TAKE THE MEDICINE!…Numbers 21: 4-9

I’m not a fan of snakes.  At the zoo I usually shy away from their exhibit.  I do love the Israelites, wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.  Probably had my sense of direction!  Whenever they hit a rough spot, they grumple and gripe, forgetting about how faithful the Lord has been to them.  Such short memories.

Reading in the book of Numbers, God’s people rag on Him once again.  ‘… they spoke against God and against Moses…no bread…no water!  And we detest this miserable food!'(Numbers 21: 4-5).  What a bunch of ingrates!   God allows snakes to do what snakes do best.  In effect, He pulls back His protection.  The venom of their words against the Lord and Moses came back to bite them with dire consequences.

People rush to Moses, the one they spoke against, asking his help.  Moses comes to the Lord.  Only God can help.  What does the Lord tell Moses to do?  Kind of strange.  He tells Moses to make a bronze figure of a snake, and put it on top of a tall pole.  When God’s people look up at the snake, healing will come.  They will survive.

What’s the point of looking up at a snake?  The snake was made of bronze/copper, the same material used for ancient mirrors.  Looking to the snake would be like looking at yourself.  Honestly owning up to who you are.  Admitting that we are far from the character of holy God.  That’s part of what this story is about.

Something else.  Those bitten were told to do something, to look up at the serpent.  They had to be willing to look up at what God says will save them.  It happened– if you looked up.  But you had to believe in what the Lord had said, to follow His way.  Like going to your doctor when you’re deathly ill.  He says you’ll be fine– take the prescribed medicine.  Two days later, you’re worse.  You call his office and complain that the doctor doesn’t care that you feel like you’re at death’s door.  The doctor is puzzled. The medicine should have worked.  Give it another couple days.  More days pass and you almost pass out.  You feel even worse, if it’s possible.  Barely able to speak,  you complain to whom you now think is a quack.  Scratching his head, the doctor asks if you have taken the medicine.  ‘Have you?’   ‘No, I haven’t, but why don’t I get better?  Don’t you care, Doctor?’  ‘Take the medicine!’

God has provided all anyone would ever need for salvation and forgiveness and eternal life.  It’s Jesus.  Plain and simple.  Jesus.  He’s the medicine… take it!  Receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  Deadly venom becomes eternal victory in Jesus!

 

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for allowing us to look to you for help with all our needs.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE… Job 1

Sometimes it’s difficult to make sense of the Book of Job.  He faced such tragedies– losing family, fame and fortune all in the first chapter.  We discover who’s behind these disasters– Satan.  The Hebrew word for ‘Satan’ may not be a name,  but a noun meaning ‘accuser’,  ‘adversary’, ‘destroyer’.   We read that Satan is allowed in the presence of God and His holy angels.  Stirring up trouble wherever he can.

Here in chapter 1 we see that there is more than meets the eye with what’s happening to Job.  It’s not a storm or a band of robbers stealing all of Job’s livestock.  Not bad luck either.  No. The enemy is at work.

As we go through life, we learn that there’s more going on than meets the eye.  But regardless of what happens, we have a choice.  Turn our backs on God?  Or put our trust in Him.  That was Job’s choice.

He discovered, as we will, that there may be no decent answers to the questions we have.  That the simple answers that well-meaning Christians give may be just that, way too simple.  The best answer of all is to love the Lord with all you have… and love your neighbors as yourself.  When all else fails,  that bit of godly advice never will.  It works every time.

Have I followed that every time?  Are you kidding?  Don’t I wish!  But I do want to trust Him… more and more.  I’m sure you do, too.

Has He ever let me down?  Really…think about that.   Do I have all the answers?  All neat and tidy?  Not at all.  But I do have His Word, the Bible.  I take Him at His Word.  And that tells me that I can stop leaning on myself… and start leaning in on Him.

Prayer:  Lord, we have so few answers and so many questions.  We want to trust You more.  In Jesus’  name.  Amen.

 

THIS APPLIES TO BOTH!… Proverbs 31: 10-31

Proverbs 31– the most famous chapter in the book!   The one about the perfect wife.  The one who can do it all.  There’s nothing she won’t try… and succeed at.  Cares for her husband and family.  An astute businesswoman.  Respected in the community.  Never a complaint.

The women reading this, including my own wife, are wondering what I’m going to say next?  Fear not, the wisdom in this section of Proverbs 31 could apply to BOTH women and men.  Have I straddled the fence rather well?!  As I read Proverbs 31,  I place myself as a man alongside this model woman.

Why not read verse 10 like this:  ‘a husband of noble character who can find?’  Some of the attributes of this woman may not easily apply to a man, but much of it clearly does.  I want to be a good provider, a godly example.  I hope my family has lots of mercy to toss my way!  I’ve wanted to work hard.  To love the Lord above all,  and be a witness for Him.

Let me recommend another verse.  It’s Leviticus 23: 22.  The entire chapter talks about the festivals the Lord wants His people to celebrate during the year.   Some are weekly like the Sabbath or monthly like the new moon, but most are annual events.  Describing the Feast of Weeks(Pentecost), there comes the command to harvest as much grain as you can, but  leaving some around the edges for the poor.  Proverbs 31 people, male and female, are active and busy in their lives.  Leviticus people are generous and giving.  I do notice in Leviticus that the poor need to gather their own grain,  what was left for them.  Not delivered to their homes as they sit around and wait to be served.  No, they too must work and gather.  Like the adage about giving someone a fish being less effective than teaching them to fish themselves.

Of course, some people need direct help.  But in other cases, we must be cautious and discerning.  I love giving mini-loans through mission organizations, where a poor woman or man will be lent money to buy a sewing machine to do mending that will provide for the money-needs of the family.   In addition,  they can start to pay back the loan a penny or so at a time so that others will have money that they can borrow to buy flour and open a neighborhood bakery.  Not a handout,  but a hand up in life.  Now they can be productive like the woman in Proverbs 31.  Great chapter for great followers of our great God!  For men and women.  Agree?

Prayer:  Lord, for as long as possible,  I want to be active serving you.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

WHAT IS THE BIG DIFFERENCE?…Proverbs 22: 17-29

Bible scholars say that this section of Proverbs is very similar to common thinking in ancient times. They reference similarities to the ‘Instruction of Amenemope’, written in Egypt about 1250 BC.  Solomon himself lived about 950BC, so if there are commonalities,  it’s because these wise sayings were ‘in the air’, you could say.

These ’30 sayings’, beginning in Proverbs 22, seem like an expansion of the Ten Commandments.  Reading from verses 19 through  29,  we see many commands–like not robbing anyone.  Especially the poor.  Also, be cautious about going to court.  Don’t do it.  Then we’re told to lead separate lives…away from people with anger problems, vengeful types.  Stay away from those who drag you down.  Sin is highly contagious.  Proverbs says that such schemes and schemers wind up tied up in knots of their own making.

I’ve been trying to prove this wrong most of my life.  Still true nevertheless!  Moving on–be very careful with the things you own.  Take care of them.  They’re not ‘only things’.  And don’t get roped into co-signing for someone else, especially family.  Could cost you dearly.  Care for your own things, and don’t try to take someone else’s away from them.  Work hard…do your best.  Give it your all.  Apply what God has gifted you with…for others and for Him.  You’ll benefit as well.

There’s lots of good advice in this world of ours.  Lots to learn from many different sources.  This section in the book of Proverbs may be a close reflection of other’s wise thoughts.  But what is the big difference for us as believers?  Is there any?   It’s found in verse 19–‘that your trust may be in the Lord…’  Whatever you do in life, center it in the Lord.

When I was a financial planner for 20 years, I looked for opportunities to help as many people as I could.  Couldn’t think of any other way to make a decent living!  I listened to others–to their hopes and dreams and worries.  I listened.  And I kept looking for more people to help.  Also to share the Lord whenever I could.  Not hitting them over the head with my Bible.  Sometimes they’d ask me why I was doing what I was doing since I was no longer a pastor.  Good question.

Many times I became a pastor to people who had neither church nor minister.  And I could tell them about trusting in the Lord Jesus.  That’s the big difference in this world.  He’s the big difference. How big is He in your life?

Prayer:  Lord, thank you that we are yours.  Your children whom you love so much.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER, REALLY?… Numbers 6: 22-27

I own a framed piece of calligraphy of the Lord’s Prayer.  No, not the prayer you’re thinking of.  The ‘Lord’s Prayer’ (Luke 11)is more aptly called the ‘Disciples’ Prayer’,  a model the disciples would use for their prayers.  Read in the book of Numbers 6 to find ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.  This is what the Lord prays for us.

No doubt you’ve heard this prayer said many times, possibly as a benediction concluding a worship service.  Brief… but packed with meaning.  ‘The LORD bless you and keep you;  the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;  the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace'(verses 24-25).  This is His prayer over us.  This is the LORD’s prayer.  I capitalize the word ‘LORD’ for in Hebrew this is the very name of God.  Probably pronounced Yahweh.  His name.

What He gives us,  first-and-foremost,  is His name.  His identity and character–all wrapped up as a gift.  I can’t imagine having direct and welcome access to the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings.  But that is precisely why He gives us His name.  To welcome us into His presence.  The welcome mat is always out.

After giving us His name,  He gives even more.  Blessings cascade from His throne right into our hearts.  We see His face shining with joy as He looks at us, welcoming us as His precious children.  Once I went to see grandson Jackson at tumbling and gymnastics.  The class is held in a large hall which had only one folding chair way off in the corner where I could sit and watch.  I got there a bit early.  Soon Jackson and brother Ace and Mom arrived.  Jackson came into the large hall looking around not seeing me.  But then he could see me waving at him way off in that distant corner.  And his face lit up like you can’t believe!  Waving back at me, excited to see me there… for him.   Papa was there for Jackson.  Gave ME such a thrill.

That’s what God gives us.  His shining face lovingly gazing at us, His children.  His face– filled with warmth and love.  We may imagine that He’s turned away from us due to our sin, but in fact He’s right in front of us, having turned toward us when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.  He faces us with love and forgiveness.

But there’s even more– God wants to give us His peace, His ‘shalom’.  The world can’t give it.   Only from Him.   From Jesus… the Prince of Peace.  A wonderful prayer, this Lord’s Prayer… from the Old Testament.  His wishes… for us!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for all your blessings that keep coming our way.  We love you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TIME TO BE AN UNBELIEVER!… Matthew 21: 21-28

An unbeliever?  Shouldn’t I be encouraging belief and trust in the Lord?  Of course.  But I’m quoting Jesus.  Name dropper!–“then if anyone says to you, ‘look, here is the Christ!’  or  ‘there he is!’ do not believe it”(verse 23) and “so, if they say to you, ‘look, he is in the wilderness’, do not go out.  If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms’, do not believe it”(verse 26). You didn’t believe me!   Charlatans and conartists will try to trick you as if we’re gullible.   In fact, don’t believe them at all.  Be an unbeliever.  Hang tough with what you believe in.   The Bible must be our hitching post.  Without a doubt.  Everyone else pays cash, no out-of-town checks accepted!

I remember with  sadness years ago seeing all those billboard signs advertising a certain date on them,  guaranteeing that a specific day would be the last one,  then Jesus would return.  Guaranteed.  Indisputable.  Baloney!   I couldn’t believe it.  Time to be an unbeliever!  We were staying in Ocean City, New Jersey at the time.  People were giving out fliers on the boardwalk warning of that date.  The sad part for me was that their leader  was a Bible teacher I would listen to on the radio every night when I was a new believer.  He would teach the Bible, answer questions that listeners would call in.  I loved the program.  I learned so much.

But now–what was this?   Guaranteeing the exact day of the 2nd coming,  absolutely for sure?  I know the Bible enough now to shake my head at such arrogance.  Jesus said that only the Father knows when.  That’s enough for me.  No one will know for sure… until it happens.  No one.  I’ll be an unbeliever to all who say that they now know.   Also, to all who think that the Bible is old wives’ tales.  Or those who mocked  the Bible when that day came… and then went by rather uneventfully.  And to all who think the human mind alone can comprehend and solve the complexities of this life.  I don’t believe them either.

I don’t even believe in the power of prayer.  Like it’s some impersonal force or a bunch of positive vibes.  No, I believe in the One who has the power to answer our prayers.  Trust in the Lord.  Believe in Him.  Lean on God’s Word,  the Bible.  You can trust every word of it from Genesis to Revelation.  Believe in Jesus and you won’t fall for any claptrap, even from a retired devotional book writer!  I too must pay cash!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for the anchor of our soul that your Son Jesus truly is.  Amen.

OUT OF THE MOUTH OF A LITTLE 4 YEAR-OLD… John 3: 16

Our 4 year old granddaughter loves our seashell collection.   She tells us multiple times how much she loves them.  You guessed it.  We’re giving her our precious seashell collection!  But we tell her that she’ll get them a little at a time, everytime she visits us.  Aren’t we sneaky?  Dangling a shell in front of her eyes to keep her coming back!  Are we not enough of a draw?

I was telling her that it’s fun to share.  Immediately she told me what she had learned at  pre-school– ‘sharing is caring’.   I like that.  I found our children’s Bible that we’ve read to our grandchildren.  Wanted to share with her the Easter story.  The ultimate story of sharing because Someone is caring.  Not just someone.  God– sharing His only Son.  Giving Him for us who deserve nothing but the back of His hand.  Wanting to give us His salvation.  Wanting to because He loves us so very much.

What a strange story.  Strange in that none of us would ever give any of our children to die for someone who could care less, who would spit in our face given the opportunity.  Would you?   I wouldn’t.  But He did.  As the verse says, ‘For God so loved the world…’  Loved.  Not just liked or tolerated.  That would be me on a good day.  No,  He loves us– all who are in this world.  All who receive Him into their hearts.  Is that you?  It was me when I was sixteen hearing this message for the first time–that God loved me and cared about every itsy-bitsy part of my life.  I couldn’t believe it.

But I did believe it– that it is true.  As best I could,  with the little mustard of faith that I could muster up and offer Him, I accepted His love in Jesus.  But it’s not about my faith as much as His sharing because He’s so caring.  It’s about Him.  He accepts the little I give Him, and He makes that something really big.  Thank you,  Lord!  My little light gets infused with His to make all the sunshine I’ll ever need for all my days here on earth… and beyond.  For you also.  Plenty of light to go around.

He gave His only Son.  Think about that.  Praise Him for caring and sharing.  May this Easter, as sweet as the candies can be, be ever sweeter with our loud praises to the One who gave His life for us!  Happy Easter!  He is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!  ‘Sharing is Caring’… indeed!

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, we praise you, our living Lord!  Alive forevermore!  And living for us!  We thank you and praise you and love you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? … Matthew 21: 28-46

Our Lord Jesus is in the final week of His life.  The time between Palm Sunday and Easter.  Matthew recalls that Jesus tells a few parables during that week.  Here’s two of them.  Jesus puts it right to His listeners, including a group of chief priests and Pharisees.  He’s taking every opportunity to reach out to people.  He never gives up.  Always trying to reach everyone all the time.  Do you realize that?  When I first heard someone make that statement, I really had to think about it for awhile.  But he’s right.

The story of the two sons shows that God gives second chances in this life.  Jesus tells about a father who asks both his sons to work in his vineyard.  The first says ‘no way’,  but then thinks better of it and goes to work.  The second son says ‘yes’, only to placate his father, and winds up not lifting even one finger.   Who obeyed?   The first son, of course.  This is a parable about God’s second chances.  The ‘yes’ of today and not the ‘no’ of yesterday.  When we fail Him,  get up    Let Him give you His hand to help,  and get going for Him NOW.

For the person who glibbly shakes his head ‘yes’ without any intention of following through, the outcome will not be very good.  The religious folks thought that saying ‘yes’ was enough.  But it wasn’t.  The proof would be in the pudding.  Jesus tells the story of tenant farmers who rent land from their Master,  owing him a portion of the crop as payment for working his land.  The tenant farmers decide to revolt.  When the Master sends his officials to collect the rent,  they beat them, even kill some.  The tenants want to keep all the crops.  But they really have none.  Only renters, after all.  That’s the deal.  But they want it all.  The Master figures that his son will be able to talk some sense into these senseless rebels.

No, they kill him as they had the others.  How foolish–for he is the Master and he exacts justice in the end.   Those ‘wretches (will come)to a wretched end’ (Matthew 21: 41).   This story is clear.  God keeps sending His messengers to ‘knock on the door’ of everyone’s heart.  In all kinds of ways.  God looks for the open door.  Welcome Him in.    Welcome…welcome…welcome!  So sad that so few make such an offer.  Embrace His loving arms.  He died on that cross for you and for me.  How could I ever turn my back on Him?

Prayer:  Thank you, Jesus, for going to the Cross for us.  To forgive all our sins.  In your name.  Amen.