WHATEVER IT TAKES… Proverbs 3: 1-8

I’m ashamed of myself.  I should have known better. Young and painfully immature, I must admit.  A generational sin I grew up with was talking about others behind their backs.  Relatives, who were doing better financially, were ready targets.  Making fun–or so we thought.  Who knows what they said about us?!  Sad to say,  I did the same thing.

I think of someone many years ago.  Her family was filled with turmoil.  She loved the Lord.  All day long she’d read Christian books.  Hours on end  listening to Christian music.  Loved church.  Loved the choir.  Loved sharing with others, including me her pastor, about her love for the Lord and how she grew close to Him by books and music.   In my private moments,  I thought she was way over-the-top, somewhat bizarre.  Sitting around reading inspirational books, listening to tapes of Christian music?  Praying for hours on end?  What’s this all about?

Years later, she would phone me periodically.   I still felt like I was humoring her for her strangeness, but never out-loud, never for her to hear.  One day she phoned me for prayer.  She was having surgery the next week, and would I, her former pastor, lift her up to the Lord.  I did.  I think now with tongue-in-cheek, to my shame and embarrassment.

Never heard back from her. One less phone call for me to field.  Somewhat a relief.  Assumed all must have gone well.  But it hadn’t.  In a newsletter from my old church it mentioned that she had died on the operating table during surgery.  She was now with the Lord.

Oh my…guilt was like a tsunami rolling all over me.  Yet, now, for her, all those trials and troubles were over.  I read in Proverbs 3 about binding around our necks and writing God’s love and faithfulness on our chests near our hearts so we don’t forget all about Him.  Like she had been doing.  Strange things to me, but all the right things by her.

Do whatever it takes to get close to the Lord.  Don’t worry about what others may think, even your pastor.  Even trusted friends and family.   I’ve done some growing up since then, and have adopted what other’s may think are strange habits of discipleship.  I don’t care.  I want to get near to Jesus.  Don’t you?  Do whatever it takes.  May seem strange to someone else.  That was me.  Not any longer.  And I share this embarrassing story only to keep myself on guard for the next time I might judge someone else as weird…maybe they are just wired to the King of Kings!  Wired and connected and in love with their Lord.  Do whatever it takes…

Prayer:  Lord, please forgive me for judging others when I need a closer walk with You myself.  For nothing will mean more now and forever than sitting at Your feet.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

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THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE… Matthew 5: 1-20

I used to love preaching from the pulpit at West Side Church in Englewood,  New Jersey.  The pulpit was elevated and I would access it through a small wooden door,  climbing  a spiral staircase, out another small door while turning on the overhead light whose switch was right behind my back.  Disappeared downstairs to appear upstairs with light shining down on me!  Reading the ‘Sermon on the Mount’,  I notice that it was  not how elevated He was on that hillside but what He said that turned everything upside down.

Think about being that ‘light of the world’ for a moment.  You… a light?  That’s what Jesus says (Matthew 5: 13-16).  ‘You are the light of the world’.  Don’t stop there for He also says that we’re to let that light shine before others.

I was thinking–what kind of light am I?  A searchlight?  A Fresnel lighthouse lamp that can be seen for miles and miles at sea?  A small match.   A little light for a short period of time?  Jesus doesn’t specify what lamp is required– just that we shine for Him.  I don’t  know how many will read this devotional.  This may be ‘my little light’.   I used to love to sing that song as a young child–‘this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…’  I wonder–will anyone want to read this book?   Come to think of it, you are right now!  So, I’m going to let my light shine.  ‘Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine’!

A friend came back from a Holy Land archeological dig many years ago, and brought me a lamp from Jerusalem .  It had the archeologist’s markings on a tag authenticating it as being from the Roman period over 2000 years ago.  It had a well for oil and a opening where a wick could be lit.  The lamp would offer enough light for a tiny home.  If you’ve never seen one of these Holy Land lamps, you would be as shocked as I was.  It must be quite large, right?  Well, no, it actually fits into the palm of one of my hands.  That’s it!  But that lamp would do more than you could imagine.

So can you.  So can I.   Just shine…for Him…for others.  It will be truly magical and amazing what heights He’ll take us to…all pointing to Heaven!  ‘This little light of mine, I’m GOING to let it shine!  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine’!

 

Prayer:  Lord, I want to shine for You.   Take my lamp and light it, so others can see Jesus, the Light of the world.  In His name.  Amen.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION… Proverbs 9:1-18

Wherever we live,  it’s nice to know our dwelling is well-built!   Proverbs 9 offers blueprints for godly life… for us who are still under construction!  Verse one– ‘Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.’  The fear, the respect and love of our Lord,  is the foundation, the ‘beginning’ of our godly home(Proverbs 1:7).

So much goes into building a home.  Takes wisdom,  Proverbs says.  Takes godly insights to live a successful Christian life.  Always requires sacrifices to finish well.  The builder must follow the blueprints of the architect, who has responded to the wants and needs of the owners.

Not everyone can afford a home.  For many years I lived in apartments and parsonages.  Here, in Proverbs,  God issues a universal invitation to come to His home for security, provision and family.  Proverbs 9: 1–‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!  To him who lacks sense she says, Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’  Such a simple invitation.  Nothing really complicated.  Come…to Him.  Turn here.  Repent.  Turn around.  Here’s the path.  Yes, a narrow one.  Yet, open to all.

‘In my Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you…that where I am, there you may be also'(John 14: 2-3).  A house more like a mansion that the Lord has for each of us in heaven!  The Book of Proverbs says it is hewn with seven pillars.  Strong and sturdy.  Seven.  The number of perfection and completeness in the Bible.  Seven pillars– tall and strong.  That’s what God’s Wisdom has made for us… to safely dwell in, to live forever with each other.

The invitation still stands.  But don’t forget–you must RSVP.  Have you accepted?  Yes, I want His Son Jesus in my heart.  Saying ‘yes’ to Him…that’s a very wise choice indeed. Turn here… to Jesus.  One way street.  No dead end, for sure.  For the on-ramp leads to the most amazing highway of all, to the most jaw-dropping mansion you could ever imagine.  For you and me…and for ALL who say ‘yes’ to the invitation of our Lord!  RSVP?

Prayer:  We say ‘yes’, Lord, to you.  How could we say otherwise?  The best is yet to come with Jesus.  Amen.

WHAT KIND OF BLESSING WAS THAT?…Exodus 14

This chapter in Exodus contains the great story of God delivering His people out of slavery.  Chapter 14:13-15 caught my attention.  Pharoah’s crack troops are barrelling down on the Israelites as they flee Egypt.  They can see the dust kicked up by Egyptian chariots on the horizon,  getting closer and closer with every turn of their wheels.  Dangerous waters before them…the enemy behind.

‘Help!  Rescue us, Lord!’  Moses tells them to ‘fear not, stand firm’.  The Lord will deliver them.  He says that they  ‘have only to be silent.’  Do what?  Keep quiet.  Shut your mouth.  That’s it?  The Lord says, ‘why do you cry to me? …go forward.’  Saddle up and giddy-up for the Lord!  As if the Lord has had enough of His people’s unbelief.  Their griping and crying.  Enough, already!

I remember many years ago, waiting in line at a Dairy Queen ice-cream store to get a nice soft-serve vanilla cone. Yummy!  Was a long line, but not so long that I couldn’t hear the young man waiting on customers in front of me.  Each one he harassed and put-down in the most obnoxious way that I’d ever heard.  It was a summer day,  but my internal temperature was rising dramatically higher and higher. I was fuming!  When it was finally my turn, he was warmed up with nasty comments ready to flood my way.  ‘Next’!   Wrong move.  Bad timing, buddy!   He barely opened his mouth with one nasty comment  when I instantly said to him, ‘why don’t you just shut up!’  And he did.  Enough, already!   Our family calls this the ‘Dairy Queen Blessing’!  Hopefully, this is one blessing you will never receive from me!

Back to the book of Exodus.  It’s time to keep quiet. Time to stop worrying, wringing our hands,  biting our fingernails.   Time to stop griping.  Time to quit bad-mouthing and gossiping about someone else behind their backs.

It’s time to move forward…with the Lord’s promises surrounding us in the strangest places.  Time to be silent…time to let the Lord fight for you.  Is this such a time in your life?  If so,  move on… quietly trusting Him.  Begin by taking one baby step( faith, the size of a tiny mustard seed, can move mountains!).

Pray for wisdom to know if this is the time to be silent.  It isn’t always.  The Lord will show you as you seek His face.  He will.  Wait…and see!  ‘…and you have only to be silent…tell the people to go forward…’

Prayer:  Lord, I need to let go and let You do battle for me.  I need to stop complaining and learn to praise you even when I least feel like it.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THE HARDENING OF THE ARTERIES…Exodus 7-12

Did I really ask you to read all those chapters?  Yes,  I did!  They’re about the plagues in Egypt.  A series of horrors due to the hardness of heart of their ruler, the Pharoah.  It says that the Lord hardened Pharoah’s heart.  Really?  The Bible makes it crystal clear that God never tempts anyone to do evil( James 1: 12-14).  Rather He’s allowing Pharaoh to make choices.   God is letting him act on his own. God’s permissive will.

It’s going to take a lot to get Pharaoh to soften up,  and let God’s people go.  Going to take a lot–and he really never does get the message.  Not really.  When I was maybe 10 years old I remember visiting my father’s mother, Nana Fischer, in a nursing home in Troy, New York.  She had no idea who we were.  None at all.  We were her son, her daughter-in-law and grandson visiting her.  This really bothered my father.  His mother was alive… but gone.  She had, what in those days we called, hardening of the arteries to the brain.  A form of dementia. Very sad.  She was tied to her chair by a rope that circled her waist.  Tried to get up, but couldn’t.  She wanted to make us coffee but had no means of doing so.  She thought we were strangers.  We didn’t stay long.  This was not my Nana anymore. Not really.  She still had that same broken-German accent.  None of this was her fault or anyone else’s.

Back to Pharaoh.  His fault?  Oh,  yes, for when hearts are hardened willfully, terrible results are unleashed.  Pain and suffering for both the Israelites and the Egyptians.  No one really escaped scot-free.  His own people suffered greatly.  If only Pharaoh would  have turned to the One true God, the One and Only,  all would have been different.

I think of my own life.  Of the times I went my own way and hardened my heart to the Lord.  Ignoring Him.  Figuring I’d get away with whatever it was.  Dead wrong.  For many years now I pray for a soft heart, for a heart and will molded by Him.  He’s the Potter, I’m mere clay in His hands.  But what better place to be?

I’ve learned a big lesson, until I have to learn it all over again.  Two steps forward, one back… and that on a good day!  Why not pray along with me for a tender heart, open to the blood of Jesus coursing through our veins… for His honor and glory.  Our heart–soft and malleable,  tender and compassionate,  massaged by His hands.  You know, my heart feels much stronger already!  How about you?

Prayer:  Lord, make me tender and loving in my heart to You and to others.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A HEARTY WELCOME TO OUR GUESTS!…Psalm 39

Such a blessing to be a guest in someone’s home.  Not always, but usually.  Psalm 39:12–‘Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry;  hold not your peace at my tears!  For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers (ESV translation)’.  A sojourner, a guest.   As the song says,  ‘This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through’.  Life is so short.  Here today,  gone tomorrow.  Our permanent address is not here in this old world.  We’re migrants passing through.

My first church was in South Dakota, in Onida at the Immanuel Mennonite Brethren Church.  It was late summer, at the beginning of harvest.  Many of the migrant workers came to church after helping harvest wheat.  They had begun in their native Mexico, coming right up through Texas, Kansas, to the Dakotas and then into Canada.  They were just passing through, working hard,  and now taking time to worship our Lord.

Like our life,  passing through, working hard and worshipping our Lord.   After seminary, I served three churches for a grand total of nine years.   That phase of my life ended with a rather loud crash.  Well, that’s that.  A chapter ended.  Probably the last chapter of that incomplete book.  But I wondered…  How?  When?  Where?  Questions I’d very quietly ask the Lord.

In the year 2000,  I received a call to pastor a little church with a big heart…right in the same town where I had been living and working for over 20 years!   Had no connection with their denomination… and no desire to be!    No credentials.  What I discovered was amazing.  I didn’t need any!  This was truly a congregational body, making all its own decisions by the vote and will of its members.  For better or for worse!  And I stayed with this church family for 14 years.

God had His plan… and I was part of it!  Imagine that!  But, time to move on and retire.   I was a ‘guest’ there with those precious people.  At the lower left-hand corner of every pay check was written this: ‘Guest Speaker’!   For fourteen years?!  That’s what it said!  Fourteen years as a welcomed guest into their lives and hearts.  Pretty good, huh?   Those fourteen years flew by.

In this life, we’re all guests when we know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  ‘Just a passin’ through’!  This is not our permanent home.  Not at all.  Doesn’t it feel that way to you?  Does to me.  So, enjoy the ride and the scenery.  Enjoy the journey.  For the next phase will be forever.  That’s why it’s called paradise.  For truly that is what it will be!

Prayer:  Lord, for hosting us in this life, we thank you.  We want to be the best guests you’ve ever had!  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

 

A NOBODY? …Exodus 1 and 2 and 4: 24-26

Who hasn’t felt like a nobody?   I remember at my 40th high school reunion, one of my classmates asked me why I didn’t graduate with the class.  What?  He and I had gone all the way from kindergarten through high school together.  Yet, he didn’t remember me after junior high.  I was flabbergasted and a bit hurt.  Was I really a nobody in High School?  Guess so…at least not a very visible classmate to him.

In reading the opening chapters of Exodus,  what struck me was the lack of names for key people.  The Hebrew title for this book is ‘Names’, referring to the opening words written by Moses.  Names are important.  Some key ones are missing.  Like the name of Pharaoh.  ‘Pharaoh’ is actually the Egyptian word for King and not his personal name.  No name given to him.  Or for his daughter, the one who discovers Moses in that tar-pitch basket, hidden among the bull-rushes.  No name given.  Only her relationship to the Egyptian king. She’s Pharaoh’s daughter.   Or Moses’ parents’ names(they are given elsewhere).  Or Moses’ sister, who asks Pharaoh’s daughter if she might need the help of some Hebrew wet nurse for the baby.  No names given… not ’til later in the story.

Bunch of nobodies?  Hardly.  Pharaoh…his daughter. These are somebodies!  But who Moses remembers,  whose identity he never wants anyone to forget, are the names of two seemingly insignificant women.  Pharaoh has issued his orders that all male Hebrew babies are to be killed.  Only the girls are to survive.  The Hebrews are not to grow in number.  Kill all the baby boys,  so Pharaoh orders the midwives for the Jews.  They can’t believe their ears.  Kill what they have worked hard to deliver: of life at birth?  Never!  They vow never to go against God’s will by killing innocent lives, even if ordered by Pharaoh himself.

They don’t.  Boldly… they defy Pharaoh’s sinful command.  Courageously… they put their own lives on the line.  Defiantly… they refuse to take life, but take all means to cherish it, especially with the most vulnerable.  They fear God, not man.  They obey God,  first and foremost.  And God blessed them with families of their own.  God protected them for protecting the children.  Their names are mentioned.  Shiphrah and Puah–names not to be forgotten.  Names…in the book of Names that shine for eternity.  Two women of courage and faith and action.  Two nobodies?  No way!  Shiphrah and Puah.  Remember them.  They pave the way not only for Moses…but for the Messiah as well.  And He’s the Ultimate SomeOne!

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for all the names, including our own, that You know and love and redeem.  In the name of Your Only Son Jesus.   Amen.

HE TASTED DEATH FOR US… Hebrews 2: 1-9

Can you imagine?  Jesus tasted death for us.  Ate it completely.   He did for us what we could never do for ourselves.  Hebrews 2:9–‘Jesus,  crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone’.  He took and tasted the most bitter food of all, the taste of death itself.  Jesus did that for us.

I can remember being in Sacramento, California.  My wife had learned to be a most accomplished wheat-weaver.  Off we drove to the National Wheat-Weavers Association Convention.  The last day an opportunity was given for the public to come and see their art and buy what was for sale.  Sue sold every last piece of woven wheat that she had made.  Almost all the sales were to fellow wheat-weavers, the ultimate compliment.

To top it off, we won a free dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Two free dinners?  Always tastes best when free!  We sat down in a rather posh venue for a lovely dinner to celebrate a  most stupendous convention.   I insisted that we order the most expensive dish on the menu!  Of course, why not?  Let’s splurge…after all, it’s free!  We ordered something we had never heard of before and certainly had never tasted…lobster with pasta in squid ink sauce.  Yum!  So pricey too!  But why not?  And here they come, served so well and elegantly to us, the winners and diners.

Lobster served on pasta with a black sauce of squid ink.  Sounded weird.  Looked funny.  Smelled strange.  The taste?  The worst that we had ever eaten or tasted in our entire lives.  One bite each was all we could stomach…and back the plates went.  Maybe it was how it was prepared?  We don’t know.  But, to be honest, it took years(and I mean years) to get rid of the memory of the taste of that squid ink pasta.  I can still recollect it though somewhat vaguely now, praise the Lord.  And that was decades ago.

Imagine the taste that Jesus tasted for you and me.  Of death.  What I deserved.   He didn’t.  The taste He ate, so we would never have to.  The taste of eternal separation from God. A horrid taste that would last forever.   He left the splendors of glory, to suffer the pangs of death.  To taste death..so we would not have to.

Thank Him.  Praise Him.  Live for Him.  Serve Him.  That much we can do.  That is the least that we can do for the One who tasted death for us.

Prayer:  Thank you, Jesus, for tasting death for us.  For never letting us be separated from yourself.  Thank you, again.  Amen!

HAPPINESS IS WHAT?… Luke 22: 14-23

I was reading a book review about propoganda developed by the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.  The head of a trade-union committee says that happiness comes from materialism.  That made me stop-and-think.  Really?  You’ve got to be kidding.   Like those bumperstickers that say ‘He who dies with the most toys… Wins’!  Really?

As a financial planner for 20 years, I dealt with lots of people who had lots of money.  I can honestly say that any happiness they had could not be directly attributed to their net worth.  Not at all.   Having very little money is a terrible struggle.  Providing for a growing family increases the stress level dramatically, especially at a time of stagnant wages and increasing costs in most of the basic areas of life.  Because I have more money and things than I had 10 years ago, makes me none the happier.  Less stressed in some ways, yes.  Can take advantage of more  opportunities in life than I could when I had no extra money, of course.  But, happy?

In 1983 I found myself alone in life.  Brand new career, no guaranteed income,  on commission only.  I saw my sons every other weekend from Friday night until Sunday evening.  And then times in between, doing paper routes with both boys for many years.  Had to save for 5 years to take them back East to see my family.  We traveled to New Jersey or Florida as family couldn’t or wouldn’t travel West where we lived.

After a bit, I was making more money than I ever imagined.  Didn’t take much really to outdo a pastor’s salary!  I can tell you what gave me the most happiness in my life.  You can guess.  Being with those boys of mine.  Stocking up on food that I knew they loved.  Taping television shows we would watch together and laugh at uproariously!  I would relish looking back to the fun I had having some of their friends over to my apartment…with me the goofiest of all!  And looking forward to their next visit.

I always made it a hard-and-fast  rule to never, ever schedule anything, business or otherwise,  that would interfere with my time with my sons.  With them,  I was happy.  Can still remember the happy feelings I had then.

Reading Luke 22: 14- 15, I have a new understanding of what Jesus is talking about.  What makes Him happy?  ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you…’  The apostles with Him. We make Him happy!   What an honor!  Knowing that,  don’t you want to give Him more of your time?

Prayer:  Lord, we love being with You, especially knowing how happy that makes You.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.