BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU TOSS OUT!….Psalm 50: 12-18

Be careful what you toss out–may need it some day!  Many find it next to impossible to throw anything out.  You know who you are!  We lived in our previous home for twenty one years.  Raised most of our kids there.  Grandkids knew every nook-and-cranny, closet and crawl space.  Entertained lots of friends around our kitchen and dining room tables.   Worked hard on our home.  Mainly my wife Sue.

We lived in the midst of three towns that had many issues to contend with.  Yes, lots of wonderful people.  Had a super job there with a large investment firm.  Met and married my wonderful wife.  Served the Lord at the best little church any pastor ever served.

Struggling towns economically with way too much abuse of all kinds.  This was telling.  No hiding it.  Our downtown appeared as a town on the way down.  Nevertheless,  it was hard to leave our home and hometown.  But we did.  Now we closer to all our children and those precious grands!

We had to let things go–to Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, friends, family… and the monthly garbage can.  Our old house had too many storage spaces.  We used every one.  Our new home has a lot less space,  so we had to ‘lighten the load’.   And we did.

But remember, be careful what you cast aside as you may need it some day.  Psalm 50: 17– ‘For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you’.  Casting God’s Word aside as if an old collection of myths and fairy tales.  Not any of that.  It’s God’s Word from start to finish, Genesis to Revelation.

True then…true now.  The world, our nation, and even some Church denominations are casting aside the Word of God.  Outmoded.  Out of date.  Don’t believe it for one second.  My old denomination changed the rules over 80 years ago–the rule being the inerrant, infallible measure of our faith, the Bible.  But then, to be modern and ‘with it’, they loosed the ties that bind to the truth of God, which has led that church body to be increasingly insignificant,  suffering decreasing membership with local churches leaving in droves.  The ones remaining barely survive. Why, they ask?

They have no idea.  It’s not that hard to figure out, if you really want to know.  It has to do with what they’ve cast aside.  Psalm 50:17-18–‘For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.  If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,  and you keep company with adulterers.’  They have cast aside God’s moral law allowing and even celebrating what God had forbidden.  Sound like today?  We dare not cast aside the Word of God.  Some will make fun, even mock.  So be it.  Never cast aside the Word of God.  Never.

Prayer:  Thank you, God,  for Your Word.  True, perfect, nourishing and good.  We stand on your Word.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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KEEP YOUR EYES FOCUSED… Psalm 54

For many years now, the church I serve as pastor emeritus ends its weekly worship service with all singing these hymn words–‘ turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face,  and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.’  What better way to conclude a worship service!

Look to Jesus.  He’s wonderful to see.  Troubles of this world grow small and appear strangely dim when we focus on His glory and His grace.   A benediction in song, week-by-week.  However, not shared by those lamented in Psalm 54: 3– ‘For strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves.’  Strangers, unwelcome visitors all.  Not with a common faith in the Lord.  People unconvinced and destructive.  Will tear us down.  Ruthless– willing to do almost anything to get their way.  Robbers of life, joy and goodness.  Literally,  in the Hebrew– ‘who do not set God before them’.   No turning their eyes on Jesus.  No looking full in His wonderful face.  How about us?

Stop looking all over the place; here, there and who-knows-where.  Stay focused.  Concentrate.  We used to go camping with some of our children.  I liked camping even though it didn’t seem like it at the time.  It was hard.  Our daughter kept crying that her backpack was too heavy, so I’d have to carry it part of the way.  Setting up the tent, getting firewood, trying to ‘bean’ raccoons as they would steal my after-dinner pretzels!   The drinking water had a rather bad effect on my system, which left me trying to find suitable burying areas not close to our camping site, getting there in the nick-of-time, if you know what I mean!

So special being out in the forest, alongside the Pacific Ocean.  Loved it.  Sort of.  At night we’d tell stories,  some better than others. We’d always play a little game called ‘I Spy’ where we’d concentrate on something that the others would try to guess.  ‘I spy with  my little eye…’ and off went the guessing.

Don’t be like the folks in Psalm 54: 3 who don’t pay any attention to God.  They toss Him aside.  Ignore Him.  Make believe He doesn’t exist.  No. Put Him front-and-center in your life.  When your concentration flags, don’t worry.  Shake yourself.  Look straight ahead.  Turn your eyes upon Jesus…look full in His wonderful face.  You’ll notice that the things of this crazy world will grow dim and small in a strange and wonderful way when we see His glory and His grace.  How’s your vision these days?

Prayer:  Oh Lord, help us to look Your way, to follow in Your footsteps.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

TALK ABOUT A PLAIN AND SIMPLE WITNESS…Acts 27: 13-26

‘Sharing is caring’, our granddaughter has learned in school.  Not being selfish, keeping the best news in this world to ourselves.  Someone bothered to share Jesus with me… and you.  Some make sharing our faith a very complicated experience.  Make sure they know every detail of the faith.  Pass some theological test to receive salvation.  No easy-believism.  Of course, that’s right.

Faith not just a nod of the head or saying some rote words.  Commitment is a promise to keep.  But in the beginning I think it’s more about intent than content.  When I accepted the Lord into my life as a teenager, all I knew was that God loved me;  and if asked,  He would come into my life.  Plain and simple.  To me, earth-shattering.   I knew  I didn’t deserve His love and forgiveness.  I felt bad enough.  I couldn’t have told you any more than that, plain and simple.  If given a test, ‘F’ was not for Fischer but for failure…to know very much about the faith I now embraced.

The content of the Bible came later… and is still coming.  Content is great,  but in the beginning is the intent to be a follower of the Lord.  That’s not always easy.  I like to lead.  Be in charge.  Set the tone.  Follow me… instead.

Not with the Lord.  He’s not looking for more leaders, but more followers.  That content is gradually (though incompletely) my intent as well.  Be a good follower of Jesus.  Learn all you can from Him and His Word.  Give Him the lead.

That’s why I love the plain and simple witness of the Apostle Paul on a distressed ship at sea found in Acts 27.  My wife and I have been at sea during some rather big storms.  Cruise ships with stabilizers still rock-and-roll if the waves are big enough.  When the sea-sick bags show up on all the railings, it’s time to head back to our stateroom!

In Acts 27, Luke records a devastating storm at sea that will have catastrophic effect on cargo and ship.  But not the crew and passengers…for the Lord has told Paul through angelic messenger– ‘…this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship… take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told…'(Acts 27: 23, 25).  That’s Paul’s witness.  Plain and simple.

Those who believed in Jesus, as Paul did, learned later all that that entailed.  The intent was to seek help from the Lord.  The content of the Word of God comes later.  The one will lead to the other.  Different pace for different folk.  Be patient.  Share the Gospel…and  your faith, plain and simple.  Let the Holy Spirit work the rest…Amen?

Prayer:  Lord, we need Holy Spirit guidance and understanding to be all you want us to be.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

NOT THOSE 7 LAST WORDS OF JESUS…John 1: 35-42

It was probably 35 years ago now that a series of articles I had written was accepted by a devotional magazine.  The topic was this– the first recorded words of Jesus in the Gospels.  Many times during Lent,  we hear messages on the Seven Last Words.   I wrote about His first words.  Something different.  A new angle.

Never did finish that series.  Never submitted,  never published.  Still have the drafts along with the original carbon paper that I used to make copies for myself! That was a long time ago.  I’d still like to write those devotionals.  How about we just spend a little time now looking at a few of Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of John?

John 1: 38–‘What do you want?’  That’s a strange question to ask someone.  Isn’t it?  I’d feel defensive having to come up with a really good reason or two.  Maybe that’s the point.  Jesus makes those two disciples of John the Baptist really dig deep to find why they want to get to know Him.  What they really want from Him.

Must ask myself the same question.  On any given day it could be something different.  Jesus asks: ‘what do you want’?   Go ahead–think out loud.  Don’t candy-coat.  Be honest and open.

When I first became a believer in Jesus, I had no idea what He could do for me.  Or what He wanted from me.  No idea.  I was lonely.  Afraid of what was ahead.  What I wanted of Jesus was for Him to be close to me.  To never leave me… in the dark.   That’s all.

It was later that I started adding all the selfish-sounding stuff… for this, for that and some of those over there while you’re at it!  I should have stayed where I was at the beginning of my Christian life.  Just wanting Him.  Nothing more or less.

Jesus with me sounded pretty good to someone who had no idea that God even cared.  Those two followers of John the Baptist give a murky answer to Jesus’ question, wondering where He’s staying for the night.  Jesus says to them–‘Come…and you will see'(verse 39).  No direct answer.  Nothing definite.   Merely an invitation to get with Him and get ready for the experience of a lifetime.

If you want to know Jesus, tell Him that.  And then wait and watch.  He’ll be found…He’s not far from any one of us( Acts 17:27).  You’ll find Him if you really want Him.  ‘What do you want?’  is still His question for us today.  And your answer?

Prayer:  Lord, we need you.  We want to be close to you and have you close to us.  In Jesus, Your only Son.  Amen.

NO U-HAULS ON THE WAY TO THE CEMETERY!…Psalm 49

Guess you haven’t seen one either.  What is it?  A U-Haul trailer hooked up to the back of a hearse on the way to the cemetery!  Can’t take it with you, as we all know.  But do we? Seems to me that we all hold onto things with a tight grip.  My money…my house…my car…!  You name it,  it’s mine!

I remember hearing the story of a Texan with gobs of money, who died, and left instructions that he was to be buried lashed to the steering wheel of his old 1957 Cadillac. This old car even had bull horns soldered to the front as hood ornaments.  And there he was, the old guy,  wearing a 10-gallon hat, a string cowboy tie, and alligator boots strapped to the peddles.  As this ridiculous rig was being lowered into the ground, someone was heard to say, ‘Man, that’s living!’   Really?  Supposedly the senior John D. Rockefeller’s accountant was asked how much the multi-millionaire left when he died.  He was the richest man in the world in the 1930’s.  How much did he leave?  The accountant said that Rockefeller left it all,  every last dime!  Took nothing with him.  So will we.

Psalm 49:16- 17–‘Be not afraid when a man becomes rich…For when he dies he will carry nothing away;  his glory will not go down after him.’  In verse 20–‘Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.’   Not only do they leave all behind, but if ‘without understanding’, without a relationship with the Lord, it gets even worse.

For believers, the worst day we’ll ever have in this world, is the worst day we’ll ever have.  Verse 15–‘But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.’  Ransomed by the blood of Jesus, you are received safe and sound into God’s family.   To be ransomed is to be bought out of slavery.  In this case, as slaves to sin.  Sinful people cannot redeem themselves from their own sin.  Only the Son of God can,  who gave Himself as a ransom for our sins(see Mark 10:45).

I love that word ‘receive’–‘for He will receive me'(verse 15).  Not only do I receive the Lord Jesus into my heart,  but God Himself receives me into His presence.  What an honor!   No more sorrows, no more parting.  No more pain or suffering.   None of that… ever again.  His promises and His presence–those you will take to the grave and beyond…

Prayer:  Thank you, Jesus, for coming to this earth.  We honor you and love you, now and forever.  Amen.

PUTTING THE GEAR IN DRIVE…Psalm 45

Driving in England,  we rented a Vauxhall Astra that had a left-hand gear shift with six forward gears. Six?  I couldn’t believe it.  And I had to master it the moment we got into the car!  One gear for reverse with six forward.  Take the hint!   Rarely in reverse, keep going and getting ahead.

Like the large windshield in front, seeing what’s ahead.  Small side and rearview mirrors to briefly check what’s beside and behind us.  A sudden glance with most of the time looking forward.

Psalm 45: 16–looking ahead.  Generations pointing forward and not in reverse.  ‘In place of your fathers shall be your sons.’  I am very aware that my sons need to put all their energy forward to their children.  Love goes forward in six gears with just a smidgen in reverse.  What makes me happy is when I see our children caring for theirs.  Love moves forward and needs to.

Respect and honor for parents.  That would be nice.  Sometimes we’ll need their extra helping hand.  As the psalmist says:  ‘your sons will take the place of your fathers;  you will make them princes throughout the land.  I will perpetuate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever’ (Psalm 45: 16-17).  The psalmist is referring to Israel’s king and successors.

I couldn’t help but sense the Lord’s gentle nudge.  Encourage your sons and daughters. Love them.  Love their spouses and their children.  Pray for them often.  Be there for them, but don’t smother them or weigh them down.  Use the forward gears.  As the Apostle Paul said, ‘…But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus'(Philippians 3: 13-14).

Maybe this has sparked a thought in your mind.  You need to shift into the gears of love, encouragement, concern, forgiveness, patience along with lots of prayer.  No children?  Pour out your love to any and all you really care about.

Think about it.  If you’ve been taking too much, demanding too much, unforgiving and bitter, ask the Lord to show you how to let go, getting out of reverse, shifting into those  forward gears!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for all your love and care.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SHARING THE FAITH…. Judges 2: 1-10

How quickly the next generation turned their backs on the Lord.   Judges 2: 10–‘And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel’.  One generation away and God was pushed out of their lives. Believing parents?  I suppose.   For some reason, they didn’t share their faith.  How could that be?

In my own life, complacency has robbed me of the urgency to share the Lord.  I came to know Jesus listening to Billy Graham on the radio.  I was turning the dial and something caught my ear. Heard the Gospel for the very first time.  I responded by asking Jesus into my life.

I had been a church-goer, sort of.  Once in a blue moon.  Not really a high priority for my family except for some distant cousins.  Were good people…just not interested in the things of the Lord!  The morning after accepting the Lord, I started reading a ‘mint condition’ Bible I was given in 3rd grade.  Getting into the things of God and they into me.

Wait a minute.  The Bible I had was mailed to me from the church where I had been baptized as an infant.  Someone, I forget the name now, had given money for a perpetual fund that would give every baby baptized in that church their own Bible when they reached the age of eight.  Whoever that was wanted the next generation to know the Lord and His Word.

Give you an idea about passing on the faith?  Not exactly in that way?   Find another.  Do something to make sure that your family knows about how you came to find Jesus and all that He’s done in  your life.  I love to give money for evangelism with children…’pass it on’!  Monies for Christian radio.  That’s how Jesus found me.  What ideas do you have?  Think about it.  Keep doing what you’re doing…but more so.

That’s right–do more.  Don’t talk about doing it… do it!  Share your story.  We know the Lord wants us to ‘pass it on’.  Not me alone.  ‘…that you may tell the next generation that this is God,  our God forever and ever.  He will guide us forever’ (Psalm 48: 13-14).  ‘Pass It On’!

Prayer:  Lord, we ask, on bended knee, for the salvation of each one in our families, neighborhoods and country.  In His name.  Amen.

HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE?… Judges 2: 1-10

This is a most discouraging chapter in the Bible.  Doesn’t seem possible.  Joshua,  Moses’ successor, has led God’s people into the promised land.  God reminds them that, in spite of all His love and faithfulness, they have chosen to turn their backs on Him.  Trouble lies ahead, consequences of their rebellion.  The people cry out to the Lord.  Help!   Naming the place ‘Bochim’, which means ‘weepers’.  ‘Finders,  keepers/  losers,  weepers’.  They find themselves not keeping their part of the covenant.  Therefore,  losing is coming their way, causing weeping with deep regrets.

Joshua 2:6-7 tell of a repentant people serving the Lord, seeing the miraculous hand of God– ‘…the great work that the Lord had done for Israel’.  A miracle of submission.  But, can this last?

Joshua has died at a ripe old age.  Judges 2:10 is hard to comprehend.  Seems  impossible. How in the world could this be,  seeing all that He has done for them?  ‘…And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that He had done for Israel.’ Why was it so hard for them to remember the Lord?  Too busy raking in the blessings, forgetting to tell their own children their Source?   What’s wrong with these hard-headed people?  You know what?–something weird has happened to me.  I don’t know who, but someone has just put up a big, old, dirty mirror on the wall in my study where I am now writing.  A mirror?  I never wanted one.  Who did this to me?  ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall,  whose the disobedient and forgetful one of all’?!  ‘It’s me, it’s me, O Lord…’

Must admit to my own failure to trust the Lord for more than a few  minutes at a time. Forgetful.  Negligent about sharing Him with the ones I love the most.

How can I do better?  Here’s a few ideas that come to mind– focus on God’s character.  Zero in on His promises.  Concentrate on the life and teachings of Jesus.  Learn to lean on those everlasting arms.  On the darkest nights, exercise faith in the Lord like wearing night vision goggles, seeing God through eyes of faith. Decide right now to be serious in your commitment to the Lord.  No more games.  No more wishy-washiness.  All in.  For Him.   Are you with  me?

Prayer:  Lord, deepen our faith so that we forget you less and less… and learn to trust you more and more.  In Jesus’ name, the faithful One.  Amen.

AFTER THE UPROAR…Acts 20:1-2

Reading these two verses, I think of ‘uproars’ in my own life.  I still suffer anxiety related to contracting polio as a two year old.  Ridiculous–that was many moons ago.  For my mother I had been a ‘surprise’,  and not a pleasant one as she would often remind me.  She would say this in a sort-of kidding way,  but I was never sure.   A pregnancy in her mid-30’s.  My father’s house-painting business was beginning and probably their income was tenuous.  Lots of worries for my mother.  She grew up during the Depression,  and her family was no ‘great shakes’..  And then I catch the polio virus.

My memories,  none pleasant,  are few but vivid all these decades later.  Now?  I know myself well enough that whenever I’m in a new place,  that the first night or two will be  scary for me.  Feels like I’m abandoned all over again.  ‘After the uproar ceases, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell…'(Acts 20: 1).  Uproars that cease…encouragement that spreads.

I’m thinking of a pastor friend of mine who came back from a well-deserved vacation only to be greeted by an angry board and others who had turned on him, turned a growing church into one seething with anger and recrimination.  When I heard about this’ uproar’,  I immediately called him to offer my help, my shoulder, my prayers.  When I had been through something similar, my phone went strangely silent.  No calls, no encouragement, no one to listen and cry with.  I promised the Lord that I would be different for others from the ‘uproar’ that I went through… alone.

Another pastor friend has endured terrible pain recovering from back surgery.  I called him the other night to encourage him, and he winds up giving me the encouragement that I didn’t even know I needed.  He’s that kind of friend.

‘Uproars’ come to all of us… and then they cease.  What Paul did with his ‘uproar’ was to use it to encourage others in their time of need.  Not easy to do.  Must overcome our own reticence and self-centeredness…to reach out to someone else in their need.  If you do, though,  you’ll feel so much better about yourself and life in general.

Don’t tell your story…hear theirs.  Encouraging someone else has never led to more loneliness and anxiety in my life.  Quite the contrary.  Take your wounds,  lick them for a brief time,  place them at the feet of Jesus, and then pray that the Lord will use you to help someone else.  That will certainly help the ‘uproar’ to cease even sooner.

Prayer:  Lord, direct me to someone in need that I can encourage today.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

DIRECTIONS FROM ABOVE… Matthew 2

When it comes to a sense-of-direction, I’m lost!  My boys always laughed when I was driving and said, ‘this doesn’t look right’.  They knew we were terribly lost!  When God gave out a sense of direction,  I was missing!

My wife and I love to use road maps.  Remember them?!  Helps to see where we might want to go on a trip.  In Matthew chapter 2 you notice the variety of means that God uses to direct His people.  When Jesus is born in Bethlehem, Magi arrive on the scene.  God provided a star, shining over this royal baby and His parents.  Like the star predicted in Numbers 24:17.   A prophetic vision of a heavenly light.   A dream is given the Wise Men, one which warns them to escape back home.  Joseph receives his own warning through a dream.   Escape and flee to Egypt,  until the political threat from Herod has passed.  Then they can return home to Nazareth fulfilling what had been said by the prophets years before.

Many means of revelation in this one chapter of the Bible.  Angels…a star…strange visitors from the East…dreams…warnings…prophets.  God spoke in many ways.

How about today?  Here we must be very careful.  I’ve seen much abuse over the years, even by well-meaning Christians hungry for direction, insecure and afraid to make one itsy-bitsy mistake.  Been there myself.  Can try to manipulate God by stacking the ‘signs’ in our favor.  A friend was always looking for ‘signs’ about everywhere you could imagine.   Sad really.

Be very careful about getting ‘directions from God’.  Two Scriptures we should consider.  Hebrews 1:  1-2  and Deuteronomy 29:29.  Hebrews says that all these means of revelation used by the Lord have now been summed up completely in His Son Jesus Christ.  Look to Him.  Look at Him in the pages of your Bible.  Don’t let your eyes dart all around.   The gaze at Jesus alone will light your path and make your choices that much less burdensome.  We’ll be free…in Him.  Free to cease navel-gazing, looking upward instead.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says that the Lord has revealed all He wants for us in the Bible. Revelation complete… but not comprehensive.  Much He never reveals to us–‘the secret things belong to the Lord our God…’    ‘Secret things’ that will not be uncovered through some maze of hidden clues, fleeces or signs.  Things God keeps to Himself.    ‘Secret things’–belong to God.  ‘Things… revealed belong to us and to our children forever…the words of this law'(Deut. 29:29).

Prayer:  Dear God, for showing all that you have for us in the Bible, we are in awe.  Thank you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.