2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 920 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 15 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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I’VE ALWAYS BEEN BIG BONED!…….Read Isaiah 66: 10-14

I think it was in Junior High that I started to put on a few ounces here and there.  Mainly here and also some over there!  When I bought clothes it was from the ‘portly’ section, which sounded more like ‘porky’ to me!   Too many pretzels loaded with salt with way too many potato chips…munching away lying down in front of the old black-and-white television set at home.

My mother always said that we were ‘big-boned’ people.  It was our over-sized bones that made us look slightly on the hefty side!  And that was the only reason!  How I wanted to believe her. She must be right.  After all, she’s my mother.   She was the one who convinced me that black cows gave chocolate milk!  And thunder was from angels bowling in heaven!  So, why not big bones?

Have you read from Isaiah 66 yet?  Precious verses indeed.  They talk of God as if He was like the most loving mother any one ever had in the whole world, and then some.  Verse 10 speaks of loving God’s city of Jerusalem, with joy overflowing.  Verse 11 pictures a mother nursing her child,  consoling that bundle of love at her breast with nourishment, closeness and satisfaction.

In verse 12 comes ‘peace’/shalom that moves like a sacred river, filling up with God’s glory, flowing over its borders and banks.  While being nursed, God places us on His hips, bouncing us, up-and-down, with a gentle, reassuring motion.

Then comes comfort after comfort after comfort, a trilogy in verse 13.  In verse 14 our hearts rejoice and ‘OUR BONES shall flourish like the grass'(ESV).  My mother was right after all, we will be big-boned people!  Strong, energetic, healthy, prospering, vigorous,  alive forevermore because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Think about these verses today–they will put a spring in your step for sure!

Prayer:  Lord, your strength is ours in your Son.  Thank you for blessing each of us who believe in You.  Blessings that are new each morning.  Thank you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THE YEAR OF THE LORD’S FAVOR…Isaiah 61

This  passage in Isaiah was quoted by Jesus early in His ministry as referring to Himself (Luke 4: 18-19).  He has come to preach and ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’.  With a new year upon us, wouldn’t it be great if we could know that this year will be the ‘Year of the Lord’s Favor’?  Assured of that would make facing whatever challenges may come our way that much easier to handle.  Wouldn’t it?

I think what scares lots of us is the uncertainty that something horrible may happen, and that we can’t find the strength to endure it, to stand up under the pressure without breaking.

I suffer from anxiety episodes once in a while.  It feels like claustrophobia sets in and I want to break out, to flee the fear that can be overwhelming.  To escape.    Some favor(!) to have panic attacks…and very embarrassing.  After all,  shouldn’t a pastor have more faith?  Shouldn’t I rise above such mental ailments?  You call yourself a man of God, but you sure have feet of clay.  That’s right–I do.

Sorry to disappoint anyone, but let me tell you what helps– to admit it,  owning up to being less than perfect. They say confession is good for the soul–it is for me.  Being honest and up-front, no hiding behind a false image.

Something else that helps, and here’s a bit of the Lord’s favor in my case, is that I have compassion for other’s who go through difficulties accompanied by frightening fears.  I’m more patient.  More caring.  They may not suffer with what I have, but the ‘Favor of the Lord’ is to make me more loving when normally I might write someone off as less than spiritual with too little faith, way too much fear.   Walk on the other side of the street.    Look the other way.

No, the hurts in my life have made me a more tender person.  I can feel it.   It’s the ‘Favor of the Lord’ to make us more useful in His hands.  More caring than we’d normally be.  More like Jesus who speaks encouraging words to the poor,  works freedom for all kinds of prisoners, restores sight and discernment to blinded people,  and releases whatever oppresses and ties us up ( Luke 4:18-19).  In other words, ‘the Year of the Lord’s Favor’!

Hold onto Him.  Lean on the everlasting arms.  Cling to the One who overcame even death on a cross, and rose to new life…as we will by faith in Him alone.  Happy New Year!  ‘The Year of the Favor of the Lord’!

Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank you for all your blessings in our lives.  In Jesus’ name.   Amen.

A REAL GEM AMONG GEMS… Isaiah 63: 1-9

The more time I spend in the Old Testament, the more I crave it.   Over the years, how many times have I heard someone say that the God of the Old Testament is mean-spirited and vindictive, different from the God of the New Testament.  Ever heard that?

How wrong can they be.  It’s the same Lord,  both the Old and the New.  Same God…same time…same place!   Isaiah 63: 9–‘I will tell you of the kindnesses of the Lord…In all their distress He too was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them.  In His love and  mercy He redeemed them;  He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.’   What a gem from God’s Word.  The Bible is chock full of them.  This is one of the best.

Sometimes we wonder if God cares about what we’re going through.  A heresy has always reared its ugly head all through church history that God is way up in the heavens, unfeeling and uncaring toward those of us stuck way down here.  Maybe you think that?  Read verse 9 again.  Slowly, word by word, phrase by phrase.  It says as clear as clear can be–when we’re facing difficult times, we never face them alone.  God feels for us and with us.  He’s moved by what moves us.

Like a good Father ( v. 16), He loves us and cares for us.  More than that, He sends His angels to be with us.  This is a reference to Exodus 23: 20-23 and 33: 14-15. God never deserted Israel, even when they wandered for 40 years in the desert.  He’s not absent, AWOL, off somewhere else with a younger and cuter convert.  No,  He’s with us through-and-through, thick-and-thin.

And  He redeems us– which means to buy us out of slavery.  Pilgrim Church in New York City under their pastor Henry Ward Beecher would raise monies to buy slaves out of bondage before and during the Civil War, staging slave-redemption auctions in their Sunday worship services.  Isaiah 63:9 says that our God redeems us.

No money needs to be raised.  No staging.  God’s love and mercy is all that’s needed, which He gave willingly and freely…for you and me.  More than that, He lifts us up.  When we’re down, there He is with hands outstretched toward us…to lift us up, back on our feet.  When you can’t make one more step on your own, and all your strength has been sapped away, then this verse says– ‘…He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.’  Carried our burdens. Past, present…and future.   Shares every bit of our lives always because of His love–found here in the Old Testament!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for being One with us…in love and mercy.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A DIFFERENT SLANT ON PRAYER…Isaiah 62

What more can be said about prayer?   I have lots of books on prayer in my library.   Some I have yet to read.  So many books… so little time!   Talking with  church members from my four churches, one comment seemed always to rise-to-the-surface about prayer.  People hesitated to take too much of God’s time.  After all,  He’s so busy with concerns much deeper than theirs.   Some felt selfish asking God for whatever it was they needed or were worried about.  Isn’t once enough, anyway?  Does God get tired with my constant begging for the same things day in and day out?

Answers can be found in Jesus’ parables about the persistent widow and the unjust judge ( Luke 18: 1-8), and the friend who comes at midnight (Luke 11: 5-8).  Both parables may have been inspired by two verses found in Isaiah 62.  This portion of  Isaiah deals with the coming Servant of the Lord, the Messiah.  Look at verses 6 and 7.  Here we have God’s permission to come to Him whenever, as often as we like, with whatever is on our minds and hearts.   No prayer censorship.  And you can never, ever wear out your welcome with the Lord!   The ‘Open for Business’ sign is always out and lit.   And He means it!

From Isaiah 62,  the Old Testament, the Bible of Jesus–‘…You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest until…(vs.6-7)’  Isn’t that just the most amazing invitation you’ve ever received?  ‘You are hereby welcomed into the presence of God with whatever you want to talk about…’ signed God Himself!  ‘Give Him no rest…’

God never tires of us. He’s asked us to come to Him.  He neither slumbers nor sleeps.  Never a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on His doorknob.   A good resolution for the new year would be to spend more time with the Lord and less time trying to figure out His hours of service or what right words to use.  Forget that stuff.  Come… and ‘give Him no rest’!

Prayer: Dear Lord, how humbling to come to you… at your invitation… for us to spend lots of time together.  In this new year I’m going do just that.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

HOW ABOUT A LITTLE PEACE AND QUIET!…Ezekiel 38:10-13

Aren’t those amazing verses from Ezekiel 38?  Uplifting and edifying!  Especially verse 11.  The context is God’s people facing difficult times.  They are called  ‘…a peaceful and unsuspecting people’.  My translation (ESV) calls them ‘a quiet people’.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little peace and quiet?

I’d like to be one of the quiet people. Wouldn’t you?   To nap uninterrupted.  To read a book from cover to cover.  To do…whatever you want!   Left alone for awhile.  But life has a way of happening that can’t stand a little peace and quiet for very long.

When my wife and I were in England for two months, we rented a 15th century Manor House.  Had a lovely time, indeed.  Wanting to be ‘quiet people’, we followed all the rules of the road.  Including paying for parking wherever we went, even had to pay to park at some supermarkets.  An expense that was a surprise to us, but one which we obeyed without fail.

The day after we arrived home a letter arrived for us from England.  From the Council of the City of Leeds.  A parking ticket to the tune of $135.  We want to be ‘quiet people’, ‘peaceful people’, but the storm clouds were gathering across the sea.  I looked at my wife, she looked at me.  We had never been to Leeds.  We knew that… but how could we prove it?  It was the car we had rented, the license plate tattled that it had been in Leeds.  What gives?  And now our credit card has been charged for the $135 by our rental company as return payment for what they owed on our ticket.  I wanted to scream that we had never been to Leeds.   Quiet and peace… flew out the window.  This is not right.  Never in Leeds, but now we’re lead into trouble.

Until I read the parking ticket.  The infraction happened on August 15th, and it said so in two places.  August 15th?  We didn’t fly to England until Sept 1st.   I believe in miracles but this is ridiculous.  And it took two full months to get this corrected…and our money back!

As much as we’d like to be ‘quiet people’, sometimes you just have to go to battle.  Don’t ask the question ‘why’?  You’ll only make it worse, and probably not get a satisfying answer, anyway. Usually the Lord wants us to trust Him.   To put our hands in His.  To let Him carry us when we can barely walk on our own.  To let Him give us His peace–the peace  that passes understanding.  Not as the world gives…

Prayer:  Lord, we pray for peace and quiet in our lives.   To rest in You.  We pray for that this new year…to find it in You in whom we can always place our trust.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

MERRY CHRISTMAS?… Isaiah 58

Isaiah 58?  Whatever happened to Luke and Matthew with the stories of the manger and the inn, the Wise Men, and angels with Mary and Joseph and the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths?  Wouldn’t those be more appropriate?   Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not taking any shortcuts, leaving out the best parts.  I want to dig into a different vein. Golden nuggets from a different part of the Word of God.

Isaiah 58–why Jesus came?  The ‘why’ of Christmas.  Our sin shouted our need for God right into the heavens themselves.  Verses 2-4 tell of people who claim the name of God, but who live lives filled with pride and arrogance.   Thinking themselves high-and-mighty when in reality they live in a far country, far away from God, down-and-out.  Sadly,  they don’t even realize it.

Verse 5 sheds more light on God’s complaint–His people are His, they say, but only in a superficial way.  In name only, a hint, a smidgen of the Lord.  Shallow… with a faith that evaporates at the first sign of heat.  Religious acts, and nothing more… and a lot less.  Formality that’s smoke and mirrors.

That’s why Jesus came.  To free us from that thin veneer of faith to something that permeates deep within, to the very marrow of our bones.  Ritual acts that now result in actions of caring and helping,  supporting and encouraging.  Isaiah 58: 6 and following describe an alive faith, a relationship with the Lord that reaches out to others to help as best we can.

That’s what God did for us at Christmas. He reached out to us.   He didn’t send a postcard, an annual letter or a posting on Facebook.  No, He sent His very best, His only Son.  His actions spoke louder than mere words ever could.

This Christmas let’s not only go through the motions.  Let’s welcome the Messiah!  Let’s meditate on His generous mercy given for you and me!  And let’s be motivated to be a helping hand to someone else.  Then, this will be a Merry Christmas!

Prayer:  Dear Lord, for all your gifts we thank you today.  But for Jesus, the gift at Christmas, we pause to life high His name…with a grateful heart.  In His name.  Amen.

TAKE TIME BEFORE IT TAKES YOU…Luke 1: 18-25

Here I am retired from active ministry,  finished most of my Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving, and yet still feel on a holiday treadmill with no ‘stop’ button to push .  What’s wrong?  I doubt that I’m alone in feeling this way a few days before Christmas.  Some of you may have no sympathy for me, none at all!

We need to take time, to shut a few doors, turn off a couple phones and computers, pull the plug on television and radio.  Get away and closet ourselves…with the Lord.  Shut our mouths and keep quiet.  That’s what happened to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist in Luke 1.  He had a visitor, the angel Gabriel, who told him an unbelievable tale of a future birth for he and his wife, Elizabeth.  For years and years of faithful marriage,  they could have no children.  Now… this news?  What, already?    He’s thunder-struck!   And the angel says that Zechariah will have nine months not to say one word, only to think about and meditate upon what he’s heard.  Nine months silent.  To  consider what God has promised and start to believe the Lord.

Hole up… allowing the whole Word of God to settle deep within our hearts and minds.   For nine long months, he’ll watch his wife grow large with child, feel the baby move and kick, plan for a new life in their household.  Time to believe.  Time to embrace… the promises of the Lord.

Spend a moment now reading Luke 1:24.  Do you see what Elizabeth does after she conceives the child?  Buy billboard space to spread the good news?  No, she ‘kept herself hidden…’  She prays a lovely prayer of thanksgiving.  A prayer from her lips to God’s ears.  Just between them.  Herself and her Lord.  ‘She kept herself hidden’, the Bible says. Months and months worshipping the Lord.  Praying and thanking and being silent.

Sometimes, not all the time, we need to spend quality and quantity time with our Lord.  Hidden away, behind closed doors, private and secluded.  Needing to squirrel away with your Lord?   Jesus and you.  If that’s how you’re feeling, you might as well act on those feelings.  It’s probably the Lord knocking on the door of your heart, wishing to enter your tent and have a nice meal together.  Jesus and you.  No television, no horrible news programs, no smartphones, no music in the background.  Jesus and you.  That’s enough!

Prayer:  Lord, in quietness, I find rest in You.  In peace, I learn to trust and to move forward into your promises.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SING, SING…A RELEASE FROM PRISON!…Ephesians 5: 18-20

Go ahead…sing to the Lord!  Really good medicine, which will release you from prisons of depression, anxiety and worry.  Just for a moment, turn off this world.  Turn off CNN and Fox News.  And sing to the Lord!

Ephesians 5: 19–‘…sing and make music in your heart to the Lord’.  I remember a time, many years ago,  when I was feeling very lonely, single, missing my boys on an everyday basis, far from family who never travelled, distanced from some friends who may have thought that divorce was an infectious disease that they could catch, in a job that required no time off for the first 5 years.  I was not wanting to serve another church for fear of what could happen once again.  People can be tough to deal with and I no longer felt tough enough to take it.   I was not spending time in God’s Word,  so some of my ‘prison’ was of my own making.  The isolation was very telling.  The loneliness gnawed at me.  I could feel it deep within my stomach.

One night I found my old hymnal from the Tabernacle in Ocean City, New Jersey.  Beginning to leaf through its pages, I started singing– ‘Victory in Jesus’, ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’, ‘Trust and Obey’,  ‘On Calvary’, on and on, song after song, hymn to Jesus after hymn to our Lord.   It was wonderful!   Hoped that I had hard-of-hearing neighbors.  They probably wished they had a mute person living  in my apartment!  I sang and sang …to the Lord.  Those wonderful hymns and Gospel songs that I used to sing  as a new Christian.  The ones we sang at the Moody Bible Institute.

It was almost instantaneous.  I started to feel better. I’m not exaggerating. My mood lifted  like ‘Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary’.  Not so alone.  Not so alienated.  Not so imprisoned.

How about you?  Need a little help?  The Apostle Paul’s advice is still good.  Sing…make music in your heart…from deep within…all to the Lord.  Not singing for its own sake…but to our Lord!  Whatever your feelings this Christmas season, lift high the name of Jesus, the name above all names.  With your singing, notice that your own feelings will soar as well!  Happy singing!  Merry Christmas…to all!

Prayer:  We sing your praises, our Lord.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen!

ON THAT MUSICAL NOTE!… Ezekiel 26: 7-14

Ezekiel is one of the most amazing books in the entire Bible.  Have you read it?   I highly recommend it,  but it is different.  For me, that’s part of the excitement!

Let’s look at chapter 26.  Judgement is being declared on the land of Tyre, an island city that was one of the main commerce centers of the ancient world. A wealthy nation with no time for God, only for business and money.  Sound familiar?

A military siege is coming, Ezekiel warns.  War looms on the horizon led by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  Look at verse 13.  Part of future judgement will be the removal of songs from the land.    No more music sung or played on instruments.  No more choirs praising the Lord.  No more somber tunes to ease grief and loss.  The Hebrew word for ‘music’ is ‘sheer’, which denotes emotions from the heart through vocal cords and instruments.  But for Tyre, no more singing,  no more music.

What a terrible judgement.  Like a vision of hell.  Where not a note of praise will ever be heard again.  No happy melody that lifts and inspires, soothes and comforts.  A chord that resonates with feelings deep within.  None.

Whistling, humming, singing, playing…all from our hearts to the Lord Himself.  God loves to hear us in song and music!  It would be hell to not sing for Him.  But that is what will be the future for those who want nothing to do with the Lord in their life.  Not His wish, but He does honor theirs.  How bleak and hopeless that would be.

Quite the opposite for those who love the Lord and know His Son Jesus Christ.  Heavenly songs and music like we can’t even imagine!   There’s a wonderful song in a Christmas Cantata, the song entitled “What Can I Give?”   What we can give the Lord at Christmas?   A good question. What can we give Him?   The song answers with the words, “I can sing hallelujah…”

We can sing to the Lord.  That’s what we can give Him.  Our praise and thanks in beautiful song and music this Christmas and for that matter…every day of the year!  What can we give Him?  ‘I can sing…’!

Prayer:  Lord, we love to sing your praises and play music that comes from our hearts to yours.  We give you a song this Christmas and New Year that says we love you and worship you now and forever.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.