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May 7

Friday, May 7th, 2021

I’ve written several times in this Shadow blog about legalism, specifically mine. I was raised in a semi-legalistic church but not in a home that bent that way. It was when I became a young pastor “earning my wings” that seeds were planted that blossomed into what I now see was an assault of peoples’ freedom. I still cringe at my boldness and arrogance. I now see my legalism was a weak attempt to control peoples’ lives because it (so I thought) reflected on my job as a pastor, or it was to make me feel better and draw attention away from myself (and my own sin).

I know it made me feel better. If I could say, “Read my Bible.” Check. “Tithed.” Check. “Don’t drink or smoke or cuss.” Check.

I’m guessing you get the point and where I’m going with it.

Paul wrote, “…they (so-called Christians) sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 2:4-NLT)

They spy on us. What a vivid picture that gives me! Someone or someones who are secretly watching, taking notes, peaking around corners, tailing me. I’m on someone’s hit list.

You see, there will always be those who will try to impose their “religion” on others. But the problem with legalism is that it misses the point altogether. It and they go “beyond what is written” is the way Paul put it. (I Cor. 4:6)

Legalism makes secondary things primary and primary things secondary. It relegates love lower than regulations and performance. That which is first takes a back seat to that which has no business being in the driver’s seat.

I’ve had my share of legalism to last a lifetime and never want to go back. With God’s help and by His grace, I never will.

“Father, that is my prayer today.”

May 5

Wednesday, May 5th, 2021

I was blown away by words from a devotion I read this morning. Rather than babble on, I thought I’d just print them here. The words are from Day 5 of 40 Days of Love by Paul David Tripp.

“Don’t be discouraged today. No matter how alone you feel, you’ve been blessed with the Father’s love.”

“I love the depiction of God’s tender care in Isaiah 42:3: ‘A bruised reed he will not break, a faintly burning wick he will not quench.’ What a beautiful word picture! Imagine walking through the bush and coming across a young tree with a bent and almost broken limb hanging at a rather grotesque angle. You spontaneously complete the job, ripping the limb completely off. Your heavenly Father would never, ever be that thoughtless. He wouldn’t think of breaking you the rest of the way. He comes to you in grace to comfort, strengthen, encourage, and restore. His love toward you is tender and faithful. He is near you when it seems no one else is. He will care for you when no one else does. He will heal your wounds when no one around you seems to see how wounded you are. He will never mock or take advantage of your weakness. He will not let you go unnoticed or disregarded. If you are his child, it is impossible for you to be alone and unloved because your heavenly Father is with you and reaches out to you in tender, restoring love.”

He ends with these words: “Yes, life can be very heard, people can be very cruel, and at times you are left alone, but you are never completely abandoned because your Father is with you in tender, restorative love.”  (Pages 18-19)

There is no need to say any more or to include a prayer. Just think on those words for awhile and let them soak in.

April 30

Friday, April 30th, 2021

First, I need you to stop and read Romans 8: 31-39. This is perhaps the most beautiful passage in Scripture (personal preference) and one of, if not, the most powerful chapters in the Bible.

Then please read this…something I read this morning:

“There is a love that will never forsake us. there is a love that will never fail us in any of its commitments to us. There is a love that is so strong that nothing in all of Creation can break it. There is a love that is faithful and true, no matter what. There is a love that is unbreakable, even when we are unloving and undeserving.” (p.7)

“There us simply nothing like the love of God. It is the most powerful force in the universe. Love is what we need-God’s love, that is. You and I could never earn it, deserve it, or achieve it. It reaches into the sinful muck of humanity, cleans us up, draws us close, and launches us to a brand-new living while staying faithful to the end, even if we are not. In loving us, God gives us the greatest gift ever given-the gift of Himself.” (p.8)

How can I improve on that? I can’t say it any clearer. I can’t say it more pointed.

What I can say is, “You are loved…by Him.”

“Father, thank You for Your faithful, unending love. May I bask in it and also share it with others.”

Quoted sections from 40 Days of Love by Paul David Tripp.

April 27

Tuesday, April 27th, 2021

Sometimes the description of the Christian life is one of opposites. Sometimes living the reality of the Christian life is a bundle of opposites. I want to say a paradox but I’m not really sure if that fits. Let me show you what I mean:

“We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.”  (2 Cor. 6:3-10)

What I underlined during my Encounter Time this morning are verses 7-10.

I’m reminded of some of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. So many times Jesus says, “You have heard it said…but I say to you…” He was challenging their age old beliefs (legalism) with something totally radical. He took the law even further and gave it more scope.

In the 2 Corinthian passage Paul is saying, “We are…but they say…” That seems to be an outgrowth of being a Christ-follower. First, taking it one step further than it appeared. Second, facing accusations which aren’t true or are embellished to make them look bad. The key is for us, when they say that about us, is to live a life of love (v.12a)

“Father, may my life be consistent with what You want. No matter what people say to tear me down may it be found to be a lie.”

April 23

Friday, April 23rd, 2021

Sunday morning Jo and I drove to Maryland Community Church in Terre Haute. While Scot, Maryland’s Senior Pastor did not preach, the Discipleship Pastor, Nick Strobel, did an admirable job speaking about Greed.  Using the story of Elisha, Naaman and Gehazi found in 2 Kings 5, he brought some good thoughts to the table. {Please take a moment and read the Scripture}.  After Naaman went on his way with Elisha’s blessing, Gehazi chased him down and lied about Elisha wanting his money. Here are the three points Nick brought out: (Main thoughts his; commentary mine)

  1. Greed starts small. It warps our purpose. God’s ultimate purpose was that Naamen know and acknowledge God as the only God. But Gehazi’s greed warped that. Man will always pursue what we think will save us. We will not pursue things because we think it’s dumb.
  2. Greed warps our reality. Sin multiplies. Gehazi had to lie to Naaman to get what he wanted. God will never ask us to do something which is against His Word. N.E.V.E.R. When someone says or does something sinful or evil with the caveat of “God told me” you can pretty well guess He didn’t.
  3. Greed warps our understanding of salvation. God gave Gehazi what he wanted. The sin he chased became his death warrant. Greed can’t save. If you read the story, Naaman was healed of leprosy. Gehazi spent the rest of his life as a leper. Sad ending to what had been a promising future as the understudy/servant to Elisha.

“Father, help me not to be greedy toward what others may have. I don’t want my life to be warped because of my preoccupation with things I don’t have.”

April 21

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

At age 68 one thing I do think about is my mortality. When one is in their 20-30s, 68 is o-o-o-l-l-l-d!  Now that I’m there (or is that here?), not only does that seem old but the 30s, even 40s, seem so young. 🙂 I see youthful vigor, dreams and aspirations and have to admit a little bit of envy creeps in.  I realize I’m on the downside, that I have a lot less years to live than what I have already lived.

But I also know I want to finish well. It is not enough to start well. Finishing well is equally or even more important.

I’m thinking this morning of King Hezekiah. The Bible says there was no king like him before or after. He changed the whole religious landscape of Judah. But when Isaiah told him to get his house in order, he whined and begged for more years. God-for some reason-granted him his request and gave him 15 more years. But, oh, what a mess they turned out to be! He became proud of what he had and showed off to a Babylonian envoy all he had. History shows Manasseh, one of the worst and most evil kings ever, was born to him during this time.

Hezekiah may have started well, but he didn’t finish so well. He should have listened to Solomon’s words in Proverbs 21:21- “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.”

I have no idea (no one does) what God has in store for my future. I hope, personally, that I am granted years to continue preaching the message of God’s love and grace from the pulpit and in life.  I do not know what will transpire, but I do know this: I want to finish well. This race is a long-distance run not a sprint.

“Father, may I finish well, still pursuing righteousness and unfailing love until my last breath.”

April 20

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

IMHO one of the most damaging things to the “spread” of the life of Christ is what I will call double standards. You know it another way: “Do as I say not as I do.” “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” “Practice what you preach.”

You get the idea. It hurts to see someone say, “I’m a follower of Jesus” then do something totally contradictory to that life. I cringe, for example, when I hear an artist/actor/musician thank God for an award or a good event but have lyrics that are disgustingly vulgar or live a life contrary to God’s Word.

I’m speaking of myself as well. Way too often my life and words or actions do not match. I was reminded of this as I read Proverbs 20 this morning:

“False weights and unequal measures- the Lord detests double standards of every kind.” (v.10)

“The Lord detests double standards; he is not pleased by dishonest scales.” (v.23)

Twice in the same chapter. A reminder of how God despises duplicity. While the picture is of the person who has a scale calibrated to his advantage, the point hits home to me as well. Don’t live a double standard. Be who I say I am. Be the Christ-follower I profess to be.

“Father, help me to live an honest life-one where words and actions match.”

April 19

Monday, April 19th, 2021

Reading Proverbs is always enlightening. During 2020 I broke a long-standing tradition I had. From January 1-December 31, I would constantly read and reread Psalms. Every other month I would read Proverbs-one chapter a day. I’m not sure why I broke that tradition. But recently I picked it back up. I started reading the NT in the New Living Translation on January 1. I started reading Psalms on February 1. And through the month of April I have been reading Proverbs. It has been a rich experience again.

On the 17th (chapter 17) I read this verse:

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

That reminded me of a saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

It is better to keep your mouth shut and thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Wise words. From both.

How many time have I opened my mouth and it would have been better to have kept it shut? More than I care to admit. How it would have been better to speak less and listen more! And how it would have been better to not have spoken at all!! It pains me to think of the lives I have hurt by speaking first and thinking last.

I go to another verse in Proverbs 17 that stood out to me:

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. (v.9)

I’ve needed that forgiveness more than I can say. It is starts with keeping my mouth shut and thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. And I follow it up with this: “A truly wise person uses few words.” (v.27a)

“Father, help me to watch my words and to speak wisely.”

April 7

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

I read a verse of Scripture that got me to thinking. First, the verse: “Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire? Can a man walk on hot coals and not blister his feet?” (Pr. 6:27-28)

I realize those verses are in the context of marriage and adultery. But let’s take it one step further. Those verses remind me of an old saying:

When you play with fire you either get burnt or you smell like smoke.

The greater implication of that saying goes beyond marriage. It takes in everything we do on a daily basis. There are some people who think they can flirt with sin. They will see how close they can get to the line without crossing it. It’s like the scene in Field of Dreams where the child is choking and they need a doctor. Doc Graham runs to the line and they show his shoes hesitate right at the line because he knows one more step and he is over the line and his dream of playing baseball is finished. He chooses to cross the line and becomes a doctor. But he never regrets or resents it.

We, too, come to a line. We must make a choice. For some the choice is easy. “No, I won’t cross it.” But for others who have been playing with fire, it is a much harder choice. Sadly, it is one very easily lost because of playing with fire. They have allowed sin to be a companion and so the choice is almost made for them. Resistance is down; yielding is easier.

Be careful of playing with fire. As the saying goes: “You either get burnt or smell like smoke.”

“Father, as Your child help me to say no to sin. Help me to say no to even allowing it to hang around.”

April 6

Tuesday, April 6th, 2021

Contentment is a good thing. Right?

Speak of contentment and eventually someone who knows their Bible will go to the verse in Timothy which says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”  (I Tim.6:6)

So contentment is a good thing. Right?

May I throw a wrench into your thinking? Contentment is a good thing depending on your focus and subject. Here is what I mean:

When it comes to your daily walk with Christ, I think contentment is not the goal. In fact, I think discontent is. I have a reason for saying that. Contentment gives the impression of “arrival,” a sort of settledness. It’s like the challenge has been met and now comes the “A-a-a-h” factor.

My contention is that contentment is not the goal when it comes to my walk with God. In fact, Paul said it well in Phil.3:10 when he said, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection…” That word know in the Greek means “to know intimately.” That intimacy-whether in a physical relationship or a spiritual relationship-can only come from time.  Spiritually what I will call a “holy discontent.” It’s the refusal to be satisfied with the status quo but to always be pursuing a closer walk with Jesus.

Contentment in this scenario reeks of plateau. Discontent speaks of pursuit.

Which will you choose?

“Father, may I be discontented when it comes to being satisfied in You. May I always be pursuing a deeper walk with You.”