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November 22

Friday, November 22nd, 2019

My title for this devotion is Lower vs. Higher.

Today it happened like so many other times. No, I didn’t get into trouble…yet. 🙂 No, it is something much better.  I’m sure you have probably had it happen too. You read the Bible and something clicks. You realize you are reading about yourself. Please let me explain.

My first reading this morning was from Jeremiah 2-4. First, I had to wade through the conviction that the Jews (and me) were trying to make life on their own and had committed two evils (2:12-13). Please take the time to read it. But what really got me was the incomplete repentance of Israel and Judah. What I mean by that is they were sorry for what had done; said so; but then failed to change. True repentance involves change, a turning around. How often has my repentance been incomplete?

That often comes from a failure of humility. A failure to see myself as needing to lower myself. In Luke 14:7-11 Jesus tells a parable of the wedding feast. In short: He says it is better to start lower and be moved up than to take a higher seat and be asked to move down. He finishes with these words: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Who is a better picture of that than Jesus? He humbly placed himself under human rule. As a human He exposed himself to all we face-weather, physical, abuse, political, all of it-to come down. But we also know as He humbled Himself He was also exalted to the highest place, the highest name, the highest seat, the highest position. Nothing in His life would make one think He was the King of kings. But His humility is evident. He wanted no pomp and circumstance. I mean…He rode a donkey not a Beamer!

A lesson for me to learn: take the lower place, not the higher. Don’t seek to elevate myself.

“Father, Jesus was the epitome of humility. He showed it as no one else did. May I follow His example and take/seek the lower seat.”

November 18

Monday, November 18th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Delight vs Disappointment.

I know there are times I disappoint God.  At least I feel like I do. In my mind. When I act contrary to the new man. When I speak contrary to the new man. When I think contrary to the new man. I find myself disappointed in myself and I tend to transfer that disappointment to God’s feelings about me.

Instead of looking at disappointment, let’s consider instead how God delights in me. I read these words this morning during my Quiet Time:

“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is In Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.” (Is.62:4)

My thoughts went to my oldest daughter Tami’s sign off and favorite Scripture verse. She signs her correspondence with “Delighting in Him” and her favorite Scripture is Zephaniah 3:17:

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

It is a wonder to me that God would delight in me and that He would rejoice over me with gladness, and exult over me with loud singing. When I consider how I am; how I act; how I speak; how I think…and yet He delights and takes pleasure in me. THAT totally blows me away!!

I know.  Hard to believe. But there it is in black and white. And I believe it.

“Father, thank You for delighting in me. In spite of me and who I am, You delight in me. I’m humbled. I’m blown away. I’m relieved. I’m quieted. Let me just relish that today.”

November 14

Thursday, November 14th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Saying vs Living.

The past few days I’ve been reading a book by Mary Jo Sharp called Why I Still Believe. It is subtitled “A former atheist’s reckoning with the bad reputation Christians give a good God.” Mary Jo’s basic premise is after her conversion to Christ from atheism, how could she reconcile the church’s poor representation of Jesus. Her husband became a worship pastor almost by default so she got hit first hand with hypocrisy. In fact, the day she came to church to make her commitment public, the pastor’s wife judged her on the dress she was wearing. No greeting but a disdained “looking down on her” look with the words that she needed to check her dress. There was too much cleavage. In another incident, an atheist friend of hers she invited to class asked some honest questions about creation/young earth/old earth and was rudely shot down by the teacher and the pastor. They had no idea who he even was.

Hypocrisy wears many coats and hats. And I suppose we all (definitely me) are hypocrites from time to time. I know for a fact my actions do not always match my words. To quote Mary Jo:

Hypocrisy requires a reference to a standard of moral conduct which a person verbally accepts, but then denies by their behavior. (p.149)

Here is my analysis of it:

Standard= the Bible, God’s Word

Claim= to believe the Bible

Hypocrisy= to say I believe but live opposite.

I confess. I am a hypocrite at times. I don’t want to be. But I am.  Sounds like Romans 7 doesn’t it? But I also know that cannot be a cop out or a “get out of jail free” card. Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the Pharisees, the religious hypocrites.

“Father, Your Word is true. It tells me all I need to know to live a life of godliness and holiness. But believing it and living it are two different things. Help me not to live a life contrary to Your Word, Your standard.”

{Note: Mary Jo’s book is an excellent and easy read. She has taken a very difficult subject (the existence of God) as well as the hypocrisy she has seen and molds them into a fine book. I’d highly recommend it. And, in case you are wondering, she exposes the hypocrisy of the atheist beliefs as well}.

November 13

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Friends vs “Friends.”

Have you ever met someone of whom it can be said, “He/she assumes a familiarity that is not there?” No? Well, your answer should be “Yes.”  If you know me then you have.  You see, I am an extreme extrovert. According to Jo and my girls I know no stranger. Jo once heard me talking to someone at WM about our oldest, who at the time, was teaching in Knoxville. He was also a teacher and moving to Knoxville so…you know…1 + 1 = 2. When we were alone Jo asked me who that was. I told her I had no clue. We were just talking. 🙂  Yep, extreme extrovert.

That has its drawbacks though. One big one is that earlier statement.  Because I am friendly, I just assume everyone ought to be. Jo has told me to stop being so friendly to little kids in the store at the checkout. She is probably right since the cultural climate is one of suspicion. But I’m that way with adults too. Especially those whom I have spent some time with. Especially especially (added for emphasis) if they are guys who are cyclists. Two of my closest friendships started because of the bike. One I never see since he moved south. The other is now retired and travels a lot with his now-retired wife. (They are in their 50s).  Since he lives about an hour away I see him occasionally. I have one friend from the church here who has moved about 30-45 minutes away whom I would like to see more often but you know how it is with guys who work and have families. Sheesh! 🙂 My best friend of over 40+ years was a college friend; played on the basketball team; helped me get my first full-time gig as a youth pastor with his father; and has since retired after he lost his heart with the death of his son.  I made my way to KY for that funeral and his father’s. That is what friends do. We are like David and Jonathan. We still see each other when we meet halfway for pizza. 

We are friends. Not “friends.” Friends. Real friends. In my mind “friends” are acquaintances. Faux people who are on the outside. Fair-weather “friends.”

I work hard to cultivate friendships because I need them. No I’m not co-dependent. No man is an island. As a pastor, they are rare. I am grateful for each friend God has placed in my path these 67 years. But none is as rich as my friendship with Jesus, the friend of sinners. For that friendship I will not assume anything.  It is too important. I need to go to the well and back to keep it energized and alive.  How about you?

“Father, I do thank you for each and every friend you have placed in my path and blessed me with. But none can take the place of YOU in my life. Help me to continue cultivating that friendship.”

November 12

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Truth or Love vs Truth and Love.

I just finished reading a new book by Steve Brown called Talk the Walk. As I came to the end he had the following quote from C.S.Lewis:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrong and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is hell. (Pages 140-141)

Followers of Jesus have always struggled with truth and love. Some want to love without reservation; some want truth without reservation. One is harsh; the other is mushy. We need both. That is a scary combination when you think about it. Talk about radically changing us and our world!

Most are good at one or the other. It takes a special person-one sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit-to pull them both off. All truth and no love is legalism; all love and no truth is mere sentimentalism; love and truth together will change lives. Starting with mine.

“Father, help me to see it doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be “and.” Help me to live out a life of truth and love-being radically changed within and then watching you transform my world.”

November 11

Monday, November 11th, 2019

My title is Submission vs. Obstinance.

One of the dirtiest words in the English language is the word “submission.” Male or female that word “strikes a nerve.” “You want me to submit to him? You have got to be kidding!” “What do you mean I have to submit to the loser that is called my boss?” On and on our rebellion goes. And as I said-male or female-it is hard to accept.

That is what struck me as I read Luke 2 this morning. Following Mary & Joseph taking Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord, it says they returned to Nazareth. It ends with these words: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (v.40). We would expect that. He was God’s Son after all.

Fast forward 12 years. (Some of the blank years in Jesus’ life). He and His parents go to the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem. They leave believing Jesus is playing with His friends. A frantic search of 3 days finds Him in the temple, confounding and amazing the religious leaders with His understanding and answers. But here is the part that struck me after telling Mary & Joseph he had to be there: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” (v.51)  I do wonder if there is a correlation between that verse and the following verse: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” 

Jesus, the Son of God, submissive? To earthly parents? Yes!! How baffling.  But then again, not so. When you think about it was not His whole life one of submission to His Father? Philippians 2 says He submitted by coming to earth as a baby. He surrendered to the greater agenda of His Father. He knew His Father’s plan was birth, death, resurrection -those three- and He willingly submitted.

Unlike me who struggles with submission. A more apropos word for me would be obstinance. Oh sure, I say “I submit” but do I really? Do I not have my own agenda that I am staunch about keeping? Katie bar the door if I should get out of whack.

“Father, submission to anyone, especially You, is not always easy. I’m more apt to get obstinate. To want things my own way. Help me to say “Your will be done” and mean it.”

November 8

Friday, November 8th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Me vs You.

It’s always interesting watching and being around young children.  We have a pretty good number at the church and I absolutely love interacting with them. One minute they are running up to me and giving me a fist bump or a hug and the next minute hiding behind their mom or dad’s leg or just ignoring me.  Just this past Sunday a young girl-I’m guessing about 6 y/o-came running up to me as soon as she got inside to ask me a question. You need to know that she plays a game with me-she’s hot and cold. She has a beautiful head of hair and I asked her once if I could borrow some since I’m bald. Anyway, for her to come running up to me is unusual but she had to ask me a question: “Pastor Bill, who made God?” Aaaaah yeah.  🙂

Kids have their own world and to be honest want you to conform to their world. But we adults are not much different are we? I get irritated in slow traffic or when I’m cut off. Right now I’m dealing with some construction issues at home where I’ve been put off for 3 weeks. Is it him putting me off or is it me upset because the job isn’t getting done on my timeline? It seems to be an unending war between the kingdom of self and the kingdom of light. You bug me because you are not conforming to my kingdom wishes. AND YOU NEED TO CONFORM!

“Father, the battle always rages. My kingdom, my little fiefdom vs Yours. Help me to put mine to death and live in your kingdom as your subject.”

November 7

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Answered vs Unanswerable.

Have you ever noticed there are some Scriptures which simply take your breath away in their breadth and scope of reach? I’m going to ask you to do something I’ve never done before-something I have already done. STOP reading this devotion and read Isaiah 40 first. Please. Oh yeah…be prepared to be awed.

READING ISAIAH 40

Thanks. Did you notice the rhetorical questions (questions asked but no answer expected)? Isaiah 40 is filled with them. List them. Verse 12.  Verse 13 (2 of them). Verse 14 (several). Verse 18. Verse 25.

But those alone are not enough. Look at the “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” questions. (Verses 21 & 23).

Anchoring all of this is a verse you may have skipped over (thanks to my “guidance.”) But now go back and read it. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.” (V.8)  There’s the anchor!! God’s Word has been, is now, and always will be. His Word never changes. Why? Because it is God’s Word and He never changes. Trying to explain an unexplainable God and trying to understand all that means is like trying to answer rhetorical questions. You can’t answer it because it is too lofty. (Brain explodes here). I can only say, “I believe.”

“Father, words truly fail me. Try as I may I’m lost. Take these inadequate but humble thoughts and accept them as they are intended: praise and adoration of and for a matchless God.”

November 6

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Giving Up vs Giving In.

I realize as I write that title some would say, “But Bill. Those are essentially saying the same thing.” On the surface I would agree, but on a deeper level I’d say, “Hang in there with me. I want to take it and stretch it.”

Giving up is what someone does when they seem to have no hope left. We might use the term “throw in the towel” to indicate surrender. Lots of people do that.  Life gets hard; fortunes turn; a medical diagnosis turned life upside down; and we find ourselves throwing our hands in the air. We give up.

On the other hand, we don’t give up…we give in. Like King Hezekiah in Isaiah 36-37. Sennacherib, king Assyria, invaded Judah.  He sent a messenger to the king painting a very dark picture of Judah’s future (as well as slamming on God). Hezekiah seeks Isaiah’s help, then he goes to God himself. Hezekiah could have given up but instead he chose to give in. He chose to give in to God’s plan. Isaiah reassured him but a letter from Assyria drove him to the temple and into God’s presence where he spread the letter out before God and poured out his heart to God. He didn’t give up; he gave in to the only One who could save him and his people. He put his trust in God…where it belonged.

God brought about his/Judah’s deliverance by routing the Assyrian army. God will do the same for me. For you. While it may not be a literal army attacking, he will take what seems like an army and bring it into submission to Him.

“Father, help me not to give up and give into despair. Help me not to give up hope. Instead, help me to give in to You, to take the seemingly impossible situation and trust You to work things out as you did for Hezekiah.”

November 4

Monday, November 4th, 2019

My title for this devotion is Horses vs God.

Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” The teaching/lesson from that verse is easy to see and has been vital for me to hang on to.

This morning I read the following from Isaiah 31: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord.” (v.1)  It goes on: “The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.” (v.3a)

Just when I was getting lost in the “wanderings” of Isaiah, he pulls up this gem. What an important truth! Both David and Isaiah are saying the same thing. But that begs a question-an obvious question:

In what and in Whom am I putting my trust? Is my trust in God or is it in something else? Is it in men or in “horses”?

“Father, my trust needs to/must me in You. But too often I find myself struggling to make that happen. Men and horses will fail, they will let me down. Help me to place my trust in You-squarely and firmly in You.”

I know the devotion is short today. but it is short on purpose. The understanding and application of this passage is yours to see and apply.