RAIN OR SHINE!…Psalm 72

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we get way too much rain in the winter.  More than our fair share!  A recent one doused our backyard with so much H2O, we feared our lawn would be washed away.  Puddles everywhere.  Ground saturated.   Brown mud where green turf used to be.

Fear not!  Sun came shining back in March.  Ever so slowly our lawn dried up and, with a little help from reseeding and peat moss, we were back on the right track.  Lush, green sod until the next winter!

Sun and rain.  We ourselves need both.  Psalm 72: 5-6–‘May they fear you while the sun endures…May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth!’

‘Sun and rain’ can become good goals for us in the hands of God.  A call to be all that we can be… for others.  To be like the sun that warms us especially in those cold disappointments that come our way.  When the frigid hand of death grips tightly, may I be warm and compassionate, comforting those in tears.  Like the sun on a winter day.

Warmth to nourish the seed of faith in a new believer– to help someone else to set, root and grow.  Warmth to draw alongside, keeping the enemy from tossing someone into the deep freeze of derailed discipleship.  Sun!

And rain.  Adding moisture to a dry life.  Purpose where there was little.  Quenching thirsts for the Lord and for human friendship.  We can be rain to another’s drought-stricken life.  Rain!

My prayer is that these weekly devotions would be like sun and rain in your life.  I want to partner with you, letting you know that you are not alone… and neither am I.

Even better to know that we’ll always have Jesus by our side.  Always.  He will be our sun and rain…forever!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for fellow travelers in our Christian journey.  Especially for Jesus.  Amen.

BLESSINGS GALORE!…Psalm 84

In Psalm 84 the word ‘blessing’ is used a number of times.  This psalm was sung by God’s people, travelling to the Temple in Jerusalem, to worship the Lord.  The first ‘blessing’ comes in verse 4– of being in the Temple.  With God.  Singing His praises.  To be with Him, the very best blessing of all!

There’s more?  Verse 5 tells of the blessing that God puts in our hearts as we seek Him.  It’s that certain longing to find Him and His will for our lives.  A blessing of obedience that feels clean and right.  ‘In whose heart are the highways to Zion’.  God paves the heart-highway that leads directly to Him.  Happy trails!

The third blessing is hinted at in verses 5- 7, where those who trust in God can’t even measure all His blessings.  They’re like springs and pools of water flooding over their banks.  Blessings galore!

In Hebrew, the word ‘blessing’ is ‘b’raca’.  Psalm 84 pilgrims go through the ‘Valley of Baca’ on their journey to the Temple.   ‘Baca’ refers to a dry and desolate place.  Psalm 84 reassures them that when in that dry valley they can hold His hand, walk beside Him, and arrive safely in that place of blessing.

When I’ve been down and dry myself, I’ve been tempted to imagine that God has abandoned me, left me to my own rotten devices.    I’ve needed His reassurances to nudge me from ‘Baca’ to ‘B’raca’!  You too?

Here’s something odd I’ve discovered about myself.  In a couple of the churches I’ve pastored, which were going and growing fellowships long before I arrived on the scene, I found myself utterly bored.  Couldn’t wait to get out.  What was missing?  I now know–the challenge of ‘baca’!

The last church I served was down to eighteen members (that was before I arrived, thank you!).  They had searched out real estate brokers about selling the property.  Had been a church of over three hundred thirty years before, a thriving congregation.  Now they were ‘baca’ for sure.

The call came my way to serve the Lord as their pastor.  My reaction?  I loved the idea of being in ‘baca’-dryness to see what ‘b’raca’-blessings the Lord had in mind if we but looked to Him, seeking His will.  What happened?  God not only showed us His blessings.  He showered us with them!

Don’t fear the ‘baca’ you may be in.  Pray.  Look to the Lord.  Ask for His ‘b’raca’-blessings and see what He has in store for you.  Seek Him.  Don’t ever let go.

‘Blessed are those…as they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs…blessed is the man who trusts in you’ (Psalm 84:5-6,12).  Could never have said it better myself!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for staying with us through discouraging times.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

AND THE WINNER IS!…2 Kings 2: 1-18

Remember when Elijah had that competition with the priests of Baal?  Yahweh versus Baal?  Baal had it much easier.  Wood and a bull animal–let Baal set fire to them.  Go ahead!  Do something, Baal!  But nothing happened.  Not a thing!

Now for Yahweh, the God of Israel, there is wood and a bull, but also water drenching and soaking this sacrificial site.  Will Yahweh send down fire?  Can He?

Which god is the true one?  Baal?  Called the god of fire and water?  The ancients picture him standing, holding both his hands upright, with one hand holding a hammer for thunder;  and, in the other, lightning bolts.  He has bull’s horns on his head, symbolizing virility.  The god of fire!  Should be a piece of cake for Baal?  Cry out to Baal, O you his priests!  Cry out!  Or just cry!

You know the outcome.  The true God, Yahweh of Israel, overcomes all the obstacles.  Fire falls from heaven, a blazing inferno leaves a scorched, desert wasteland.

Baal?  A fireless flop!  His fire extinguished.  His priests a bunch of crybabies.

Many times Yahweh God is associated with fire in the Old Testament.  Moses at the burning bush.  By night in the scary, cold desert during Israel’s forty wandering years, providing warmth and light.

In our Bible text today, we see Elijah and Elisha walking and talking together when suddenly a chariot and horses appear surrounded by, yes, fire!  All heaven breaks loose!

I was thinking about something.  When stress and worry heat up my life, might it be the moment to step back, seeing what the Lord has in mind?  Not to fear the ‘fire’ or fight it, but to let it be for my guidance and comfort.  Think about that for awhile.  Stay near the fire for a change, sensing His presence with us in the flames much like what Daniel’s three friends experienced (read Daniel 3).

Fire–not to hurt us but to light our way.  Maybe we’ll experience a proverbial ‘cloak from heaven’ giving us new purpose and direction in life as it did for Elisha.

Don’t doubt this for a second.  He has more in store for us.  More than we can even imagine.  Let the fire and light shine!

Prayer:  Lord, we need strong faith to see you in the fires of life.  To trust your power, love and kindness.   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

HOT DOG, IT’S NATHAN!…2 Samuel 7: 1-11

King David lives in a posh palace in the royal city of Jerusalem.  Opulence for his majesty the King!  But he feels bad.  Guilty possibly?  The Ark of the Covenant resides in a mere tent, called the Tabernacle.  Nothing permanent or pretentious.  Mirror-opposite of David’s regal palace.

Doesn’t God need a suitable place for worship?  It’s just not right!  David grouses to Nathan, God’s prophet–  ‘Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent’ (2 Samuel 7:2).  Without missing a beat or uttering a prayer, Nathan says to go for it–‘Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you’ (v.3).

David, delighted to hear of God’s approval, nods off for a restful sleep.  But not Nathan.  It’s like he ate too many namesake hot dogs at Coney Island on the 4th of July!  He gets clear word from the Lord.  ‘Back off, buddy.  I never told you or anyone else that I needed a home to live in.  Tell the King to call off the construction crew!  By the way, Nathan, next time consult me first before you mouth off’ (Fischer paraphrase!).

We shouldn’t be too hard on Nathan.  How many times have I done much the same?  Opening my big mouth before seeking His will.  Making a decision that seems fine-and-dandy, while neglecting to first check it out with God Himself.  Praying for His direction long after I have headed out on my own, begging God to clean up my messes.

Let me recommend consulting the Lord first and foremost.  Not last but least.  Check with Him beforehand.  Do this because you know in your heart that His will is always best.  Pray to the Lord for His best right from the get-go.

A holy habit of talking with Jesus… before anyone else.  Hot dog!  That’s the way to go!  Certainly Nathan would agree!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for your eagerness to guide and direct us.  We want to seek you first.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

GOOD FRIENDS…1 Chronicles 27: 33

I’ve had good friends in my life.  Don’t we thank the Lord for the gift of friendship?  But I’ve learned that having good friends is not a common experience.  Those who stick by you through thick-and-thin.

Let me explain.  There were over one hundred ministers in my region of the old denomination I served.  I was ‘a member in good standing’, as it was called.  But trouble found me and I fell off my ‘high horse’.  Landed hard.  Of all those one hundred, only one bothered to get in touch.  Only one, one time.

No one stopped by.  Even that one never called back again.  But a local Roman Catholic priest had me preach in his hospital chapel service urging me to ‘get back on that horse’.  A good friend.  Another one was leader of the local Jewish Synagogue, who urged me to use their building to start a new church, as they only used it on Friday evenings, and that only a few times a year.

Friends come in surprising ways.  You know what I’ve learned through this?  Get off the dime, reach out to someone else who’s hurting.  Care about someone else for a change.  Not only if they’re in the right.  No matter what.  Don’t say you’re a friend, be one.  Mean it.  Right or wrong, be there for them.   Like God is for us when we’ve given Him lots of reasons to turn away and ‘head out of Dodge’.

That one verse from 1 Chronicles 27 is a gem.  Earlier in Chronicles you can find list after list of important people in King David’s life.  Military, political, worship leaders–valuable people all.  Then we read in verse 33 the name of Hushai the Arkite.  He’s not in charge of the donkeys, olive oil storage, army officers or the singers in worship services.  No, he is called, plain and simple, David’s ‘friend’.  The King had his counselors and advisors, his assistants and officers.  In Hushai, he had a friend.

Hushai in Hebrew language means ‘quick’.  That’s more than a hint.  For when friends are in need, be quick to get by their side.  To care…quickly.  The Lord has shown me this.  Not to write of it, but to do it…quickly.  You too?

Prayer:  Lord, may we quickly show our love and concern as good friends.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

 

YOU DID IT FOR THE TICKETS!…John 6: 22-28

My wife and I rented a condominium outside Orlando, Florida, so we’d be close to family who lived nearby.  We also wanted to visit Disney’s Epcot Center.  Had been a few years since our last visit.  We rented a timeshare from its owner.  Every day one of the management-team would call us with an offer of free Disney Epcot tickets if we would attend a timeshare sales meeting.

We’ve been to other such spiels.  Have you?  I’d rather have a root canal than go to another!  Slight exaggeration!Finally, beaten to a pulp, I agreed IF we could get those Disney tickets BEFORE we went to ‘timeshare torture’.  They agreed and we had great fun at Epcot.  Even better when it’s free!

Went to their infernal meeting, preceded by a mediocre breakfast buffet.  They sat us down, much like the Czars’ family before the Bolsheviks.  Then they proceeded to beg, badger and browbeat us.  I had told them, every single day, that we would never, ever buy a timeshare.  Not for us.

They knew they’d wear us down.  Finally, as if in utter defeat, the sales bloke turned to us and said with disgust:  ‘you did it for the tickets’.  I had told them that!  Guess the truth does hurt…them!

Jesus feeds all those people, over 5000.  With only 5 barley loaves and 2 dried or pickled fish.  Everyone is full.  There are even left-overs!  What a miracle!  Their eyes can hardly believe what their stomachs are telling them.  Full as full can be!

But Jesus senses something more going on here than meets the eye.  Actually, it’s less.  The crowd follows Him– only for what they can get out of Him.  For His goodies.  The blessings.  The prosperity.

The crowd follows Him–but not for Him alone.  Not to serve Him.  Not even for forgiveness of their sins, but for full stomachs and material gain.

Is that you?  Sometimes, you say.  Me too.  Must own up.  He knows.  He still loves us but wants us to fess up.  Love Him above all else…or anything.  Love Him for being God in the flesh.  Who He is… and always has been… and will be.  Our all in all!  That’s enough.  He’s more than enough.  Satisfied?

Prayer:  Lord, we love you.  You alone are the very best.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

MIGHTY GOOD APPLE!…Zechariah 2: 1-13

One of the earliest varieties of apple that we enjoy here in the Pacific Northwest is the Ginger Gold.  Crunchy, sweet and juicy!  Usually available by mid-August.  It signals that all the other apple varieties are just around the corner!

An expression used in the book of Zechariah is quite remarkable.  You’ll find it in chapter 2:8–‘…for whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye…’  A vivid reminder of how the Lord feels about us.  We are ‘the apple of His eye’.   Which means what?

The ‘apple’ is a poetic way of referring to the pupil of our eye.  The eye is one of the most complex organs in our body.  Have something touch it, and the pain will be excruciating.

A few years ago, my wife and I stayed at the old Lodge at Crater Lake in Oregon.  A gorgeous, volcano-created lake, deep as deep can be, producing the bluest water we’ve ever seen.  We drove to the other side of the lake, parked our van and walked down a rather steep trail to the water’s edge.

What a windy day it was.  Blowing in all directions.  That’s when a tiny stone fragment flew up into the air, got behind my glasses and lodged itself firmly in the side of my eyeball.  Ooooh, what pain!  Piercing, constant, unrelenting.  And this was in the side of my eye.  Not the pupil, which is more tender and vulnerable.

We are the apple of God’s eye.  He feels for us with an intensity we can hardly imagine.  Let me be honest with you.  How many times have I felt that God was way off in outer space with hardly a thought for little old me in this tiny corner of the world?  Anybody out there?  Anyone hear me?  Does He care?  Can He find me?

That’s when I need to munch into and digest that little phrase about being ‘the apple of God’s eye’.  As such, our fears and tears, flops and joys, all touch Him at His core.  Deeply.  Whether I’m aware of it or not.  Whatever gets in our ‘eyes’ gets in His, but more so.  Whatever grabs my heart has been in His all along.

Keep repeating–‘I’m the apple of God’s eye’.  Over and over.  That’s far better than even the best Ginger Gold apple, the first of the season!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for always caring for us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

PEACE AND QUIET… Psalm 122

Ah, for some peace and quiet!  When did you last say that?  Two minutes ago?!  Nothing quite like it…peace and quiet!

We live in a community with new homes going up all around us in varied stages of completion.  Foundations poured.  Framing going up.  Shingles nailed down.  Sheetrock put in place.  Painters spraying away in some of the most inclement weather.

All that noise rarely bothers me.  But throw in a loud radio, and I’m out like a banshee getting them to turn it down or off completely.  Deputized by the anti-blasted-radio brigade!  At night and on weekends, a welcome respite returns.

Reading Psalm 122, I notice that peace and quiet show up there as well.  Verses 6 and 7–‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!  May they be secure who love you!  Peace be with your walls and security within your towers!’  The Hebrew word for ‘peace’ is ‘shalom’, as you already know.  A big word in the Bible.  A great one to know; and, even better, to experience.

‘Security’ is the word ‘shala’ in Hebrew language.  It means to be at ease, to relax.  Secure and quiet.  When we find ourselves close to the Lord (we know when we are and when we’re not), we’ll discover peace and quiet as His gifts to us.

A security far more valuable than stocks or bonds.  Its value beyond measure.  Things money could never buy.  After all, they’re not for sale.  Gifts never are.  Ours to have, only for their grateful receiving.

Let me wish you a very Happy and Healthy New Year!  2017!  Filled with the Lord’s gifts of peace and quiet!  Enjoy them.  Snuggle up close to Him.  That’s where you’ll find them.

Happy New Year!

 

Prayer:  For all your gifts, our Lord, we thank you.  Mainly for Jesus.  Amen.

THAT RARE ART FORM…Psalm 81

Psalm 81 highlights one of the rarest art forms.  Which one?  Why the art of listening, of course!  Hard to come by.  Not often experienced.

Like when you’re talking with someone who can’t wait to jump in and cut you off with their own story, usually something much better or much worse than what you’ve been sharing.  Or those who ask the same questions over-and-over again, letting the cat-out-of-the-bag that they never did listen to you in the first place.

Someone would write me long letters each week inspired by listening to my Sunday sermons.  I must have been utterly profound!  When I read her letters, I instantly realized that she hadn’t heard one point in my sermon.  Nothing.  She wanted me to listen to her.  Oh well…!

From Psalm 81, we discover that God is good at listening.  It’s what He does and what He wants from us.  Verse 7–‘In distress you called, and I delivered you;  I answered you…’  Verse 8–‘Hear, O my people…if you would listen to me!’  He listens.  Do we?

The Bible is where we hear directly from God.  The most purchased book by far.  Every year’s best-seller.  Yet, knowledge of God’s Word diminishes with each passing day.  Must be that people have shut their ears to the Lord.  Even believers know so little of the Bible.

Why is that?  Not rocket science to figure out that distractions and entertainments have sapped our time with Him.  Today is Christmas Eve.  Focus on Jesus, God’s precious gift.  Listen to Him.  Can we?  Will we?

Our church choir loved to sing this song– ‘Listen, Jesus is Calling You’?  Prods us to open our plugged ears. To hear Him.  As Jesus says in John 10:3–‘The sheep hear his voice…’  He is the Good Shepherd.  We, who believe in Him, are His sheep.

How are we primarily recognized?  By hearing Him.  Paying attention.  Hanging on to His every Word.  Not keeping our Bibles dusted, in ‘mint condition’.  But giving Him the time He’s due.  Really putting Christ in Christmas.  Did you hear that?

Merry Christmas!

Prayer:  Lord, we are so grateful that you hear us.  May we spend more time listening to you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SHEEP SAFELY GRAZING…John 10: 7-16

It’s amazing how many sheep graze on the hills of England!  Including the ones out our back door, penned in by the ancient Roman moat, at the 15th-century Old Manor House we rented in Hadzor, Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire, England.  Everywhere we drive, there are sheep safely grazing.

Jesus says in John 10:7 that He is ‘the door of the sheep’.  He’s the entryway.  Not one of many, all leading to good pasture.  No.  THE door.  As if there is no other.  By the way, there’s no ‘if’ about it!

The housekeeper at the Old Manor House warned us that when we walk through the adjacent fields, down to the dock on the Birmingham-Worcester Canal, to enjoy watching the narrow-boats go by, we had better close and lock the gate behind us.  If not, those sheep will get out and we’ll be in a world of trouble!

It was such fun watching those sheep graze our back fields, eating lots of grass and weeds, along with apples and plums munched and crunched by their large teeth.  Sheep safely grazing.

Within their boundaries, they are well-fed and cared for.  But once let loose outside, trouble looms on all fronts.  The same for you and me.  As long as we stay close to the Shepherd, our Lord Jesus, as long as we stay within the boundaries He has established for us, we also can be like sheep safely grazing.

All of us following the same Shepherd.  All of us roaming freely within.  Lots of good grazing land.   Comforts abound within His boundaries.

Like the 10 Commandments.  Stay within them.  Step outside and it’s a one-way, downward slope into varied addictions, sexual aberrations, greed, gossip, stealing.  Soon we’ll be sheep lost in strange and scary fields.  Lost…sometimes barely able to return home.

Stay close to Jesus.  Even as those shepherds did in the Christmas story.  Stay within His grazing fields.  Listen for our Shepherd’s voice and we’ll be His sheep safely grazing!

Prayer:  Dear God, we want to stay close to Jesus and be safe in Him.  Amen.