InTheShadow

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October 6

Thursday, October 6th, 2022

I teach a class on Wednesday night I call “66.” You might see that it is a shortened version of Route 66, which is a survey of the 66 books of the Bible. Last night we finished up I & II Kings. 2 Kings ends with the exile of the Jews to Babylon. 136 years before, the northern tribes (10) called Israel, were taken captive by Assyria. The 2 southern tribes called Judah were now over.

As I closed I asked who was exiled to Babylon. The answer of course is Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (among thousands of others). To further complicate matters, I & II Chronicles is next. Then Ezra and Nehemiah who returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem. Ezra, the priest, concentrated on the spiritual; Nehemiah was the builder.

The point I made is while the Bible is a cohesive collection of books, totally inspired by God revealing His will and His character, it is not in order. Genesis through Nehemiah flow naturally. And they should, they are history books. But the rest of the books are not in chronological order. Otherwise, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon would be interspersed with I & II Samuel and I Kings. Talk about huge books! And you would also have to split up Psalms for when they were written. Isaiah would be broken up into little fragments throughout Kings and Chronicles. The same could be said about the other prophets- major and minor- as well. 

The Bible is God’s divinely inspired, written word. It is not a product of human ingenuity infused with divinity. It is not a self-help book with a few God-things or God-words added for good measure. It is a divine gift produced as men were moved by the Holy Spirit. Every word, sentence, chapter, book, and syllable was originally given by God’s divine inspiration. God’s Word, as we have it, is complete.

To sum it up: God’s Word is authoritative, sufficient, infallible and inerrant (without error) and is all we need to know how to live a life that honors God.

So…what is the Bible to you?

October 5

Wednesday, October 5th, 2022

There are a lot of intriguing stories in the Bible. I’d say the plethora of children’s books/Bibles is testimony to that. As a young boy growing up in the church and Sunday School (what is that?), I sat enthralled by them.

One of the most intriguing is Gideon. You can read his whole story in Judges 6-8.

Gideon was possibly the most unlikely person to lead God’s people against the Midianites.

  1. He lived in fear. We are introduced to him as he is threshing wheat in a winepress out of fear of the Midianites. I guess one could say it was advised. The Midianites were destructive, waiting until the crops were ready to harvest then swooping in and wiping them out-grain, sheep, ox, or donkey. (6:4)
  2. He lived with insecurity. When God said Gideon was his man, Gideon said, “Seriously? Me? I’m nothing.” (my poetic license). (6:15)
  3. He lived with doubt. He asked for confirmation that he was to do whatever it was God was asking him to do (deliver God’s people). (6:17-21). To top it off who can forget the whole fleece thing? (6: 36-40)

BUT…..

  • Gideon also learned to trust. He trusted God enough to take steps to pare down the army of 32,000 to 300 men.
  • He went into the enemy camp with Purah, his servant, to receive assurance of victory.
  • He show wisdom in dividing up his men and surrounding the enemy camp. At the appropriate time, they blew trumpets, broke pitchers, waved their torches, and shouted. The Midianite army fled. They pursued the enemy leaders and brought their heads back to Gideon.

There are a lot of talking points in Gideon’s story. I’ll let you figure them out. Just one to chew on: It is always amazing to see how God can transform someone from a man of fear, insecurity, and doubt into a warrior, a man of faith.

Interesting. He is still the same God today as He was back then…..

October 4

Tuesday, October 4th, 2022

As I have grown in my faith, and matured as an adult, I’ve come to believe that one of the toughest stumbling blocks Christ-followers have to deal with is their past. Of course, there are the few who have done nothing really horrendous of which they should feel shame or guilt. Yes, we are all sinners and should feel guilt over that, but this is different.

I’m talking bigger than normal, everyday sin. The whopper. The life choice that rattles the bones. The choice that makes the insides turn over. The choice which hangs on and keeps coming back again and again. The choice of which nightmares are made of.

Simply put: shame-inducing, joy-robbing, strength-sapping shame.

Like Peter’s. Pledge your love and devotion but then deny at the first opportunity of the temperature rising. You know the story. “I’ll follow You. I’ll never turn my back.” “Before the cock crows,” He said. It happened as He said.

What now? What will Peter do? Wallow in his shame? Get sidelined? Cast out? None of the above. He will be invited to a breakfast by the sea where Jesus will call him Simon-which means “listen”-and find restoration and release from shame.

I’ll be honest: if not for God’s grace, forgiveness and restoration, I’d be on the sidelines. My failures, unbelief and meager attempts at righteousness would have me wrapped in a cloak of shame or pacing the sidelines or sitting on the bench with my head between my legs, if not for God’s patience and “Bill. Get up. Get back in the game.”

It’s called second chances and I serve a God of second chances. Shame? Sure it’s there. But I also know that it has been defeated by the grace of a God who specializes in taking broken people and making them new.

I can attest to that.

October 3

Monday, October 3rd, 2022

The relaxing weekend is over.  Not having an agenda was nice. We had a leisurely Friday (which is normally my day off); on Saturday we attended a football game at noon and a baseball game in the late afternoon some of our youth were involved in; and Sunday attended church with Ryan and Amanda, our longtime friends.  Afterwards we ate wings (except Jo…she had a burger), then headed home for a relaxing evening. In between all this mayhem I worked on a 1000 piece puzzle I am getting close to finishing.

But its back to the old grind…I mean…agenda/schedule.

Have you noticed how some stories in the Bible never get old? As a child raised in the church, I heard all the stories-David and Goliath, the 3 dudes in the furnace, the angel appearing to Mary, and others.

One of my favorites (besides Jesus) was Daniel and the lion’s den. Still is. David slinging a stone is a cool story. The 3 dudes (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego) in the furnace-which actually turned out to be 4 in the furnace-is a wonderful story. But lions-hungry lions-with jaws which could snap a person in half clamped shut all night by angels? WOW! I can see several teaching points in that story. I’ll just settle for one.

The biggest is the lions leaving Daniel alone.  That was totally against their nature. But we don’t read of Daniel worrying about what was going to happen to him. He didn’t stay awake fretting and worrying about how it was going to hurt and maybe it will be quick.  If Daniel stayed awake, it was because he was praying. Not out of worry, but that God would be glorified and Darius’ eyes would be opened (least that is what I think). Read Daniel 6: 25-27 and you can see there is not only validity in what I just wrote, but it also happened.  I’m going to say that Daniel slept like a baby and those lions were like stuffed animals.

We can learn from this story. Daniel’s eyes were not on the den, the lions, or how wrong and unfair it was that he was there. His eyes and his faith were firmly saying, “I trust you” to his God.

Is that a lesson you can learn? I know I can.

September 29

Thursday, September 29th, 2022

If you were to take a random survey of people, especially Christ-followers, of what is there #1 question here on earth, and possibly one they say they will ask God when they get to heaven, I suspect it would be, “Why?” More specifically, “Why all the pain and suffering, especially to little children?”

To be more specific with an example (and there is, of course, not only one), here is one I have been dealing with.  Some folks who are friends of mine, but also part of the church I pastor, have a neighbor/friend who has a 4 year old who has been diagnosed with a glioma, an inoperable, aggressive, and fatal brain tumor.  He has had 3 surgeries so far- one for the tumor originally, and two for complications (bleeding and infection). The question “Why him?” has been asked a lot lately.

I believe we can ask that question and more any time we want. God is not afraid of our questions. But, will we be satisfied with the answer? I don’t know. God, of course, is under no obligation to answer. None. He doesn’t owe me anything.

But I can take heart that Jesus also asked why. Remember on the cross? “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Notice the “why.” But take note of the 4 words which precede it. Even though the grief over separation from His Father was great, Jesus still trusted (“Into Your hands I commit my spirit”). Jesus was forsaken so I might be forgiven. But even in His plain and agony (not physical), Jesus trusted.

We will NEVER understand all that goes on down here on earth. We will NEVER understand all the “whys.” That is not the issue. The issue is “will I trust?”

I don’t know what you or someone you love may be going through right now. In the end, it comes down to trust.

{Side note: I will be taking this Sunday off. I have had one off (and didn’t realize it), since sometime in 2021. This weekend Jo and I are going to chill and Sunday we plan to visit Ryan and Amanda’s home church (he comments on this blog). Your prayers for a “chill time” would be appreciated. Someone has said, “If you don’t come apart, you will come apart.” I prefer to do the former before the latter. Thanks}

September 28

Wednesday, September 28th, 2022

In yesterday’s devotion, I wrote about discernment as it relates to pastors/teachers. It is important to test the lives and teachings of those who claim to 1) be followers of Jesus, and 2) who claim to “speak for God.”

Today I want to focus more on me/us…the normal, everyday people who eke out a living both physically and seemingly, spiritually.

Although they don’t say exactly the same thing, there are two passages which could interconnect:

Matthew 5: 21-23

Luke 6: 46-49

I’d like to encourage you to take a moment and read them in your Bible rather than print them here for you.  Both have the person standing before God and saying, “Lord, Lord,” but then having their eternal destiny called into question. The Matthew passage has him confronted by his duplicity, his failure to live out his faith. No amount of pleading will change that.

The Luke passage, while similar, carries a different track. Jesus compares the man and his choice to building a house on rock or sand. The one who fails to live out his/her faith is like the one who has built their house on sand.

It is possible to look at this as an anomaly. Is Jesus saying works save us? No. What He is saying is that our lives will exhibit His truth in the way we live our lives. It is what James is speaking about in James 2. I heard it put this way: it is faith alone that saves us, but the faith that saves us is not alone.  Simply put: we are saved by faith, but faith is always seen in the way we live.

To be truly discerning, I must start with myself. To point the finger at another without an inward look is just wrong…and sinful…and dangerous.

September 27

Tuesday, September 27th, 2022

One of the hardest things as a pastor is to be honest with oneself. I have a specific honesty in mind as I write that. The honesty I’m thinking of is spurred on by the Scripture from I John 4: 1-3:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now it is already in the world.”  (NASB2020)

That phrase “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” stands out to me. That phrase must stop at my front door, THEN it goes to other doors. It is common for pastors, etc to point fingers at another teacher, call them “False”, and never once look at their own heart or teaching.

As I discern myself, and as I check out (test) others, what criteria do I use to “test the spirits?” I think there are two qualities/characteristics I can look for:

  1. A teacher’s character. Character can’t be tested by measuring eloquence or giftedness. There are those who are talented speakers but have a questionable character. There are also those who have a stellar character but are not very good speakers. It is better to choose the latter and hope he gets better at speaking, than the former. {A great example of that is Billy Graham and Charles Templeton. Google it and check it out}.
  2. Content of the teacher’s instruction. This is where real discernment is needed. Is he teaching truth? Not man’s truth but God’s truth. Not everyone who names the name of Christ is a true teacher of God.

There has always been false teachers. They seem to proliferate these days, I think, in large part thanks to media. But because they are “successful;” marry a rock musician; have a private jet or two; have crusades all over the world; claim healing; and live in mansions, does not make them true teachers of God’s truth.

Be discerning. Be alert. Be wise. Don’t be afraid to follow the clear teachings of the Scripture and stand against falsehood.

September 26

Monday, September 26th, 2022

Beginning on August 15th, I started a series of devotions on knowing God’s will based around The Trail by Ed Underwood. It seems strange as I sit here this morning that I am through with that devotional series (which I finished on September 22).  So now I have the “whatever mentality.” You know…the “whatever floats your boat” mentality, i.e. whatever random thought God brings to mind.  As I start this “new” chapter, I  began reflecting on yesterday’s sermon.

I have been preaching through the Beatitudes and preached yesterday on “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.” I asked the question: “Do you want to be known as a peacemaker or a troublemaker?”

Part of being a peacemaker is controlling the tongue. Sort of like the old adage: “If you have don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In Luke’s shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount, he writes these words: “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6: 41-42 NASB2020) The word Jesus uses for “speck” often describes very small bits and pieces of straw or wood. In contrast, the word “log” refers to a load-bearing beam in a house or structure. My crazy mind want to draw a picture of a person walking down the street with this huge log hanging out of his eye.

As followers of Jesus, it is absolutely necessary that we take note of what we say, keeping in mind that we are not perfect ourselves. The best thing to say is nothing at all, unless we approach the person himself/herself , and only then with lots of love and humility. Being a peacemaker does not mean letting obvious disobedience to God’s Word go unchecked, but it also doesn’t mean we go in with guns blazing and blow someone’s doors off.

Remember: speck and log. Speck in theirs; log in mine.

September 22

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022

This will be the last post based on The Trail by Ed Underwood. I’d suggest if you want to pursue this look at how to know and follow God’s will that you buy the book. It’s old enough now that you can find it for $5 or less. It obviously take a more in-depth look at God’s will and discerning it.

For this last entry, I’d like to “borrow” from the book the great recap that the author uses one of his characters to make. BTW this is written as a story of a couple who goes backpacking with a crusty, old firefighter turned pastor named Sam. Sam gives these lessons to them along the way. Anyway, here is the recap from pages 177-178.

#1- TRUST. God doesn’t need your strength to guide you, but you do need His strength to recognize His guidance.  Pr. 3:5-6

#2-RELATIONSHIP.  Make sure you’re all in for Jesus. Ps. 25:14

#3- INTIMACY. Stay within the circle of intimacy with God, and trust Him that you’re on the dot of His good and perfect will.  Ps. 139: 23-24

#4- TIMING. Live expectantly; God’s signature on events is timing. Eccl. 3:1

#5- PROTECTION. God’s will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.  Ps. 119:105

#6- ENCOURAGEMENT. When you wonder if you’re on the right path, ask God for a sign of encouragement.           Ps. 86:17

#7- COMMUNITY. Loners lose their way; trust the guidance of those who love you enough to tell you the truth. Pr.12: 15

#8- GRACE. All is grace; put one foot in front of the other. Pr.16: 9

My take? All is grace. If I follow Jesus with a heart that seeks Him, no matter what I do, He is there. I may bob and weave. I may totter. I may stumble as I follow. I may lose sight of the path. But He will be there for me and with me. He will protect me. He will encourage me when I need it. I need to surround myself with a community, a group/person I can count on to tell me the truth. And then trust that all is grace.

So ends the series of posts on The Trail. I pray it has helped you to clarify some things. I also pray it has challenged you to seek God’s desire (will) for you. I don’t need to say each of us are different, so one size doesn’t fit all. Carve out your own path in following Him.  And remember: All is grace.

The Trail: A Tale about Discovering God's Will

September 21

Wednesday, September 21st, 2022

The final principle is here. But before I give that to you, let’s stop here for a moment to think. Whenever the will of God is talked about, many tend to lean toward the mystical. They look for a “sign” or an “open door” or a “word of knowledge” (cringe), or a dream. Something. Anything.

Meanwhile, many figuratively sit in a chair, put their feet up on the desk, and say, “OK God. Lay it on me.” You know what I mean with that picture. It is way too common for people to simply “hold out” for God to WOW them. Rather than go about their daily business with a heart open to God’s leading, they just sit around and expect it to fall into their lap. It has been my experience that doesn’t happen.

Is that saying God doesn’t surprise us sometimes? No, not at all. But to sit and rely on that is wrong. Unless we are Zechariah who receives a visit from angel in the Temple; or a Mary who receives a personal visit from Gabriel to give her some phenomenal news; or a Paul who had an angel appear in his room and tell him he was to go to Jerusalem; or a Joseph who was warned in a dream to hightail it to Egypt, God simply shows up in our daily activities, a timely word while reading His Word, or some good advice from a friend.

Principle #8 is the final one:

All is grace; put one foot in front of the other.

I’m going to close out this study on God’s will tomorrow. See you then. Until then, remember: All in grace; put one foot in front of the other.