CAN’T HAVE ONE WITHOUT THE OTHER!…John 3: 16-21

Now it’s stuck in my mind!   Was thinking about that old Campbell’s soup jingle.  I can’t stop singing it –‘soup and sandwich, soup and sandwich, go together…’.  I keep adding ‘like a horse and carriage’ but that doesn’t sound right or very appetizing!  What were the lyrics?  Repeating ‘soup and sandwich’, ‘like Mr and Mrs’…’can’t have one without the other’.   Some things naturally go together.  Man and woman…boy and his dog…believing in Jesus and living like we mean it.  Had to sneak that last one in!

John 3: 16 is such a famous Bible verse that I suppose its meaning gets lost in its familiarity.  Jesus talks about believing in Him.  Taking Him at His Word.  Aligning ourselves with Him. ‘Can’t have one without the other’.

Affirming that Jesus is the Savior of the world, and MY Savior also.  Accepting Him into our hearts, acting on what we say we believe.  It’s no act.  No disconnect.  None of this ‘do as I say’ stuff.  No ‘goody-goody’ on Sundays while real bad the rest of the week.  That’s like having a sandwich without that soup!  ‘Soup and sandwich…’

I know there have been times in my life when I’ve tried living by a double standard.  Hoping not to get caught.  That the mask would not slip down to reveal my face as it truly was.  Two-faced.  A lovely vase with cracks sealed with wax to cover up its flaws.  Still me probably on a daily basis?  What do you mean ‘probably’!

Because I’m far from perfect doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be like Jesus in my everyday life.  As a matter of fact, my failings give me more desire to live for Him.  The Holy Spirit pulls me back from the edge to the safe harbor of Jesus.  If I could care less about Him, you’d know that I haven’t really and truly given Jesus my life.  I haven’t truly surrendered to Him, when my life is more in MY selfish hands than His. When my conscience doesn’t register even a slight twinge when I sin.  Doesn’t bother me when Jesus is the last thought I have in my day, if even then. Can’t have one without the other.

Either we truly believe in Jesus or we’re full of hot air without any wind of the Holy Spirit.  We know the difference.  Imagine someone who says they know Jesus but with no evidence of Him in their lives.  Could they be that blind?  That deceived?  Probably.  Can’t have one without the other.  Best to name Him as Savior and Lord, AND aim to follow Him throughout our days and nights.  No ‘probably’ about it!

Prayer:  Lord, we want our words to be true with our lives.  To know you and to follow you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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A GLIMPSE WILL BE ENOUGH!…Exodus 33:12-34:9

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile.   The encounter of God and Moses.  This story from the book of Exodus is earth-shattering.  Literally!  Here’s a bit of context.  Beginning at Exodus 19, Moses and the children of Israel at Mt Sinai receive the Ten Commandments.  Knowing His people, God provides remedies to cover violations of His law, restoring His people to fellowship with Him.  The shedding of blood, the payment of a debt.  All provided for by the Lord.

Just when things were going well, sin rears its ugly head!  Do you not notice that when God seems so intimate, that’s when the enemy throws a few monkey-wrenches your way?

Now the children of Israel want a golden calf to worship since ‘…this fellow Moses…we don’t know what’s happened to him'(Exodus 32:1).  Don’t know what’s happened to him?  Moses has been with them every day, day and night… even before they left Egypt.  Now he’s up on the mountain with God for forty days and nights.  Not forty years.  Forty days!  That’s all.  Didn’t take them long to fall backwards into idol worship.

Moses is warned by his assistant, Joshua, that there’s trouble in the camp.  The old man carries down the two tablets of the Law only to discover… the golden calf.  Thoroughly  fuming with red-hot rage,  Moses hurls the tablets to the ground, shattering them into a million pieces.

Moses is told to go back up the mountain.  He’s an old man.  Give this senior citizen a break!  Is God asking you to do something that involves some effort, time and money?  Is He?  Let’s encourage each other to do whatever HE wants us to do.

Moses needs reassurance.  God places the old man in the cleft of the rock, a protected opening on Mt Sinai.  God shows him who He truly is–His goodness, mercy and compassion(Exodus 33:19).  Moses sees God’s glory and splendor, AND he hears God’s own special name.  Twice the Lord says, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh’– spoken with kindness,  caring and intimacy.  As when Jesus addresses His dear friend, repeating her name– ‘Martha, Martha…'(Luke 10:41).  God reassures Moses of His endearing and enduring friendship by speaking the name revealed first to him many years before at the burning bush in the desert(Exodus 3).  Yahweh…will be with His people from first to last.

But He won’t allow Moses to see His face, only His back.  This means that sinful man cannot live and fully see Holy God.  So, God protects us from harm.  He’s careful to give us glimpses, hints and traces, hindsight-experiences of His being with us.  Well, what does this mean?  Just a glimpse as He passes by, that will be enough!  A glimpse…of His glory!

Prayer:  Dear God, we want to know more about you.  To love and serve you every single day.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TURN YOUR RADIO ON!… Habakkuk 2:4 and 3:16-19

When I sang lead for the Gospel Quartet ‘Livin’ Harmony’, we worked hard rehearsing the song entitled ‘Turn Your Radio On’.  The wording was tricky, the melody repetitive.  I had a hard time memorizing the lyrics.  The Quartet was very patient with me for I had the least experience of anyone.  And I had the lead part which should be the pronounced sound.  Periodically, I would get stuck on some musical notes that would not conform to what was written!  To be honest,  I get stuck in more places than musical notes and lyrics!

I get mired in negative thinking.  Feeling guilty much of the time.  Never doing enough or having purer motives.  Very high expectations for myself.  Can you identify?  When reading the book of Habakkuk, I was impressed with the emphasis on living by faith.  Sounds typical:  sermons laced with ‘pious platitudes’.  Like saying ‘just live by faith and all will be well.’  Or ‘you don’t have enough faith and maybe that’s why…’.

Not exactly what I read here in Habakkuk 2 and 3.  Not at all.  God tells the prophet that times are tough, and they’ll get worse before they get worse.  So, the only way to live in this sinful world is through eyes and mind focused on the Lord, who loves us and who will work all things together for good( Romans 8:28).  In other words, by faith.  Yes–by FAITH.

Stop the negative thinking.  Get out of reverse, slide into neutral and then shift into forward gears.  Let go of the emergency break and engage the clutch to get going…for Him.  For even when the worst times come, when our worst nightmares hit us in the face, that’s when we move into faith-gear.  Reminding ourselves of God’s goodness, salvation freely given, His promises fulfilled… in His time, in His way.  Clutching and shifting, putting pressure on the gas peddle, moving forward and getting somewhere.

Habakkuk 3:16 is amazing.  Let the words sink in.  Soak in them.  A bubble bath of faith that cleanses the dirtiest of life’s dramas!  Look at what Habakkuk is facing– no figs…no grapes or wine…no crops for food… no cattle or sheep or milk…’yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.’  Is that not living by faith?  Hang on for dear life.  Hang on to the Lord.    No matter what,  let’s trust Jesus.  No matter what.  Turn your faith on!

Prayer:  Lord, strengthen our faith.  Give us trust that never rusts.  Belief that never leaves us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SEIZE THE DAY!… 1 Corinthians 12

I heard a story where each of us received $1440 per day, every day for the rest of our lives.  Had we won the lottery?  No!  But here’s the catch– we had to spend every dime each day or the balance would be forfeited.  Couldn’t save it.  Can’t lend it to someone who will pay us back later.  You must find ways each day to spend down that $1440.  I imagine most of us would have no trouble doing that:  shopping sprees, giving it away, supporting charities we believe in.  Spend it every day… or lose it.  What would I do with that kind of money, daily?

The story was really about the Lord giving us 1440 minutes each day.  We can’t save them, only use them.  We get a new batch the next day.   But time squandered can never be reclaimed.  1 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks of spiritual gifts.  Many gifts but one Lord.  Many avenues of service but one God.

We are all gifted by the Lord.  No one left out(1 Corinthians 12:6).  His gifts are His choice(v. 19), by His appointment(v. 28), empowered and apportioned(v. 6) according to His will(v. 11).   Here’s something really special:  His gifts(vs. 7-8)are to ALL believers(v. 6).  From God to us, through us, for others…for His honor and glory.

Only so many minutes in each day.  How do we use them?  Wisely as good stewards?  What are our gifts anyway?  I’ve wondered about that. Often confused.  What if I had none?  Maybe this one today or that tomorrow?  Are you with me?  Maybe your gift(s) is crystal clear to you.  That would be a blessing.  It’s taken me many years to sense what the Lord has gifted me with.  I used to think it was in the area of counseling.  But I wound up needing it more than helping someone else!  I love to preach.   But most of all,  sharing the Lord with someone else.

How do you know what your gift is?  Begin by following the desires of your heart.  Not for money, prestige or personal gain, but ask God to make you sensitive to His desire for your life.  Then go for it!  For many years I ignored the desire to write for Him.  Early in  my ministry,  I had many articles published.  Then nothing… for decades.  But once retired,  He ignited that kindling that had been dry for too long.

You’re reading today what the Lord has put on my heart.  I know I waste a lot of the 1440 He gives me every day.  Now less wasted and more at His service.  You too?  Your gifts known?  Acting on them?  The church needs each one of us using all His gifts.  Get busy for Him.  Use those minutes for His benefit.  Don’t say I’ll do it… do it!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for your gifts to us.  May we use them for you.   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SHUTTING OUT THE NOISE… Micah 4: 1-5

A famous quarterback has signed a mega-million dollar contract that has been in the news forever!  Glad he signed, so I don’t have to read anymore about it!   This quarterback said that with all the questions being thrown his way, that he had to  ‘shut out the noise’.  Shove cotton in his ears!  This way he could go on with his life.

I thought that was really good advice. ‘Shut out the noise’!  Micah 4: 1-5 says that we can do something similar in our spiritual lives.  Micah has a vision of the end times, when the gentiles will join Israel in the worship of the one true God.  The God who will teach us His truth with all of us walking in His ways.  A time of peace, provision and plenty–all from God’s hands.

Micah 4:5– ‘…we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.’  We choose to follow only Yahweh.  His name is singular, not plural.  All roads do not lead to Rome.  All religions do not lead to the true God.  Only the path of Yahweh God as revealed in the Bible.

The choice has been made–‘…but we will walk…’  Nothing forced.  No one with a sword to their heads.  Willingly.  ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’.  A ‘yes’ in our hearts.  He knocks at the door…we welcome Him in.  You don’t have to know theology.  That will come later.  We decide to follow Him ‘forsaking all others’ as in the wedding vows we take, man and woman.

It’s ‘forever and ever’, Micah says.  Not some ‘foxhole’ decision or bargain with God to get us out of some mess we’re in only to toss Him aside like some jilted lover after we get what we want.  No, this is forever.  Make sure you mean it.  That He’s what you really want– and to follow Him.

Forget about being perfect before you get started.  That’s too frustrating and unrealistic.  Don’t fall for it.  He’s perfect…and He loves us with a perfect love.  Read about Jesus in the Bible, and you’ll be convinced.  It’s not about you…but Him!

Verse 5–‘in the name of the Lord our God’.  OUR God.  Not just mine.  Ours!  We become family.  I love the family of God.  Not all equally.  Some barely at all!  But family, nevertheless!  All because of Jesus.

As the noise of this world, that increasingly hates believers and our God, grows louder and louder, start to shut out the noise.  Focus.  Be selective.  Remove the hearing aides and don’t replace the batteries!  Use some cotton!  Listen to Him. Shut out the noise!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that we can choose to listen to you.  You alone.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHO WANTS TO DO THAT JOB?… 1 Chronicles 9: 24-34

The Book of Chronicles?   Who reads that?  Maybe the ‘prayer of Jabez’?  Yes, that’s well-known, but anything else come to mind?  Chapter 9 of 1 Chronicles contains a gem indeed.  Let me explain.

We are one of the first homes built in a community that will have ninety when complete, probably a few years away.  We see lots of work being done.  Very interesting.  Not really that noisy most of the time.  What we do notice is that minority workers are everywhere, laboring morning, noon, night, weekends and holidays.  They work hard, without many breaks, and with great skill.  These men do the grunge work, the heavy lifting, which most of us who’ve been in this country for generations no longer do.

What does this have to do with the Book of Chronicles?   There are no menial tasks with the Lord.  Do everything for Him.  That’s all we need to do.  I was a stickler at church about the hymnals and Bibles in the pew racks being in the right order.  No bulletins from previous Sundays stuffed in the hymnals.  Made sure pencils were sharpened and facing down so you didn’t poke yourself if you needed to use one, taking notes on the fabulous sermons being given!  Made sure the carpet was vacuumed in the sanctuary and fellowship hall.  After church someone would check the bathrooms to make sure they were clean, flushed and with plenty of toilet paper available.

Menial tasks?  I was never averse to doing any of them if need be, and always thanked those who did whatever, week-by-week.  Back to Chronicles–gatekeepers were also utensil counters, carefully checking what was brought into the Temple and taken out.  Supervised the furniture and holy utensils.  Managed the flour, wine, incense and spices.  Someone mixed the spices.  Others baked flat bread with some for the Sabbath.  Singers were available night and day to lift praises to the Lord.  Work done for God!

Proud to serve the King of Kings and His people no matter what was involved.  Nothing minor for One so great!  Menial is not a word in God’s vocabulary when it comes to serving Him.  No, they are all given prominent places here in our Bibles.  All remembered.  All celebrated.  Don’t ever look down on what you do for Him.  And don’t let anyone else, either!  We’re in the service of the King!  What a blessing…no matter what.  Low pay or no pay…it’s all priceless when done for Jesus.  The deferred compensation plan?  It’s heavenly…really out of this world!

Prayer:  Lord, whatever we can do for your honor and glory, we are humbled and happy to do.  In Jesus’  name.  Amen.

SUCH A WASTE!…1 Corinthians 5 and 1 Kings 18: 29

Do these seem like strange chapters to yoke together?   Not to me.  1 Corinthians 5 talks about focusing our attention, in regard to sin and judgement, not on the outside world but on ourselves and the church,  putting the world’s outcome into the hands of God(v. 13).

Why not focus on this world?  Well, not much substance here really.  Not when God is removed from the picture.  Becomes very empty.  So much wasted time and money, as if God can be paved over with a layer of asphalt.  The creation itself becomes the object of worship rather than the Creator.  When earthly gods proliferate with the true One ignored.

The results?   Emptiness…loneliness…despair.  So much waste.  Which leads us to 1 Kings 18.  The dramatic story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  The true God versus the false.  God’s people had turned their backs on Him, only to embrace what was made up.

Baal was a lazy,  voyeuristic god who needed human sexual activity, as much and as scurrilous as possible, to titillate him out of his lethargy into producing rains and fertile crops.  You can see the slimy face of Satan hiding behind the mask of Baal. Elijah offers a choice to God’s people.  Who will you follow?  Yahweh or Baal?

An amazing story.  But it’s verse 29 that grabs my attention.  The prophets of Baal have nothing to show for all their hard labors and loud incantations. They yell at the top of their lungs, beat themselves into a bloody pulp.  ‘Anyone there?  Baal–where are you?’   Verse 29–‘…but there was no voice.  No one answered; no one paid attention.’

No one listens.  No one to speak to.  The heavens… empty with an eerie silence.  No good news or any at all.  People today will fill their classrooms, newspapers, computer sites, political speeches with the strangest mythology, trying to make something out of nothing.  If there really is nothing out there, myths will abound to fill the scary void.

If no one is listening, there will be no answers from on high.  Fumes from the sewers of hell, yes.  But no answers from above.  No shoulder to lean upon.  Not only are there no answers anymore, but no one even to pay attention to us.  Little children know how terrible it is when no one seems to care, no one to watch and pay attention to them.

The choice can still be made.  Say ‘YES’ to Jesus!  Spend time with Him.  Cast yourself at His feet and don’t move… for any earthly reason.  Let Him fill you with Himself.  Focus on Jesus who gives us the Holy Spirit in all His fullness.  Pretty good, huh?  I’d say so.  The world has nothing to offer us. We’ve been given all!   Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior!  Who could ask for anything more!

Prayer:  Lord, we choose you.  Thank you for Jesus.  Amen.

TOP OF THE LADDER!… Mark 13: 14-27

We’ve reached the top of the ladder!  The highest of heights!   We are elites… a passenger category on a major cruise line.  We started out as nobodies, moved up to gold, higher yet to platinum.   Now… elites!  Only took countless dollars to get there, but we have arrived!  What do we get for this premier status?  First on-board the ship… along with a few thousand others.  ELITE!  I can hear the other passengers singing a slightly off-key chorus of  ‘what do you want, a medal?’!

There’s another category that’s better yet.   Better than elite?  Much better!  Mark 13.  Jesus talks to His disciples about the end times.  He shares the horrors that tribulation will bring.  We, His children, will not all escape unscathed.  No, but Jesus promises that ‘…for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days'(verse 20).  ‘The elect, whom He chose…’ We’re elect, chosen by the Lord!  Better than elite!

Elect… and I didn’t even run for office!  Elect means that someone else did the choosing.  I wonder who that could be?!  When I have to do the choosing, it makes me nervous. Years ago at a local Covenant Church camp,  I was captain of a volleyball team called, rather creatively, ‘Head Lice’!  After I chose the team members, some were happy, and some were noticeably unhappy for they called me the Head Louse!  Nasty bunch, those Christians!

I hated being chosen by someone else as I was usually picked at or near the bottom of the pile.  Felt like such a loser.  But not with Him.   When it comes to the Lord, He reaches out to us.  No one He chooses is a loser.  No one begrudgingly asked onto His team.  He lovingly wants each one of us on His team, the Church of Jesus Christ.  He even shortens those tough times in our lives.  He does.

If you seek Him, you’ll find Him discovering that He’s been searching for you since the beginning of time.  Not a rash choice on His part.  For we’ve been chosen from before the creation of the world( Ephesians 1:4).  If the Bible says it, that settles it.  Agreed?

When times get tough and hatred of Christians intensifies as it most certainly will,  praise the Lord!  What?  Are you crazy?  No,  James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, says,  ‘Count it all joy…whenever(not ‘if’) you face various trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops…'(James 1: 2-3).  So, don’t worry about having to pick or be picked…we’re chosen!  His choice children!  Yes, we are!   Keep your head up high…we’re heaven bound!  Nothing and no one can bind us to this dreadful world when Jesus calls us His own!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for choosing us for yourself.   We praise your name.  Amen.

AN UNDER-COOKED MEAL… Hosea Chapter 7

A few years ago, we had some friends over for a Chinese dinner.  These were special friends–loved the Lord along with being lots of fun, had traveled the world, not stick-in-the-muds like some can be!  We loved being with them and wanted to cook a special meal before they left for their retirement on the southern coast of France!

I prepared all day as you do for a Chinese banquet meal.  Seven courses in all.  Sounded good. Smells were inviting.  Sat down to eat.  Each and every course was… under-cooked except for the frozen sherbet!  We were morti-fried!  Most embarrassing.  They were gracious, but probably eager to leave the country after that meal!

Strangely, this is how God describes His people in the book of Hosea, chapter 7.  Verse 4 pictures a baker who foolishly lets his oven fire go out before the bread is done.  Like God’s people, who lose their fire for the Lord.  No good for anyone at all, especially for the baker whose business will suffer.

Verse 8 refers to a ‘cake not turned’, half-baked, not fit for human consumption.  God’s people have gone half-way in their commitment to Him.  They don’t finish well.  End poorly after a fairly good start.  Any of this ring true for you?  I’m listening myself.

Verse 9 describes God’s people, whose strength drains away having no awareness of it at all.  Obtuse in the face of the obvious.  Wonder what I’m missing in my life for the Lord?  ‘Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not(Hosea 7:9).’  Wakes up one day an old man.  Father Time pushs him to the edge.  Unaware.  Unbaked.  Clueless.  How silly.  Shouldn’t we know better?

Verse 11 portrays God’s wayward people like doves that flit here and there.  Birds do that.  Fine for them.  We can see them in our backyard, flying everywhere.  God’s people go everywhere for help except to the One who promises to care for them.  Go everywhere else except…  Is that me?  How about you?

Verses 14 through 16–the Lord Himself says to bring EVERYTHING to Him.  Of course, go to the doctor.  Of course, work hard to help yourself out of financial messes.  Of course.  But first, and then next, and way before last, come to the Lord.  Unburden yourself.  ‘They do not cry to me from the heart…'(verse 14).

The Lord invites us to open up to Him.  Hold nothing back.  Don’t be a half-baked believer.  He’s heard it all before and knows all about it now.  Come to Him.  There really is no where else to go… and to no One better!

Prayer:  Lord, we come to you as to no one else. In the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A MISTY LOVE STORY… Hosea 6: 4-6

Romance novels continue to be popular.  Even fiction with a Christian bent has tinges of romance.  Life is a romance, hopefully not all fiction!  Romance involving love and passion,  caring and commitment.  Not all about you-know-what!

Hosea 6 contains some words that catch my attention– ‘Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away’.  The Lord laments that our love doesn’t last even through the morning hours.  Nothing constant in our commitment to Him.

Wishy-washy.  Here today… gone tomorrow.  Faithfulness full of holes like Swiss cheese.  Worship the true God of Israel in the morning, only to find them bowing down to the Canaanite deity Baal in the evening.   Keen on Sunday morning only to live like an agnostic the rest of the week.  That doesn’t compute, the Lord says.

Jesus said we can’t serve two masters( Matthew 6:24).  Joshua said that he and his family choose to serve Yahweh God( Joshua 24:15).  Today, the choice is still ours to make.  A choice made when we ask Jesus into our lives.  But it doesn’t end there.

No,  all throughout our lifetime,  we must choose whom we will serve.  Money?  Or that certain sin we clutch to that winds up having us in its clutches?  One-upmanship,  where life is like a game you just have to win no matter what?  Attention-getting at all costs?

Or the Lord, whom we serve…and love…and submit to?  We know the difference.  With Him today…with Him tomorrow!  The romance is in following the Lord.  Rancor follows a life of sin.  The choice should not be difficult.  I know which side I would love to be on all the time…the Lord’s!  But then reality rears its ugly head, and the face I’m staring at in the mirror is none other than my own!

Verse 6 speaks good news from the Lord– ‘For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings’.  A short verse with a long reach.  Love Him… all the time.  Tell Him that as often as you can.  Good times, bad times.   Love on Him.  A holy romance.  When you feel like shaking your fist at God, raise your hands in praise and adoration. May not feel like it.  Do it anyway.  Settle once for all that God’s Word is the Truth.  Settled.

The Hebrew word ‘know’ can mean sexual union for a married couple, a man and a woman in love.  When God says to know Him,  He means to get close, to be like that loving, married couple enjoying each other in so many wonderful ways.  Of course, it’s different with God,  but He wants an intimate, committed relationship with us.  A holy romance.  The cross of Jesus shows how serious God is about having us close by Him forever.

Prayer:  Lord, we want to be serious about you in our lives.  We ask your help.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.