LIFE CAN BE THE PITS!… Psalm 28 and Genesis 37

Life can be the pits!  Think of Old Testament Joseph being placed into a pit.  Down you go, Joe!  Have a swell time in the well!   Then the brothers sit down for a nice meal in the desert.  After all,  getting rid of one’s bothersome family can really build quite an appetite… along with a killer thirst!  They were so famished they didn’t even hear his screams for help.  ‘Did you hear something, Simeon?   No?  Pass the camel jerky and mayo, please’!  Judah, has a better idea.  They see a band of Midianites and Ishmaelites passing by, teeming with spices for trade in far off Egypt.   These caring brothers decide to do what’s right…for them,  and sell the young lad to their distant cousins.  At least make a few shekels off the boy!

I wonder what Joseph thought when they pulled him out of the pit?  Maybe they’ve come to their senses?  God has convicted them of their sin?  No, now Joseph can see what his future holds…in shackles and slavery.  Except that the Lord was with Joseph.  The end of the story would not be in the pits but in a palace.

Psalm 28:1–‘To you, O Lord, I call;  my rock, be not deaf to me, lest if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.’  The pit. Can’t get out.  Panicky and claustrophobic.  How do you get out?  Irony of ironies,  the ones who help you out are the same ones who sell you off into slavery.  Isn’t that great?  That’s all I need.  With family like that…

I can remember when life was the pits, when my relationship with the Lord was less than it should have been.  I’m no Joseph.  No, the Lord seemed far away, but it was me who had turned aside.  It was me who had grown cold to the One who loved me and wanted me to be close to Him no matter what.  I had turned the other cheek… but not in a godly way.  More like ‘I’ll go my way and you…’

You get the picture.  Then, somehow, I started to sing old hymns that stirred me, singing them while I was alone in my apartment at night.   I began opening my Bible to hear from God, really hear from Him… and then to pray.  To talk with Him.   I was being lifted out of the pit I had fallen into on my own.  He was lifting me up and out.  ‘Love lifted Me’.  Not to sell me into slavery, but to free me up walking close to Him.  Didn’t take long.  Deliverance from a pit can be rather quick.  And I’m still freely singing His praises!  Join me?

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for being our Shepherd, looking for us, and caring for us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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MY WISH… Psalm 27

I wish I could have earned my salvation.  Now, don’t report me to the heresy squad quite yet!  I know that my salvation is from the Lord alone.  No works on my part had any effect on my salvation.  Believe in Him.  Receive Him into your heart.  The only way.

You see I do know what the Bible teaches.  Somewhere within me is a pocket of guilt that won’t go away.  I don’t deserve His salvation and His love.  I know it’s unconditional love.  Don’t you also know that you don’t deserve it?   Wish I could have earned it and know that it’s mine because of my own blood, sweat and tears.

Is there something to be done about this?  What can the Lord do to help?  Let me be frank(even though my name is John!).  It will take work, that four-letter word.  No short-cuts.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  Here it is:  it takes less listening to ourselves and more hearing Him from His Word.  Stop cultivating our fears.  Stop listening to our debilitating thoughts, letting them have free reign within our hearts and minds.  Listen to the promises of the Lord.

Psalm 27: 11– ‘Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path…’  Listen to the Lord as He leads us on level ground.  Not rocky or dangerous in any way.  Taking a big tumble is what can happen when we encourage our doubts and fears.  Heeding His Word levels life out with peace as He promised( Isaiah 26:3).  Verse 8– “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’  My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek”’.  His face…His voice…His Word…His heart to ours is the way out of what can be a life-long ditch and sinkhole.

Less listening to ourselves, and more from the Lord in His Bible.  That takes work.  Pick up our Bibles and start studying.  But how else will we know when the Lord is talking with us?  I know of no other effective short-cuts.  I’ve looked!  I’ve tried!  Save yourself wasted time and effort.  His Word…off to work we go!

Prayer:  Lord, infuse my mind and heart with your Word, the Bible.  Help me to feed on it…continually.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

EENY, MEENY, MINA, MOE… Luke 19: 11-27

Did I get the words right in the title?   What about that word ‘mina’?   Jesus’ parable of the Ten Minas makes us wonder what it is?  .  A ‘mina’ was equal to three months wages.  A hundred ‘minas’  was a lot of money.  That’s one hundred days income when every single days wage was needed to survive.

Jesus says that a nobleman entrusted ten servants with a ‘mina’ to ‘engage in business until I come’ (verse 13).  We have all been entrusted with ‘minas’, valuable abilities to be put to work for the Master.  Use what God has given you for Him and His Kingdom.  The more useful, the more blessed.  The  more busy with God’s busy-ness, the more the blessed-ness flows to others.  Do what God puts on your heart to do.  You know what I mean.

By the way, that’s exactly what I’m doing right now.  My writing  today is my ‘mina’ at work within His workshop.  Don’t worry about how insignificant we feel with the ‘little’ we can do.  Don’t let Satan rob you of your eternal rewards.  I’m thinking today of some dear friends. The husband has been with the Lord for a number of years.  Both loved serving the Lord.   His wife, by herself now,  has not missed any opportunity to put her ‘mina’ to work for Him.  Both loved being in church.  Any opportunity to be in God’s house with God’s people found them right there in the midst.  He was even an honorary member of the Women’s Bible Study, of which I as pastor was not!  And he got to share all the delicious goodies the ladies brought week-by-week, which I as pastor did not!

They loved visiting  our church family in times of need,  sending cards out in great number no matter what the occasion.  Always encouraging, always supporting, always loving and giving.

‘Minas’…at work.  They’re not Billy Graham and Mother Teresa.  They’re ordinary folk.  He,  a retired garbage man;  she,  a retired nurse.  Both actively working their ‘minas’ for the Lord.  I can hear the Lord saying to them, ‘Well done, good servants!  Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority…'(verse 17).

How about you?  ‘Mina’ at work for others…for the Lord?  It’s not a children’s nursery rhyme…it’s God’s business we’re employed in.  Do the best job you can…He’ll help…!

Prayer:  Lord, to do your will and work is such a privilege and joy.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

WHAT IS AN ACROSTIC, ANYWAY?…Psalm 25

What is an acrostic, anyway?  Some psalms are acrostics.  The most famous one is Psalm 119, where the entire psalm is separated into sections of 8 verses making up 22 stanzas.  Each of the 8 verses in each stanza begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  I think I’ve lost you.  Let me explain further.  For example, the first 8 verses all begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, ‘aleph’.  The next 8 begin with the Hebrew letter ‘bet’.  And so on for the entire length of the psalm covering all 22 Hebrew letters using each letter 8 times in each of the 22 sections.   The Word of God from A to Z, its perfection represented in the acrostic pattern.

The word ‘psalmos’ is from the Greek,  which translates the Hebrew ‘mizmor’ meaning ‘song’.   The Hebrew title for the psalms is ‘Tehillim’, meaning  ‘praises’.  Praise and singing… from beginning to end.  But I thought I asked you to read Psalm 25?

Psalm 25 is another acrostic–each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Unlike Psalm 119, this one is an irregular acrostic.  They don’t follow the A to Z pattern exactly.  Here the ‘w’ is missing, ‘r’ is where ‘q’ should be, 2 verses begin with the same letter ‘p’.  Irregular.  Far from perfect. Why?  Who knows?

Let me offer a couple of guesses.  David was a man after God’s own heart.  He loved the Lord… and the Lord was crazy about him!  He sought the Lord.  He poured out his heart to Him when his friends had forsaken him.  The Lord and David were close.  And yet…you know, David committed some horrible sins in his life.  Adultery, murder, lying to you-name-it.  His life in the Lord had many irregularities.   As imperfect as you can be, but lived for the Lord.  Like his acrostics.  Those poems he wrote to the Lord.

Their pattern was like the pattern of his life.  And my life.  Nothing worse than being around someone who is proud of how wonderful a Christian they are!  Who exudes their own self-righteousness.  Deliver me!

Anyone who knows me even for a few days will discover that I love the Lord, and genuinely want to serve Him.  But, I’m like David’s acrostic.  Imperfect as can be.  Surprisingly so, considering I’ve been a believer for over 50 years and a pastor almost as long.   I miss the mark of God’s standard every single day of my life.  Without exception.   Nothing to boast about.  I love Psalm 25:7–‘Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness’…

My sins make me imperfect,  but His forgiveness washes me as clean as new fallen snow.   And you too!

Prayer:  Lord, thank you that, as imperfect as I am, you love me just as I am.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TALK ABOUT LIVING WATER!… John 4: 1-15

 

On the Island of Kauai, Hawaii, the waves were at record height.  There were all kinds of warnings about surf and wave size.   Be careful!   Some waves, they estimated,  were as high as 100 feet!  They call them ‘monster waves’!  Surfers from all over the world came to Kauai to ride these monsters.

Not me!   I’m afraid of water.  Actually,  it’s swimming in it that’s not in my vocabulary.  Love to sail on the ocean…on a cruise ship.  Ride on it in a friend’s boat, or sit by it on beaches.  But swim in it?   No way.  Can’t.  Too Afraid.  Even took swimming classes at the YMCA, because  they guaranteed that they could teach me to swim. Guaranteed!   Took all of two sessions and they eagerly gave me all my money back.  All in my family were swimmers.  Me?  Forget it.  I don’t care if my tombstone says that ‘He Never Learned to Swim’.  Too bad, so sad!

Jesus said this to the woman at the well in John 4– “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you  living water”.   What Jesus wants to give us as well.   He  invites us… to take of it, of Him.  The waves in Kauai arrive.  You come to them.  To ride them is to go with their flow.  To experience their power is to submit yourselves to them.  No manipulating, but a bowing to them under their crest to let them carry you wherever the waves will.  Try to fight them and down you go.  Under the water, drowning because you bucked their power and will.

I don’t think I’m reading too much into this.  It is like the ‘living water’ that Jesus wants to give us…who submit to Him, receive Him as God’s gift of grace and mercy.   Asking for His power and strength to make it through the rough waters of life, to ride with Him, over the deep waters that threaten to engulf us.

‘Living water’!  That’s what Jesus wants to share with us.  No swimming required. No lessons needed.   No surfboards allowed.  Just a willing, submissive and believing heart.  Is that you?  Then get ready for the ride of your life!

Prayer:  Lord, we submit to your Son Jesus the Messiah.  We’ll ride every wave of life with Him under us.  In His name.   Amen.

I SHALL NOT BE MOVED… Psalm 17: 6-8

Life is always in flux.  Can’t put your foot in the old stream at the same place twice.  Awhile ago,  I changed my e-mail address with all the bother and frustration that entails.  Such a pain!  For me,  change means to plan ahead.  Like ending our land-line telephone.  Changing to a smart-phone, getting rid of our pay-as-you-go track phone!

Plan ahead–but does it really help?  Why am I going through all of this?   Why do I resist change?  Who knows and who cares!  What I do know are those words of comfort found in Psalm 17:6-8.  This is a prayer of King David, who confidently affirms that God both hears and answers our prayers.  Imagine someone actually listening to you,  because they care and are interested?  With both ears.   Not ready to jump in with their own story at your first pause.   Psalm 17: 6-7 says that the Lord inclines His ear to us to show us His wondrous, faithful and steadfast love.  And safety–‘O Savior of those who seek refuge…'(verse 7).

The Lord is my refuge, my shelter in the midst of the storms that rumble through life.  Verse 8 continues with the idea that God never, ever takes His loving eyes off of us–‘keep me as the apple of your eye’.  Meaning that the very center of His caring eye is always on us,  even when it seems that He’s as far away as far can be.  Like He’s not even in the neighborhood.   Think again.  He’s right here–the pupil of His eye never leaving us for one moment.

Psalm 17 says that I can even hide in Him.  I can be out of the spotlight.  Hidden away.  Life will keep changing.  But He won’t.  His love is steadfast– loyal,  devoted and reliable, constant and solid.  Never changing!

Prayer:  Great God, you are immovable, never changing.  In Jesus’ name.   Amen.

WHAT GOD OWES ME!… Luke 17: 7-10

What does God owe me?  The answer is obvious…but not to lots of people.  A few years ago, we heard a masterful sermon by one of our favorite preachers.  He spoke about the uses of the word ‘deserve’ in our modern world,  especially in advertising.  We deserve this… we deserve that.  We deserve it all!

And we do,  but not in the sense that the world means it.   How many times have we caught ourselves thinking that I want something because I deserve it.  I’ve worked hard…I’ve saved for so long…I’m a good person…there’s room on my credit card…I may not be here next year…I deserve it!

Luke 17.   Jesus’ story of the ‘Unworthy Servants’, which goes against the grain of the ‘I deserve it’ mentality.  What does God owe me?  Nothing…absolutely nothing.  Really?  So, why tell this parable?  What’s it all about?

The Bible is clear that when mankind sinned in Adam and Eve, they forfeited what they had.  They had been warned.  Given advanced notice…but went their own way anyway.  They were ushered out of Eden, to the east, often the direction away from the Lord.  They deserved worse.  Death entered the picture,  but would not be the final word in their lives.  The Lord still  wanted the best for them.

So, He sent His Son as an offering for our sin,  that through Him we would receive all the best He has for us who deserve nothing.  The reaction of most people?  Pride…selfishness…one-upmanship?   Those are from the east…away from the Lord.

How about trying some gratitude for a change,  some humility…sharing…forgiving…even loving.  I deserve nothing.  I’ve been given so much from the Lord.  I deserve none of it…but He gives anyway.  He lives to give.  That’s our Lord.  I’m glad to be His servant.  He’s the Master…we serve Him.  I’m glad to be but a piece of clay in the hands of the Potter.  Aren’t you?

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for your gifts of life and love.  All from you to us.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

TIME TO REFLECT… Genesis 28: 10-17

It’s time to reflect.  Where did this business of writing a devotional book begin?  We were driving across country after retiring from our church, when I felt a nudge from the Lord to do some writing for Him.  A devotional book?  I was doing Spring cleaning, preparing for other major changes in our lives.  I discovered a notebook in a bottom desk drawer.  This notebook contained some thoughts and ideas for articles I wanted to write.  This was from the time of my 2nd church, 1975 until 1980.  I had entitled the notebook ‘Reflections Out of Time’.  However, there were very few reflections in it.  In my 20’s and early 30’s, I had little to reflect upon!

But now, decades later, it’s time to reflect.  Time to look back… and forward on my life with the Lord.   I hope what I share is helpful, even timely for you.  But I leave myself an ‘out’,  and is why I also add–‘timely or otherwise’!  May or may not connect.  I hope my writing helps, but no guarantees!

Allow the Scriptures to hover over your life’s experiences.  Like a ladder between earth and heaven, with the angel of the Lord guiding and directing us.  As Jacob said in Genesis 28: 16–‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it’.

As I look back and reflect upon my life (warts and all), I can see the Lord’s good hand even when I didn’t have a clue that the Lord was even in the same neighborhood.  How about you?   Time to reflect on your life?  To see the ladder from heaven to earth in your journey?  Together we can say with Jacob– ‘How awesome is this place!  This is none other that the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’ (Genesis 28: 17).

How awesome is my life in the Lord.  How wonderful to dwell in the house of the Lord,  now and forever.  How amazing to stand at His gate which is wide open ready to welcome us home,  all because of His Son Jesus Christ.  How great is our God!

How good to reflect on Him.  Amen?   Like a good mirror, we want to reflect Him so that others, who need Him, can see some of Him… in us.  That’s worth reflecting on.  Well, I’m out of time today. Reflections…out of time!  Hope this has been timely…or otherwise!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the grace to look back and the joy of looking forward.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THE NIGHT SKY SPEAKS… Psalm 19

Had a hard night without a lot of sleep.  It would be the new moon this week–  when the moon offers very little light and the stars are magnificent.  I got up at an unknown hour,  and sat out on our lanai here in our rental condo on the Island of Kauai, Hawaii.  The stars were out tonight…the planets and Orion and the Big Dipper.

Psalm 19–‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech,  and night to night reveals knowledge’ (Psalm 19: 1-2).  The heavens speak!  The night sky voices the glory of God!  The word ‘glory’ means weightiness and importance.   A week earlier, we heard,  on our car radio,  a scientist explaining some theories of the tides and gravitational pull of the moon and other aspects of what we know of as God’s creation.  Remarkable information.  Builds your faith. ‘…Pours out speech…reveals knowledge…'(Psalm 19: 2)–except when this same scientist tries to explain origins and how things  work without any reference to God at all.

Chance and luck were all he had to offer.  Explanations that took more faith to believe in than the truths of the Bible.  I’ve heard these scientific geniuses before.  I studied at an Ivy-League seminary where many professors did not believe that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God from beginning to end.  Too bad that so many of the students, studying for ministry,  soaked up these modern mythologies.  To be spewed out in sermons to a congregation open to almost anything from the pulpit.  Anything… except what the Bible teaches.

Look up at the night sky.  Let what you see tell you that there is a Creator of this creation.  The ultimate explanation… of the universe.  ‘The heavens declare the glory of God…’  They certainly do!  And, then, as it says later in Psalm 19,  to enjoy the gift of God’s Word, the Bible.  Get into it.  Dig deep.  Memorize and study.  Read it daily.  Believe it.  Decide to be part of a church family where the pastor preaches from the Bible, along with his own believing and submissive heart.  Such a gift–the Bible, the night sky, so many and so much more… all from our Lord.  Amen?  Amen!

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for your creation, which says so much about you and your glory to us who believe.  In His name.  Amen.

SOME GOOD FERTILIZER…Luke 13: 6-9

I get impatient with plants that don’t seem to grow fast enough.  Sometimes I’ll mention to my wife that I’m going to dig up that plant that seems barely alive and toss it over the hillside to make room for something better.  She will invariably say, ‘no, I’m working on that rosebush or whatever.  Leave it alone ’til next year.’  And next year comes– and so do the good results of her patience and hard labor.

Today’s Bible passage is the parable of the barren fig tree.  Figs are a marvelous source of vitamins and minerals, in addition to being naturally sweet and high in fiber.  A good sustainable source of food in Jesus’ day as well as our own.  Jesus tells this story of a man who plants a fig tree in his vineyard,  while coming back  year after year to see how productive it has been.  But nothing shows.  Three years in a row– no fruit!  So, he tells the vinedresser that that’s enough time.  This tree is taking up valuable space.  ‘Cut it down,’ he says.  Get rid of it.  Take it out of my sight.

But the vinedresser,  who has been watching this tree carefully for three years now,  asks for one more year.  He has plans to dig around the tree,  breaking up the sand and soil.  Toss on some good fertilizer, enriching the soil, making things happen for next year.  Give it time, he recommends.  Don’t be too quick to cut it down.  Hang in there… a tad longer. A bit of patience goes a long way.

Patient with ourselves as the Lord is.  Allowing Him to bring new growth into our lives.  Here’s something else–being patient with someone else.  Now I’m stepping on toes–my own!  Give them the time to grow.  Help them to wait on the Lord’s good work in their lives… and your own.  Good idea?  Put it into practice!

 

Prayer:  Lord, have your way with me, with us.  Make me who You want me to be. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.