WIND CHASING!… Ecclesiastes Chapters 1-2

Good old King Solomon!  Not Wenceslaus!  Two chapters to read today.  Tsk…tsk.  You won’t be sorry.  These chapters display wisdom from Solomon as he approaches the very end of his life.  He was doing some reflecting, like someone else I know and like!   Me! Here’s something hard to believe– he made more mistakes, committed more sins, than even I have!  Have you looked in the mirror lately?!

Solomon begins by telling us that life is meaningless.  Oh, that’s good news to start my day!  Meaningless–vanity, transitory, empty and fleeting(told you I got a new Thesaurus for Christmas!).   He’s tried it all.  Excesses… that make us blush.   Good enterprises… that went awry.  Education… as the ‘Renaissance Man’ he was.   Yet,  he writes “Meaningless, meaningless…” (1:2).

All a big, fat waste of time with a clock that’s running out of hours and minutes.   However, the phrase that caught my attention was ‘chasing after the wind’.  Five times in these two chapters, he uses this phrase.  I can picture one of our grandchildren running outside chasing a leaf, blown around in the wind…to no avail.  Trying to catch the wind is ultimate futility.  Oh, how I dread playing tennis or golf on a windy day.  At least I can blame my lame game on that infernal wind!

Can’t catch the wind.  It would drive you mad.  One of my favorite silent movies is Lillian Gish’s ‘The Wind’.  The unyielding wind of the Texas prairie drives her literally insane.  Images of her tiny body facing into that unrelenting wind, trying to keep the intrusive dust out of her log house, are ones I’ll not soon forget.

When I was an undergraduate student at the Moody Bible Institute, on one of those wintry, blustery Chicago days, where you had to walk hunched-over facing deeply into the wind  to keep from being windswept away.  Saw children wafted dangerously into the streets by the winds of the ‘Windy City’.  The wisdom of the Bible Institute’s architects was to build heated tunnels connecting all the buildings.  The cold, the wind, the blowing snow…all kept away from us… if we stayed inside.

Like knowing Jesus, who keeps us safe and secure.  Tunneling near to the heart of God,  finding shelter from life’s windy blasts.  Without the stability of God’s love anchoring us to safety and shelter, life would be little more than meaningless ‘chasing after the wind’.

Remember, Jesus gives us the wind of the Holy Spirit.  He’s that gentle breeze that feels good and clean.  The Holy Spirit is the dependable reason for whatever season we find ourselves in.    Comfort and counsel, all from God’s Holy Spirit, make for a certain richness to our daily grind.   Even old Solomon would say “amen” to that!  How about you?  Happy New Year!

Prayer:  Dear God, in this new year help us to find our safe lodging in you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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ON THE SHELF!… Luke 1: 5-25

I’ve always loved preaching during the Christmas season.  To come up with some new  angle was quite the challenge.  Recently I discovered a new insight.  From Luke chapter 1.  It’s about John the Baptist’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah.

Both righteous Jews, who know their Bible, serve God faithfully, and obey their Lord. Getting along in years with no child for them.  Lots of prayers and hope– all frustrated.  Until… ministering at the Temple in Jerusalem, Zechariah hears directly from the angel Gabriel that in a few months they will have a son, who will be the forerunner of the Messiah!

Can you believe it?  Zechariah had a hard time with that.  He needed proof, something to counter his doubts.  The couple are old and worn out.  Every dusty thing, stored in their  infant nursery, has been given away.  But Zechariah will be silenced, unable to utter one word, until God’s promise has been fulfilled.  He needs to listen.

Then Elizabeth discovers that the love they have for each other has resulted in the conception of a baby.  Her reaction?  Not hers alone.  Imagine all the congratulations voiced, the gifts given, the nursery showers lavished on this older woman unexpectedly expecting this blessed event?  But Luke writes in verse 24 that ‘After…Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden…’

Zechariah–in silence.  Elizabeth–in seclusion.  Today, I noticed something new.  Zechariah, who leads in worship, now must live quietly for awhile.  God has made him a promise.  One that they were too afraid to believe in.  What he needs most is to keep quiet, keep his mouth closed… and listen to God.  To reflect.  God has put him in a place where listening is all he can do.  He needs to listen.  Don’t we?

Sometimes the Lord will put us in a place where all we can do is hang on to His promises.    Good people have questions and doubts. Been put on the shelf.  Be quiet…and watch what God does.   Listen to Him.  Will we?

Elizabeth closeted herself for a period of 5 months.  That’s a long time.  What was this all about?  I picture her getting closer to God.  Spending time with the One who now has so blessedly answered her prayers.  Distanced from distractions, even family and friends.  Not much of a stretch to imagine that each of us needs to get away, to turn off the radio or television, finding some place and some time for Him.  Someone has called aloneness that ‘splendid isolation’.  At times, it can be.  As for Zechariah and Elizabeth, of years gone by.  Take time to be alone with Him.

I’m so glad God showed me something new  in the Christmas story, for I was listening while alone in His Word!  Now it’s your turn!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that when you speak, we listen, drawing closer to us.   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THOSE CHRISTMAS CRACKERS!… Psalm 103: 1-5

They look somewhat silly perched on our heads as we gather around the table for our Christmas dinner.  Bright-colored, crinkly paper hats that never seem to fit.   Looks more like a poorly formed bird’s nest with my hair sticking up and out its sides!  But I wear my ‘Christmas Cracker’ proudly, enjoying other’s raucous laughter as they see ‘Silly Papa’ doing what he does best, being silly and fun!  My wife Sue continues her English tradition of those Christmas crackers.  She enjoys them.  That’s good enough for me.  Christmas crackers!

Psalm 103 is a hymn of praise to God.  When we’re stuck in problems, heartaches and headaches, turn to this psalm.  Good medicine for you and me.  Take the medicine…praise the Lord.  Sing His wonders and goodness.

I want you to notice all those powerful verbs that King David uses in this psalm–‘forget not… forgives all…heals all…redeems…crowns…satisfies…and renews'(Psalm 103: 2-5).  I’m still thinking of those Christmas Crackers that have little toys inside, along with a puzzle to solve or a joke to tell.   Of course, that paper crown to wear.  What a treat!

Verse 4 gives us a glimpse of a better Christmas Cracker!  We’re crowned with ‘steadfast love and mercy’.  God’s love that never ends.  His mercy offered as the gift of forgiveness.   God’s grace is getting what we don’t deserve and never earned.  His grace.  His mercy?  Well, that’s NOT getting what we do deserve.  I REALLY need that.  If He gave me what I deserved, oh boy, would I be in deep, deep trouble.  Am I alone in this?  He…’ crowns you with steadfast love and mercy’.

Look back at those vibrant verbs used in Psalm 103.  Do you notice something?  All of them are gifts from God.  All come to us because His Son Jesus gave Himself on the cross for you and me.  We can never earn God’s crown.  Never.  ‘His steadfast love and mercy’– these are His gifts to us.  I like that adjective ‘steadfast’.  Reminds us that God’s love is steady. Fastening to our soul with a super glue that never loses its adhesiveness.

It’s takes hold as fast as saying ‘yes’ to Jesus, welcoming Him into our lives.  Like a man and a woman, becoming husband and wife, by saying ‘I do’ to each other.  Two heartfelt words– ‘I do’– bind two lovers together in marriage which begins at that very moment.  When saying ‘yes’ to Jesus, you immediately experience God’s love and mercy, His grace and goodness.  All yours…from Him.  Wear them as the crown of your life.  Merry Christmas!   Rejoice in all those gifts God has given you!

Prayer:  Lord, we praise you for everything in our lives.  Praise you, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

BE A CHEERLEADER!… Psalm 136

I never wanted to be a cheerleader.  Fun to watch, but looks quite dangerous.  Getting tossed in the air like a water balloon hoping you don’t get dropped and splattered all over the ground!  Today, I’m not talking about being a cheerleader for a football team.  Rather, being an encouragement to others.

It means so much to me when some of you take the time to contact me that a devotional  lifts you up in your walk with the Lord.  Makes my day.  As if the Lord is saying to me: ‘keep at it.  Write for me!’   Recently, however,  I  received five rejection notices from a devotional magazine that I’ve written for for over thirty years.  Five for five.  Batting a big, fat zero!   Why work at this?  Retired.  I have other things on my dream list.  Starting to wonder.  Maybe it’s a lot of hot air, circulating around in my hollow head!

Then, an acceptance came from a new magazine I’ve started writing for.  That letter was like a cheerleader rooting me on!  Like the Lord saying, ‘write on!  Acceptance or rejection, don’t stop now.  It’s too soon to quit’.  Thank you, Lord!

We all need encouragement.  AND– we all need to be cheerleaders for someone else.  Can you think of someone you can encourage today?  Get in touch with them.   Send a note.  Bake something.  Invite them over for a meal.  Think of something.

One of my favorite psalms is the 136th.  It’s a great song of praise to God.  Notice that the same response is given at the end of every verse.  Your translation may say, ‘His love endures forever’ (NIV) or another says ‘for His steadfast love endures forever'(ESV).  Whatever, the message is the same.  God’s love lasts forever.  His love is enduring and endearing.  Not like mine, fickle and conditional.  This is about ‘His love’.

God’s people keep repeating that phrase over and over again for every single verse of  Psalm 136.  I did some digging in the original Hebrew Bible.  Instead of six or four words in their response, there are but three.  Literally, they say, ‘forever…His love!’  In each and every one of those twenty six verses–‘forever… His love!’  Keep repeating it.  Say it again.  Like a cheerleader saying wonderful words of praise to our God and His Son Jesus.  Can never say it enough.  God never tires of hearing us praise His name.  ‘Forever…His love!’  Be a cheerleader… for Him!  A Christmas cheer for Jesus, our Lord and Savior!  ‘Forever…His love!’  Say it again…!

Prayer:  Lord, we can never praise you enough.  We love you and worship you.  In Jesus’ name.  ‘Forever…His love!’  Amen.

 

BURIED TREASURE!… Isaiah 33: 5-6

Buried treasure!  The thought stirs my imagination!  Pirates…gold doubloons…Long John Silver and Treasure Island!   Did you ever dig a hole in the backyard when you were  a child?   I did.  Looking for buried treasure!  Hoping not to dig too deep as my father said  I’d open a chasm all the way to China. China?   How would I get home?!

Once in a while, you read of someone out walking their dog, which digs up what looks like a bone, only to unearth a tin can filled with old gold coins now worth a prospector’s fortune.  Not me!  Kept digging in our backyard, and only found worms, pebbles, smooshed cigarette butts, and someone’s old broken tooth!

My buried treasure never was found.  Until today.  Yes… buried treasure!   Treasure?  Where?  The prophet Isaiah:  ‘The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high…he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure'(33: 5-6 ESV).  Treasure!  For all who worship and love the Lord.  Treasure indeed!  Nothing buried either.

Why not let everyone else know where this treasure can be found?  Tell others about the Lord they can love and serve.  Unfortunately, that rarely happens anymore.  We clam up, keeping to ourselves what needs sharing.  As the Apostle Paul said, ‘…how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?'(Romans 10: 14).  How?

Good question.   I thank the Lord that someone bothered to do a radio program telling me about Jesus.   What about you?  Some Sunday school teacher?  A Bible given to you?  A neighbor who took the risk?  Someone unselfish,  sharing treasure.  Can we do less?  We can and do.  To our shame.  The treasure is for all who believe.  That’s clearly the message of the Bible, our treasure map.   John 3:16:  ‘…that whoever believes in him(Jesus)…’  Did you notice who this applies to?  Yes, ‘…whoever’.  As in you and me!

Last night I wrote another letter to the little 9 year old girl who we help get an education, decent clothing and food, and discover the love of Jesus.   She lives in one of the poorest countries in the world.  A country dominated by a religion that hates Jesus and His followers.  But courageous Christians in her country share treasure, and our little girl now has some treasure too!  Poor as poor can be in this world’s goods, yet rich in what matters, what will last for all eternity.   We can love Jesus…and share Him with others as well.  Does it get any better?

Actually, it does.  For the treasure of worshipping the Lord is like finding a vein of gold that has no end.  Even buccaneering pirates-of-old couldn’t imagine a treasure trove like this!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of sharing you with others.  In Jesus’ precious name, we pray.  Amen.

I FOUND MYSELF IN THIS PSALM!… Psalm 115

I can’t believe it.  I found myself in this psalm.  Yes, little old me!  Let me set the stage for you.  I’ve been writing this devotional book for over two years now.   I know that there are many wonderful devotional books.  I’ve used some and they have helped me to grow in the Lord.  Who needs one more?  Good question.   But none of them, not one, have my reflections, my experiences and my take on the Bible.

I want to have what the Lord means to me down in print for our kids and their kids and their kids to read about.  If they want to.  For most, I won’t be around to bug them about it.  My passion is for people knowing and growing in Jesus.  Not my family alone.  Hence, my writing what you are now reading.  How did this all begin?

My wife and I were driving across country in early 2014 (our 7th cross-country trip).  I had retired from 14 years pastoring the best little church this side of heaven!  Somewhere in  Texas, a thought popped into my pea-brain!  ‘Do more writing for me’.

I’d have to use a computer.  No doubt.  But I’m so tech-averse.   I knew who could help.  My wife Sue.   She’s tenacious.  Determined.  She figured it out.  She got it set up.  Told you I needed lots of help!

I do love to write.  But a shadow of doubt lurks in the room where I’m now writing.  Sometimes, I wonder.  Will anyone want this book?  Give it as a gift?  Use it as a doorstop!?  But wait a minute.  Just a cotton pickin’ minute!  I thought I found myself in this psalm?

I did.   And it helps.  Calms me down…for awhile.  Helps me to write more, regardless if anyone is out there.  Anybody home?!   Psalm 115: 13.  ‘…he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great’.  There it is!  The ‘small’–that’s me!  How encouraging to know that the Lord will bless the likes of me for following Him in obedience.  Knowing that but one of you has been helped by these devotionals, means the world to me.

How about you?  Feeling a bit insignificant?  Like life has let you down or passed you by?  Remember who gets mentioned first in this list of blessed people.  Yes, that’s right.  ‘…both the small and the great’.  We’re in first place in God’s plans!  Hang in there.  I will if you will. You and me… and the Lord–quite the winning team!  Being ‘BIG’ with Him is really all that matters!

Prayer:  Lord, perseverance is what we need.  Not greatness but faithfulness to you.  In your service…for others.  In His name.  Amen.

SET WHAT IN ORDER?… Isaiah 38: 1-8

Set your house in order.  That’s what Isaiah tells ailing King Hezekiah.  You’re not going to live long, King.  Set your house in order!  Don’t leave a mess for someone else.

Before we got our house ready to sell, we had to ‘set our house in order’.  We had noticed, looking for another home, that some didn’t do anything to make their homes less cluttered.  Things piled up everywhere.   An instant turn-off.

Our realtor had told us to remove all my historic Stangl Pottery dinner-plate collection that adorned our kitchen walls.  What?  All of them?  Yes, every one!  Then I had to plug holes in our walls, paint over them, hoping the five year old paint would match the color on our walls. Faded much?  Not one bit, much to our relief.  But everything looked so bare… and barely lived-in.

But our realtor was right–people didn’t need to admire our beautiful things.  They needed to imagine how their things would look in the house that they wanted to buy.  Our old house sold in one day at a price higher than we had listed it for.  This in an economically-depressed area.  Amazing!  We still marvel at that blessing from the Lord!

How do we get our spiritual house in order?  Some things need to be tossed.   I had some very liberal theological commentaries left-over from my seminary days at Princeton.  Who did I want to have them?  That’s right–the recycle bin!  My decision to bring some order to that part of the ‘house’.  Other items we brought over to our daughter-in-law, who was hosting a garage sale, with monies going to support child care at their Christian home-school program at a local church.   Gave away furniture to Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army.  Then came the need to pack… and move.  Many items we moved ourselves before the big moving van arrived.

How about our spiritual house?  Get rid of things we no longer need.  Sharing what we have with others.  Giving what they can use and enjoy.  Sharing our faith in Jesus.  Giving monies to missions that proclaim the Gospel.  We give every month.

Some things in our lives need to be tenderly cared for.  Packed carefully…moved safely.  Setting your house in order involves sending them… to our future home in heaven, ahead of our arrival.  Like praises to the Lord,  prayers of all kinds,  getting closer and closer to Him, day by day.  We’re not alive for planet earth alone.  No way.  There’s heaven ahead.  Set your house in order!

Prayer:  Our Lord, help us to simplify our lives, whatever our age. Thank you for all your help.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

MAYBE THAT WASN’T SO GOOD AFTER ALL… Psalm 117

Whenever I read Psalm 117, I can’t help but think back to South Mountain Elementary School, where I attended kindergarten through 6th grade.  From Miss Ford to Mrs. Carnegie!  A lovely school, a few blocks from home.  Nearby, with safe streets we would cross to get there.  Close enough to come home each day for lunch.

As we started the school day, we had the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, said the Lord’s Prayer, and then one of us read a psalm in front of the entire class.  Scary stuff to a shy little boy like me.  Now, this was public school, long before our upper court removed prayer and Bible reading from the classroom.  Each of us got to choose whatever psalm we wanted to read.  As my day approached, I could feel the tightness in my chest, along with nausea in my stomach.  Can you guess which psalm all of us chose every time?  Not Psalm 119 for sure!  Yes, you’re right!  The shortest one–Psalm 117!

What’s interesting to me is how little impact the exercise of prayer and Bible reading had on me in public school.   95% of my classmates were Jewish.  I was the ‘token Christian’, as they like to remind me at class reunions!  But, I wasn’t really a Christian in those days.  I knew next to nothing about God, Jesus or the Bible(except for Psalm 117!).  Hadn’t heard that I needed His gift of salvation.  What was that?  No idea.  In the mainline church which I attended, we never talked about politics, sex… or religion.  Oy Vey!  What I did know was that I wasn’t Jewish.  Pretty pathetic!   All changed when I heard a clear Gospel message on the radio one Sunday evening in my small upstairs bedroom.

Having those ‘traditions’ of public prayer and Bible reading made no difference to me.  Hearing the Gospel claims did.  Repeating words or performing rituals did not ‘cut the mustard’.   Committing our lives to Jesus Christ counts for everything.  Could never be legislated by a secular board of education or political body.  Only the Holy Spirit can transform a life.  Traditions come up short.

I pause today to gaze deeper into this marvelously concise praise to our God found in the Bible.  Psalm 117!  Less than 30 words.  None of them wasted.  All packed… with meaning.  Like bookends that keep all the books on your shelf from collapsing.   ‘Praise the Lord’, begins and ends this tiny masterpiece.  Starting and ending with praise.

Get the hint?  Like starting and ending each of our days…’Praise the Lord’.  Starting and ending a project…’Praise the Lord’.  Whatever.  Whenever.  Simply praise Him.  Father, Son, Holy Spirit…all praises, always!

Prayer:  Lord, we do praise you today, both morning and night.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

BLESS WHO?… Psalm 103

The old hymn reminds us to count our many blessings, seeing what God has done.  Good advice.  That’s another way of saying that if you think about it for awhile, there’s so much to thank God for!

I remember at our church’s weekly prayer group,  one of the hardest things I would ask them to do (it always frustrated me, and no one ever did it, ever), was to spend the entire hour praising the Lord while asking for nothing…for yourself or anyone else.  Couldn’t get past the first minute or two!  Try it sometime.  On your own.

I’m no different than anyone else.  Praising and thanking God, I’m just waiting to jump in, pestering Him with some new request of mine.  Have you heard the story about St. Francis of Assisi, who was out riding horse with a friend?  The friend was bragging about never being distracted in prayer.  St. Francis challenged him to say the Lord’s Prayer without a distraction.  If he could, St. Francis would give him his horse.  The friend started to pray, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…’  Then abruptly stopped, looked over at St. Francis, asking him if he could have the saddle, too!

Psalm 103 begins–‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!’  Seven times this psalm has that phrase ‘Bless the Lord…’  Seven times.  That perfect biblical number.  Perfect way to praise Him is to bless His name.  The opposite would be to take His name in vain(one of the 10 Commandments).

I wonder how else we can bless Him?  Certainly, not shaming His holy name as with a damning curse or glibly saying ‘OMG’.  Check out those 10 Commandments.  To obey God will certainly bless Him.  Let me digress for a moment.  Thinking of that commandment to honor your parents,  I realize that ‘blind obedience’ is not what that commandment means at all.  For our children and grandchildren (and generations we’ll never see or know), for each one of them, to follow the Lord and be His sincere and loving disciple, would honor us more than anything else.  What an honor!  Maybe this is not such a digression after all.

We bless God by committing our lives Him.  That impact has no limits.  How else?  That’s a good question.  Most of us seem to want blessings to flow our direction.  Gimme…gimme…gimme.  Spiritual ‘selfies’.  Takers.  But the question today is how we can bless God.  ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!’

How about spending a little time right now thanking and praising Him.  Try it–our Lord will love it!  ‘Bless His holy name!’

Prayer:  Lord, we want to bless you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SPENDING TIME TOGETHER… Luke 10: 38-42

I love our grandchildren.  So precious.  You would expect any grandparent to say much the same.  Don’t grandparents just dote on their grandchildren?   We now live closer to all our grandchildren… but not that close!  I notice that my calendar highlights when they are coming; and then, with a certain sadness, when they are leaving.  What helps is checking when next we’ll be together.

We know what they love to do.  Eating…watching television.  But it’s playing games that grabs them the most.  I think that when they look back on their early years, Silly Papa and Meme will be remembered for spending time with them playing lots of games.

Growing up, I had lots of relatives we would visit.  Grandmothers, lots of aunts and uncles with all those cousins.  Do much together?  Hardly remember playing board games.  Eating?  Lots of that!  I have the extra pounds to prove it!  The adults?– talking, chattering and gossiping about whoever or whatever.  Relatives interested in my life?  Not really.  Not that I remember.

Much talk of love for each other?  Never heard about that!  Plenty of gossipy griping as we drove home or after they all left.  A friendly wave ‘good bye’ followed by dissecting everything that made us jealous!  Can’t do anything about ‘spilt milk’ from the past, but can make it much better for our children and their kids.

Being together, spending time laughing, talking about the stories their  imaginations dream up.  Telling them how much we love them, as often as we can or they’ll allow!    Letting them know that being with them means the world to us.

Like what happened when Jesus and His friends came to stay at Martha’s house.  Lots of work to be done to host all those people.  Food doesn’t drop out of the sky.  Well, not since Old Testament times!  Takes old-fashioned elbow grease.  That 4-letter word:  ‘work’.  Like Maynard G. Krebs, of the old ‘Dobie Gillis’ television show, who screamed ‘w…o…r…k!’

Martha had lots to do.  She lets her frustration fall directly onto Jesus’ head.  ‘Make her help me,  Jesus.  Don’t you care?’   But it’s Mary who’s commended by Jesus.  Mary sits at His feet.  Everything about Jesus she just loves.  Those 5 verses from Luke 10.  What I notice is not so much that Jesus criticizes Martha for all those distractions, but how He protects Mary’s desire to get close to Him.

At Christmas–God wanting to get close to us.   It takes much effort to keep Christ front-and-center at Christmas.  There is no criticism of Martha’s work-ethic in Luke chapter 10.    But she needs a sense of rest in her daily life.

Not just Martha.  Not only once a week.  Resting, waiting on Him, sitting at the feet of Jesus… in prayer, in the Word, and in action.  Time well spent!

Prayer:  Lord, you want to be close to us.  At Christmas and all year long.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.