PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT… Psalm 146

What do you most like to do in life?  Maybe your job (yeah right, you say!), or a hobby or helping at a food bank or being with your children/grandchildren?   I am almost never, ever bored because there are so many interesting things to do.  If I were to list them, you might throw up your hands and say what a dull man John really is!  We’re all different in so many ways. What grabs you, may have no interest whatsoever for me.

Psalm 146 has something for all of us.  Like what?   How about praising our Lord?  The final five psalms in our Bible are all ‘praise songs’.  Each begins and ends with “Praise the Lord”, which is but one word in Hebrew.  A familiar one–‘Hallelujah’.

‘Hallelu’–Praise, ‘Ya’–Yahweh.  Praise the Lord!  Praise all through your day.  As the psalmist says, ‘I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being”.  Whatever time we have left in this world, fill it with uplifting praises to our Lord.   We’ll be singing His praises for all eternity, so why not get started now?

They say that this life is no dress-rehearsal.  But maybe, in some ways, it is.  When I sang lead with a Gospel quartet called ‘Livin’ Harmony’, we would practice and practice,  rehearse and rehearse…until we felt comfortable with the words and music.  Took lots of time and effort, feeling like the proverbial ‘grind, grind, grind of the grindstone’.  But the end result was worth it.  The audience could enjoy what they would not have if we had not worked hard to make it as good as we could.  Practice made perfect…well,  almost!

In the same way, you can tell when you’ve spent time through your day praising and thanking the Lord.  Others probably can sense it also.  Since we’ll be praising Him for all eternity, why not start right now?  Why not…even when you feel quite the opposite?   When you’d rather shake your fist at Him in disappointment, hurt or anger.  Praise Him anyway.   Practice now.  Do it.  Will come in handy later.  Practice will make perfect in the ‘sweet by and by’…with Him who is worthy of all our praise.

 

Prayer:  Lord, we praise you today.  Every day.  All day.  Day in and day out.   In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

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AN EARLY CHRISTMAS THOUGHT… Galatians 4: 1-7

Is this the season ‘with a song in the air’?  Instead the song has only one word, maybe two–sale, sale…buy, buy!   Christmas joy determined by the deepest discount,  the biggest holiday bonus or corporate bottom-line success.  ‘Tis the season to be selling…buying!

We as Christians are uncomfortable with this merchandizing of the Messiah.  We should be.  In Galatians 4:1  the Apostle Paul talks about the fullness of time, when God sent His Son, the promised Messiah.  Christmas…the giving of a gift from God to all the world.  A gift.  Given.  Not earned.  Not deserved.  Not anything but a gift willingly given out of the best motive of all… love.  Love without strings.  Love that can’t be repaid or even reciprocated.  Not really.

But it can be received.  As a gift.  Graciously.  Thankfully.  Humbly and possibly on our knees with our hands outstretched, reaching up to God Himself, the Giver of all good gifts.  I was looking at Galatians 4:9.  Was stuck here for a moment.  Had to reread it.  ‘But now that you have come to know God–or rather are known by God…’  Yes, when we believe in Jesus Christ and receive Him into our lives, when we decide to trust Him and throw our hats into His ring, we begin a lifelong relationship with God Himself.  That’s big, indeed!  Here’s something bigger–‘…or rather to be known by God…’  It’s one thing to know God.  That’s amazing in itself.  What really grabbed me was the thought that God had been seeking to know me.

The Lord has been on the lookout for you.  Hunting high and low, under every rock, in every crevice, over hill and vale.  Searching for, reaching out to and sacrificing everything… to know us.  To have a relationship with us.  He loves every bit of us, warts and all.  Christmas is about God’s giving all that He had and all that He cherished.  God’s gift.  His open hands, extended toward us, hoping we’ll take His… and thank Him and cherish Him because we are known and loved by Him!  Known by Him!  We are His…forever!

 

Prayer:  Oh Lord, thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ.  And thank you for knocking at our doors with hands wide open, giving the gift of Jesus.  Amen.

SHUT YOUR… Psalm 141

All of you are off-the-hook on this one.  That’s right. This one is for good old me.  ‘It’s me, it’s me, oh Lord.  Standing in the need of prayer’.  Prayer…to keep me in line.  Now, don’t worry.  I haven’t robbed a bank.  Or stolen from a neighbor’s garden.

Psalm 141: 3– ‘Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;  keep watch over the door of my lips!’  My mouth. My big mouth.  Often with foot-in-mouth disease!  Most people think it.  I  say it.  Did I hear someone say that I’m not the only one?  Really?  I’m not alone!

What comes out of our mouths can be devastating.  Guard your mouth!  Keep the hurtful words in,  allow the loving and encouraging ones to come out.  A guard–for controlling what could cause a destructive ‘wildfire’ when not restrained (James 3:1-12).  A guard who opens and closes the ‘door of my lips’. A guard who knows when to and when not to.   Wisdom to know when to keep quiet, when to shut my trap!  Wisdom also to know when to speak up and speak out.

Pray for that wisdom.  God promises to answer that prayer (James 1:5-8).  How and when that wisdom from the Lord will come, I have no idea.  Not a clue.  But when it does, and it will, you’ll know it.

Hang in there…and wait on the Lord.  My prayer is that the Lord will make me a kinder, more compassionate person who knows when to bite his tongue.  Good idea?  Not a bad prayer?  Join me?  Guess I’m not alone after all!

 

Prayer:  Lord, you know our foibles and failures.  Our hearts really want to be more like your precious Son.   We need your Holy Spirit’s help.  Amen.

A GOOD PIE FOR THANKSGIVING!… 1 Peter 5: 6-11

I’m already looking forward to the pie we’ll be having for Thanksgiving dinner.  What will it be?  Pumpkin or cherry?  Maybe my favorite, Dutch Apple?   Any of the above would be fine with me.  A little slice of this, a big piece of that. How about a dollop of ice cream?   See, I’m thankful already!  And I don’t even know if we’re having  pie for Thanksgiving!  Hey, can’t hate a guy for dreaming, can you!?

The Apostle Peter says to eat some humble pie this season.  He says, ‘Humble yourselves…under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:6-7).  ‘Humble yourselves’–not a suggestion.  A command.  Like taking an honest look at ourselves.  Being realistic about who we are.  Not demeaning ourselves or fostering a negative self-image, but rather a merciful and kindly look.

Examine that business about casting all your cares, anxieties and worries on the Lord.  In the original Greek that phrase is an adverbial participial phrase.  Which in plain English means that ‘casting our cares’ is directly connected to the verb… to humble ourselves.  I don’t think that was too plain!  Sorry about that. It’s Greek to me too!

Let me try that again.  When we worry and fret, bite our fingernails, it’s really a form of pride.  Putting those concerns on my shoulders rather than on His.  ‘I can handle it.   I’m tough.  I’ve got it under control’.  Nothing humble about that.

Remember, humble pie is not made with gravel that you can grovel in.  No.  No self-pitying ‘poor me’.   We can work hard at using the gifts God has given us.  But we also know that ‘all things work together for good’ (Romans 8:28),  and that when we need His help,  Jesus says to ‘come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).  All through our lives,  Jesus is there helping and hauling, caring and carrying.   Being humble is thanking Him for all He’s doing for us.  Plain trusting the Lord.  No matter what.  Chew on that for awhile.  Wouldn’t it be good to have some humble pie this Thanksgiving?  Enjoy…!

 

Prayer:  Lord, for being there always, thank you.  A thousand times, thank you!  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

HAVE YOU HAD YOUR SUPPLEMENT TODAY?…2 Peter 1: 1-11

For many years, I took vitamin supplements.  A lot of us do for good reasons.  Trying to stay healthy is an important goal that I could work at a lot harder.  How about you?  It’s hard.  Goodies that may not be good for us are so tempting.  Will power, I have.  It’s the won’t power that I lack!

Plus I’ve lost confidence in scientific studies that contradict each other.  Eggs are bad, now they’re good.  Coffee will stunt your growth, now it helps build your immune system.  You know what I mean?   The Apostle Peter in his 2nd letter asks us to ‘make every effort to supplement your faith…'(2 Peter 1:5).  Take your supplement…make the effort…do it!

Not vitamins… but faith, then virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and brotherly affection, culminating all this with love.  Let’s be very clear.  Doing these things never earns anyone’s salvation.  That comes through faith in Jesus Christ.  In Him alone…by faith and not works.  These supplements are in addition to something else.  It’s the growth that comes after salvation has been received.  It’s the flower after the seed has been planted.  It’s exercising the gifts God has given to each of us who know Him as Lord and Savior.

Similar to what the Apostle Paul said–‘work out your salvation…’ (Philippians 2:12).  You can’t work out what’s not within.  Jesus’ half-brother James wrote: ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2:26).   Saying we’re Christians means nothing without the evidence.  Without the fruit, was anything ever really planted?

Accept God’s gifts to you…and put them to work for Him, for others.  That completes the circle.  Adds health to our system, with the body of Christ fully functioning at its best.  Don’t ignore what God has given you.  Gifts can shrivel and die.  We gave a friend a lovely bouquet of flowers to say we care.  We could see them in the window at their workplace.  They were there for days and days.  Never watered.  Sad and dying.  Finally dead.  We could see this as we drove by.  The gift of flowers was joyfully given.   Grudgingly received?  Obviously, in hindsight, not really wanted.  We could see them, in that window, making a statement as we drove by.  Gift given…not received.  So sad.

Let’s remember what Peter urged us–‘make every effort to supplement…’  Make every effort to be thankful.  Make every effort to pray first of all.  Make every effort to really put Christ in Christmas this year.  Make every effort to live more for Him in the new year.  Make every effort…Have you had your supplement today?

 

Prayer: Lord, we ask for more…of you, of love, of forgiveness, of growing daily to be more like your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A GOOD PSALM FOR THIS SEASON… Psalm 138

Soon we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  As Christians we are grateful to the Lord.  Once a year we set aside a special day for giving thanks.  King David has given us a wonderful psalm that I would recommend you read this coming week.

David is grateful to the Lord with his ‘whole heart’.  Every fiber of his being,  woven with thanks to the Lord.  Nothing half-hearted, but truly grateful.  In particular, David  gives thanks for God’s steadfast love, His faithfulness, His name and His Word.

God’s steadfast love.  His love is steady, never wavering or with ulterior motives.  No ‘He loves me/He loves me not’ gaming with the Lord.  His love is dependable and solid.  No strings attached, no tit-for-tat with Him.

Then the psalm says that our God is faithful.  He’s not going to drop you for a younger, better-looking convert.  He’s faithful and reliable.  He keeps His promises.

There’s more.  He’s told us His name.  So what?  Big deal!  God Almighty has shared His personal name with His human creation, with those who want to follow Him.  Do we not appreciate what a privilege that truly is?  To know and call on the very name of God?  Thank Him for such a gift …of knowing our God, by name.

Then verse 2 says that in addition,  He’s also given us His very Word.  To hear directly from God through the Bible, is a gift too amazing to put into words.  Let’s do it anyway!  ‘Thank you, Lord, for giving us yourself, your name, your love and faithfulness…and your precious, Holy Word’.

All His giving has nothing to do with material possessions.  How rich you are, or how big your house may be.  You might not have two pennies to rub together, yet you can have ALL of the Lord.  You might have difficulties galore yet still have room to thank Him . Lots of room.   Verse 6 says ‘for though the Lord is high, He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar’.

God is high in heaven.  Yet you can never be so low in life to be outside the reach of His care and love.  The proud, however?   He allows them sadly to go it alone.  Far, far away… as their own direction leads them.

So, we thank the Lord all this week, and on that special day, for all His blessings to each of us who love and follow Him in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Happy Thanksgiving!  Happy indeed!

 

Prayer:  Lord, we want to thank you for all your blessings to us.   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A SCENT IN THE AIR…Psalm 135: 13

I was reading Psalm 135, noticing that at verse 13 there’s a footnote in my study Bible.  The verse goes like this: ‘Your  name, O Lord, endures forever, your renown, O Lord, throughout all ages.’  The footnote was next to the  word ‘renown’, and said that another translation would be ‘remembrance’.

The Hebrew word is ‘zeker’,  which means recollection, memory, and scent.  All those synonyms made sense to me, but scent.   A pleasing aroma?  What does that have to do with remembering the Lord?

Any ideas?  I’ve been thinking about that for awhile.  The human sense of smell is very powerful.  Some say that when dying, the sense of smell is the last to fade and end.  It’s easy to associate a certain cologne or perfume with someone we’ve known, maybe from many years ago.  Whenever I smell ‘Old Spice’ aftershave, I always think of my father.  He’s been gone for decades now, but I can still sense him when I get a whiff of that aftershave.  That scent triggers memory of my father.

I wonder if when Jesus was on the cross, if He could still smell the scent of the perfume that the woman at Simon the leper’s house in Bethany had poured all over His head?  Was very expensive nard, pungent and long-lasting(read Matthew 26 and Mark 14).  When all had denied Him, when He could only hear cries of agony, cursing and blasphemies, when all had been taken away from Him, when He even felt abandoned by God His Father, could it be that the lingering scent of that perfume was a comfort and a reminder to Jesus that people did love Him, that people would sacrifice much for Him, that His Father was but a moment away?  From that precious scent of perfume poured upon His head, running down His shoulders covering Him with reminders of love and tears?    Could it have been?

God has given us so many remembrances of Himself–His name(Exodus 3:15),  His works(Psalm 111::4), His goodness(Psalm 145:7), His holiness(Psalm 30:4,97:12), and His salvation(Esther 8:28).  Much has been given to help us remember our Lord.  Why so much?  I wonder.

Could be because we forget so easily.  Life gets crowded out with work and worries,  family and the unknown future.   We allow Him to be crowded out.   So, we’re asked to remember Him.  To share in the Lord’s Supper:  ‘…in remembrance of me'(1 Corinthians 11:24).  Think of all that God has given us in the Bible to remember Him…and then, do it.  Remember the Lord of All who loves us with an everlasting love!  Worth remembering?  Oh my… YES!

 

Prayer:  Our Lord, we have so much you have given us to remember you by.   In your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A TRULY STRANGE EXPERIENCE… I Peter 5: 8

It was the strangest experience of my life.   It happened when I was a senior at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.  I was a good student.  Graduated 2nd in my class and, no, there were more than 3 in my class!  Thanks for asking!  I studied the Bible, its Greek language called Koine, homiletics, hermenuetics, church history and much more .  Lots to study.

A full campus life there in downtown Chicago, in addition to working a couple jobs, teaching Sunday School, and being president of the student mission organization.  Busy…busy…busy.  Can you guess what was missing?

A few friends challenged me to join them in reading the Bible– to read the Word and hear from the Lord.  Not for class assignments or to be number one in my class.  Nothing other than to meet with our Lord privately, quietly, without any agenda of our own.  I agreed but possibly to please my friends.  It only took me three days to drop out.  I had an important paper to write for systematic theology.  There was a meeting coming up for all the officers of Missionary Union.  I had a date for Saturday night.  That’s it.  That’s what happened, I’m ashamed to say!

On the 4th day, in the afternoon, I was lying down on the bed in my dorm room, wide-awake,  when the room was filled with white smoke, and there was certainly no smoking anywhere at Moody.  I felt  paralyzed… completely.  Couldn’t move at all, even though I was totally aware of where I was.  Immobilized.  The room was bright like a light was shining somewhere.  And then it happened.  I heard the most eerie sounding laugh and cackle I had ever heard.  From where?  I don’t know.  I knew it wasn’t the Lord who was laughing at me.  I figured I had hurt Him by my frivolous promise, so easily and quickly broken.

I knew who it was.  As Peter wrote–‘be sober…because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).  I didn’t hear him roar.  He was too busy laughing at me.

That was then.  Not anymore.  Years later, I love to spend time with my Lord.  In the Bible.  In prayer.  Reasons?  Who needs them?  To be near Him, to learn from Him,  to stay close to the One who will never laugh at me but give me all the reasons to laugh with joy that only salvation in Jesus Christ can ever bring.  Guess who had that last laugh?

 

Prayer:  Lord, how good it is to sit at your feet, soaking up all your love and mercy and forgiveness.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SHUT THE DOOR!… Psalm 131

I love this psalm.  Simple yet profound.  Do you feel the same way?  King David is its author.  One of the ‘Psalms of Ascent’, sung as pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem.  It speaks of an attitude of contentment that can only come from hoping in the Lord, a hope that lasts forever.

An attitude–not of pride or arrogance, of one who tilts back his head looking down on everyone else. Quite the contrary.  With a head that tilts to the side in understanding and mercy… looking up to others, looking further up to the Lord in heaven.  An attitude… then a contentment.

Like a weaned child, a babe who contentedly trusts the provision and care of one’s mother.  Totally satisfied, completely trusting and grateful… being with mother.  The arrogant person will always be looking for something bigger and better,  always climbing and clutching to find what is always out of their grasp.  Plans become schemes to outdo and outperform, to win…win…win,  at any cost.  The mirror-opposite of the weaned child is the schemer, plotter and finagler.

Contentment is letting God handle the things way out of our control.  To know that being in His hands is far better than any human schemes.  Life is more than spinning a story woven with lies and half-truths. It’s best to be honest and transparent.

Here’s the call to commitment– life is best lived leaning in on the Lord.  We have some choices to make in life. You do.  I do.   Arrogant or humble?  Always clamoring or resting in the Lord?  Knowing when to hurl yourself into something and when to step back and give it to God.  Knowing when to open or shut the door.  Knowing that our trust in Him will produce a hope that is unsinkable, a hope that lasts for…well, it lasts forever!

 

Prayer:  Lord, help us to know when to dive in and when to step back.  To be humble and content,  satisfied always hoping in You.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

UNLESS THE LORD…Psalm 127

A friend of mine gave me a letter from C.S. Lewis, the famous author.    My friend had written to him in 1959, complimenting him on one of his books that she had read.  He responded with a handwritten letter, hand-addressed from Cambridge University where he had to add an extra stamp for airmail.  I have it framed, both the letter and the envelope, and it hangs on the wall in my study.  That letter is special to me.  I look at it, often picturing him writing it, taking it to the post office and buying that extra stamp.  He said he was most appreciative of my friend’s  compliments, and acknowledged her hope that they would not make him vain.  His response was this–‘even if they make me vain, it is better to be vain than proud’.  There’s a head-scratcher for you!  What does that mean?

I’ve pondered that for years.  But that’s C.S. Lewis…makes me think and wonder.  What I don’t have to chew on is what the Bible says about trusting in the Lord to direct our lives and care for us.  No doubt about what God means.  Pride comes when we leave the Lord out of our lives , when we resort to prayer as that last resort, not first and foremost.  Pride comes when we get lost in a world of our own making, not knowing who’s really in charge and who will triumph in the end.

We believers know who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Stop your worrying and fretting–I’m looking in the mirror at myself right now!  As Psalm 127 says, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house…’  Fears and worries help not at all.  Let the Lord do the building.  Will we?

Know that the Lord is–the LORD!.  Hold your head up high.  Look over the fog of this world to the clear skies of heaven, where He is and where we’ll be some day.  Won’t that be the very best?  Not proud… but loved and cherished forever!  Amen to that!

 

Prayer:  Lord, we trust you with today, tomorrow and forever. In Jesus’ wonderful name.  Amen.