OF LITTLE BOATS AND CATTLE! Mark 4: 35-41

What fun to discover a new detail in the story of Jesus.  I’m amazed at how many fresh findings I make reading the same old stories for the umpteenth time.  Like the one about Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus shares some parables before telling the disciples to get in their boat and head to the other side.  Both Matthew and Luke relate the same story.

We know what happens.  A fierce storm stampedes through the surrounding hills, sucking through that 680′ below sea level lake, whose whitecapped waves toss the boat around as all on-board fear imminent death.  Except for Jesus.  He stills the storm.  And teaches who is Lord of Creation.  He is!

So, what about that new find?  All details, located in those three Gospels, match.  Except for one.  I’ve never noticed it before.  It’s at the end of Mark 4:36.  Nothing really earthshattering.  Only an addendum about ‘other boats’ heading across the lake.  Not just the one with Jesus and the Twelve on board.  ‘Other boats’.

So what?  Big deal?  It is to me.  What I see here is God’s mercy to others.  Not just to those in His group alone.  Like the Lord saving the ultra-pagan city of Ninevah in Jonah’s story.  Its last verse reveals the heart of God, concerned about those hundreds of thousands of Ninevites, along with all their cattle.  Cattle?  Cows?  So what?  Where’s the beef?!

Yes, God cares about everything in His creation.  From soup to nuts.  Even boatloads of others also in danger.  Animals.  Needy people then and today.  Those tossed and pitched about in life’s storms.  Me and you.

He loves us.  Not only those Twelve of years gone by, but certainly believers of generations to come, if Jesus delays His second coming a bit longer.

That’s little old me in one of those ‘other boats’ plying turbulent waters behind the Master.  You too!  We’re about to drown.  But Jesus calms the storm for us as well.  For those in ‘other boats’.

I’m happy to be in a tiny skiff in His wake.  Don’t need to be in first-class accommodations.  No special dining reservations for me.  No.  I’m grinning from ear-to-ear just to see Jesus.

When life’s seas get rough and tumble, He calms them.  Not only for the Twelve, but also for those in ‘other boats’ nearby.  Even for ‘…many cattle as well’ (Jonah 4:11).

 

Thank you, Lord, for mercy beyond measure.  In Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

 

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MUST BE CRAZY! John 10: 1-30

I must be crazy!  Lost it.  Out of my gourd.  Flipped my lid.  Certifiably loony bin!  You get the point.  And no thanks to all who shouted a boisterous ‘amen’!

Let’s get serious.  I’ve been reading the Heidelberg Catechism, written in the 16th century.  Why?  Out of curiosity mainly.  A document still cherished by much of Christendom.  Which, sad to say, I’ve neglected to darken its doorway until now.

It opens on the highest note of biblical truth.  By the way, a catechism is a way of learning through a question-and-answer format.  Those raised Roman Catholic know all about this.  Previous generation Protestants would also be familiar, but no longer.  We’ve become touchy-feely.  Games dominate.  Catchy graphics and heavy-beat tunes wear the pants today.

Back to Heidelberg’s high note.  First question hits the nail-on-the-head–‘What is your only comfort, in life and in death?’  Chew on that for awhile.  What gives you comfort in life?  And in death?  What pleasures do you cherish, which capture your time and thoughts?

This catechism’s answer is precious.  Grabs me when I’m off-kilter and pulls me right back on-track.  Helps me to stand up after falling flat-on-my-face by varied distractions and time-wasters.

Here’s that answer to Heidelberg Catechism’s first question–‘That I belong–body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…’  There’s more, but this is the gist that grabs me and won’t let me go.

I’m His.  Belonging to Jesus.  He purchases me by His blood on the cross and resurrection from the dead.  Purchased–not as in human slave-trafficking– but with a faithfulness that will not let me go.  Which holds on matter what.  For dear life…and death.

I’m His.  So are you if you’re in Christ.  Comforting thought?  He is our sole comfort.  Period.  Who could ask for anything more?

Thank you for Jesus, our faithful comforter and Savior.  Amen.

IN HIS NEIGHBORHOOD John 10: 25-30

Jesus says that He knows us (John 10: 27).  He means it.  We’re aware that the word ‘know’, in the Biblical sense, can connote something different.  But here Jesus expresses that He understands us.  Who we are and what makes us tick.  ‘I know them…’

I love Jesus for knowing me inside and out.  My name and all about me.  From head to toe.  Beginning to end.  No one is like our Lord Jesus.

Someone comes close, even though he died over 15 years ago.  Who?  Fred Rogers of ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’.  A fellow Presbyterian minister whose sole service was caring about children through sensitive television programming.

It’s in the late ’70’s that I attend a 2-day pastor’s conference in New York City.  Hundreds attend.  Who do I spot sitting but a few rows away?  Right!  Fred Rogers… sitting in my neighborhood!

Can’t help myself.  Inch my way over to him, saying how much my boys, Jonathan and David, love his TV show.  A big smile greets me, wanting to know my name and where I serve the Lord.  Then I scoot back to my seat, relishing meeting this special TV personality.  Mr. Rogers–so gentle, warm and friendly.

The next day I’m standing in the hallway waiting for a friend to arrive when Fred Rogers comes right over to me saying, ‘Hi John.  How are you today?’  Could have bowled me over with a raisin!  He remembered MY name.  Me?  Little old me?

What a gift.  Caring enough to remember.  More than Mr. Rogers and his good neighborhood, Jesus knows all about us.  And loves us… forever.  Just as we are, but with enough love not to leave us that way.  Helps us get up.  Brushes off our skinned knees.  Applies a salve covered by a band-aide or two.  Comforts us… by name… as we become more and more like Him!

Thank you, Jesus, for knowing us.  In your name.  Amen.

EVER-INCREASING Romans 6: 15-23

Thumbing through the pages of the Wall Street Journal, it’s obvious to me that regional and global companies all chase after ever-increasing sales and profits.  If they miss an expert’s financial target, ooh, how the stock market slams them big time.  I’m also reading God’s Word!  Good balance, wouldn’t you agree?  The Bible still trumps all those business things which still interest me.

So, let’s turn to Romans 6, which also makes reference to something that’s ‘ever-increasing’.  Not gross revenue.  Nor net income.  But sin, which is nothing to fool with.  Only fools do.  Am I looking in the mirror?

Sin goes from bad to worse.  From flirting to flitting down dead-end streets, offering nary an exit.  However, I’ve noticed something strange.  The closer I get to the Lord, the farther away I move from sin.  As in none at all?  Hardly.  Fat chance.  Sin daily.  But it’s getting tougher.  With Jesus nearby, conscience sears red hot.  Catches me almost immediately.  Almost.

Makes sin harder and harder to pull off effectively.  It doesn’t seem to work for me as it used to.  Thank God!  Thought we’re going to look at Romans 6?  Here goes–‘…to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness’ (v.19).   Closer to Jesus, we escalate ever-increasing holiness.  That’s more like it!

Now don’t imagine this happens the very moment you believe in Jesus.  Didn’t for me or any other Christian I’ve ever known.  Not one.

For we’re on a journey.  The closer we get to our Lord, the closer we’ll be to heaven.  The scent of hell blown farther away by the refreshing winds of heaven and the Holy Spirit.  Some sin-scent still lingers on my flesh.  But less.  Ever-decreasing.  Stronger cleansing winds in God’s forecast.

Get closer to Jesus.  Drop sins at His feet.  Confess and repent.  Let it all out with Him.  Don’t carry any on your shoulders.  Will wear you down.  His are much stronger and will carry them farther away.  As in forever gone, and good riddance!

Lord, we want to be all you created us to be.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

BE CAREFUL Judges 16

The Old Testament Book of Judges contains some hair-raising stories.  Brutal sin hurled smack-dab in your face.  No candy-coating.  Its longest section centers on Samson.  You know his story.  A worthy beginning as his parents seek the Lord’s help raising this son of theirs.  A Nazarite vow taken for Samson, but never fulfilled in any way (Judges 13).

Samson disappoints at every turn.  Chasing women becomes his perpetual obsession.  Each femme fatale gets him knee-deep in escalating troubles.  Like those plaguing frogs glutting ancient Egypt, sin bursts the seams of his life.  Clings to him like ivy to brick walls.

But it’s Delilah I want to focus in on today.  The wife who makes this a truly hair-raising story!  Delilah.  She lives near Samson’s hometown.  Probably a Philistine from the Sorek Valley.  Grape and wine country.  Not sure exactly what her name means, but possibly from the Ugaritic language implying ‘lowly’ or ‘to be poor’.

Not much of a stretch to fathom her destitute and dismal background.  From a family that barely ekes out a living.  From paycheck to paycheck, so to speak.  Mouths to feed but Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard as bare as can be.

Imagine the temptation Delilah feels when five Philistine leaders each offer her 1100 shekels of silver if she’ll tell them the secret of Samson’s superhuman strength.  That’s a total of 5500 silver shekels.  Equal, in those days, to 550 times the annual average wage.  Today, multiple millions of dollars.  She salivates thinking of all that filthy lucre!

Coming from a difficult background (and who doesn’t?) can leave us wide open to certain sins.  Be careful.  Find out what urges and itches demand your attention.  Things you know are not of the Lord.  What’s bent and twisted from past generations.

Family sin.  Which too often rears its ugly head.  Trickles down and oozes out.  But not as something godly.  God forbid we pass on the same to our children… and then beyond.  Be careful.

End the cycle.  Find those weaknesses.  Pray for the Lord’s strength to overcome them.  He’ll help.  We’ll stumble and fall.  He understands.  But Jesus will pick us up.  Grab hold of His hands!  Be more like Him.  Less like Delilah.

Be careful.

Thank you, Lord, that the cycle of family sin can be broken.  Through Jesus’ strength.  Amen.

WEEKLY DEVOTIONS RESUME NEXT SATURDAY!

Well, my second edit of all 366 daily devotions for my new book ‘REMINDERS–For Daily Devotion’ is now complete! Therefore, I’m writing brand-new devotionals and publishing them through this blog site beginning next Saturday, June 16th.  Thanks for you patience!

In July I’ll do one final edit before the editor takes over my work and gets it ready, including graphic design, for publication through Gideon House Books in November.   This will be an e-book only, and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes and Noble digital.  Can be given as a Christmas gift!  I’ll send out an email when all is ready to go!  Please pray that the Lord will use this new book for His glory and purposes.

‘Reflections Out of Time’ is still available in paperback and digital e-book format.  And what a blessing this book has been to many.  I’m humbled by the responses over the past 2 years about the ‘Reflections’ book.

Blessings to you all.  Please let others know of this weekly devotional sent free each Saturday.  http://www.reflectionsoutoftime.wordpress.com

Thanks so much.  Blessings, John

FRIENDS, LEND ME AN EAR OR TWO!… Psalm 40

Thank you for ‘lending me an ear’, reading these daily devotionals.  We’ve covered many Bible passages,  reflected on varied experiences of life, being honest with each other about our walk with the Lord.  Today I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Psalm 40.  What grabbed my attention can be found in verses 4 through 8.

They talk about trusting God.  Hardly an original thought.  Urging us to steer clear of prideful people, who stray after so-called ‘truth’, veiled lies at best.  Focus your attention on what really counts, who truly matters–the Lord!  The One we love and who totally loves us.

We’re to tell others about His blessings that they are beyond counting.  Not enough hours in the day!   We’re told not to bring sacrifices and sin offerings, but rather to delight in obeying the Lord.  Not a ‘have to’, but a ‘want to’!  Not drudgery.  But a delight.  Am I there yet?  Must you ask!  Two steps forward, one back.  Not a straight line.  That’s me.

Verse six takes a hold of me.  Hard to translate from the Hebrew.  See where the psalmist says, ‘…but you have given me an open ear'(v.6)?  My translation(ESV) has a footnote, saying the original reads like this– ‘…ears you have dug for me.’  Meaning that God has opened our ears so we can truly hear Him.

Who said I have a hole in my head?!  Funny enough, that’s the idea.  On my own, can’t hear a thing.  So hard of heart and hearing.  He has to get out the cranial drill.  Then He bores away!  ‘Lord, give me ears to hear…’

To glean from Him in His Word.  To sit quietly, with book open on my lap eager to catch even one Word from my Master.  Ears open to Him.  Receptive and waiting.  Patiently keeping my mouth shut for the moment…to hear from Him.   He sounds so good.  Agreed?

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that we can now hear you.  Help us to heed you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

DREAM THE DREAMS OF YOUR HEART! …1 Kings 17

I love all those unnamed characters in the Bible.  Anonymous and unknown.  Here’s one, a widow in 1 Kings 17.  No name given.  Someone in need.  I’m glad for people who don’t demand their names be recognized, up in lights!  Do things for the Lord without cheers coming their way.  I’ve tried not to encourage my ego to run my life.  Would rather that others get the credit if done well for the Lord.  Me?  Wouldn’t you rather hear Jesus’ commendation ‘well done…faithful servant’?  I remember giving the homily at a Lenten service.  Unfortunately, the bulletin had my name preceded by the word ‘homely’!  And now speaking is the homely John Fischer!  Didn’t bother me, plus I’ve had lots of laughs for years now.

As long as the Lord knows who we are…that’s what really counts.  And trust me–He does!  Through faith in Jesus Christ, we become God’s children, now and forever.

Elijah is named in this chapter.  He’s hungry and thirsty, like everyone else in this woman’s city of Zarephath, north of Jerusalem, on the coast of Phoenicia.  Food is almost gone.  The Bible says that God has commanded this woman to provide for Elijah’s need of food and water(v.9).  When did God command her?  I can’t find that in this chapter?  Can you?  So, God has His ways.

Her only thoughts are survival, both for herself and her only child, a son.  One more meager meal and it’s all over.  Or so she thinks.  This man of Yahweh God asks her for something she has almost nothing left of.  She lives in a town that worships the god Baal.  The ruler’s wife is Queen Jezebel, who hates anyone worshipping Yahweh.  The command of God?  How?  When?  God has His ways.

Here’s where the story takes us deeper.  It tells us, without being direct, that God will work His ways even when we are unaware.  We may have no idea how God works.  None.  Keep your eyes wide open.  Pray for His will.  Go about your life planning what you’d like.  Dream the dreams of your heart.  Knowing that the Lord is at work to do His will through us…and others.  As long as we’re willing vessels, He’ll direct the course.  He will meet us along the way.  In unexpected places.  From unexpected people.  Get ready–surprises await!  God has His ways.

Prayer:  Lord, we want to trust you in every aspect of our lives.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

 

 

WHO’S WATCHING?… Exodus 12: 33-51

Pay particular attention to Exodus 12:42–  ‘It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt…'(ESV).  This passage describes the horrors of the ten plagues, all due to the stubbornness and sinfulness of Pharaoh.  He was supreme ruler, considered to be a god himself.  He loved big work projects with abundant slave-labor.  But God was leading His chosen people to their own land.  Pharaoh would not let them go.

Since God broaches no competition, He unleashes an ever-increasing barrage of destruction and death.   Pharaoh has the hardest of hard hearts.  As if to pay back Pharaoh for his order to drown all Jewish baby boys, the final plague involves the death of the first-born.  Circumstances are so bad in Egypt, beyond anything ever experienced,  that the Israelites are begged to leave.

To the Promised Land!  They must go in haste.  No time even for bread to rise.  Grab what you can, take whatever the Egyptians offer you.  Head for the desert.  Read again Exodus 12: 42.  Isn’t that remarkable?  During this dangerous escape, God’s people are never out of His sight.  This is the night of watching by the Lord.  To bring them out.  In safety.  Provided for.

When my boys were young, they both had paper routes.  Jonathan had an apartment building.   Dave a few blocks from home.  Some of the fondest memories I have of their growing up years involve delivering papers with them.  I would arrange my schedule almost every day, and off we’d go delivering the local newspaper.  We’d pick up some of their friends and always made it as fun as fun could be.  Often, we’d wind up at a local grocery store purchasing a dozen donuts to consume after deliveries were complete.  What are Dads for anyway?

Let me tell you something.  I was watching over those boys like a hawk.   The poor person who tried to cheat Dave out of his subscription money regretted that move big-time!  The dog that almost bit one of us had a field day chasing the Sunday morning paper all over the front lawn as I refused to let one of my boys(me neither!)get near that underfed mongrel!   I doubt my boys had any idea what my larger game-plan was.

Like the Israelites, fleeing for their lives, all the time watched over by their God.  Whatever desert we find ourselves in, we never go alone.  He’s watching.  He’s caring.  I love this verse in Exodus.  A night of watching by the Lord!

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

BACK AND FORTH!…1 Kings 17

As I look back on my life, I see lots of two steps forward, one back; one forward, three back.  How about you?  A straight arrow for the Lord?  I certainly hope so, but I’m not holding my breath!  If I had been, sure would have saved me from all kinds of dead-ends and wrong turns in my life.

This widow from Zarephath discovers that the God of Israel is calling her to help one of His prophets, Elijah.  She notes that Yahweh is a compassionate God, answering her prayers for help, when her local deity Baal seems to be off on vacation having turned off his cell phone!  Maybe he also neglected to put new batteries in his hearing aides.

Her oil and flour never run out, even though the famine and drought are in full swing with no end in sight.  Her faith grows with each new blessing.  So would ours.  Who doesn’t love God’s blessings poured out on us?  But then storm clouds are seen on the horizon.  This unnamed woman’s son becomes deathly ill.  He’s getting worse with each passing hour.  ‘Worse and worse’, the Bible says.  And then comes the end.  He’s gone.  Her only child.  All those days of oil and flour seem meaningless to her now.  All the food in the world can’t bring him back.

She turns to Elijah, railing at him in anger.  ‘Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?'(v.18).  She fears that God is inclined more to punishment than forgiveness, revenge more than love and mercy.  In the past He’s provided well for them, but now her world has been shattered.  Causes her to question the Lord.

How about you?  Haven’t you had times when your faith seemed to melt away in the flames of trouble?  Has God shown an unwelcome side of Himself?  I don’t tend to blame God when life turns ugly.  I figure that I deserve whatever comes my way.  As if God has given up on me.  This also stunts my faith in the Lord.

What to do?  That’s the question.  Elijah takes those heartaches and headaches to the Lord in prayer.  Guess we should do the same?  Wrap your hands around those troubles, go into a corner of a quiet room and pour yourself out to Him.  When answers come, you’ll know it.  But it may take awhile as if God is developing patience and trust in reluctant followers, like me!  Wait.  Hang in there.  She says, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth(v.24).  You’ll know too!

Prayer:  We trust you, Lord, and wait for your answers to all we’re praying about.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.