GOOD SOIL!…Mark 4

Amazing what good soil does for plants and trees.  We’ve been working compost into our garden soil ever since we moved to our new home.  The results?  Quite evident!  Rich, lush soil makes all the difference.

That’s similar to what Jesus says in this parable.  Familiar story?  He tells of a farmer who spreads seed indiscriminately.  Some seed land on the pathway.  Low probability of success as birds easily spot and eat them.  Jesus says that’s what Satan does with those who only hear, who exhibit nary a root.  Here today, gone today!

Other seed fall on rocky soil.  Difficult for roots to grab hold.  Shallow.  No depth.  At the first sign of trouble, the plant withers and dies.  Here today, gone tomorrow!

Still other seed take root among weeds and thorns.  A competitive environment with scant chance of success.  As with those who worry too much or pinch the almighty dollar or whose sins become much too tantalizing, they’re choked by their own corruption.  Unfruitful.  Eventually going nowhere.  Here today, gone the day after tomorrow!

What about that last seed and soil, of which we’d like to be?  ‘Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce  a crop–thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown’ (Mark 4:20).  Did you notice something?  Hearing God’s Word never is enough.  Must put it into action.

Plant the seed in good, rich soil…and things will happen.  Abundant crops.  Varied yields.  Fruitful.  Here today, here forever!  Good soil.

Your good soul, nurtured by and in the Word of God, produces godly successes in diverse multiples!  An amazing harvest is coming your way!  Ready?

Lord, make us good soil, hearing and acting on your Word.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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SUCH A FOOLISH MAN!…Daniel 5: 17-23

For years now our grandchildren have called me ‘Silly Papa’.  The name fits like a glove.  Would rather be called silly than an old fool.  Belshazzar, in the Book of Daniel, certainly earns the unfortunate and unenviable moniker of ‘fool’.   How do I know?  Read Daniel 5: 22-23.

Daniel mentions that Belshazzar doesn’t humble himself before the Lord.  He knows better, but ignores any good sense he may have had.  He defiles the holy implements stolen from God’s Temple in Jerusalem, and uses some as common liquor goblets.  To top it off, he worships material things instead of  ‘…God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored’ (v.23).  Foolish man.

Our next breath is from God’s hand.  Foolish to claim it’s mere oxygen, for it’s graciously provided by the Lord to those who love Him… and those who don’t.  Everything comes from God.  Everything.  It’s the wise who recognize this, praising and thanking Him for all His gifts.  Is that not the smart thing to do?  Smart car.  Smart phone.  How about being a smart, grateful Christian?

Belshazzar doesn’t even recognize that the road he’s on is paved by the Lord–‘…whose are all your ways…’ (v.23).  Self-reliance takes on a different slant for the believer.  Minute-by-minute, His ways are the highways we travel.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Work hard.  Put your nose to the grindstone.  Stop being lazy.  But wake up to the fact that over, under, next to, and throughout every aspect of our lives, you’ll discover the Lord’s hands.  I’d have it no other way!  His love…His care…His forgiveness…His support…  Need all I can get!  Do I hear an ‘amen’?

Thank you, Lord, for all your blessings.  For Jesus mainly.  Amen.

SHEPHERD OF THE SHEEP…John 10: 1-16

With an audible sigh of relief, we pull into the driveway of the Old Manor House in Droitwich, England.  We made it even though driving on the ‘other side’ of the road!  For the next two months, our home is to be one built in the 15th century.  When Henry VIII divorces Catherine of Aragon, he gives her this estate as part of the settlement.  If walls could speak!

Gazing out the living room windows, we notice dozens of sheep roaming within an abandoned Roman moat, preventing them from knocking on the front door!  Farther off is the 18th century’s Hammond’s Bridge, which allows horses and farmers to cross the Birmingham-Worcester Canal.  We enjoy the ‘narrow boats’ traversing the canal as people relish a riparian holiday!

But what of those sheep?  In early morning, they can be found lying down under apple and plum trees.  When one gets up, they all do.  Off they go, performing their incessent chomping, bleating and wandering.  All kept safely within the fenced-off fields by their shepherd named Rob.

Jesus calls Himself the ‘good shepherd’ in John 10:14.  His followers are His sheep.  He cares for them, even giving His life for them.  As I watch our English sheep and their shepherd, I’m reminded of Jesus’ daily care for us.  All the time.  24/7.  365 and one more for leap year!  Even fencing us in with His Word… for His glory and our good.

His fenced moat for safe roaming.  Not to confine us but to secure and guide us.   There never will be a time when He’s not intimately caring for us.  Unlike the hired hand, Jesus is our good shepherd.  He’s paid for us with His life so that we would never be alone.  Never.

I’m so glad!  Aren’t you?

Thank you, Jesus, for making us your family.  Amen.

 

THAT DREADED NIGHTMARE…Daniel 2: 24-49

Quite the nightmare King Nebuchadnezzar suffers with.  He dreams of a tall, stately statue.  Of himself?  Could be.  He’d love that.  Egotist.  Egregious self-absorption that’s never satisfied.  You get the point!  Could be why this dream so disturbs.

The statue’s monumental collapse shocks and staggers.  What’s going on here?  God has a message for all kingdoms and nations, rulers and leaders–they will come… and go.  Hitler’s 1000 year Reich lasted a mere decade.  Many of us fear for our nation’s future.  Leader after leader disappoints and frustrates.

Like that statue in the king’s dream.  Shatters and crumbles in front of his sleepy eyes.  From gold to silver, bronze to iron, toppled by a rock aimed directly at its feet of clay.  Things don’t always get better.  From gold to iron runs a downward slope, from the cherished to the cheap.

No wonder the king is so unnerved!  He should be.  God has big news–this world has nothing to hold onto.  A mere stone hurtles toward the puffed-up, hoi-poloi.  That stone hewn from God’s mountain.  A man-made statue crumples upon its impact.

The dream uncovers that ‘…God in heaven will set up His own Kingdom that will never be destroyed…It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will last forever’ (Daniel 2:44).  ‘It’ being God’s Kingdom!  Get it?!

This world is not my home.  I’m just a-passing through.  As believers in Jesus, we are citizens of a kingdom ruled by God Himself.  It will never be destroyed.  It will last forever.  We have His Word on it!  That’s good enough for me!

Thank you, Lord, for promises made and kept.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

IS THAT WHAT JESUS MEANS?…Daniel 2: 24-30

Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar is tormented by horrible nightmares.  He’s shaken to the core.  Now both dream and its interpretation must be replayed in his presence or the lives of all the court ‘wise men’ will be on the chopping block, including Daniel and his three friends, who ask for the Lord’s help.  God responds.  All lives now spared.

Something baffles me.  Among Babylon’s ‘wise men’, probably only Daniel and his three friends worship the true God, Yahweh of Israel.  These four have been selected out of the Jewish exiles as the very best and brightest.  Hand-picked, best-in-show, blue-ribbon winners!  The other ‘wise men’ worship pagan gods, even bowing in obeisance to the king himself.

So, who cares what happens to those pagan astrologers?  Probably my attitude if I were Daniel.  After all, wouldn’t they be getting what they deserve, those faithless heathen?!

Daniel 2:18–‘(Daniel) urged them to plead for mercy, from the God of heaven…so that he and his friends might not be executed along with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.’  Okay, they were concerned about their own skin!  Of course.  But for others as well.  Even those who espouse a contrary message.  Even enemies of the Lord.

Daniel wants God’s help also for them.  After all in Exodus 23:4-5, the Mosaic Law says, ‘…if you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him…be sure you help him…’  Who do you help?  Only fellow believers?  Hardly.  Like what Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28–‘But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’

‘…you who hear me…’  Do I hear Jesus?  I’d rather not sometimes.  To care and pray for those who hate me and my Lord?  Is that what Jesus means?  You figure it out.  I’m working on it…with much room for improvement.

Jesus, you ask me to do tough things.  Please help me.  Amen.

GOD UNDERSTANDS…Psalm 60

Threatening words still ring in my ears–“wait ’til your father gets home”.  Can hardly wait!   Another goodie–“be sure your sins will find you out”.   Causing me the most fear?–“I’m calling the orphanage to take you away.”  I think my mother means it.  Seems like it from the harsh tone in her voice.

What about God?  Is He out to get me?  Mother may know something.  What about that orphanage?  That hits a tender nerve since I’ve been whisked out of family and home into a hospital isolation ward with polio at the age of two.  Happens once.  Could happen again.  You never know.  That rug doesn’t feel very secure.  Not the one under my feet.

Psalm 60 is written at a time when all Israel is under threat.  Dark clouds loom on the horizon.  Slippery slopes lie ahead.  When I read verse 5, I sense a glimmer of hope–‘That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer us!’ (ESV).  God’s ‘beloved ones’.  He holds them in the depths of His heart.  Only for Old Testament saints?  No.  Also for you and me–His ‘beloved ones’!  Do you believe Him?

I try to.  Not easy, sad to say, with those old tapes playing in my head.  I easily believe negative threats and thoughts.  I know I don’t deserve His helping hand.  I fear the back of one.

But God understands.  Even when those old tapes refuse to break apart or melt.  He knows our hearts, how we really want His love and kindness.  He also knows the troubles we’ve seen.  He knows…’His beloved ones’.

That’s why I tightly hold onto His promises, knowing that He’s holding onto me…even tighter!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for always loving us.  In Jesus.  Amen.

 

LESSONS FROM A GREAT ACTOR…Luke 16: 1-9

Such a strange parable, the one found in Luke 16.  Puzzling.  Sounds as if Jesus urges His followers to become shady and dishonest.  A band of criminals.  Unlikely!  But verse 8 throws down the gauntlet to me.  This parable contends that those outside the Kingdom of God often are more committed to their causes than we are to His.  Ouch!

Maybe you’re wondering about the title for today’s devotional.  Let me explain.  My wife and I watched a special on public broadcasting about David Suchet, who portrayed Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie television mysteries.  A behind-the-scenes peek at the filming.  What grabs me is Suchet’s absolute commitment, not to act as Poirot, but to be him as much as possible.  To live the part.

How?  He reads all the Poirot novels.  He notes over 90 idiosyncrasies of the fictional detective.  David Suchet becomes Poirot, as best a skilled method-actor can.

Here is where Jesus’ parable has my back-to-the-wall.  What about the time I spend in the Bible?  Learning Jesus’ ways.  Making them part-and-parcel of my daily life.  Or am I checking off the Bible reading list for the day so I can get on to more fun things, like playing horribly at golf?!  Praying on the run, time- or weather-permitting?  Do I  notice little things about Jesus that would make me more like Him?  Am I doing these for the Kingdom of God or to wangle some goodies out of Him?

‘For the people of the world are more shrewd in dealing with their kind than are the people of light’ (v.8).  Jesus points His finger directly at me–to be more like Him in the little things that add up.  Not acting.  No canned script.  No hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo, superstitious quasi-religious behaviors.

Just this–to be more like Jesus.  More and more…

Prayer:  Give us commitment, Lord, to be like Jesus.  Amen.

OF SHEEP LIVERS, ALGORITHMS AND DREAMS!…Daniel 2

Think of the grief I cause myself when I don’t consult the Lord first and foremost.  Crazy not to?  Of course!  God knows the beginning from the end.  Yet, most of the time, most of us go our merry ways, living life left to our own devices.

It’s not as if we can’t make decisions.  That’s not the issue.  But, as with many men (and women!), we resist asking directions…of the Lord!  Why?  I’ve yet to hear a decent answer.  Some imagine that scientific reason trumps spiritual life.  I’ve been around long enough to know that the latest scientific theories may be hogwash within a decade or two, if that long.  ‘Settled science’…really?

In Daniel’s day, leaders sought guidance from a variety of sources.  Prognosticating sheep livers often a favorite.  Not my first choice!  The ‘wise men’ of ancient times consulted stars and planets, examined abnormal births, interpreted dreams and visions.  A lot of hooey?  They didn’t think so.

Today, we ‘sophisticates’ use different means.  Economic forecasts by the high-and-mighty.  Political polls make voting seem unnecessary.  Computer algorithms, latest trends and fads, horoscopes and Ouija boards.  All consulted in our time…by people we know.

Where do you turn for direction?  To our culture and its wisdom?  At times, but be sure to wear ‘kid gloves’.  Very gently and tentatively.  But without hesitation we turn to God’s Word.  With boldness and confidence.  Unapologetic.  Unwavering.  Unflappable.  The Bible is God’s revealed truth.  Past, present…for all time.  Settled!

How to make a peach pie or which stock to invest in?  Not in my Bible.  Who to worship and how to live our lives here on earth?  Where to find salvation?  Now you’re talking!  The big questions of life…all dealt with from Genesis to Revelation.

The Bible.  That’s the book for me!  And you!  Time to follow His directions?  First and foremost?

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for truth forever found in the Bible.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

 

TRANSFORMER!…John 1: 35-51

‘Trust me’, vows the snake oil salesman!  ‘Believe me’, pledges the seller of used cars!  Nevertheless, I refuse to hawk those movies about ‘transformers’.  No way!  Rather, I’m thinking about Simon and Nathaniel from John chapter one.  Feel better?

This story reveals how a personal relationship with Jesus can transform.  When its happens to you, there’s no doubt about it.  Your life changes.  Okay, by fits-and-starts.  Not always a straight line.  Some up, some down.  But the trend is your friend.  Friend Jesus transforms you.  He always will for those who welcome Him into their lives.  Transformer!

Look at Simon, the fisherman.  Rough-and-tumble.  Speaks before he thinks.  Simon.  Jesus renames him Peter, the rock.  Strong and immovable.  Always?  Without fail?  As I said–not a straight line!  But he trends in the direction of being a Rock.  His character is transformed by Jesus, the Transformer.

Nathaniel?  His name in Hebrew means ‘gift of God’.  He doesn’t get a new name, but becomes more of what his name means, having his spiritual life transformed by Jesus.  Nathaniel is an Israelite without deceit or guile, Jesus says.  He’s like Jacob of the Old Testament who receives the new name of Israel, which means ‘he who wrestles with God and prevails’ (Genesis 32: 22-32).  Jacob means ‘deceiver’, a name he fulfills way too often.

But not Nathaniel.  He’s like Israel, who has a dynamic and spirited relationship with God, but without Jacob, without deceit.  Israel…without Jacob.  Deceit and trickery head to the exits.  Nathaniel’s spiritual life is enhanced and transformed by Jesus, the Transformer.

What about me?  Jesus has turned my life upside-down.  Have no idea what I would have been without Him.  Probably mouthy and sarcastic, void of sensitivity.  Selfish and greedy, to boot.  Am I free of all that now?  Yeah, right!  I wish!  But Jesus has transformed me, and I’m a work in progress.  He’s not done with me yet!  Good thing, too!

How about you?  Character and spiritual life being transformed by the Transformer?  If in Jesus, you can count on it.  More than that,  you can count on Him!

Prayer:  Lord, for new life on-going, we thank you.  In Jesus.  Amen.

CLIMBING THE LADDER!…Psalm 90

As we climb the ladder of age (if we can still climb!), we wonder what kind of legacy we’ll leave behind.  What others will remember about us.   Unfortunately, we view each other through such skewed lenses.  Blurred vision at best.  Only my hurdle and hiccup?

So, I’m trying to be more merciful.  In that respect, I don’t have 20-20 vision.  I judge others unfairly.  Jump to conclusions.  At times, think the worst.  So, I’m pulling back, trying to gain some distance, praying to be more kind and charitable.  That’s something, isn’t it?

What else as we climb that old ladder?  Pretty obvious that life whizzes by at lightning speed, especially when you don’t want it to!  Psalm 90–‘All our days…quickly pass, and we fly away’ (vs.9-10).  No argument there.  Then the psalmist urges us ‘…to number our days aright…establish the work of our hands for us–yes, establish the work of our hands’ (vs.12,17).  What about this ‘establishing our work’ business?  What kind of mark will we leave?

Most of all, let it be a godly one.  Not for gold but for God.   Not for material things alone, but for the Master.  Not for brownie points, trying to ‘kiss-up’ to God by earning our way into heaven (impossible anyway), but for Him and Him alone, who has love, grace and forgiveness without limit.  More about Jesus.  Less about me…and you!

When our lives are woven tightly together with the Everlasting God and His purposes, we don’t have to worry about making a difference in this corner of the world where the Lord has planted us.  Fear not…as we reach the top rung!

Tied to Him.  Closer and closer.  Shoulder-to-shoulder.  He’s all we’ll ever need!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that Jesus makes all the difference.  For His sake.  Amen.