ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THAT?… Daniel 2: 24-45

When it comes to prophecy, lots of people have lots of differing opinions and hobby-horses.  I heard a prophecy expert dance around like a ‘whirling dervish’ making this point and then another totally outlining all the details of the end times.  No mysteries anymore.  Most seemed like abject conjecture.

Daniel chapter 2 tells of the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  So disturbing that the king’s wise men’s lives were on the line if they could not interpret.  But godly Daniel steps forward,  and the Lord reveals to him all he needs to know about that dream.

You remember–head of gold, arms of silver, mid-section of bronze and feet of iron and clay.  Here is where Bible-believing commentators differ as to interpretation.  Hardly any agree.  I think I’m right!  But who knows?  So, I put my pet theory in my back pocket… and off we go!

What grabs me is the meaning of this chapter in Daniel.  The truth is this:  kingdoms come and kingdoms go, they rise and they fall, ascend and descend, make good decisions and dreadful ones as well.  But one Kingdom has come, it is rising and will never fall.  This is the Kingdom that Jesus urged His followers to pray for: ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…'(Matthew 6: 10).

The order and identity of the 4 kingdoms in Daniel 2 are open to speculation.  God’s Kingdom is not.  It’s the sure thing and will outlast everything else.  That’s exactly what God revealed to a godless human ruler named Nebuchadnezzar.

The Lord today is giving dreams to some of the most hardened people on earth.  Knocking on the doors of their hearts and minds through disturbing dreams.  Wanting to be the Lord of their lives.  Wanting to give them His mercy and grace.  Wanting them to repent.

What He looks for is an open and responsive heart of faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  When He puts out His hand, we take it.  For then, whatever kingdom we may live in, we’ll know that we are citizens of the Kingdom of God.   ‘And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people.  It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold.  A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this.  The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure'(Daniel 2: 44-45).  Couldn’t have said it better myself!  Sure of Him and sure of His Kingdom!

Prayer:  Lord of All, of all kingdoms and governments, we are so grateful to be eternal residents of the Kingdom of God.  Thank you.  Amen.

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OH, IF IT WERE ONLY TRUE!… Mark 3: 13-16

In Mark chapter 3 Jesus gathers His 12 apostles, who will serve Him.  When I read this chapter,  I see something for ALL of us.  Not only for the select few!

Verse 13– Jesus chooses those whom He wants to serve Him.  He does the choosing.  Nothing about self-help or self-anything-else in these verses.  It’s about serving Him.  Got it?   It’s taken me forever to figure that out.   If I could only turn back the clock knowing as a young Christian what I know today.  I’ve been growing in Him–with lots more needed.  But God’s not done yet!

Verse 14 –Jesus Himself does the appointing.  Not the seminary.  Not the higher judicatories.  Not the church tribunals.  Nothing wrong with those.  Nevertheless,  Jesus appoints whom He wants.  I wonder who we owe our allegiance to!?

Now look carefully at what they’re appointed to?  First and foremost, to raise money?  No.  To garner bigger attendance every Sunday,  especially the Sundays right after Christmas and Easter?  No.  How about that new education annex, the ‘Fischer Education Wing’?!  No.  Mark records– ‘And He appointed the twelve…so that they might be with Him…'(verse 14).   They were appointed to be WITH Jesus.  To sit at His feet as Mary did while Martha pursued her theological kitchen education.  Nothing wrong with busy work, but above all else is the need to be with the Master.  To live by faith.  To wait on Him.  Your doctorate… at His feet.  His hands… holding yours.   Wiping every tear from your eyes.  To love and worship Him.  Oh, if that were only true.  It can be!

Be with Him.  That’s a calling for each one of us.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Verse 14 says: ‘…that He might send them out to preach’.  Being with Him means we want others to know Him as well.  Comes naturally.  Nothing forced.

To be with Jesus…to share Him with others…and then to have spiritual power from on high–‘…and to have authority to drive out demons'(verse 15).  When we’re with Jesus, sharing Him with others,  evil cannot spend all its time plaguing us.  Attacks come, as we know, more often than any of us would like, but in His name victory has the last word.

Verse 16 onward comes that long list of apostles’ names.   All named,  one after another.  Do you see your name on that list?  The expanded and updated list, I mean?  Mine’s there!  I see yours also!   We’re in this together!  With Him.  Sharing Him with others.  Finding victory in Jesus, even through the most horrendous situations and with the most obnoxious people.  Jesus calls us, all who believe in Him, all of us… by name.  By the way, welcome to the ministry of Jesus Christ!

Prayer:  Dear Jesus, we look forward to time spent with you.  Time alone…sitting at your feet.  Amen.

HERE’S ANOTHER 3:16 …. Daniel 3: 16-18

The very last sermon series I preached at the church from which I retired,  was entitled ‘Those Other 3:16’s’.  We all know John 3:16.  But what about the other New Testament books and their 3:16 verses?   It was quite a good series!  Then, I wanted to preach on the 3:16’s of the Old Testament, but I had the nerve to retire first!  How rude!

So, here’s a 3:16 I love from Daniel.  This about Daniel’s three friends, who refuse to bow down to that obnoxious golden image.  Worship it or else.  These three decide to risk the ‘or else’.   But no exceptions were allowed.  It was death for those three.

Friends flambe’ was on the menu that day… in a terribly hot furnace that consumed even the guards who threw them in.  They were toast!  But not those three friends of Daniel.  No way.  Not only did they survive the heat of that infernal furnace, but they were never alone in the flames.

Was it Jesus with them?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  I’d rather be with Him when the heat starts to rise and the flames get dangerously close,  than lost in the fire without Him.  With Him,  we can endure whatever comes our way.  These three had no idea what was going to happen.  None whatsoever.  Would it be rescue or cremation?  No idea.  They admitted such to the king.  Me?  I’d bargain with God.  ‘I’ll stand tall for you, Lord, if you get me out alive’.  Their faith went way beyond bargaining.

They said, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up'(Daniel 3: 16-18).  Whether we live or die, we are yours, Lord.  They meant it.  No question about it.  Can kill the body, but they can’t touch the soul.

I wonder how we’d do under such circumstances?  Bargain like me?  Beg off and pretend to worship the idol but only as a bit of make-believe ?  What would we do?  The choice is ours to make.  We’d all like to stand tall with Jesus.  Not flinch at the first sign of trouble.  Fearless.  The reality is that not many of us are that strong.  When we fail Him, when we fall down and are less than we had hoped to be, ask for His forgiveness.  Let Him love on you… for the next round.  Don’t give up.  He doesn’t.  Those three didn’t.  No matter what the source of the heat we’re now in, the Lord never allows us to go through it alone. Never…

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for always being with us.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

WHEN YOUR WORLD IS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN…. Psalm 57

Seems like the world is always in a mess.  Worse now than ever?   When you read history, times have always been tough.  Politics always dicey and dirty.  Scientific theories come and go.  In 1977,  TIME Magazine had a warning on its cover about global cooling.  Now it’s you-know-what.  Tomorrow, global lukewarming?  Who knows?

Reading Psalm 57 adds balance to life.  David, fleeing King Saul, is holed up in a cave for safety.  Saul is out to get him.  His life hangs in the balance.  What does he do?  Check his horoscope in the Jerusalem Times?  No, he cries out to the only One who can help. Troubles plague all of us.  I remember a church that was falling apart.  I was its pastor. Horrible words were flung around like confetti after a wedding, but no happy occasion here.  Wounded hearts everywhere.  Mine was one of them.   My world, their world, turned upside down.

These were times to lean in heavily on the One we can’t see, whose presence can be sensed like the wind on our skin…felt yet not seen.  Asking for His mercy.  Knowing He’s there for us.  Putting your hand out and letting Him grab yours, drawing us ever so close.

What helped me during those times?   I would pick up an old hymnal and sing songs that I still love.  I would sing away.   To myself…in private.  Real loud sometimes as if drowning out discordant sounds of  ‘troubles and trials’.   I needed those songs.  Worries and fears felt like they were eating away at the pit of my stomach.   Needed ‘Victory in Jesus’.  Wanted to be ‘At Calvary’ for there ‘Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary’.  Lifting was what I needed most.  ‘Redeemed and so happy in Jesus’ reminded me that I had many blessings to thank God for, many undeserved kindnesses from His hands.  Cried and learned that ‘For Those Tears He Died’.  I was doing what King David did–‘I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.  For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;  your faithfulness reaches to the skies'(Psalm 57: 9-10).

When your world is turned upside down; in time, in surprising ways, the Lord will turn it right side up!  How or when I have no idea.  That’s why we praise the Lord and not ourselves.  Whatever means you use to get close to Him, use them.  Over and over again… until the morning comes.  And it will…He promises!

Prayer:  Lord, we look to you for help.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

FALLING INTO THEIR OWN TRAP…Psalm 59

My brother was quite the prankster.  Took after John Gibson, our maternal grandfather.   I think that’s why my Nana Gibson was so taken with him.  She really loved my brother.  I remember when she stayed with us for a few days.  Needless-to-say, my brother was ready for her!    He had dug a large hole in our backyard–probably over four feet in diameter and a few deep.  He had gathered a bunch of twigs, sticks and limbs that had fallen off our old apple tree.  Covered the hole with all this stuff, along with piling leaves to top it off. Looked rather benign.  Not much out of the ordinary.  Must know that our Nana Gibson weighed over 350 pounds in those days.  A bit of a heavy-weight, as my father would have said!    My brother calls out to our Nana to come to the backyard where he was standing. Off she went…down she went!  She should have known better.  But she fell for it anyway!

Psalm 59:12 refers to a different kind of trap.  Not funny at all.  The trap is of pride, of thinking more of yourself than you should.  Being the puffed-up ‘selfie’ in your own picture.  Like Narcissus, who gazed lovingly into a pool of water,  falling in love with his own image,  only to topple off the edge, drowning face-down in his own reflection.  Pride and love…only of himself.

The reward?   A prize that brought death.  That’s what the Bible says here in Psalm 59– ‘…trapped in their own pride'(verse 12).  Fallen into a deep hole, impossible to get out of.   The antidote?  Know of any good escape route?  Good news!   Read on in Psalm 59– ‘But I will sing of your strength;  I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.  For you have been my fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.  O my strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love'(Psalm 59: 16-17).

Down in that hole, you can look up and see a hand reaching out to you.  It’s not a reflection of your own.  It’s His.  The very hand of God.  Take it…and hold on tight, for dear life.   Focus on HIM.  Praise HIM… as often as you can with whatever strength you have.   Plain and simple… the trap will be sprung.  We will be free in HIM.

 

Prayer:  Lord, help us to look fully on your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  To gaze upon Him, and love Him.  In His name.  Amen.

YOU THINK YOU HAVE IT TOUGH?… Daniel 1 and 2

Religious sentiment seems to be moving from the un-Christian to the anti-Christian. Hostility is gaining steam.  Ridicule is in the air.  Shame is hurled our way.  Not fun, is it? The times, they are a’changin’!

When we were selling our house,  I was having my usual daily devotions, spending time with the Lord, in prayer and reading God’s Word.  I propped my study Bible on an old desk someone made for me, which now was in our basement.  It was earlier in the morning as our realtor was bringing someone to see our home mid-morning.  Finishing my reading of the Bible, I wondered if I should put it away in one of the bottom drawers of my desk.  You know how people are today–so easily offended even at the ‘good book’.  Should I pack it away not causing any disturbance?  After all, we do want to sell our home!

I wondered…but only for about a quarter-of-a-second!  Immediately, I put my Bible down right where it always was.  No hiding. No cover-up. Not now.  Hopefully, not ever.  The Bible stayed…come what may.  Sale or no sale.   Daniel had it much rougher than anything I’ve ever experienced.  Imagine having your name changed from a godly one to one that praised the god of a false religion.  Like our boys Jonathan, David and Andrew now Buddha, Confusius, and Shinto.  Would be horrible.  Wrenching and tearing at our hearts.

That’s what happened to Daniel and his three friends.  They were learning all kinds of pagan philosophy, false religious doctrines, rewritten history while under the care and education of the best teachers in Babylon.  The things of the true God were thrust way to edge of their lives. Or were they?  They could have been, except that these four were committed to their God… and nothing, and I mean nothing, was going to shake their faith and trust in Yahweh God.  Nothing.  In this anti-Christian society we live in, dig your faith-heels in real deep.  Make a stand.  Take a stand.  Don’t be moved.  Leave your Bible front-and-center in your life, and be unashamed to let others know that you know the Lord of All, come what may.  Sale or no sale.  Your faith is not for sale.  Period.

Prayer:  Lord, we stand with you.  When all else has failed, we know that you will lift us up.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHY IS THIS SO HARD TO DO?… 1 Samuel 16: 1-13

Why are some things difficult?  Like figuring out which button to press on our new washing machine. Too many options.  Do I press the ‘start’ button first?  All those high/low/medium water levels.  Is ‘simple’ in no one’s vocabulary anymore?  Or would you rather not stand next to me for fear I might blow up our new house pressing the wrong switch for our natural gas?!

In  our Bible story today, we’ll discover that King Saul has proven to be a very bad leader after all.  Even God regrets making him the first king of Israel( 1 Samuel 15:35).  But the Lord wants to move on.  He has someone else in mind, one who will be close to His own heart.  Where Saul blamed others for his failures and sins,  David would take responsibility for his own.  In 1 Samuel 16 we read of  Samuel, who is told by the Lord to stop his endless grieving over the failures of Saul… and to move on.

Off goes Samuel to that ‘little town of Bethlehem’.  Fearful of what Saul may do to him, Samuel is given a plan by the Lord that will protect.  ‘ Have you not grieved long enough?  I’ve got better plans ahead.  I’ll protect you.  Follow me.’  Can you hear the Lord saying something like that to Samuel?  Can you hear Him saying that to you?

So many of us carry all kinds of excess baggage for too many years!   Things we’d rather forget… that we can’t or won’t.  Remembering sins, committed or omitted,  whose dreaded memories are as fresh today as when they happened.  Hard to forget,  too easy to remember.  Things we have asked the Lord to forgive.  Probably hundreds of times.  Truly seeking His help.  But we keep drumming them up.  Dragging them around with us when already forgiven and forgotten by our Lord.

Our present tense, His past tense.  That’s His promise… found all through the Bible(Isaiah 38:17).  What promise?  When we ask…He will forgive AND forget.  Why is it so hard for us to let go and be forgiven?  To stop grieving over failure?  Too comfortable hanging on to sin?  An excuse for not serving Him now?  A way out?

I ask myself all these same questions.  And I hear Him in the distance saying–‘isn’t it long enough?  Haven’t you chewed on that until it tastes horrible in your mouth?  Wouldn’t you really rather trust Me that I have forgiven you… and even forgotten?’

How about it?  After all,  there’s more to do for the Lord than ever before.  Get going!  Fill your cup with oil from the Lord… and move on.  I better practice what I preach!  Suddenly it’s not about old Samuel…!

Prayer:  Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief when it comes to moving forward in my life for you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THE CHOICE IS YOURS…Psalm 65

It’s a beautiful morning here in Lacey, Washington.  I’m out on our patio enjoying the view of our backyard flowers, the bird-feeders filled with hummingbirds, towhees and gold finches!  Behind our wooden fence are large evergreens which reach high into the lovely deep blue and cloudless sky above.  The grass is green with the smell of fresh bark in the air.

Here’s where a choice comes into the picture in our modern world.  And it’s a big one.  I don’t care what kind of media–all would rather see this world through eyes that leave creator God out of the picture entirely.  Not even an issue except with mocking derision at those who would dare to see more than meets the eye, that have the nerve and temerity to see a creator where there is the creation.  It’s a choice to make in this life.  God or none. Theism or a-theism.

Not just any god.  I’m talking about the God of the Bible.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What do you see when you look around?  Can your eyes not see the obvious that where there is a creation there must be a creator?  Depth beyond, behind and beneath the surface?

Along with the psalmist here in Psalm 65,  let’s pause to praise the wonderful and creative hand of God everywhere we can see…and wonder at it!   Aren’t you tired of a society that scorns the Lord?  I am.  Thoroughly and completely.  How refreshing to read this psalm and hear King David say– ‘Praise is due to you, O God…the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves…You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy…'(Psalm 65: 1,6-8).  Keep reading on to the end of the psalm and have your spirits lifted in praise and thanksgiving to our Blessed God, the Creator and Sustainer of All.

Look around, thanking God for His mighty and creative power.  For the beauty of it all.  The majesty and wildness of His creation.  The predictable and the unpredictable.  For the fun of living,  knowing that this is but a prelude to what He has for us with Him in heaven forever.  Wow!  Filled with the presence of God (and none of those infernal detractors). That’s something to look forward to.  No, not something.  Everything!

Prayer:  Lord, we pause to wonder at everything your hand has made.  All from you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

LET ME BRAG ABOUT MY HERITAGE!…Psalm 61

Trust me, I have nothing to brag about!  Heritage… of what?   My Roget’s Thesaurus lists these synonyms:  heredity, patrocliny(from the father),  matrocliny(guess from whom!?), gene factor, Weismann theory (probably put forth by some wisenheimer!),  and ancestors. What is your heritage?  Possibly Downton Abbey?  Mine is decidedly downtown Jersey City, New Jersey!

Your forebears came to the new world with the pilgrims on the Mayflower?  We moved to a new town using a Mayflower truck!  My patrocliny is probably some panic spells when I have clogged ears.  My matrocliny is an inherited sarcastic sense of humor.  Inheritance?  A few shekels… but nothing that put me in a higher tax bracket!   Inherited rank and prestige?  Military service to our great country?

Wait a minute.  I may have something there.  My grandfather Fischer was a civilian painter, painting barracks at Bergen Point, Long Island,  during  the Spanish-American War.  Pretty impressive, huh?   That even got me a 10% military discount at the outlet mall clothing store!  A heritage of service to our country!  My father, during World War 2, went to the basement of our Jersey City home and shovelled ash for the coal furnace to bring on a severe asthma attack before going to the Army induction office.  4-F, for sure!

Spend a moment if you would meditating on Psalm 61:5.  Soak in those words from the Word of God.   They speak of my heritage…and yours as well– ‘For you have heard my vows, O God;  you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.’  We have a heritage, even when we thought we had none.  The heritage of all who worship the Lord. Of all who bow the knee in humble submission to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  All of us…together are the heritage of the Lord!

Nothing we ever did to achieve it.  Nothing at all.  The verse says that God has ‘given’ us that heritage.  A gift.  Something offered to us by God Himself.  His heart is for everyone to receive this gift. His open hand offering us freely what cost Him everything.   We can’t work for it.  No.  ‘Jesus Paid It All’, just as the old hymn says.  When He said  ‘it is finished’,  He meant it.   He did for us what we could never do for ourselves.  Forget about trying to earn your salvation.  Won’t work.  He’s done it all.

Get it?  Please do…And enjoy the heritage GIVEN to us by God Himself.  Enjoy His growing family!  He cared to send the very best. He sent His only Son.  Brag about our heritage?  Brag about Jesus, the inheritance that’s plain out-of-this-world!

Prayer:  Thank you Lord for the heritage of worshiping you.  We owe you so much.   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TOSSING AND TURNING… Psalm 56

I don’t know exactly why, but I toss-and-turn a lot at night.  A good night’s sleep?  It’s been a long time since that’s been true for me.  My mother was the same way,  but she didn’t help herself.  She would listen to her favorite radio talk programs ’til the wee hours of the night.    My father…he could sleep through the loudest thunder-and-lightning storms!

Not to fret– God pays attention even to our tossing-and-turning on a restless night.  Psalm 56–‘You have kept count of my tossings,  put my tears in your bottle.  Are they not in your book?…In God…I shall not be afraid.  What can man do to me?'(Psalm 56: 8,10 ESV).

Our tears in a bottle.  Every sob and teardrop important to the Lord.  In Bible times, precious liquids (like wine,  water and milk), would be kept in leather bags to prevent evaporation, and also to make pouring from its small opening easy and efficient.  The image is clear.  Every tear we shed is kept close to God’s heart as if gathered and guarded in a leather pouch for scarce and precious liquid.

Then the psalmist refers to God keeping a book with everything about us in it.  Nothing is left out or overlooked.   The earliest human writing comes from the Sumerians over 5000 years ago.  Their content had to do with financial transactions, political and religious issues.  But God’s book contains things much more personal.   David’s tossings, his wanderings, tears and troubles are all there in His care.

Not just David’s– yours and mine as well.  David trusts God, gets close to Him, using His personal name of  ‘Yahweh’.  David affirms his faith in God’s Word.  Reminding himself who and what he can trust in.  The LORD…God’s every Word.

Notice that David never refers to having faith in a specific answer to his prayers.  He doesn’t trust God only when He performs certain things for him.  No, he trusts God regardless of the outcome.  I’ve known some people who lost their faith in the Lord when what they prayed for didn’t come to pass in the time they expected or the way they wanted.  Like demanding, spoiled children.

That’s not trusting in the Lord.  That’s putting Him to the test.  Faith sees way beyond.  Don’t trust the outcome, trust the Lord.  He knows best.  Father knows best!   Jesus is praying for us( Romans 8:34).  The Holy Spirit also( Romans 8:26).

What a team we have on our side!  ‘This I know, that God is for me'(Psalm 56: 9).  Do you know that?  On a good day, I do.  But on those tough ones, well…

Let’s pray for each other.  To be strong.  To stand up when others stumble.  To be all that God wants us to be.  Pray for each other, joining with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Now, that’s what I call a team!

Prayer:  We do pray for each other… to be strong in you.  In Jesus, our Savior.  Amen.