HI HO, HI HO, IT’S OFF TO MONOPOLY I GO!… Isaiah 5: 18-26

We enjoyed a 4-day Disney cruise from Vancouver, BC to San Diego, California.  We  certainly got into the Disney spirit!  How many times did we hear that ‘Hi Ho, Hi Ho…It’s Off to Work We Go’ song?  Now I can’t get it out of my head!

As I was reading Isaiah 5,  something different came to mind.  It’s at verse 26.  The image is of the Lord whistling.  Yes, whistling.  Which led me to think of my favorite board game,  Monopoly.   I’m trying to get our grandchildren to love the game.   Making only baby-step progress.

Which sends my mind racing back to when I was about twelve years old.  Two older boys across the street were good friends of mine.  We played wiffle ball in their backyard during the summer.   In addition, they loved to play Monopoly!  Always had the game board set up on a card table on their front porch.  I couldn’t wait for them to get home, and for us to play.  I would sit on our front porch, legs dangling over the brick steps, waiting for their signal.  What was it?  They would whistle!   I would jump off our front porch, run across the street looking both ways, open the screen door to play our favorite game.  Their mother provided us with lots of peanuts, pretzels and lemonade.  My ‘Black Racer’ won every time, or so I’d like to think!  When they whistled, I came.

Just like in Isaiah.  But here with a noticeably different tone.  God’s enemies have been taunting Him.  Read beginning at Isaiah 5: 18.  It’s about ungodly people who flagrantly flaunt their sin in God’s face.  Daring Him to act.  Probably not a good thing to do!  For in verse 26, God says that as quickly as He whistles, He’ll call the arrogant to task.  A simple whistle.

Many times, we pray and pray, with seeming little result.  As if God is on holiday.  He isn’t.  Or become deaf to our cries for help?  He hasn’t.  We need to know that He’s only a whistle away.  Good for us, His children.  Not so good for those foolish enough to think contrariwise. Their time will come.

For us, we are to wait on Him.  Never easy, but who said it would be?  Our waiting is a signal to God that we are relying on Him and His timing, sitting expectantly on our front porches.  His whistle calls us to run to Him.   We’re running to His front porch, sitting near Him, enjoying all the blessings He has for us.

We’ll wait.   That’s what His people do.  Are you with me?  It will be worth it all!  God wins… in His time, in His way.  On that, He has the monopoly!

Prayer:  Lord, we wait in trust for you.  Always in Jesus’ name.   Amen.

 

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YOU NEED MY HIGH SCHOOL AWARD ALSO!…. Revelation 13:10 and 14:12

Mr. Cliff Gordon, my favorite English teacher at Millburn High School in New Jersey, gave me an award which I wondered about at the time.  He gave an award to each of his students.  Mine was the ‘Constancy’ Award.  I look upon that as quite a prize indeed.  Being loyal and steady… constant.

Think about it–that is quite the compliment.  I value being loyal and dependable.  Aren’t you glad you know people you can depend upon?  Reliable and honest?   By the way,  I read in the book of Revelation that we all need the ‘Constancy’ Award to make it through to the end.  All of us.  Thought I was the only one to receive it!  No, we all should have that award.

In Revelation, in the midst of blaspheming beasts with horns and multiple heads, waging war on the church, causing chaos to explode all over the world, there is the call ‘for the endurance and faith of the saints'(Revelation 13:10).  Looking up the Greek word for ‘endurance’, I discover that it means constancy!

‘Hupomone’!  Constant, enduring, patient(I didn’t get that award!), persevering.  To survive in this crazy world requires constancy.  Staying faithful to the Lord.  Reading His Word while heeding it.  Trusting and obeying.  Being laughed at and misunderstood, a small price to pay for staying faithful to Jesus.

There’s a second verse for today.  Revelation 14: 12–another call for ‘endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus’.  Remember, these are verses for the end times.  Every day is one day closer.  No one knows when the end will come.  No one, regardless of those false teachers, well-meaning as some may be,  who think they know exactly when.  What we do know is that whenever it will be, our only need is for constancy.  That’s all.  That’s a lot as it turns out.

To be faithful.  To risk loss for Jesus.  To be a ‘fool’ in the world’s eyes for Christ’s sake.  And when we fail Him, and let Him down by being less than we had hoped to be, we turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration that He so loves to give His children.

We’re not perfect.  The Lord knows all about us.  Certainly, He knows about me.  We also know that He loves to love us.  Turn back to Him and find out for yourself.  Have you earned your award?  The ‘Constancy Award’?  Then display it proudly…for it comes from God Himself!  And it never, ever runs out-of-style!

Prayer:  Lord, give us your Holy Spirit to help us be constant in our faith and witness for you in the days ahead.  In Jesus’ name.  The faithful witness.  Amen.

COULD THAT BE TOO MUCH TO ASK?…. Psalm 107:22

Growing up there were 2 magic words we were encouraged to say–‘please’ and ‘thank you’.  ‘Please’ as a kind way of asking for something.  ‘Thank you’ as showing gratitude.  When our granddaughter Helena was staying with us, I noticed that when she wanted something she would say ‘please’, with ‘thank you’ soon following.  Our other grandchildren say the same.  However, these words are rare to hear in this day-and-age, especially from adults.

People seem different now than from the past.  We feel entitled.  Like it’s our right, our due in life.  This ‘selfie’ generation expects to take without much effort at all.  Right now!  I guess it’s too much to ask people to say those magic words,  let alone mean them?   Too much sacrifice involved?  Too ungrateful?  Might have to swallow our pride.  Eat a bit of humble pie.

In Psalm 107, God’s people have been foolish.  Verse 17–  ‘Some became foolish through their rebellious ways…’  Sin and rebellion were their ‘modus operandi’.  They suffered greatly for it.  But, praise the Lord, they came to their senses, realized how utterly foolish they had been, and ‘…they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress'(verse 19).  They didn’t shake their fists at the Lord, but bowed the knee as if to say ‘please, Lord, help us!’.

Isn’t it too bad that so many of us wait until we’re knee-deep in trouble before we turn to the Lord for help?  Like we can handle it ourselves.  It’s taken me a lifetime to realize that my efforts are chicken-feed compared to all that the Lord wants to do for me, and through me.  So, I say ‘please’ much sooner.  Then as quickly as I can, utter those other magical words…’thank you, Lord’.  So easy to be blessed and then go on with our day, willy-nilly, as if we’re the luckiest fellow on the face of the earth.

How quickly we forget…that all our blessings come from Him.  Is it so difficult to say ‘Thank you, Lord’?  Those in this psalm didn’t think so.  ‘Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men.  Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of His works with songs of joy'(verses 21-22).  Maybe you should stop here for a moment and ‘count your many blessings’, ‘see what God has done’?

From the bottom of your heart…from your lips to His ears, utter those sweet words of thanksgiving.  Make that annual holiday a daily event.  Every day filled with words of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to our Lord, who loves to hear from us more than we could ever imagine.  ‘Please, Lord!’  ‘Thank you, Lord!’  Happy Thanksgiving!

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for always being with us answering our prayers in your way and in your time.  Thank you again.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

IN SEASON, OUT OF SEASON…2 Timothy 4

I miss the four seasons.  In Western Washington, we have a dry and warm summer, with lots of rainy weather in spring, fall and winter.  Not always.  Breaks do occur.  2 Timothy 4: 2– ‘preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…’  Rain or shine.  Good times…and all the others!

The Greek word for ‘in season’ means a divinely appointed opportunity.  ‘Out of season’ is the mirror opposite, referring to unwelcome times, sad moments in life, intrusions that turn our worlds upside-down. You know what I mean.

I remember getting a letter from my old denomination telling me that I was not to preach anymore, anywhere.  ‘Out of season’. How ironic that dear friends, who were Jewish, offered me their synagogue, urging me to start my own church.  How kind!  But, no, I wanted some peace.  ‘Out of season’ now seemed a permanent weather pattern for me.

But then a pastor friend, from the next town and my old denomination, asked me to preach for him.  A tiny patch of blue sky.   I did preach for him, and the rafters did not come a-tumblin’ down!  I thought I’d better check with the higher-ups in the denomination, hoping that a thaw was truly in the air. That the seasons were changing and I could be ‘in-season’ once again.  Wrong!

That’s when that letter arrived in my mailbox.  For them I was to be permanently ‘out of season’.  What was I to do?  Took their toxic missive to our local pastor’s Bible study group.  One of them asked me if God had called me to preach.  I said of course He had.  Then he asked me why I listened to these people.  I’ll never forget his next words.  Wisely he said –‘if God calls you to preach, you preach!’   Eight words…that said it all.

Went directly home.  Wrote a brief note, absent recrimination… resigning from their denomination.  Theirs…no longer mine.  Almost immediately, the clouds began to move out.  The sun started to peek through.  And a warm breeze ushered in a new day and a new season for me… from the Lord!  Ever since, the doors have been opening wider and wider!

How about for you?  Holding back because someone has put you on the upper shelf,  saying that you’re ‘out of season’?  A dream that you know has been from the Lord that someone has mocked and belittled, causing you to ‘clam up’?

Knock on doors.  See what opens and walk right on in!  Maybe your daily Bible reading seems ‘out of season’.  Read anyway.  A new season is coming.  Prayer life become stale and rote?  Take a few deep breaths and talk with Him.  Ask Him, knock on some doors, keep on seeking.  Watch what happens.   His new season is just around the corner!

Prayer:  Dear God, thank you for being our Lord.  We love you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHAT A DAY THAT WILL BE!… Isaiah 19:16-25

I love the Gospel song ‘What a Day that Will Be’–‘when my Jesus I shall see, And I look upon His face–the One who saved  me by His grace; When He takes me by the hand, and leads me through the Promised Land, What a day, glorious day, that will be’.  Aren’t  those words amazing?  I think so, too.

How about those verses in Isaiah 19?  They come in the midst of various oracles and pronouncements against certain foreign nations, enemies of God and His people.  Fierce words of judgement that stir fear in our hearts for those who don’t know our Lord.  Then comes good news… for enemies who now wish to be friends of the Lord.  From foe to forgiven.  Rancor to repentance.  None have to stay stuck in sin.

No, like Egypt and Assyria who now speak the language of Israel, Hebrew(v. 18), and promise to worship only Yahweh God.  Only Him!  The Egyptians will build, right in the center of their country, an altar to Yahweh God.  Also, a tall pillar at the border to witness that this country is the Lord’s, from border to border and at its very center.

This is Egypt we’re talking about. Someday.  All their history of false worship turned upside-down, right side-up.  What used-to-be is no longer.  Mercy and healing have come their way from God( v. 22).  Could it get any better?

Yes, it can… and will!  For the Lord says in Isaiah 19 that Assyria will come to know and worship Him.  Those countries will now join together in peace to worship Yahweh God…Israel, Egypt and Assyria.  What a day that will be!  It’s coming!   When?  I have no idea.  No one does.  Don’t listen or buy the books and CD’s of those who know when that day will be.  Forget it.  Only God knows and He’s not telling!  Not yet.

God knows when and that’s all we need to know.  So, relax in Him.  Be ready.   Must end now with some of best words in all the Bible.  When hatred seems to never take a holiday,  and religious warfare creates such horror suffering, listen to Isaiah 19: 24-25–“In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.'”  What a day that will be!   I can hardly wait!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for better days ahead.  For promises yet to be fulfilled.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

HERE’S A BAD IDEA!… Isaiah 39: 1-8

I’ve got lots of good ideas.  But here’s a bad one–focus on yourself.  Center your life on you.  We, as Christians, know that it’s about Him.  And others.  No, we’re not left out. For the Bible says to ‘love our neighbors as we love ourselves'(Leviticus 19:18).  That’s right–love yourself.  But make sure it doesn’t begin and end there.

To love ourselves is to bask in Jesus’ love for us.  To wade in His forgiveness.  To relish joy whenever someone else’s needs are being met.  To give is much better.  A few years back, my wife Sue and I attended a Samaritan’s Purse ‘Operation Christmas Child’ training event.  Giving to needy kids around the world.

It was suggested that we give Life-Savers candies.  Why?  Because the children love to share them with their sisters and brothers.  These kids have never been able to give anything to anyone To share even one piece of candy gave them more joy than we could ever imagine.

King Hezekiah certainly had a lot to learn about being less ‘I’ oriented.  You can find his story in Isaiah 39.  Hezekiah had been healed by the Lord, blessed with an extra 15 years of life.  The royal family, of the world power Babylon, sends envoys to present gifts on the occasion of Hezekiah’s healing.  He’s so happy with the gifts, all the attention and hoopla.  He’s the star of the show!  It’s all about Hezekiah!  And he leads the delegation everywhere, showing off all his gold and silver, spices and precious oils, his weapons and storehouses.  All of it is his.  ‘Me…I…My’–strung as tight as a new tennis racket.  Anything of God bounces off his proverbial strings.

Nothing about the Lord’s healing him.  Nothing about God’s provision.  Nothing about God at all.  Isaiah confronts Hezekiah about his foolish display of the material assets and armaments of Judah.  Hezekiah has left the country vulnerable to a crippling attack.  He told them too much, and bragged about himself.  A very bad idea.

How about a good idea for a change?  Here’s one–start praising the Lord, giving Him all the credit He deserves.  Reaching out to others, thinking more about them and their needs.  When someone opens up to you about the troubles and frustrations of their lives, don’t jump in to tell them about your own.  How much worse things are for poor-old-you.  Listen to them.  Care about them.  Pray for them.  Think about ways you can show how much you care…about them.  I have a feeling that our moods will noticeably lift when we do.  Agreed?  Good idea!

Prayer:  Lord, help us to focus on you and others.   In Jesus’  name.  Amen.

LIKE OUR NEW LAWN SERVICE!… John 21: 15-19

We have a new lawn service.  No longer want to bother doing it ourselves.  Plants and flowers, yes.  But lawn care, cleaning upper-story windows and gutters are all things in our past.  We hope!

When we first moved in, we hurriedly arranged for lawn service.  This has proven to be a mistake as most hurry-jobs tend to be.  After months and months of malodorous service, we have bid them good-bye.  Then we interviewed a number of new landscapers.  We chose who we thought would do the best job for our lawns.  Will charge more, coming as no surprise to any homeowner!

This morning, after the fertilizer man had left, I was reading the John 21.  Jesus tells Peter to feed and tend His people.  Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him.  Interesting.   The number of times Peter denied even knowing the Lord.  Three times comes the question of love.  Do you, Peter?  Do you?

Peter is being restored after his denials.  Restored as only Jesus can.  Peter responds with an eager ‘yes’.  He does love Jesus more than anything or anyone else.  Two times Jesus tells Peter to feed His flock and once to tend them.  To feed and to tend as a good shepherd.

Find ways to get the Word of God into their hands.  Give out tracts. Support the Gideon’s Bible distribution programs.  Wrap a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child.  Invite a neighbor and friend to your local Bible study group.  Be creative.  Make sure it’s God’s Word that’s being planted in other’s hearts along with meeting real human needs.  Tend their needs. Feed them.  Keep watch over them.  Do we love them enough to feed and tend?

Remember that you need feeding, you need tending to.  Make sure you are well-fed on the Bible, tending to your own worship of the Lord.  As a young pastor I did all my personal devotions as preparation for weekly sermons.  Taking a short-cut in my busy schedule.  That was a huge mistake.  But I learned.  In my last church, I hardly ever used the pastor’s study.  Too many distractions.  Back in our home I had a desk in our basement for my devotions with the Lord.  Exclusively for Him and me.  On our third floor, one of the bedrooms was my study for sermons and the adult class I taught.  No short-cuts for me anymore.

I loved to feed and tend others but only after I had done the same for me.  You too?  Don’t kid yourself.  Feed…tend.  Yourself first.  Then others… lots and lots of them!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for calling us to love you by serving you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

I THINK I WANT TO BECOME A MONK!…Psalm 101

You know there’s a trick up my sleeve with a title like that!   Sometimes I think it would be a good idea to become a monk because of the kind of world we live in.  I’d like to hole up somewhere.  As Wordsworth penned–‘The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…’

Psychologists tell us that when confronted with some difficult issue it’s either ‘fight or flight’.  Hit back or flee.  I tend to throw myself into the battle.  And many times I can make a difference.  But with this big, old, messed-up world of ours, flight now seems like the best option.  To the monastery for me!   I’d last two days, especially if no talking was allowed!

Let’s turn to the Scriptures for some guidance.  Psalm 101 is written by King David.  Here’s some marvelous advice from someone who knows. He tells us not to move to a monastery, but to somewhere closer–‘I will ponder the way that is blameless…I will walk with integrity of heart within my house'(Psalm 101:2).

Maybe we can’t change the world, but we can watch how we walk with the Lord.  How we worship and pray, singing His praises within ourselves all day long.  Looking out the window, I see lots of trees, green grass, clouds and sky.   I don’t stop there.  I see the hand of our Creator God.  I praise Him for His creation.  Join me, will you?

Praise the Lord!  Moving forward in Psalm 101, David tells us to ‘not set before my eyes anything that is worthless'(verse 3).  This is an individual matter, and I would be the last one to tell you what’s worthless in your life.  And I would no doubt resent the same from you to me.  Ask the Lord what worthless things you need to get rid of.  Then get rid of them.  But not before you really sense something from God.

David says to be careful who we rub shoulders with–‘I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me'(verse 3).  Be on your guard who you listen to, what advice you take, whose lead you follow .

Every pearl of wisdom of this psalm is something that you and I can act upon.  Be close to the Lord.  Listen to Him in His Word.  Keep your distance from the hornet’s nests of ungodly people, their ways and teachings.  Fellowship with His people when you can.  Tell others about your best friend, whose love is out-of-this-world.

All these things we can do even though the world seeks to suffocate us.  Don’t let it.  We don’t need to hole up somewhere, like in a cave or monastery, as tempting as that may be.  Close to Jesus is where we want to be.

Prayer:  Lord, help us to be in this world and yet not of it.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

I’M HAVING MY BIRTH CERTIFICATE CHECKED FOR FRAUD!…James 4: 13-15

That’s right. I’m having my birth certificate checked for fraud!  Something is seriously amiss.  Possible malfeasance!  I have a certified copy of my New Jersey birth certificate.  Along with the original hospital certificate that actually has my footprint on it.  It’s that date of my birth that’s way off…by 10 or hopefully, 20 years.  Who would do such a thing to one so small and helpless?  What kind of demented mind would strap one so young to an early old age scenario?

The word of my spurious birth year has gotten out, and all my classmates think that our 50th class reunion is coming up this year.  Isn’t that something?  All those ‘kids’ who thought they were so smart, deluded into wanting to get together for our 50th when that can’t be right?  Class of ’65.  Born 1947.

Oh no!  No, it’s true.  All of it.  Never was good at math.  They’re right!  50 years later with some of my classmates, the ‘kids’, sadly already past tense, pushing up daisies.  I know how old they all will look– except for me, of course!  How fragile and silly they’ll be– except for me, of course.  How heavy and out-of-shape, except….I better stop right there before I get into real trouble with our invitation to the big reunion gala being revoked!  We’re going anyway.  The dinner money has been paid.  My bio has been sent in for our 50th class reunion yearbook.  Air fares paid for.   Car rental reserved.   Lovely condo in the city where I was born,  with its view overlooking downtown Manhattan, rented and paid for.  Ready or not…

James, the brother of our Lord, says much the same but with more maturity–”Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’–yet  you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that'”(James 4: 13-15).   Told you!  Basically, be humble as we plan.  Be tentative always allowing for the Lord to change our plans.  Life is short.

I don’t hear voices or see ‘signs’ as others seem to.  I make plans knowing that His plans will rule out.  Proverbs 16: 9–‘In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps’.  Also Proverbs 19: 21–‘Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.’  Make your plans.  After all, life is but a mist, a puff of smoke driven away by the swirling winds of time.  He’ll take care of us.  He’ll give us ‘the desires of our heart'(Psalm 37:4).  Fulfilling those He Himself has put within our hearts.  Won’t that be wonderful?  Go for it!  Amen!

Prayer:  Lord, help to us to make the most of what we’ve been given by you.  In His name.  Amen.

13 IS A GOOD NUMBER FOR MHS!… Psalm 107:43

Many people don’t like the number 13.  Think it’s unlucky!  My mother always warned us never to open an umbrella in the house.  Why would we do that?  Except that the upstairs shower did leak through the kitchen ceiling!  Superstition is plain stupid…if you believe in it.  I like the number 13!  I was reading in Newsweek Magazine that Millburn High School, where I graduated from,  is the 13th highest rated high school in the United States that year!  100% graduation rate with 99.5% college bound.

I’m always grateful for the education I received in my hometown.   College prep classes, the norm.  Talk of college and university, common chat from earliest grades onward.  Didn’t matter if you were the son or daughter of a New York City corporate CEO or the son of a housepainter.  That one would be me!   I got the same education that the CEO progeny received.  All that was needed was to apply myself.  That was equality in my hometown.

Now I know that there’s something much better than a top-notch education.  You guessed it.  It’s knowing the Lord.  Regardless of your background, the Lord is there for each one.  We support a girl named Irene in one of the poorest countries in the world today, Burkina Faso.  The population of her country is 13 million people.  Half of able-bodied adults are unemployed, while those who have a job only make about $44 per month.  Our monthly support, a drop in our bucket, allows her to learn about Jesus and the Bible, get an education, be properly fed, and have fun playing with other children in a safe Christian child-development center.  She now knows Jesus.  A little girl in a poor country, the daughter of poor parents struggling to make ends meet like none of us reading this today know anything about.

God’s big on equality when it comes to belonging to His family.  As a matter of fact, it’s harder for the rich man…well, you know the story(Matthew 19: 16-24).  Let me recommend that instead of tooting your horn about your old high school(!), how about getting wisdom from the Lord.  That’s what I read about in Psalm 107: 43–‘Who is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.’  His door, wide open to all.  His wisdom, far greater than any education found here on earth.

No matter if you’re old or young, rich or poor, black or white, or whatever beautiful color God has made you,  His truth is there for the taking…from His Word, the Bible.  And, for believers in Jesus, the graduation rate to heaven is 100%!  Can’t get any better than that!

Prayer:  Lord, we pray that people fallen on hard times would come to know your wonderful love and help.   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.