WHAT HAPPY ENDING?…Psalm 88

Here’s a psalm that ends without a glimmer of hope.  Psalm 88 concludes with the psalmist shunned by friends and family, leaving him with darkness as his only companion.  What happened?  No happy ending?  Will find it elsewhere in the Psalms, but not here.

This psalm tells us what we already know.  Life, even as believers, isn’t always neat and tidy.  Things don’t always turn out the way we’d like them to.  We feel hemmed in.  In a fix that never gets fixed.  A fog that refuses to lift.  Through an exit leading to nowhere.  We know this.

Remember a time when you cry out to God, and no one seems to be there?  I do.  When friends quickly disappear.  Tongues wag with gossipy glee.  Did God let go of me?  Left to my own devices?  Too bad I couldn’t blame it all on others… or Him.

You know what I needed most?  Someone to sit by me.  Let me vent.  Use their two ears rather than a big mouth.  Possibly then I’d listen to the Lord.  Better chance than when you bomb me with guilt and unwelcome advice like Job’s friends did to him.  Or lob pointed Bible verses my way.  Here’s something else–pray with me.  Not blather some sneaky sermonette.  Pray.  Cry out to God.

In my story, life got better in some ways and not so great in others.  Not everything collapsed around me as I feared.  Neither did I get everything I hoped for.  You know how this can be.  Your experience as well?  I’m not surprised.

Looking back at Psalm 88 again, I notice something in that first verse– ‘O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.’  Wait a minute.  He hasn’t lost his faith in the Lord.  He’s hanging on to Him for dear life as best he can.  You can also.  I did.  And I’m still holding on to the One who is my salvation.  No matter what.  Even if the happy ending will not be in this life.  Even then.  Especially then.

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that we can trust you in the darkest of times.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

 

AMAZING IN ANY LANGUAGE!…Daniel 4

Reading Daniel chapter 4, I tripped over one verse that I had to go back and re-read.  Puzzled me.  What does it mean?  But the more I thought about it, the more I was comforted by the Lord.  Who doesn’t need God’s shoulder to lean on?

Want to know which verse I’m looking at?  Here it is–verse 17.  What do you think?  Now, I must admit something strange.  Will the men in white coats come after me with a straight jacket?  Not only do I still review my biblical Hebrew and Greek languages, but now I’m studying Aramaic!  What!  Why?  Well, parts of the Old Testament are written in the Aramaic language.   So?

Aramaic.  Similar to Hebrew.  The ‘lingua franca’, common language, in biblical times.  How much of the Old Testament is in Aramaic?  Five chapters in Daniel, three in Ezra, one verse in Jeremiah and two words in Genesis!  That much, huh!?!

In Daniel 4:17 there’s an Aramaic word.  It’s the plural noun ‘watchers’.  Some translations say ‘messengers’.  The context in Daniel is judgement upon prideful King Nebuchadnezzar.  His sentencing is carried out by these ‘watchers’.  They’re called ‘holy ones’.  Who are they?  Angels?  Most likely.  Messengers of the Lord?  Without a doubt.  For judgement on the prideful.  For protection of God’s own children.

Angels watch over us.  Serving our God who knows all.  Nothing escapes His attention.  Nothing gets by Him.  That thought is most comforting.  Isn’t it?  We can feel so alone in this world.  As if no one really gives a hoot.  Even the ones we love the most often care only if it benefits them.  Love attached by many strings.

But God watches over us.  Has His angels care for us.  If we could only see all that He does for us.  Shouldn’t we stop worrying?  Can we?  Why not?  He watches over me…and you.  Constantly caring and loving.  Our ‘watcher’ for sure.  That’s amazing in any language!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for guardian angels watching over us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THE KING’S DREADFUL DREAM!…Daniel 4

Oh, no!  The king suffers a dreadful dream.  All in his kingdom shudder in anticipation.  Now what?  He calls for Daniel.  The king can’t quite connect the dots that his pagan, polytheistic Wise Men are not so wise after all.  But Daniel has connections on high–with the One true God, Yahweh.  Daniel makes his royal, court appearance.  What of this dream, the king asks?

A tree grows, not in Brooklyn, but in ancient Babylon!  As big as a millennia-old California redwood, with branches reaching far and wide, shading the earth with its abundant foliage.  Is this a shadowy image of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom?  All due to his own greatness, power and intellect?  His and his alone?  Or so he’d like to think.  Until a dream rears its ugly head, displaying his face!  He’s bragged and boasted one too many times.  He thinks all this is due to HIM.  NEBUCHADNEZZAR…all in capital letters!

But like Humpty-Dumpty, he falls off the wall, shattering and scattering in a million pieces!  God has judged him.  The patience of the Lord is great, but not without limit.  The king has exceeded it.  Nebuchadnezzar thought himself a god, now he’ll graze like a goat in the wet, dewy morning, eating its grasses.  Only this comeuppance will cause him to come to his senses, realizing that he is but a fallen human being.  For only God is God.

Why is that so hard to comprehend?  Applies to the ancients alone who have a plethora of gods?  Not for us modern-types.   We’ve gone to the other extreme.  We want nothing of God mentioned in society or our lives.  Nothing.  No gods or God.  It’s all about me…me…me.  Such is the prevalent mood.

God is patient but not forever.  Best to embrace Jesus while there is still time.  When will His patience run out?  I don’t know.  Neither do you.  So, wait no longer.  Accept the Lord Jesus.  Turn your life over to Him.  And tell others about Him with an urgency that this gap of God’s mercy has allowed.

When will this world wake up and bow down before the One and Only?

Prayer:  Lord, we pray for others to come to Jesus, bowing the knee to Him alone.  In His name.  Amen.

NOT TO ME!…Joshua 22:5

Here’s a question–does God expect too much of us?  You could assume that.  Many people do.  Lots of commandments, do’s and don’ts, rules and regulations.  To be honest, I don’t see that in God’s Word.  Not to me.

Here’s a prime example of what I mean.  Joshua 22:5 (ESV)–‘Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.’  Maybe I’m wrong.  Could that be?!  Let’s move on.

Joshua, Israel’s leader after the death of Moses, is allocating territory to the twelve tribes/families in the promised land.  Moses has given them the 10 Commandments from the Lord.  Easy to remember as they count them off on their ten fingers.  Nothing too difficult for any of them… or us.  Ten.

Joshua in this verse condenses even more so.  Be careful, he says.  Don’t be sloppy in obeying God.  Or pick and choose the easy commandments, ignoring the tough ones.

Consider those active verbs Joshua uses–to ‘love’ the Lord, to ‘walk’ in His ways, to ‘keep’ His commands, to ‘cling’ to Him, and to ‘serve’ Him.  How?  He says that this will come from your heart and soul.  From deep within.  A willingness toward the One you love the most.  Not difficult to want to be the best for someone you love.  Is it?

If following God feels more like a chore, a big bother, much drudgery, it’s high time to check out our commitment to Him.  Take our spiritual pulse.  Any sign of life?!  To follow Him wholeheartedly is not a lot to ask.  After all, He’s the One who gives up all for us because He loves us so much.  Should we give Him less?

Prayer:  Lord, we want to follow you wholeheartedly.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

JUST A FEW!…Judges 7

There were only eighteen in attendance when I started ministering at our last church.  Eighteen hearty souls, almost all over the age of 65.  So few and so…don’t get me in trouble!  I’m skating on thin ice!  Over the years, church membership fell off for a variety of reasons.  Neighborhood changed.  People moved away.  Grim reaper appeared way too often.  Pastors with their own dire problems and needs.  In a matter of thirty short years, the church was down to about ten percent of its prior membership.  A mournful tithe.

The very first sermon series I preached was from Judges 7.  About Gideon.  Reading this chapter, it became clear that this pastorate was to be from the Lord.  Down so low–not it’s time to see what God would do.  There will be no excuses.  No extenuating circumstances.  We yearned to see the Lord at work!  ‘In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her’ (Judges 7:2).

We were few.  But the Lord is mighty.  We began to grow.  A new couple here.  Someone from the neighborhood there.  Vacation Bible School opened our doors wider.  Children came by the dozens, many accepting the Lord into their lives.  It was exciting!  We were few.  God was formidable.

We grew three hundred percent in a few short years!  Okay,  still only sixty-five people, but we were also giving beyond our four walls to missions.  The largest contributor to the Christmas shoebox ministry in our county year after year, yet from one of the smallest churches.  God is at work!  There is no doubt!

We were so few.  But we knew who was adding new members and increasing our mission-giving.  We knew.  There was no doubt.  Sometimes the Lord will diminish…so we can depend on Him.  So low we have no choice but to cry out to God.  Why would we turn to anyone else?  But we do.  The Israelites did.  That’s where Judges 7 enters the picture.  Read it again.  See what I mean?

Where do you need help?  Turn to the Lord.  He loves to support His own.  He wants to.  We may be weak…but the Lord is mighty!

Prayer:  How precious, Lord, to trust in Jesus.  In His name.  Amen.

SO FEW!…Judges 7

There were only eighteen in attendance when I started ministering at our last church.  Eighteen hearty souls, most over the age of 65.  So few and so…don’t get me in trouble!  I’m skating on thin ice!  Over the years church membership fell off for a variety of reasons.  Neighborhood changed.  People moved away.  Grim reaper made too many visits.  Pastors with their own dire problems.   In a matter of 30 short years, the church was down to about ten percent of its prior membership.  A mournful tithe.

The first sermon series that I preached was from Judges 7.  About Gideon.  Reading this chapter, it became clear that this pastorate was to be from the Lord.  Down so low–now it’s time to see what God would do.  There will be no excuses.  No extenuating circumstances.  We yearned to see the Lord at work!  ‘In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her’ (Judges 7:2).

We were few.  But the Lord is mighty.  We began to grow.  A new couple here.  Someone from the neighborhood there.  Vacation Bible School opened our doors wider.  Children came by dozens, many accepting the Lord into their lives.  It was exciting!  We were few.  God was formidable.

We grew three hundred percent in a few short years!  Okay, still only sixty-five people, but we were also giving beyond our four walls to missions.  The largest contributor to the Christmas shoebox ministry in our county year after year, yet from one of the smallest churches.  God is at work!  There is no doubt!

We were so few.  But we knew who was adding new members and increasing our mission-giving.  We knew.  There was no doubt.  Sometimes the Lord will diminish…so we can depend upon Him.  So low we have no choice but to cry out to God.  Why would we turn to anyone else?  But we do.  The Isrealites did.  That’s where Judges 7 enters the picture.  Read it again.  See what I mean?

Where do you need help?  Turn to the Lord.  He loves to support His own.  He wants to.  We may be weak…but the Lord is mighty!

Prayer:  How precious, Lord, to trust in Jesus.  In His name.  Amen.

AN EASTER THOUGHT…Colossians 2: 6-15

Debt keeps piling up for individuals, companies and countries– many up-to-their-eyeballs in hock.  To be honest, that’s not me.  I have an aversion to owing anything to anyone.  Not a lick of interest payment has slipped through my wallet for over 40 years!

Whether you’re nutty about paying debt, as I am unapologetically, or massively under the payment gun, we all owe debt to the Lord.  Me primarily, because I know myself, the sinner that I am.  You could say the same?  Will you?

Colossians 2: 13-15 is amazing.  I almost said ‘unbelievable’, but that’s not what I mean.   The Apostle Paul reminds the Colossians of their being ‘…dead in your sins…’ (v.13) before coming to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation.  Dead formerly.  Now, in Christ, alive as alive could ever be!

Verse 14 mentions  ‘…canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.’  That ‘record of debt’ is the Greek word ‘cheirographon’, a legal document acknowledging obligation to pay a debt.  Ignoring the ancient legal mumbo-jumbo, this is an IOU!

Every sin we commit issues an IOU… to God.  We are in debt to Him.  Unfortunately, we are bankrupt, unable to pay our debt.  Up a creek without a paddle.  What to do?  Don’t fret.  He’s done it all for us.  Has taken our IOU’s and written ‘paid in full’ on top of each.  Paul then says that Jesus nails those IOU’s to the cross.  For all to see.

And to believe all that Jesus has done for us.  What no one else could.  Only Jesus.  And He has!  Willingly–‘…for the joy set before Him…’ (Hebrews 12:2).  Not without pain and suffering.  This cost Him everything, so that it wouldn’t cost us what we couldn’t give Him anyway.  He knew that.  He offered Himself up for us.  Didn’t I tell you those verses in Colossians were amazing?

Do I hear an ‘amen’?  Come on–join me!  Amen!  Happy Easter!  He is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!

Prayer:  Thank you, Jesus, for cancelling our debts making us alive in you forever.  Amen.

 

DOES HE BELONG IN THE ‘HALL OF FAITH’?…Judges 13 and Hebrews 11:32

How in the world does Samson gain membership into the ‘Hall of Faith’ found in Hebrews 11?  No mention there of Elijah or Elisha, Isaiah or Jeremiah.  But Samson?  Okay, more is mentioned about him than any other leader in the Book of Judges.  More like notoriety.  When you read Judges, doesn’t sound like the same story you heard in Sunday School!  Not by a long shot.

Samson’s parents seem godly enough, wanting the Lord’s best for him.  Bible scholars are not sure what his name means.  Could be ‘sun’ from Canaanite language.  As if the sun shines down on this little tyke!  Maybe a bit too much for his own good.

He’s a grasping type, selfish and self-centered.  His parents have taken a Nazirite vow for him.  No wine bars.  No haircut appointments.  Stay far away from anything dead.  All of which he violates without a wince.  Has he taken a narcissist’s vow?!  Speaking of Samson’s grabbing nature–‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife’ (Judges 14:1).  Get her?  Ever the romantic!

Quite the story!  Chases after women rather than Israel’s enemies.  Avenges his own rivals more than delivers the nation.  Can you find one instance where he does anything at all for the Lord or Israel?  Possibly… but I doubt it.  And he’s in the Hall of Faith?  Oy veh, already!  What gives?

This is my take.  My own.  Things are so bad in Israel that the likes of Samson shine as a sunbeam of hope.  He typifies the pitiful depths Israel has fallen into.  Nevertheless, the Spirit of the Lord moves about in spite of this rough-and-tumble character.  He’s certainly not a role-model.  But God can work through the most difficult and resistant of His own.

What gives?  The Lord hears the prayers of Samson’s parents, made long before he was born.  Prayers are never wasted.  God uses surprising people in His plans.

So, seek to live a godly life.  Samson– our negative role model.  A man who never lives up to his godly potential.  We want better than that…for the Lord.  To act with integrity, backing up our words with godly works.  That sounds more like a life worthy of the ‘Hall of Faith’!  Agreed?  Welcome!

Prayer: Lord, help us to live lives honoring to you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TOPSY-TURVY!…Daniel 2

The king’s scary dream is finally interpreted.  Happy camper is Nebuchadnezzar!  He has found a wise man with wisdom from on high.  Unfortunately, he gives praise to Daniel.  Somewhat misplaced, but this king also offers praise and sacrifice to God.  Acts of worship?  Seem to be.  Spiritual progress begins in Nebuchadnezzar’s heart.

Daniel had been forcibly seized and exiled into foreign Babylon.  Judah defeated with its Temple destroyed.  Babylonians nab the cream of Judah’s youth, to be trained as their own.  For centuries, Assyria had been the world power, but they were defeated along with the Egyptians in the famed battle of Carchemish in 605 BC.  Babylonians– now the only ‘big boys on the block’!  Forever?  Hardly.  There’s Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that Daniel deals with.  Where the world will be turned upside down.  Topsy-turvy.

Your life ever feel that way?  Mine has.  Going fine one day.  On my face in the dirt the next.  Is that how you feel?  Unfairness seizes the upper hand?  It’s not right!  Here’s where our story in the Old Testament Book of Daniel takes quite a turn…for the better.  At verse 46.  Who is on his knees before whom?  (Did I get the who/whom correct?!)  The ‘big-shot’ Babylonian king pays humble homage to the lowly, exiled Jew Daniel.  Talk about a role-reversal!  ‘… King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor…’ (v.46).  Tables turned!  Topsy-turvy!

Like what Jesus says–  ‘But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first’ (Matthew 19:30).  God has His way of making right what had been wrong.  In your life and mine.  Trust Him.  Pray.  Wait on Him.  I know waiting is not fun.  I know.  But wait on Him, anyway.  You’ll never regret it.  Never!

Prayer:  Dear God, we do trust you and look forward to your goodness prevailing.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

THAT INFERNAL JERSEY CITY FACTORY!…Jeremiah 11: 1-5

I bugged and badgered my father to visit the factory where my grandmother’s husband worked.  My grandfather Gibson died years before I was born, having collapsed from a heart attack at age 46.  A few years later, my grandmother married her second husband, Howard Harrison.  Howard was nice man.  Thin as a rail, though a heavy beer drinker.  He worked in a glass factory in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Even as a young boy, I was interested in finding out about my family.  Who they were.  What they did.  Including Howard.  I was made fun of by some for being inquisitive.  Didn’t deter me except for some lingering doubts within.  You know the feeling.  Suspecting you might have been adopted but never told!

So, I learned to assert myself.  Even to going to that infernal factory in Jersey City!  What an experience.  Poor Howard.  Working day-in-and-day-out for decades in that infernal inferno.  Blazing heat.  Sweat cascading down.  Blaring noise forcing us to cover our ears–didn’t help much.  Scary machines.  Claustrophobic spaces.  Molten glass poured into steaming molds.

Poor Howard.  Making a living in a living hell.  I don’t remember him ever retiring.  Only dying… after being told to stop drinking beer.  Poor Howard.  I wished a better workplace for that nice man.

God also wishes better for His chosen people.  However, they turn their backs on Him.  He calls them to turn around and come home to Him.  Jeremiah 11–‘…that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace…’ (v.4).  Slavery is an iron furnace.  Shackles in a blistering desert.

But deliverance comes by God’s own hand.  From His loving heart.  In Jesus, we are freed from the ‘iron furnace’.  From hell itself.  Yes, hellish whispers can be heard in this life, but the ultimate fiery blast will never consume us.  Not because of how good we are.  No.  Get that straight.  Only because of what God’s Son did for us on the cross.  Jesus’ blood alone delivers from the terrors of hell.  His blood alone.  Got it?

So, thank God.  We can never thank Him enough.  Let’s give it a good try, anyway!

Prayer:  Thank you for delivering us from final judgement.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.