THE TUSSLE OVER THE TASSEL!… Matthew 23: 1-12

It was Tuesday of Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter, and Jesus is in the Temple precincts speaking.  These will be some of His last earthly words.  Poignant and pointed.  Previously,  we referred to the tassels Israelites wear on their garments.  Four tassels, with a blue cord woven-in, were worn on the 4 corners of a man’s garment.  Reminders to remember… and to obey the Lord( Numbers 15).

In Matthew, we witness Jesus warning against pride and arrogance that can rear their ugly heads.  He mentions pious folks who brag, comparing how long their tassels are, grabbing the best seats in the house, longing to be looked over and not overlooked.  Called highfalutin’ names with noses high in the air.

In 2010 Sue and I took a wonderful Holy Land tour with friends from the Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center.  One of the archeological sites we visited was from the time of the Prophet Abraham, near the modern city of Beersheba in southern Israel.  In this 4000 year old site there was an area of raised earth with seats formed out of the clay walls where people could sit.  This was where the judges would gather, hearing cases brought before them.  Some of our group were asked to sit up there.  They really couldn’t wait to step up ‘high and mighty’!  I was the one on trial for some trumped up charge, of course! There they were, big-shots one-and-all, seated many feet above poor railroaded me.  Cross-examining poorer me.  Passing poorest judgement on wrecked me!  All for fun… but a point was made.

They were above me.  It was intimidating.  I felt totally at their mercy,  of which I received none as it turned out!  The Lord warns us about getting too much into ourselves, too much above it all.  Jesus must having been thinking about how much He gave up coming to this earth.  He showed the way.

We easily get lost in ourselves.  Jesus wants us to shy away from inflated titles, excessive pandering for applause.  Tussling over the tassel!   So, move aside… and take a towel.  A somewhat non-descript one.   Wrap it around your waist.  Wash and then dry each other’s feet.  Maybe not literally.  Deferring to others as Jesus did in leaving the glory of heaven to come to earth… to die for us,  forgiving us of all our sins.  If He coveted His rightful place in glory, we’d be condemned to you-know-where.  ‘The greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted'(Matthew 23: 11-12).  Let’s not have a tussle over the tassel!  Pray for ways this week to lift someone else up.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Is it?

Prayer:  Lord, we get on our knees today to thank you for coming to earth to save us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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THE HASSLE WITH THE TASSEL… Numbers 15: 37-41

A few years back, we rented a condo in Brooklyn from which to tour the Big Apple.  We love the City!  The condo was amazing for the low price.  I got a bargain and a lot more than I ever bargained for!  Needless to say, we were out-and-about every day touring and enjoying the City, dreading coming back to that dive.  While riding the elevated portion of the subway to Coney Island, we could see lots of Jewish men wearing strange clothing with stranger additions to them.  Tassels on their shawls.  Tassels with a lovely blue colored-stripe through them.  Garments,  tossed in the city air,  as these men walked briskly along.  Seemed like a hassle to us to have to wear such a garment.  But not to them.

It’s found right in the pages of our Bibles…about those tassels.  They’re trying to be faithful to what God said in His Book.  What does it say?  That they are to wear tassels on the four corners of their clothing as a reminder of the commands of the Lord.

Why the hassle with the tassel?  Must we ask?   It’s so easy to forget our Lord.  We have such short memories.  We wander off on our own.  I need to be reminded.  Something to keep Him right in front of my eyes.   You too?  Of course you do.

Whatever you can do to remember God and His Word, do it.  Even if it’s a hassle.   For God is all there really is to hold onto in this life.  Everything else will pass away.  The Bible is a book like no other.   That’s where that blue thread comes in.  To remind us that God is Holy, and wholly to be obeyed.  The blue dye came from the gland of the Murex snail found in muddy, shallow waters of the Mediterranean Sea in Northern Israel.  They say 12,000 snails’ glands produce 1.4 grams of dye.  I had to look it up– 1 ounce equals about 28 grams!  That’s a lot of snails for little dye.  Very rare.  Very pricey. More expensive than gold or silver.

That little thread in the tassels will cost us.  It’s a sacrifice to follow the Lord.  But wear the tassels, be bold and testify to the Holy God we worship and follow.  After all, those 10 commandments are for His glory and our good.  If all His commands were followed all the time, it would be heaven on earth.  On St Patrick’s Day we’re not ashamed to’ wear the green’, Irish or not.  Every day, for Jesus,  wear your figurative tassels with the blue thread of our Holy God.  Share your good news with someone else who needs the Lord. No  matter the cost.

Prayer:  Lord, we worship You alone, our Holy God.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

HIDE AND SEEK…Proverbs 25: 2-3, and Matthew 11: 25-28

I used to love playing the kid’s game of ‘hide and seek’.  Run around the old neighborhood trying to find the right place to hide where hopefully the person who was ‘it’ could not find you.  When I read Proverbs 25: 2-3,  I was puzzled.  What does it mean that God is glorified when He conceals things?  God hides things from us?   It is ‘the glory of God to conceal things,  but the glory of kings to search them out.’  God hides…we search them out.

What gives?   There is something about searching,  finding out for ourselves.  When I was a financial planner,  I had some clients who enjoyed considerable inheritances.  Some were young people with money dumped into their laps.  I can’t think of any that weren’t worse off after they got all that money.  They found themselves aimless.

Is that what’s meant in this verse about God hiding some things and our needing to search them out?   We appreciate more what we have to work hard for.  A ‘free ride’ is often not that at all.  Proverbs 25 says to get with it!   In college, my parents helped me with expenses–tuition and room/board.  When I entered graduate school at Princeton, my parents announced that I was on my own.  No more money!  Oh, the pain and suffering!  I was being weaned off of their largesse.  It hurt.  I was confused…and possibly a bit greedy as well.   Maybe?  Probably!

I learned that it’s good to study and work hard.  After all,  I was now paying for it!  I did quite well at Princeton.  I paid back my student loan over a 10 year period, never missing one payment.  Like burning a mortgage when that last coupon was clipped, the final payment made!   My parents were right.  I needed to search it out, paying for it myself.

God holds back so we can get busy for Him.  Searching and seeking… all He has for us.  Will mean so much more.  Not served on a platter… but after climbing mountain clefts, stretching weary muscles and scraping knees.  Even in the troubles that don’t seem to go away, seek Him.  Seek…He will be found.  Crack open the pages of your Bible… and find out for yourself.  It’s well worth the effort!  Good reading… good digging!

Prayer:  Lord, we need You so much.  Thank you that life is worth the living because you live.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

BURYING YOUR HEAD IN THE SAND…Leviticus 19: 31

We live in a world that has almost no awareness of the Bible.  Really pathetic.  Read almost any author up until the mid-20th century, from Shakespeare to Milton,  Dostoyevski to Tolstoy,  Eliot to Dickens, and their works are laced with biblical references.  The light of God’s Word shines so dim in our modern world.

So, where do people turn for guidance?  Horoscopes and pseudo-scientists, economists and politicians.  As if they know everything.  Did you know this?  The Lord God speaks more in the Book of Leviticus than in any other book of the Bible.  Leviticus?  Yes.  And He says plainly in chapter 19: 31 to stay far away from ‘mediums and spiritists and necromancers’.  The word for ‘mediums’ in Hebrew language refers to someone who digs a hole in the ground that unleashes infernal deities and spirits of the deceased to enter the upper world, communicating with the living.  Wow, how informative can you get?!

Look at 1 Samuel 28:7 where King Saul foolishly consults a ‘medium’ for direction.  The Witch of Endor.  An owner of a hole in the ground.  That’s the best he can do?  A hole with his head in the sand?  Where the dead are buried?  The haunt of demons, disembodied spirits and Satan himself?  This is serious business.  Where do we look for guidance in life?

Don’t get me wrong.  We dare not put our heads in the sand, cutting ourselves off from the outside world as if there’s nothing there for us to benefit from.  There is.  But, our skepticism must be on high alert.  Drop your horoscope reading–stop now, right this moment.  Never again go near a ouija board.  Never again darken the door of a fortune-teller.  Take economists and politicians lightly, sifting them like grains of sand.

Hang around the Bible neighborhood.  Your neighbors will be the very best.  Streets are safe and well-lit all hours of the night.  Truth hangs out on every corner.  The food is abundant and already paid for.  Leviticus 19:31 says that if you consult mediums, who are just dirt-diggers mucking around in the mud on a rainy day, ‘you will be defiled by them.’  Be careful, the Lord says, you could get sucked into what turns out to be quicksand.  People without the Lord wind up digging a big hole, looking into its depths only to fall in and disappear where they least want to be… forever.  Stay away.  The signs have been posted.  Pay attention.  Spread the Word!

Prayer:  Lord, we turn to you for guidance and help.  We ask for your strength to stay far away from what we know is not for us as believers.  In Jesus’  name.  Amen.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT QUIET… Ecclesiastes 4

Check out Ecclesiastes chapter 4 verse 6.  Talks about quiet and tranquility.  The older we get, my wife and I appreciate quiet more and more.  Agreed?  Noise annoys us.

Where we used to live,  we heard loud train whistles at night.  After awhile, not that noticeable.  We got used to it.  The neighbor’s dog outside our bedroom window, barking at strange hours,  was never a welcome sound.  Diesel trucks chugging up our neighborhood, spewing black smoke into the air amid the rattling din of the engine was certainly unwelcome.

Solomon refers to ‘better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind'(ESV).  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with ambition.  Burning the midnight oil to get ahead in life.  Working hard, saving for the future.  Read Proverbs for such confirmations.  Laziness is never applauded in the Bible.

Something else is going on in Ecclesiastes 4:6.   We move inward to find the nugget of truth from the Lord.  To the place of peace and quiet.  We worry too much when it’s peace that’s supposed to reign in our hearts.  Let me confess that I’m in need of this peace as much as anyone else.

Too many of us live as if we were agnostics.  As if God didn’t even exist.  Like He could care less.  But He does care.  He does love us. We know that.  But sometimes it feels quite the contrary.  With every trouble we face, we do so not alone, but with Him by our side. Every trial and trouble…shared.    Why then does it take so long for me to recognize and believe that?  Why?  A lack of faith?  A forgetfulness?  Overloaded and maxed out?

Don’t you think that Solomon may actually be saying that less could be better for us?  Better one hand with quiet in it than two full hands overflowing with worry?  That too much whatever crowds out faith?  Think about it.  Can there be things, and even good things in our lives, that need one arm with the other one held freely,  lifted up high to praise the Lord?  With two hands loaded-down,  we can’t praise Him or open a door in kindness for someone else or even help us up off the ground.   We’re too weighed down.  Lighten up.  Let things go.  One quiet hand…now lifted high in praise!   That’s better!

Prayer:  Lord, help us to lighten the load of our lives.  We need your help for some peace and quiet today.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TIME FOR THIS, TIME FOR THAT… Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

Everyone says that when you retire, you wonder how you had time for work.  When I retired as a financial planner,  my wife and I did more travelling.  Fun to do.   We loved serving the small church we were pastoring.  Not being on any career ladder was so liberating.  Giving of ourselves,  not looking over the shoulder.

Ecclesiastes 3 has that marvelous section on timing.  A time for this, a time for that.   It doesn’t say when to set your watch, but alludes to times and seasons in our lives.  Times when we need to get away from commitments to others.  Do what’s in front of us, no planning beyond next Thursday.  Times to get close to Him.  Quiet times.

And there are times when schedules happen to be haywire and in-flux.  No way to control what’s going on.  The time to ‘let go and let God’, whatever that means in the nitty-gritty of our lives.  When we were moving after 21 years in our house, life was in turmoil.  Couldn’t think straight.  Too many boxes and too many decisions.

It’s time to move.  Then time to unpack, get settled finding a new church family while still seeing our current one when we can.  Time for this and time for that.  A season of change.  Maybe you’re facing times of change?  A new season in your life.  Welcome or un…

What Solomon advises is for us to enjoy. Enjoy?  Who has time?  Here’s what I’m trying to do–ignore many of the worries that nag at me. Push them to my emotional open window and then shove them out!

Time to enjoy.   Ignore the fears as best we can.   When they come in the door, push them out… and trust the Lord.  Work hard, yes.  Lots to do that must be done. But block the naysaying… and let the Holy Spirit remind us of God’s never-failing love.  There’s only so much time in each day.  Only so much room in our hearts and minds.  If faith crowds out fear, then there will be very little time and space for worry.  True?

Enjoy!  Fill your hearts and minds with trust in Jesus.  Let the rest go…and have a real good time in the Lord!  Enjoy!

Prayer:  Lord, it’s time to trust You.  To throw myself at Your feet in worship.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

BROKEN DISHES!…Leviticus 16: 6-10

I’m reading the book of Leviticus in my devotions.  In the past I would speed read my way through all those regulations about clean and unclean animals, ritual washings and whatever.  Not any more.  Did you know that more direct words of the Lord are recorded in Leviticus than any other book of the Bible?   I didn’t know that.  Now I do.

Let’s focus on a couple of verses in chapter 16.  The section about the scapegoat.  You remember–two goats were involved.  I’ll portray one of them, the old goat!!   One goat was sacrificed, signifying God’s covering of our sins through shed blood.  The other goat would be released and sent into the wilderness( Hebrew ‘Azazel’), signifying that our sins have been released.  Free of them,  and free to flee their dire consequences.  This is the scapegoat.

That’s what I’ve always heard, and always taught.  However, both my Bible translation(ESV) and a new commentary indicate that a slightly different meaning may be in the offing.  It has to do with that Hebrew word ‘Azazel'(verses 8 and 10).  Most Bible scholars would honestly say that there is no definitive translation of that word into English.  Traditionally, it’s meant ‘scapegoat’.  This goat symbolically carries the sins of God’s people away from them into the wilderness.  Some feel that the word ‘Azazel’  has more to do with a location where garbage would be deposited or possibly even the owner of the dump.  In other words, the first goat would sacrifice its blood to cover sins.  But the second would take them to where they originally came from, the pit of hell,  to Satan himself.

‘Azazel’ –dumping them off like a garbage truck would do at a smelly, rotten garbage pit.  Sin would return to its roost.  Like a boomerang,  sin comes back to its dank and decaying haunt.  Interesting.   God forgives our sins and marks them ‘return to sender’.  A few years back we ordered a nice set of dinnerware from a large internet retailer.  They arrived by delivery truck, where the driver opened our back screen door and tossed the box in onto the floor of our utility room.  I heard this from a couple of rooms away.   Lifted that box of dishes only to hear shards and pieces hitting each other.  Broken dishes!  Large platters in pieces!  Calling to the driver,  I handed him back the box,  and told him that I heard what he had done.  He was one  ‘unhappy camper’.  Like I was accusing him of mishandling that box.  Well, he did!  So, back it went.  Broken dishes… returned to sender.

God forgives our sins…and sends them back to where they came from.  In the words of His Son from the cross…’It is finished’.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, for your forgiveness we are so grateful.  You cover us and cast our sins aside.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TIME TO REFLECT? … Ecclesiastes 1

I found an old notebook from the 1970’s in which I had written but one measly article. Entitled the notebook, ‘Reflections Out Of Time’.  I had big writing plans, but way too young to have many reflections to share from my life.  Way too much ahead that I could never have imagined.  More travails than travels.  But God has always been faithful.  Never butting-in when I chose to go my own way.  Waiting patiently for me to come to my senses and come back to Him.

I can imagine Jesus and the Holy Spirit interceding for me with the Father knowing that a few more bumps would not do me any real harm.   I’ve hit my fair share of potholes on the roads I’ve travelled.  Many of them others dug deep and led me right into.  Quite a few, more than I’d like to admit, were of my own digging.  I dug it… and then fell in.  Can you dig it?!

When I read the book of Ecclesiastes, I can feel myself in the presence of some older and wiser man.  Sitting at his feet to cull any pearl of wisdom coming from his mouth to my ears.  Eager to soak up all that he’s learned from life.

I picture Solomon, the King of Israel.  Reflecting on his life.  All those achievements– some good, some not.  Political, educational, relational.   Wine, women and song!  His first words– ‘Vanity of  vanities,  all is vanity’.  The Hebrew word ‘vanity’ is very difficult to translate.  Many shades of meaning.  Basically, it means a vapor, a mist that appears quickly and then disappears.  Nothing lasting.  Here today…gone tomorrow.

I have a suggestion.  Why not read one chapter in Ecclesiastes every day for the next 12 days?  As you do, begin to let the Bible remind you of your own life. Bounce off Solomon’s reflections.  Have your own.   Pause and reminisce.  Think and remember.  Pray for the Lord to infuse those reflections with His insights and wisdom.  We need to come to the same conclusion that this wise old man came to–‘The end of the matter, all has been heard.  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of  man'(Ecclesiastes 12: 13).

In the Hebrew it states that ‘…this is the whole of man.’  Our duty, yes, but even more– our life, our purpose, our everything.  All of it, the whole…is God with us.  Nothing foggy or misty about that.  You can begin to see more clearly now.  The fog has lifted.  The mist vaporized.  Reflections out of time.   How about doing some reflecting with Solomon…and me?

Prayer:  Dear Lord, it’s good to reflect on you in our lives.  You have always been faithful.  In Your Son’s name.  Amen.

THE FAULT IN FALTERING FAITH… Matthew 11: 1-15

What would I do if someone put a knife to my neck and told me to renounce my faith in Jesus Christ?  What would you do?  With the way the world is, not such a remote possibility anymore.  I pray that I would say ‘no’ to the infidels and ‘yes’ to my Lord,  who has always been faithful to me.

But what happens when they bring out our children and grandchildren and put their lives on the line?  Could I be that strong with their lives in the balance?  Now the choice becomes unbearable.   I imagine my faith would falter.  I hear that this has happened,  and am shocked at their lack of steadfast faith.  But not when I think about it for a moment.  How could I possibly criticize someone else’s faltering faith when I would probably do much the same.

I feel bad about that.  No backbone for Jesus?  I wonder how God would judge me.  Not more with His mercy rather than my judgmental principles?  Look at Jesus’ cousin…John the Baptist.  He has been the most amazing evangelist,  calling growing crowds of people to repentance and to Jesus the Messiah. His success is unparalleled.

But now, in prison, he’s wondering if Jesus really is the One he’s been looking for.   His faith begins to falter.   Here in Matthew 11, Jesus sends word back to prison for his cousin.  Jesus is the Messiah.  He is all that John expected of Him.  In addition,  He says that John is the greatest of all those ever born,  including the prophets.

If John the Baptist’s faith can falter, who am I to find fault?  Who am I to judge and criticize?  Who am I to feel high-and-mighty when I have never been put in such circumstances.  Nothing even close.  Who am I to feel smug when I’m afraid to bring up Jesus’ name among some friends and family?  A coward when the only persecution I’ve ever felt has come not from the flames on the stove but from the tiny pilot light.

What do we do?  Pray for those who face such choices.  Pray that God would strengthen and comfort them.  Pray that their enemies would turn to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation.  Pray for the Lord to strengthen our weak knees so we can stand tall for Him.   And when we falter in our faith, let’s remember that the greatest man, John the Baptist, and the greatest Apostle,  Simon Peter, faltered in theirs only to find that their Lord was kind and forgiving and merciful.  He strengthens us.  Lifts us up and carries us.   My faith may falter.  Jesus never does!  Do I hear an ‘Amen’?

Prayer:  Lord, help any believers who face real persecution today.  Give them your strength and your mercy.  We pray for them.   In Jesus.  Amen!

A GOOD NAME–SO WHAT? … Proverbs 21: 20–22: 4

This has to be the most ignored proverb of all!  Proverbs 22:1– ‘a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches…’  If you had the choice between riches and a good name, which would it be?  Could I have both!?    Lottery winners fantasize that they will handle their new-found monies without any difficulty at all.  Spend it wisely.  Turn aside all erstwhile relatives so needy for extra cash,  who suddenly appear out of nowhere!

The statistics don’t bode well for such good intentioned,  newly-wealthy,  lottery winners!  Our culture really puts the super rich on a pedestal.  Gates…Buffett… Rockefeller–names of the unbelievably wealthy, past and present.

I didn’t read your name on that list.  That’s strange.  Anyone see mine?   No.  Well, look again.  Are you sure?  Not there, huh?   Only a precious few can make the most wealthy list.  But all of us can have a good name, and according to God’s Word, that’s the better of the two…by far.  We can have a good name!

Reading  Proverbs 21:20 through 22:4,  we discover what is means to have that good name.  No where does it list anything whatsoever about your net worth.  Not one thin dime!    Or how much education you’ve achieved.  Or the square footage of your home.  Or what luxury car you drive.  All left out.   Important things?  Of course.  Critically important?  Not on your life, and not to God.  He values a ‘good name’ more than any of those other ‘things’.

What comprises a ‘good name’?  First,  a good name seeks God and His ways with all the kindness and love we can muster(verse 21).   With self-control and boundaries, good stewardship(verse 20).  A person with a good name knows how to watch what he says(verse 23).  Guard your tongue.  Tell the truth.  Exhibit genuine humility(verse 24).  Hard-working and generous(verse 25).  That’s what makes for a ‘good name’.

Character… in action.  Not just empty words.  Certainly not  ‘do as I say and not as I do’.  Quite the contrary.  But I wonder–will everyone like me?  Didn’t read that as part of a ‘good name’.  Not a popularity contest.  Do I match up?  Hardly.  I feel the pinch of conscience.

But God’s not done with me yet.  Or with you, either.  What needs to change immediately, though,  is the priority of a good name above anything else.  Lord, I want a good name… above all else.   And that’s a commitment.  Ready?  Let’s go…for a good name!

Prayer:  Lord, I want a good name.  Help me to understand what that  means in my life.  To be more like Jesus.  Amen.