then I’m up early. During my Quarantine I’ve slept more than I ever have. Since I normally get up at 3:30, it is not unusual for me to be in bed by 9:30. Try 8:00!! That’s right. Jo and I often found ourselves heading to bed by 8 and sleeping for 11-12 hours!! Seriously? I’ve never slept that long at one sitting. E.V.E.R. But this night is different. Maybe it was the Ginger Ale I was able to keep down. First time I have had sugar in days. I don’t know. No matter. I’d like to share some year end thoughts with you and some future plans.

In this past Sunday’s sermon, I talked about not wasting our lives, of submitting to the call of the Gospel and surrendering to Jesus. I have the most important message in the world-the message of God’s love for a sin-broken world. I have absolutely no reason to keep that message to myself. 2020 has shown me, as it has others, how fragile life can be. Things, health, even life, can be taken away with a snap of a finger. I must become more intentional with my life this year. I’m 68 and it is a pretty safe bet to say my years left on this planet are much less than what I have lived. 🙂  Lord willing, I’m not going to stop having fun; laughing; cycling; working out; make friends; laugh and cry with those friends; preach Gospel-soaked sermons; keep reading, growing and stretching; love the people of OVCF even more; and hopefully lead the church to impact our community for Jesus.

I’ve contemplated stopping this blog-Living in the Shadow. The amount of time it takes to keep 2 blogs going-and thinking one is failing at both- is something I’ve tried to reckon with. Cycleguy’s Spin was my initial blog started in 2007. Then along came this one a few years ago as a discipline for me. I wanted to hold myself accountable every morning to meet with God. One way I figured to make that more meaningful and permanent was to start “Shadow.” It began as a daily blog based on New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp. But after a year I felt that had run its course so I refocused. It became more of a hodge podge of daily devotional thoughts gleaned during my QT. I’ve actually had Ryan (techgeek) pull out this year’s worth of devos that I may look into editing and seeing about publishing them as a daily devotion. Who knows? I have no visions of grandeur of being a great writer, the next Max Lucado. But its hard when you have one very consistent daily reader and commenter, and a few others here and there to get over the “ego slam” to feel as though the time involved is worth it. I’ve decided it is-not because I’m all that and more- but because I need the daily discipline of a QT this gives me. So I’m going to continue with “Shadow,” if for no other reason than for me.

But some changes are in the air. Since the early 2000s (2001 to be exact), I have 99% of the time exclusively used the ESV translation. I have read the whole Bible several times. I cannot tell you how many times I have read through the NT. I’m making a change this year. As I’ve watched Pastors Chuck Swindoll and Greg Laurie use the NLT, I decided to give it a try this year. I bought an inexpensive faux-leather Large Print edition to use with a goal to read through the NT several times this year. Ironically, someone in the church blessed me this Christmas with a One Year “Experiencing God’s Presence Devotional.” Guess what translation it uses? You guessed it: NLT. I’m also planning to use Live in Grace-Walk in Love by Bob Goff as a side read. And finally, this past Fall I purchased Unfolding Grace-40 Guided Readings through the Bible and the accompanying Study Guide. It uses the ESV. I’ve looked it over and plan to do one guided reading a week.

And there you have it. With that being said, this will be my last post here until Monday, January 4. Covid has wiped out my normal scheduled routine and so I don’t want the added pressure of feeling like I “have to write a Shadow blog.” Thanks for taking the time to read this long post. (You deserve a medal. If you don’t want a medal treat yourself to a Diet Dr. Pepper or whatever your poison is…within reason of course). Thank you for reading my “Shadow” blog. Lord willing, I will see you Monday, January 4, 2021 with my first post of the new year. I love and appreciate all of you.

December 25-28

Monday, December 28th, 2020

Christmas reflections:

Friday-After a positive Covid test for me, Jo and Tami and some positive tests for the staff and friends of each of us, this is a really strange Christmas. It was going to be anyway because Janna and Braden were not going to be here. But even Tami can’t come over. This devotion may be a little longer than normal due to my observations but also because it will cover 3 days of observations.

Every year it seems we hear certain refrains from spiritual leaders, i.e. pastors.

  • Slow down. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have said that. “Pull away from the hustle and bustle and slow down,” I’ll say. Well, this has certainly been one of the by-products of covid isolation.
  • Stay home. No problem. And when I have said this in the past it was not a covid-ordered government mandate. We travel a lot visiting family and friends all over the place. We aren’t allowed to go out of the house so staying home is the norm. If we had gone to Ohio today we would have been snowed in. They got a ton of snow! White Christmas indeed! So we stay home and maybe watch some Christmas movies. {Note: we didn’t. Neither one of us felt like it}
  • Refocus. Honestly, how can you not? Gifts will be opened rather quickly instead of one at a time like we normally do going around the room. So when that is all done we get to focus on the real gift.

Saturday– This will forever be remembered in history as CC- Covid Christmas. Yesterday was strange. We Facetimed Tami as we opened gifts-she in her apartment and us here. We would have welcomed her here but MCCSC (her school corporation) monitors her during covid. So it was safer. Later Janna Facetimed us with Braden so we could see what he got. Everything was “Air this and Air that.” I guess I don’t see the fascination with giving a retired basketball player, whose stuff is made in China, all that money…but that’s me. All in all yesterday was an uneventful day. Lazy. Watched a little TV then head back to my “cave” to fall asleep. Other than the no taste and no smell issues, and a few others, the biggest by-product is the desire to sleep. I have slept more in the last week than I have in the last year. I remember Pastor Greg Laurie saying that was his biggest issue (wish I could say that). Some of that is boredom since I can’t concentrate on reading. I’m going to try to study today since I preach virtually tomorrow. Praying for extra grace today as I prepare for tomorrow.

Sunday– I’m writing this after the fact.  Sunday seemed to go off okay without a hitch. We were immensely blessed by the anonymous gift that allowed us to purchase the upgraded equipment. All in all though, I thought it went well. I chose to sit instead of standing. I’m not sure my stamina would have been there to stand the whole time and preach and remember.

Sunday afternoon was tough. I was weary but when I tried to eat some soup it didn’t stay in my stomach very long. But you don’t want here that saga. 🙂 It was a lazy day as they have all become. One family was really kind and brought some soup and crackers, a couple of baked potatoes, and some other items. Friday one family blessed us with Ensure and Pedialyte for me, some veggies  and soup and crackers. Saturday one family blessed Jo with some Zero and Diet Coke. I’m not sure about the other two on staff but I certainly can’t complain how we have been taken care of. Plus the texts and emails have been nice. Oh yeah…one family brought us a Christmas meal on Christmas evening after their family Christmas. Not that we could eat it or taste it. 🙂

Jo and I called it a day at 8:00. Yep 8:00. Seems to be about the norm these days. I’d like to believe I am on the mend. It has been a week since my test but well over that since I started showing symptoms. I should have been more honest and aware and introspective with myself. Gone to be tested sooner. Not gone to Ohio. Funeral? But hindsight is 20/20 and there is nothing I can change. It seems strange the way it has hit us all about the same time and in the same way. Others also have got it-part of our friends group-so there is a common denominator there somewhere. But who wants to try to figure that out. Not me. It is what it is.

I’ll close by saying I’m looking forward to putting this behind me and moving forward.

December 22

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

These days, in fact many days in the past, Christmas gift-giving in our household is an interesting study in perplexity.  As in most households, we start asking, “What would you like for Christmas?” around or before Thanksgiving Day. Tami and Janna have always been fairly easy to buy for since they were pretty much upfront with their list. Braden is not so upfront but I figure Ohio State or Reds clothing or a gift card to Dick’s or Chik-fil-A will do him well. I’m pretty content with what I already have so I would suggest a gift certificate to a bicycle site (names included) and some jigsaw puzzle sites. It didn’t matter though because for the most part those suggestions were ignored. 🙂 But Jo?? She is extremely hard to buy for. She doesn’t wear jewelry (for which I am grateful for since I see what some wear and its cost). She doesn’t even wear a watch. Her Fitbit is most often in her pocket. She doesn’t wear perfume very often and was always picky as to what she would wear (Coty Wild Musk was a favorite). I don’t dare buy her clothes. Too big or too small I can’t win! 🙂

So one year I decided I wasn’t buying anything. I decided I was going to give myself. How’s that for a real treat? I made each one of them a booklet of 12 coupons. Any time during the month stated they could cash it in. I’m not very handy or creative so I can’t remember much about it. I do KNOW they liked the Date Night-a meal and doing whatever they wanted. I remember Janna and I actually seeing Back to the Future 3 on one of them.

Point: The greatest gift we could give each other is ourselves.  While other gifts fade away, that one lasts forever and there are no returns. No too big or too small. No wrong color.  There is, however, lasting impact and unforgettable memories. Give the best gift possible…YOURSELF.

“Father, you gave yourself in the person of Jesus. ‘The Word became flesh’ is the way it is put. May I always remember it isn’t the presents under the tree that matters but my presence.”

December 13

Friday, December 18th, 2020

I’ve been doing this “pastor-gig” for over 45 years officially, and close to 50 if you count college ministries. There is one thing that has been a constant-something that never changed-and that is the ability of people to wear a mask at Christmas. The hype gives them a temporary lift-a “high” to use another word-that seems to pull them through the season and celebrations. December 25 masks the painful reality of December 24 & 26.

The widow/widower mourning the loss of his/her mate. The parent who walks through the house that has missing sounds. The teen whose parent left home with someone else, leaving behind a trail of betrayal and even hopelessness. The mother with the empty womb. The one left behind because suicide was the choice. That list could go on and on.

Christmas for these people is empty. It is a painful reminder of an empty bed, an empty chair, a sense of being unwanted, and more. But we have gotten really good at masking our true feelings. Like the commercial where the woman struggles with depression but holds up a smiley face to cover her true feelings. I can understand why people do that, especially at Christmas. They don’t want to be seen as “Debby Downers.” They don’t want to be seen as the stick-in-the-mud. They won’t want to be the one raining on everyone’s parade.

Jesus came to change that. He came to save us from our sin. He came to give us hope and life and joy and peace and yes, laughter. He also came to heal our hurts, to bind up wounds. You may be the one who dreads Christmas. All I can say is He is there for you. You may be the one who knows or sees others struggle. Let me encourage you to practice the real meaning of this season: reach out with the love of Jesus and help ease their pain. Sometimes all they want is to know someone sees their pain, knows why they are hurting, and then caring. Be the one.

“Father, may I be that one with open eyes to see others.”

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.”

September 3

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

In I Thessalonians 3 several important lessons emerge to me. I want to touch on them briefly in this devotion.

The first lesson is a combination. It is a request and a reply. Paul is concerned about the Thessalonians. Life is not easy for them and Paul is wondering how they are doing. His words were “I could bear it no longer.” His desire to know was so great he sent someone as a messenger to learn about their faith. The response that came back made his heart feel good. Timothy brought good news of their faith and love and told Paul that the Thessalonians wanted to see him. Oh, how that must have been a balm to his weary heart!

The power of a good word, an encouraging word, cannot be underestimated. That good news lifted their spirits. So much so he writes, “In all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.” Their words enabled Paul to face his situation with strength.

The second lesson is his further response. He chose to pray for them, to be thankful for the joy they gave him. Paul’s most earnest desire was to see them again. While waiting he prayed for them. Want to know what he prayed? Check out I Thessalonians 3: 11-13. This was no mere “Lord, bless them” prayer. No. There was a depth to this prayer that I know is way too often missing in mine. That needs to change.

“Father, thanks for encouraging words. How good it is to hear good words and how someone is doing in their faith. Also, help me to develop a depth to my prayers, one like Paul had.”

August 28

Friday, August 28th, 2020

I read another devotion book that got me thinking. It was on friendship. It began with a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Friendship is a sheltering tree

The writer (Chuck Swindoll) gave the example of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah was burnt out and discouraged and just wanted to give up. Elisha stood with him and fortified him. He became Elijah’s sheltering tree.

So I began thinking about my friends-men who have “been there” for me. Like:

  • Doug- my friend since college (that’s early 70s if you wonder). We have laughed so hard our sides have hurt; prayed with each other; consulted for wisdom with each other (I was short on that); told secrets to each other; cried together over the death of his father and son; worked on projects together; driven to each other’s house; attended conferences together; had multiple lunches together. We still get together 3/4 times per year for lunch (we meet 1/2 way). No dearer friend do I have than him.
  • Jim- we started out cycling together after we met in the 90s. His availability changed when his job demanded more time, but we still rode together as often as we could, often on weekends. But our friendship didn’t end with my move from Indiana to Ohio and now back. It continued and still does-over 25+ years later. We get together for lunch when we can. His 2+ year struggle with prostate cancer and even his winter in Colorado working (because it was a bucket list thing for him and he loves to ski) only deepened our friendship.
  • Those are my closest two friends. I’ve had others along the way who were sheltering trees, albeit temporarily. Some are gone-moved into heaven or on to another life. Some, sadly, are no longer in the picture.

But I am grateful for every friend I have had. I’ve even had a few online friends who have encouraged me with their words! And we have never met except via computer or phone. I once told someone: “I’m an extrovert so I know a lot of people-some I talk to; some I call friend. They are rare and few and far between. I take none for granted.”

How about you? Are you a friend? Do you have friends? Don’t take them for granted.

“Father, help me to be a friend as much as I want friends. Help me to be someone’s sheltering tree.”

August 6

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

One of the by-products of the pandemic we are going through has been loneliness. Being cooped up, isolated, sequestered, quarantined, or just plain fearful of being around people has led to many feeling alone. There is a hankering for human interaction, but it is often slow in forthcoming. Already lonely people are even lonelier. Many have become hermits, fearful of their own shadows. Many, sadly, think they need no one else; while in truth, we desperately need other people.

Chuck Swindoll once wrote about meeting a former Marine who was converted after his discharge. This Marine was the picture of a typical Marine-touch, cussed loudly, drank heavily, chased women, and had no need for Christians or the church. When he saw Chuck he said the thing he missed was the times at the tavern when he and his buddies would sit around a pitcher of beer and laugh, joke, and let their hair down (as if a Marine could do that).  🙂  On another occasion he also wrote a quote from someone who said, “The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church.” (Dropping Your Guard-p.128)  {Note: please know I am NOT recommending someone go to a local bar or tavern for fellowship}.

What that Marine, of course, was talking about was his need for fellowship. A place he could laugh, cry, and be accepted. And that is why this pandemic has brought about so much loneliness. We have no one. Phones and computers and texting is not enough. We need face-to-face, in person contact.

How about you?  Are you isolated? Are you alone? Get outside. Find someone else who may be alone, or feeling alone. There are safe ways to make that happen if you are concerned about that.  People need people whether we realize it or not.

“Father, you are my refuge, my safe place. But sometimes we just need someone with skin. We are all made for others. Help me to search out those who are lonely and see how I can help.”

June 22

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Yesterday was Father’s Day. It turned out to be a right fine day. There was the worship that started it off right. It was good to see some more folks venture out. Each week a new group of people is venturing out.  I came home to a home-grilled meal of salmon, asparagus, baked potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob. Some friends stopped by with ice cream (I am their surrogate father/grandfather). I went to the Y then came home and read a novel the rest of the evening. A nice relaxing day. I am grateful.

Gratitude seems to be a dying art these days. We run around so much trying to meet our own agenda that to take the time to be thankful is lost on us. With inspiration from Chuck Swindoll, I’d like to take a few moments to consider how we often take things for granted.

  • There is a light over my head. Thanks Tom
  • There is electricity pulsing through my house. Thanks again Tom.
  • There is an instrument that allows me to talk to someone miles away. Thanks Alexander.
  • I will soon get in my truck to drive to work. Thanks Henry.
  • On my face are glasses which help me to read. Thanks Ben.
  • We will soon celebrate the 4th of July with a waving flag. Thanks Betsy.
  • My life is given over to Jesus. Thanks mom and grandad.
  • I come home each day to a place of warmth, welcome and love. Thanks Jo.
  • I am called father by two beautiful and special young ladies. Thanks Tami and Janna.
  • I am called “grandpa.” Thanks Braden.
  • I serve a group of people who love me, call me pastor and friend. Thanks OVCF.

I could go on but it would take pages and still not be exhausted. Instead of complaining, let’s be thankful.

“Father, thank you for so much, for so many gifts. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to You for it all.”

April 23

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

One of the by-products of this virus has been what I will call “forced isolation.” People, like me, who are very social creatures have been “forced” (or is that highly advised?) to not be around others. So-called social distancing has led to no hugs, no handshakes (and he’s crazy if he thinks handshakes will disappear from my greeting others when we are able to see each other again), no whispering in an ear, no physical demonstration of affection, etc. You get the point. And I get that…I really do.

But I know, and you know, there are those whose whole life is one of isolation.-through their own choosing or through no fault of their own. Sadly, soldiers with PTSD or those who have mental challenges find themselves alone. Others choose to be.

But consider this: Aloneness often leads to vulnerability. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one…For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” I can’t help but think of the Gadarene demoniac mentioned in the first 3 Gospels. Mark (5) and Luke (8) mention only one while Matthew (8) mentions two. It sounds like he might as well have been by himself. In any case, no one wanted anything to do with him. He was uncontrollable; uncontainable; unruly; loud; and alone. Isolated.  Outcast. Except for One Person-Jesus. He may have had another comrade,  but this guy was still alone, except for the Legion of demons which controlled him. Jesus knew this man wanted free. I think some of the most compelling words are found in these: “Then they came to meet Jesus, and found the man who had been demon-possessed and had the Legion, from who the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” (Emphasis mine) Night and day.  NO. LONGER. ALONE.

So ask yourself this question: who can I reach out to today-virtually, of course- so they are not alone? Can you call someone? Can you text someone? Can you stand outside a window and wave? No one should be alone.

“Father, thank You for seeing my need and drawing me to You. Now help me to keep my eyes open to the needs of others. No one should be alone.”