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March 20

Friday, March 20th, 2020

One of the verses that consistently rattles my cage is a small one-small in number of words, but big in meaning.

John had been the “man of the hour.” People flocked to the wilderness to hear him speak. He spoke like a true prophet-mincing no words; leaving no one off the hook; and taking no prisoners. Shyster? Gotcha. Legalist? Gotcha. Viper? Gotcha. Herod and Herodias? Gotcha.  Roman soldier? Gotcha. Religious leader?  Double gotcha. He told it like it was…and then some. But John was never supposed to be the man. No, he was the forerunner.  He was the prophet Elijah come again (figuratively).  He was also the voice of one crying in the wilderness. (Luke 3:4)  His purpose was to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was to prepare people for the Lamb of God who was to take away the sin of world. (John 1:29).

So it shouldn’t be surprising his response when his disciples came to him and told him that Jesus was baptizing more than he was.  Translated: Jesus was more popular.  His response is the verse that rattles my cage:

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Another translation says, “He must become greater, I must become less.”  The implications of that are stunning. John’s view was consistent with his purpose: Jesus glorified not me. More of Jesus, less of me.

“Father, that should be my prayer- today and everyday. May Jesus truly become greater in my life and in all I do.”

March 13

Friday, March 13th, 2020

Sometimes I just don’t like the Bible. Sometimes I just don’t like the Holy Spirit. Now…hang on! Don’t leave me just yet thinking “I can’t listen to that heresy or heretic anymore.” I have an explanation.

This past week I sinned.  A surprise I know. 🙂  But it’s true. I passed along to someone something I’d heard. It’s called gossip if you want to put a handle on it. I had been told something that I had not verified and I told someone else.  And I passed it along as though it were fact.

And here is why I said what I did at the beginning of this devotion: CONVICTION.  The conviction of the Holy Spirit. The conviction of God’s Word. Neither would leave me alone.  Even after I found out it was partially/mostly true,  I knew what I did was wrong. And it put the other person on the spot. Yesterday I did the only thing I could do (at least in my heart): I called and apologized for gossiping and putting him on the spot. No accolades please of “good for you.” I would not have had to even do that nor would it have been an issue if I had kept my blasted mouth shut to start with.

What prompted this devotion? How about when I read this verse this morning: “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” (Pr.13:3) Need I say more?

“Father, help me to keep my mouth shut when it doesn’t need to be opened. Help me to guard my mouth and lips.”

February 26

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Do vs Be.

A sense of accomplishment today. I finished reading the OT this morning. I began over 3 years ago with Matthew and read through the NT. I then started with Genesis and vowed I would read each word (or almost each word). I would not skip over a genealogy or a sacrifice or a (fill in the blank) in order to get to the end or because it was boring. It took me close to 2 years of almost daily faithful reading to accomplish my task. I read leisurely. I had no plan to follow; no set amount to read.  But I finished! I learned a lot. And I learned to respect the OT.

Today I read Malachi. It was, in many ways, a good summary of much of the OT. The people of Israel did; they were not so interested in the be. The book of Malachi is almost like a commentary on the whole OT, and even on our own time in history.  Time after time Malachi’s voice echoes God’s as he brings to mind the utter hypocrisy of the people of Israel of offering sacrifices, but not having the right heart.

They were “do-ers”; they were not interested in “be-ers.” God brings to mind the emptiness of their sacrifices because of their lack of sincerity. They would bring blemished animals. They would lie, cheat, and steal. In 1:14, for example, he says, “Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished.” 

Another example was the way they robbed God through their tithes and offerings. “Who us? Rob God? Surely not.” And yet He points it out to them: “Yes, through your tithes and offerings.”

Do vs Be. I have this sneaking suspicion God is much more interested in who we are than what we do. Sure He wants our obedience. Sure He wants our “do.” But I believe He is much more interested in who we are. Who we “be.” On the inside.

“Father, outside obedience is fine. I believe you want that. But you don’t want just the outside; you also want inward submission. You want me to “be” not just “do.” May my outward actions come from inward submission.”

February 25

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

My title for this devotion is When No Change is Good.

I write, read, and listen a lot on the topic of change. In fact, I just recently (February 18) wrote about how no change = death. And I still agree with that. We are in a constant state of flux. They say if you wear clothes now that go out of style just hang onto them because in a few years they will be back. (My mind does not compute a new influx of  parachute pants, the workout outfits of the ’80s, bell-bottom jeans, etc.  And yes, that was a shiver you just felt). 🙂 Aging baseball players, especially pitchers, sometimes need to reinvent themselves by learning a new pitch or a new approach to pitching or simply pitching smarter. As I stated in that February 18 devotion, as an aging pastor I need to not be locked into “what once was.” “That’s the way I’ve always done it and I’m not going to change.”  Yeah…and they’ll be looking at my back as I fade into the sunset.  I’m not talking surface when I talk about change. I no longer wear a suit and tie to preach in. Jeans and a t-shirt or casual shirt is sufficient. When people see me in a suit and tie (which is very rare) and comment about how I clean up well, I tell them they better hope they don’t see me like this. That means I’m either marrying them or burying them. 🙂

In all seriousness, amidst all the change there is one constant. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 20:7- “Some trust in chariot and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Chariots and horses represent material things, things we can touch. Without question there are those who trust in material things. They put a lot of stock in their bank account; their house; their cars; their toys; their job. All temporary.

The psalmist, though, is telling us there really is only one place to put our trust- the Unchanging God.  The Rock. The Great I Am. The King of kings. The One who never changes. The One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He doesn’t shift. The rest of that verse is poignant also because verse 8 completes the thought: “They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” The chariot and horse will fall but not God!

“Father, change occurs. Temporary things are just that-temporary.  But You never change.  Never falter. Never fall. I place my trust in You-the Unchanging One.”

February 17

Monday, February 17th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Essential vs Nit-Picking.

There is an old adage that I learned in college and has been reinforced in me lately: “In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; but in all things, love.”

I read recently of two struggling churches in a small town who decided a merger was needed. They talked but it never happened. Why? They could not agree over a phrase in the Model Prayer. One wanted “Forgive us our debts” while the other wanted “Forgive us our trespasses.” Seriously? The local paper reported one church returned to their debts and the other went back to their trespasses.

I once read awhile ago about two churches in a small town on opposite street corners. One had the name “The Original Church of God” and the other had the name “The Original Church of God #2.” Again. Seriously?

There are certain essentials we must all agree on. God: Almighty; Creator of all; Omnipotent; Omniscient; Omnipresent.  Jesus: God’s only Son; Born of a virgin; Fully God/Fully man from birth. Savior of the world who died on a cross and rose physically from the grave. The Holy Spirit: third member of the Trinity; Christ in me, the hope of glory; purpose is to draw attention to Jesus not Himself. We are all sinners and need salvation. We are saved by grace through faith.  Jesus is returning someday. That is a scaled-down version.  Those are essentials.

Opinions are those things which are not related to salvation. Clothing. Music. Tattoos. Many others. Those things the Bible does not speak for or against directly. People pick fights over the silliest and often the stupidest things. Things that don’t and won’t amount to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things. “In opinions, liberty.”

But to split and leave a church or a friendship or to split over an opinion? To pout and whine and rally the troops over an opinion? “In all things, love.”

It is one thing to hold to the truths and major issues set forth in Scripture. It’s another thing to pick fights over every jot and tittle or personal preference. Maybe its time we look deeper inside our heart and see if we are one of those who majors in minors and minors in majors. Maybe it is time for us to revisit the words in Ephesians 4:1-3: “I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“Father, help me not to be one who nit-picks. Help me to know what is true in Your Word-an essential. Help me to allow for different opinions. And in that, to always show love.”

February 6

Thursday, February 6th, 2020

I’m not an OT scholar by any stretch. I’m not in my office where I can consult my commentaries or investigate things further. I’m at my kitchen table where I am most every morning with just my Bible, my journal and several other aids to use during my Quiet Time. Oh yeah…and the Holy Spirit. 🙂  And I’m trying to make sense of something I read this morning in Amos. A couple observations:

  1. In chapter 4 the phrase “yet you did not return to me” appears several times (6,8,9,10,11). Each time that statement follows God’s judgment by an act on Israel. “I gave you lack of bread.” “I withheld rain.” “I struck you with blight and mildew.” etc. It seems to me that God has done these things to bring them back to Himself. He even says, “Therefore I will do this to you…prepare to meet your God.”
  2. In chapter 5 two statements  grabbed my attention. “Seek good and not evil…Hate evil and love good.” (14,15) But a little later in the same chapter He tells them He hates-despises- their outward displays (21-23).  He even tells them He will send them into exile. (27)

I think it is safe to say God is not happy with the conduct and outward show of Israel! 🙂  They did not respond to His harsh treatment (ch.4) and He is not happy with their outward display, which I take it is mere hypocrisy.

That definitely got me to thinking of me. Have I missed God’s “hammer/chisel” on my life? And has my life/is my life simply one of outward display-of going through the motions-instead of heartfelt surrender and worship?

“Father, You are serious about following You. Sometimes you get my attention through tough times; sometimes through judgment. You certainly aren’t happy with my lack of ‘heart’ that I sometimes bring to the table. May my life be a sincere effort to follow You.”

January 16

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Forgotten vs Adopted.

I was reading today about adoption. What a beautiful thing! I know of several folks who have adopted-both here and in foreign countries.

  • My brother and his wife who adopted a baby girl from China (Lea) over 16 years ago.
  • A couple from the church who had just adopted a baby from China when I moved here in 2005 (Annalei- whom you may read about someday as an Olympic diver), and another in 2010 (Meilynn was about 7 or 8 and was a phenomenal gymnast now cheerleader with one of the prettiest smiles you will ever see).
  • Another couple adopted Lucy as a baby with severe clef palate damage. She is now in high school.
  • A former blogger, Jason, and his wife adopted a young man from Japan.
  • Zee (a blogger friend from Ukraine) and her husband, Sam, who have adopted Zhora (George) and Zhenya (Jenny), who sure look ornery but also a ton of fun in their picture. They are about 6 & 5.
  • Others who have adopted children in the states and those who want to. (The system is broken).

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I respect those people. Adopting someone not only means that couple taking a step forward, it also means giving a child a new life, a life they would have never known. Bought out of less than desirable circumstances and brought into a situation that says, “Family. You are wanted. You are loved.”

Can there be a much better picture of our welcome into God’s family? Our existence screamed, “Lost! No home! No love!” Ephesians 2 uses two words “But God” to show the line of demarcation from what once was to what it became and is now.  We are saved from and shown to. We are saved from a life of lostness and given a life to meaning, hope and purpose.

Then I read more this morning. It also says we are given a “spirit of adoption.” I was reading in Ezekiel and 36:26-27 says,

And I will give you a new heart, a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Can there be any better description of adoption? A new family. A new heart. A new spirit. All the rights and privileges of a natural member of the family.

“Thank you, Father, for adopting me into Your family. For rescuing me from no life to a life that is far more than I dreamed. Thank you for my new heart and my new life.”

January 14

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

My title for this devotion is First vs Second.

I recently purchased a book and a T-shirt through an organization called I Am Second (IAS). I have followed IAS for years-have watched their “White Chair” videos and read their material-and have always come away inspired and moved. Their most familiar presentations are on video and feature the celebrity/individual/couple sitting on a white chair while sharing their story. It is usually a testimony of how God moved in their life. The topics are as diverse as the people but one thing is in common in all videos: they say I Am Second to Jesus.

I realize years ago Gail Sayers, a former football player, wrote about his friendship with a white football player named Brian Piccolo. Brian died of cancer and the book was about how Mr. Sayers put himself 3rd-behind God and Brian. IAS is not in argument with that. Their approach is based on God’s work in their life, how He intervened, and even radically changed them.

I. AM. SECOND.

I once read where Composer Leonard Bernstein was once asked, “What is the hardest instrument to play in the orchestra?” Almost without hesitation he answered, “Second fiddle. Without it there is no harmony.”

I thought about that-about how many times I wanted to be first. I’m currently reading several books on being a Small Church Pastor. I fought that for so long and look back and now realize how much I missed out on because I was always reaching for the next rung, trying out the next big thing, instead of finding contentment in being in a small church. Perhaps that is why I find great contentment where I am right now. I am a Small Church Pastor in a relatively small town (2500-3000) and absolutely love it! I have come to realize that being second is not a bad place to be. It’s not a “bad gig.” 🙂 Hear the words:

Don’t be selfish, don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Phil.2:3-5  (NLT)

“Father, You are first.  You are to be my priority. I am second to You. Only when that is right will my relationship with others be right. Be first.  Let me fall in step behind You.”

January 8

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

My title for this devotion is Left Behind: Worthy vs Temporary.

Am I that far off in saying that we all want to leave something behind for which we will be remembered? I don’t think so. We all (or most of us anyway) want to leave behind a legacy, a point of reference where if our name is mentioned people says, “Oh yeah. I remember (such and such) about him/her.”

In the media world, for example, actor Tom Hanks was recently honored with the Cecil B. DeMille award. In his craft, that may be the highest honor to be bestowed. Known for his body of work, he will now be known for another (higher) honor.

The Sports world has its honors also. Hall of Fame. MVP. Super Bowl champs. Stanley Cup. College football #1.

Music. Stage. Lifetime Achievement. The list is seemingly endless. People want to be remembered-hopefully for good and not for bad. Think Al Capone. Bonnie and Clyde. Elliott Ness. Billy the Kid. And others.

In the OT is the book and story of Job. I’m pretty sure we all know that story. Everything is taken away from him but his life, but Job still said, “I know my Redeemer lives.” When everything he loved was wiped out, Job’s response was, “The Lord gives; the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:21)  When encouraged by his wife to curse God and die he said, “Shall we receive good and not evil from God?” (2:10)  (He also called her a foolish woman but we won’t go there! 🙂 ) In Job 19:32-24 he wished “his words were recorded, engraved in rock forever.” Funny thing is? They are. In the pages of THE BOOK.

What is it I want to be known for? Kindness? Generosity? Giver of grace? All the above. All are well and good. But the greatest? He was a Lover of Jesus. Yeah. I like that.

“Father, may the legacy I leave behind not be one of fleeting memories and temporary awards. May it be that I loved you first and foremost, above all, and that you were the reason I lived.”

 

December 29-31

Sunday, December 29th, 2019

Three things Moses prayed for in Exodus 33: 12-21.

LORD, TEACH ME YOUR WAYS.

LORD, GUARANTEE YOUR PRESENCE.

LORD, SHOW ME YOUR GLORY.

Moses did not want to be adrift. He didn’t want to lead the people of Israel without the presence and promises of God. What a great challenge for 2020!

Jo & I leave today for Sandusky, Ohio.  Tomorrow her sister has a procedure on her eyes that she must have or things will not turn out well. But it is in Lorain, OH and Jo is totally unfamiliar with that part of the state and unsure of driving where she has not been. Neither have I but she feels more confident with me driving (okay so maybe just with me being along). We will return Tuesday.  I will be out of commission as well on both blogs.

I have a decision I need to make: whether to continue “Living in the Shadow” or not. I have been doing two blogs for two years now. I started this one as a devotional outlet for New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp. I called it Be Transformed. I continued it by renaming it and just using it as a random devotional blog. I had several purposes. One, it kept me disciplined in having a daily Quiet Time. Two, and this will sound somewhat self-centered, I wanted to see if I could write and possibly transfer the daily devotions into a book form. The first, I accomplished. The second, I’m not sure about. What I do know is keeping two blogs going was, at times, time-consuming. It was stretching that is for sure. But what I hoped for (a consistent and growing readership) did not happen. So I’m faced with deciding what to do. I’d appreciate any input you might have…good or bad.

In the meantime, have a fantastic end of the year and a great start to 2020.