“He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease”

It’s Friday morning, and I’m the only one up right now. Christi’s taking the day off to take care of a couple of things, and spend the day with Stephanie, because TODAY IS STEPHANIE’S 18TH BIRTHDAY!!! Just in case anyone who knows her didn’t already know that. And speaking of “just in,” today is also our son-in-law Justin’s birthday. I won’t say how old he is today. It’s one of those “milestone” birthdays, you know. So…Happy birthday to both of you!! Later today, C & S are coming to Grapevine to have lunch with me. That should be fun.

Time for the devotional…

Today’s Bible readings from Discovering the Bible, by Gordon L. Addington:
Matthew 15:1-20
1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,
2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”
3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’
5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,”
6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

Jesus really starts to tear into the religious leaders at this point. He exposes traditions for what they are in this scene. Having grown up Southern Baptist, I’ve seen a lot of traditions. Now, I won’t criticize the Baptist denomination too much. I learned a lot about the Bible, growing up Baptist. I believe that Baptists probably have more respect for the Bible than most other denominations. I mean, we even got points for carrying them to church with us (I still remember my Sunday School envelopes, with the 100% check list…bringing my Bible was worth a part of that percentage…we were all about the numbers)! Bible study was a very important part of being a Baptist. But we also had our traditions. There are a lot of people (and this spans all denominations and “non-denominations”) that believe that just showing up for church gets them some kind of supernatural points with God. The Pharisees in Jesus’s day had similar beliefs. They believed that their position gained them “points.” But Jesus exposed them for what they were…frauds. Verses 8 and 9 point that out quite well. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” The point here, just as it is today, is that there are many things being taught as “doctrine” that aren’t in the Bible. Now…remember that all of this started because the religious leaders complained because the disciples weren’t washing their hands before they ate!

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand:
11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.
14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding?
17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?
18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

Jesus continues on the subject that began the debate. It’s not what goes in that defiles, it’s what comes out. Whatever comes out of the mouth “proceeds from the heart.” Look at the list of things from the heart. “Evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” I believe (and I point my finger straight back at myself) that we need to pay a lot more attention to what comes out of our mouths. Because that seems to be a pretty good indication of the condition of our hearts. The pharisees were more concerned with dirty hands than dirty hearts. Outward tradition never outweighs inward condition.

Isaiah 19-20
Chapter 19 is very interesting. First, it begins with an oracle about Egypt. Things look pretty grim.
1 An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
2 And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, each against another and each against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom;
3 and the spirit of the Egyptians within them will be emptied out, and I will confound their counsel; and they will inquire of the idols and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers;
4 and I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a hard master, and a fierce king will rule over them, declares the Lord GOD of hosts.

But then, beginning in verse 16, something very interesting happens. And I have to admit that this has never really caught my attention before.
16 In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the LORD of hosts shakes over them.
17 And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians. Everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose that the LORD of hosts has purposed against them.
18 In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the LORD of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction.
19 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border.
20 It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them.
21 And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them.
22 And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.
23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth,
25 whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”

Some manuscripts call the “City of Destruction” the “City of the Sun.” But verses 24 and 25 are quite amazing, aren’t they? Here are three nations, which had previously fought, that are now finding common ground in worshiping the Lord.

Chapter 20 depicts some of the outlandish things that God’s prophets had to endure sometimes. God told Isaiah to “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. (v. 2) Isaiah walked this way for three years! (To see other weird things that prophets had to do, go read Ezekiel!) But this activity was designed to show what would happen to Egypt at the hands of Assyria. I’ll admit…I’m confused on the timeline. These prophecies don’t always necessarily happen in order. Was this before what was prophesied in chapter 19? It is entirely possible that the prophecy in chapter 19 has yet to be fulfilled.

Proberbs 5:1-14
This passage of Proverbs warns against adultery or getting involved with a “forbidden woman” (v. 3). Look at the description.
3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil,
4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
5 Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol;
6 she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.

Her lips “drip honey” but in the end she is “bitter as wormwood.” Anyone remember “Fatal Attraction?” Yeah. “Keep your way far from her,” verse 8 warns. It’s about honor, too. If you allow yourself to be drawn into wrong relationships, honor is at stake. The end result is tragic:
12 “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof!
13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors.
14 I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation.”

One thing to note. In verse 8, the word “far” is important. Don’t even get close!! We should be careful to avoid even the proximity of potential temptation.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3

The Phillips translation renders part of that verse, “Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance.” I bet we all know some people in this world who could use that instruction, eh? A lot of them live in Hollywood or play professional sports. But what about you and me? Are we ever guilty of having exaggerated ideas of our importance? Let’s look at some Biblical examples.
Moses…he was a prince in Egypt; he was the “emancipator of the slaves.” Yet Scripture says this of him: Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. Numbers 12:3
Paul the apostle…got a personal visit from Jesus when he was “saved;” he was carried into heaven at one point; he had the ability to raise the dead. However, when he introduced his letters, he said, Paul, a servant of God. Titus 1:1
John the Baptist…a blood relative of Jesus; the first evangelist in history. Scripture states that he said, speaking about Jesus, ” He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30.
Who am I? I certainly don’t have the ability to raise the dead. I never freed any slaves, nor am I a prince. I’ve never been the first anything in history. I am but a servant. Sure, I have talent. Yes I have skill. There are many, many people, though, who have more talent and more skill. I am nothing. But wait. I do have Christ. I have the Holy Spirit indwelling within me. That makes me more than nothing. But without Jesus, I am nothing. He makes me what I am. It is the gift of God that makes me what I am. I must never take credit for anything that God has given me, which is everything. The word here, is humility. One of the most difficult words in our language. Because we all want to be something; we all want to matter. The problem is…we tend to manufacture our own significance. I must be humble. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
(Inspired by today’s reading in Grace For the Moment, by Max Lucado)

Father, dare I pray to be more humble? Am I brave enough to pray for humility? That’s a dangerous prayer, isn’t it? But I recognize the need for humility, and I truly believe that the past few months have instilled that a little better in my heart. You are doing something in my life right now that is thrilling. Let nothing go to my head, Lord. Let me not have an exaggerated opinion about my own importance. I am but your servant, and I desire to be used however you see fit. If the “giants” in Scripture had the humility that they had, how much more humble should I be, since I am no “giant” at all. Just let me be your servant, Father. That’s all I want.
Father, keep me away from sin, especially as I face the prospect of being involved in a wonderful worship ministry. Let my life be beyond reproach. Don’t even let me get near sin or potential temptation. Help me to guard my heart so that what comes out of my mouth is pure. Let there be no slander, gossip, or false witness coming out of my mouth. Let there be no murder or hatred spewing forth from my lips. Cleanse my heart with your Holy Spirit. Place the burning coal of Isaiah on my lips!
I pray that I will never again allow the traditions and commandments of men to supersede your truth. Let your Scriptures and the Holy Spirit be my guide into truth and doctrine, Lord. Give me wisdom as I read your word and meditate on your truths. Give me humility as I work these truths into my life and spread them into the world. Give me grace as I talk to other people. Most of all, give me love for all people.

I pray for this day, Father. It is a very special day for Stephanie. I pray that she has the best day ever today. Give me a good day at work today, and I pray that things that need to be worked out will get worked out so that the changes that we are making can finally be fully in place.

I also pray for Justin today, that he will have a very good birthday. Show your love to him on this day.

I ask again for some relief from the heat wave. We got a little bit last week, and a small amount of rain, for which we are very grateful. We pray, though for more rain, and less heat. Drive these 100+ temperatures far away from us, please.

Try on some humility today. It looks better on you than you think.

Grace and peace, friends.