A WEE BIT ON PRAYER!… Daniel 9: 20-23

Why did my immigrant Irish relatives called themselves ‘Scots’?   Reading between the lines, my kinfolk probably had been booted out of Scotland, landing on the friendlier shores of Ireland, only to hightail-it to the USA!  We’ve been fleeing ever since!  Today, as a good Scotsman, I want to talk a wee bit about prayer.

Here’s a thought for you– I don’t believe in the power of prayer… but in the One who has the power to answer our prayers.  Many Christians believe in the power of prayer as if prayer is some form of magic.  Using potent words to get things from God.  If said in the right way, or with prescribed words of faith.  That’s not prayer.  That trying to twist God’s arm.  Manipulate Him.

Let me be the first to admit that my prayers are far from perfect.  I catch myself using the same patterns over-and-over again.  Thinking that if I’d prayed longer or with more urgency, then God would have answered my prayers.  Years ago I remember seeing a pamphlet with the title ‘Prayer–How to Get Things From God’.  Can you believe it?   I read it!  Insinuated that God is like some big, old cosmic ‘meanie’ who has to be tricked into giving us what we want which He’s holding back.  ‘Just say the magic word…!’  Is that even prayer?  Maybe a D minus on your prayer report card!

Prayer at its best is spending time with God.  Going into prayer, we need to know His love for and acceptance of us.  Otherwise, we look for ways to bend His will to ours.  Prayer helps bend my will to His.  I’m saying that prayer opens God’s heart and ears to us.  Won’t we spend lots more time talking with Jesus, when we know He truly loves us?  With Jesus, we never have to slink around His throne in abject fear and trembling.

Here’s where those verses from Daniel really help– ‘As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed'(Daniel 9: 23).  Daniel has been in prayer, confessing the sins of his people.  God sends the angel Gabriel to encourage him.  God answers the prayers of His people ‘…as soon as you began to pray…’

Could it be any clearer?  As soon as we pray, an answer is on the way.  The answer may be ‘no’.  Who knows?  God does.  Ask…but don’t insist on getting your own way.  Stop pouting.  You prayed for His will.  Accept it.  It may be a ‘yes’.  Praise God!  Or possibly ‘wait and mature a wee bit more’.  I’ve had that answer many times.  And you know what?  He was right every time.  How about that?  Should come as no surprise.  Pray… an answer is on the way!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for always being there.  Help us to trust you no matter what.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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NEED A LITTLE ENCOURAGEMENT?… Deuteronomy 2: 7

Only one verse today.   From Moses’ first sermon in Deuteronomy, mentioning all that God has done for His people Israel.   The struggles of slavery, then their exit from Egypt.  More can be found in the book of Exodus.  What you discover was how angry and downright impossible God’s people were.  They only needed to trust Him.  He would be there for them.  Don’t take my word for it.  Take His.

Poor Moses heard all their infernal griping, and even he lost it!  God’s people were a tough bunch.  Always harking back to the ‘good old days’.  Remembering all the food they enjoyed ‘for free’.  Free?  What were they talking about?  They were slaves, needing to be fed so they could work.  Forget about freedom.  None whatsoever.  In that hot desert, they grumbled and complained, plotting to kill Moses and his brother Aaron.  Nice people!

When God promised them their own land, what did they do?  Sent out spies to check on things only to believe the majority report that the enemy looms large while we remain pipsqueaks!  Go into a land overpopulated with ‘giants’?  No way!  Let’s hightale it back to Egypt, where we came from.  At least we know what we had there.  Food in our bellies.  Job security.

Wonder how God felt about all this?  Need to wonder?  I don’t.  Not a ‘happy camper’.  Why should He be?  He decides that His people are going to ‘cool their heels’ in the desert…for 40 drawn-out years.  A long sentence.  This should give them lots of time to mull things over.

Aren’t you glad this was about them… and not us!   Sounds an awful lot like me.  I’ve been in the ‘desert’ where the Lord has given me ‘time out’ to think things over.  For Him to work in my life, even with my bad attitude!  If you are a believer in Jesus, you know how much He loves you.  Just as you are.  But loved enough not to leave you that way for too long.

That’s where the desert comes in.  Deuteronomy 2:7–‘The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands.  He has watched over your journey through the desert.  These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.’

He stayed with His rebellious people the whole time.  Giving them clouds by day as shade from the sun’s heat, and fire by night to give light, protection and warmth.  Their sandals never wore out.  Never.  There was food everyday, and twice as much for the Sabbath so they could have a day of rest and worship.  ‘…you have not lacked anything’.  Thank God for ALL He has done for us.  Even during tough times.  ‘…not lacking a thing’!

Prayer:  Dear God, thank you for all your provision in your Son Jesus.  In His name, we pray.  Amen.

JUST AS HE SAID!…Matthew 28:1-7

‘Happy Easter’!  We said that to a checker at a nearby grocery store.  She wished us a happy visit from the Easter bunny!  We thanked her while pointing skyward mentioning the One who is risen from the dead!  She smiled back, agreeing that that’s her hope for Easter as well.  Let’s leave aside the poor old Easter bunny.  Also, the brightly colored eggs and chocolate bunnies.  Let’s get back to the basics.  What Easter is all about.  Jesus has been crucified.  He died.  Was buried.  But then…and this is huge…He’s ALIVE!  Can be seen and heard!  Walks through locked wooden doors!  Death has been swallowed up in victory!  Victory in Jesus!

Looking at Matthew 28: 6, did you notice what the angel said to the two women at the tomb?  ‘He is not here; He has risen, just as He said’.  ‘…just as He said.’  Those four words grabbed me by the collar.  Jesus means what He says.  He’s true to His word.  What He says, we can count on.

Then should we not take Him at His word?  You better believe it!  Then, what was the angel referring to?  What had Jesus said?  Check out Matthew 16:21–‘From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’  ‘…just as He said.’

Here’s a challenge–to put His Word into our hearts and minds.  So we can hear Him as we experience life’s ups-and-downs.  Hearing Jesus reassures us of His help just when we need it most.  Death and defeat have lost.  He is risen!  ‘…just as He said’.

We know where we can hear His Word.  We do, don’t we?  Shouldn’t we firmly embed them in our minds?  Still the greatest story ever told!  The Bible…God’s Word!  The living Word.  From God Himself.   ‘…just as He said’!

Prayer:  For your Word given to us in the Bible, Lord, we thank you.  More than that, we commit to spending more time in our Bibles.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TALK ABOUT BEING PUSHY!… Matthew 20: 20-28

What a great story!  About certain disciples and their mother, who should have known better!  A bit of context.  Jesus gathers the twelve to His side, sharing with them the grief that is on His heart.   For the third time they hear that condemnation and death await Jesus.  But then, He promises, that on the third day, He’ll rise from the dead(Matthew 20: 17-19)!   The trials of Holy Week, the seeming defeat on the cross, will all culminate in victorious life that Easter Sunday morn!

Immediately, a pushy mother comes right up to Jesus along with her two sons.  Asking Him to seat her sons, James and John, on His right and His left in the Kingdom of Heaven.  What ‘chutzpah’!  What a nerve!  Just got through telling of His betrayal, His agony and death.  And what does she want?   The best seats in the house for her boys!  Most Bible scholars feel that this mother is Salome, the sister of the Virgin Mary.  She would be Jesus’ aunt, and her sons His cousins.  If anyone might grant her wish, it should be Jesus.  Right?  Wrong!

Jesus, tells her pointblank that that decision is not His to make.  Tough luck for her!  For pushy people have it all wrong.  Being first in line is never the best place…for His followers.  Followers… follow!  Get behind… and don’t worry about your name up in lights.  It’s about serving…doing unto others…giving being more blessed than getting and grasping.

Did they get it?  James and John finally did.  Actually, they served their Lord faithfully and humbly.  Wonder how I would have done in their sandals?  What about their mother?  Dear, old Mom!  Did she ever get what Jesus meant?   I think she did.

Later in Matthew, Salome makes a brief appearance.  Read Matthew 27: 55-56.  Find her?  All the apostles had fled Jesus on His cross, every one of them.  Some snuck back later and hung around the edges of the crowd that Good Friday.  The women stayed as close as they could to Him, watching and waiting.  Being near.  Loving Him.  Shedding tear after tear.  These women, the Bible says, ‘…were ministering to Him…'(Matthew 27:55).  Some are identified by name.  Mary Magdalene.  Mary, the mother of James and Joseph.  Then…wait a moment!  Am I reading correctly?  Yes!  ‘…and the mother of the sons of Zebedee’!  At this most dangerous time, with tensions boiling over, there she is.  Not asking for favors.  Not for herself or her sons.  Not this time.  She’s there at the foot of the cross.  For Jesus.  Standing with some other women, probably hand-in-hand.  There to serve whatever the needs of their Master.  Jesus’ earlier lesson sunk deep within her soul.  She got it!  Serving.  Giving.  His death…our life eternal!  Get it?

Prayer:  How humbling, Lord, to know that you love us as we are.  Please,  make us more like Jesus.  In whose name we pray.  Amen.

WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF LOVE?…Job 11

Do you remember the popular song entitled ‘Who Wrote the Book of Love?’ by  ‘The Monotones’?  I’ve wondered about their name.  Maybe they were all monotone singers?  Usually, you wouldn’t advertise that!  I sang the lead part in a Gospel quartet called ‘Livin’ Harmony’.  We didn’t sing monotone.  I know people who do… and it’s not a pretty sound!  ‘Livin’ Harmony’ tried to blend as if producing one sound.  Harmony.  Such a good feeling when we lived up to our name.  ‘The Monotone’s’?  I still like their 1958 song–‘Who Wrote the Book of Love?’.

We believers know the answer.  Don’t we?  Jesus wrote the book of love.  He didn’t read someone else’s.  He didn’t attend a class or seminar on it.  No focus group pooling their collective opinions.  No polls taken.  He wrote the book of love.  Providing the example for all who follow in His footsteps.   Jesus did all willingly… ‘for the joy set before Him'(Hebrews 12:2).  Not to show off or be ‘Mr. Big Shot’.  Hardly.  Quite the contrary.  As one who puts a towel around his waist to wash the feet of others.  A servant.  He wrote the book of love.

To wash away our sin and shame.  That’s what He was doing during Holy Week.  Washing away the graffiti of our guilt.  Removing the tattoos of sin and blame.  Not rubbing our faces in them, holding us down until we cry ‘uncle’.  That’s where Job 11 comes in.  It’s about time, I know!  Specifically, I’m looking at verses 13-19.  Zophar is one of Job’s friends.  Does he remain such as he harangues the beleaguered man?  He may have wanted to be Job’s friend, but had such a poor way of showing it.  Like me sometimes, wanting to be helpful only to make such a mess of things.  Rushing in where angels had flown away.  Zophar so good!  Not really.

Zophar is a prime example of a finger-pointer.  Shame…shame…shame on you, Job.  In the verses already mentioned, he accuses Job eighteen times of being at fault for all the tragedies he’s going through.  Only seven verses with eighteen ‘you’ or ‘your’.  As if Job needs berating.

Not only Job.   Blame comes real easy for me.  Too easy.  So, remember, and don’t forget!  Jesus covers it all.  Shame is never the same when He forgives and forgets.  Never.  Maybe it’s time to believe that Jesus has let all of that go.  Good riddance!  Good news!  Easter is coming!  How He loves us.  After all, He wrote the book of love!

Prayer:  Lord, release from our sin and shame is such an amazing blessing.  What love!  In Jesus’ name, who wrote the book.   Amen.

EASTER IS COMING!… Acts 2: 37-40

Easter is coming!  Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!  We’ll say that in church Easter morn, celebrating what only God can do.  Death has been delivered a death-blow.  Dead-ends become highways to Heaven…all because of Jesus Christ.  His death on the cross becomes our birth certificate to eternal life.  Such is the believer’s vantage point.  We look up even in the midst of a society and world falling headlong into the depths of muck and mire.

Why aren’t more people looking to the only One who can turn around such a mess?  Could it be that the harvest is ripe and ready, but we’re too shy or lazy to tell others the Good News?  I’m pointing my finger right at you, with three more aimed back at you-know-who…ME!   The Apostle Peter certainly had his boldness-tank filled to the brim.  Went from being a three-time denier to saying this on the day of Pentecost:  ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation'(Acts 2: 40).

He’s not saying that we can save ourselves.  Not at all.  In verse 38 Peter urges his listeners to repent(turn around), confess faith in Jesus the Messiah, and then be baptized showing their allegiance to Him alone.  Peter then says this in verse 41: ‘Those who received his message…’  Those who believed, opened their hearts and lives to the Son of God, experienced God’s forgiveness, receiving new life.  They are the ones, we are the ones, who have escaped this ‘corrupt generation’.  There’s a way out.  Follow the way of Jesus.  The earliest title for Jesus’ followers was this:  ‘people of the Way’.  He is the Way, the only way(John 14:6).

Christ is risen!  He’s alive…He’s coming again.  Are you ready?  I ask myself the same question.  Jesus will usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  Yes, first He must go through Good Friday.  His death on the cross.  For us.   If our days are dark and dreary, not to worry.  Easter is coming!  It’s on the horizon.  Can you see His new day dawning?  I’m not an early riser.   But I can see His light coming!

Prayer:  Lord, we’re so excited about new life in your Son Jesus.  Thank you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

PALM BRANCHES AND ALL!…Matthew 21: 1-17

Matthew chapter 21 paints a picture of that first Palm Sunday.  Jesus, entering Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, riding a donkey while surrounded by lots of high-spirited people casting palm branches onto dusty streets making His way clear.  Here comes the Messiah, who will save His people!  They shout the Hebrew word ‘hosanna’, which means ‘save us’.  The Promised Messiah!  ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’

I have a question for you.   How did they know that Jesus was their Messiah?  This Jesus from Nazareth.  Any ideas?  Here’s mine.  Basically, the same way we do.  We know Him through His Word, the Bible.  The clues are all there, in the Old Testament.  Really?  Truly!  Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem is built solidly on God’s written Word.  Read those seventeen verses in Matthew 21.  You’ll find quotes from all over the Old Testament.  From Zechariah, the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and once again from the collection of the Psalms.

All the sights and sounds of that Sunday.  All the events of that special day could be recognized as echoes from the Old Testament, which they knew so well.  Ever felt like you’ve been somewhere before, that things seem strangely familiar?  Some shadow from the past that begs to be recognized in the present?  A scent that ushers an old memory front-and-center?   Such was Palm Sunday.  All those Bible passages shed light on the events of that day.

I wonder if life is so confusing for people today, even for believers in Jesus, because so little of the Bible is in us.  Society, in general, is largely illiterate to God’s Word, which means they are open to any form of deception that looks and feels good.  This all-time, every year best-seller, contains the tools for life… for the taking and using.  The key in their hands to open locked doors, but rarely used.  No wonder why so many feel disconnected and empty.  How sad as the cure is so close at hand.  He’s knocking at the door of many hearts this very moment, but His gentle rap-tap often falls on deaf ears.

Palm Sunday made sense because God said in many places, through many prophets and encounters, that He was sending the Messiah and Savior into a needy and sinful world.   ‘Hosanna’–save us!  May we build more of Him into our lives as we use His tools, found in the pages of His Word, from Genesis to Revelation.  That will ‘save us’ from the many wiles and schemes of the enemy.  We still need ‘Hosanna’– God saving us… for Himself!

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for Jesus, our Savior and Lord.  We wave the palm branches, welcoming Him into our lives and world.  In His saving name.  Amen.

 

IN THE CLOUD… Acts Chapter 1

My wife knows about computers and the internet.  Not me!  After all, I was the one who hastily promised that one more problem with my laptop computer and out the window it goes!  However, it has heard me and is on its best behavior.   For the moment!

Let me ask you a question.  How does this computer work?  I don’t get it.  Know what scares me?  What’s next?  The new-and-improved whatever?  Now that I’ve mastered my clever use of the microwave!  Change doesn’t stop.  Not for all my wishing.  When I get the hang of something, it becomes obsolete.  That’s not nice!  Or fair!  Like all the talk about ‘the cloud’.  Head in the clouds, sounds about right!  What is it?  About storing information?  ‘In the cloud’?  Where?  How?  What?  When?  Oy vay, already!  Sure is cloudy to me!

Why not turn to the Bible?  About time, right?  I was reading in Acts chapter one, after Jesus’ resurrection and His amazing appearances, which the disciples could not deny(even doubting Thomas!), that Jesus is ALIVE!  Their collective jaw has fallen wide open.  Acts 1:9–‘…He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.’  A cloud.

Jesus has been with them in person, face-to-face.  But now in a new realm, which they’re not able to see through or penetrate.  Clouds now separate us from Him.  Thick clouds like the one’s in the desert that shaded God’s people from the blazing sun after they left slavery in Egypt.  When my wife and I traveled in Egypt, visiting the Pyramids, the Temple of Luxor, and the Valley of the Kings, any cloud that offered even a millisecond of shade was most welcome.  God’s gift to us…and the ancient Israelites.

Today, spiritually, ‘the cloud’ requires the exercise of faith,  a certainty beyond sight.  We can believe in Him whom we cannot see.  Faith becomes stronger when tough times muscle in.  No pain…no gain.  Don’t bemoan ‘the cloud’.  The dark days when the sun seems far away, when warmth has given way to some shiver of icy cold trouble.  When God seems out-of-reach, even out-of-touch.

Yes,  Jesus is no longer here on earth.  What He’s given us, what He’s left for us, is sufficient to manage even those cloudy days and rainy nights that come our way.  The Bible, the Holy Spirit, other believers, prayer, faith…

I thank the Lord for clouds.  I’ll stand under them knowing that He is above yet never far away.  His safety… under the cloud.  For some day, not too far off, we’ll be in heaven, enjoying all the light we ever wanted.  We won’t even need the sun above.  For there will be the Son.  The Lamb who is the lamp(Revelation 21: 23).  Look!  The clouds have parted and disappeared!  Beautiful weather for the forever future…!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for shade and protection.  Feels good to be in your family.   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

NO ADVERSE SIDE EFFECTS!… Psalms 63 and 64

Psalms 63 and 64 are jam-packed with wisdom for daily living.  Taken together, they would be good for what ails us.  Ready for some good medicine?  Without all those television warnings of multiple, horrific and sometimes fatal side effects?  But nothing dangerous with these psalms.  No snake oil here!  Don’t even need a spoonful of sugar, Mary Poppins!  Good… all on their own.

Psalm 63: 3– ‘your love is better than life’.  We think that human life is the most precious thing of all.  But it isn’t.  God’s love trumps every hand we’re dealt.  When we believe in Jesus, He gives us the antidote to death itself, which is eternal life!  No better medicine anywhere!  God’s love will outlast anything.

Love comes from Jesus, who gave His all for us.  His commitment– when we are His, He will be ours forever.  He loves us that much.  Hard to fathom?  Many times I can’t get a handle on the depth, height and width of God’s love in Jesus.  But my inability to grasp His love is not the issue.  What matters is His word.  He’s given it to us.  Don’t take my word for it.  Take His!  And when you do, God opens up all kinds of blessings for us to utterly delight in.  Lasting things…can you think of some?

Like forgiveness.  Heavy weights of guilt and shame lifted from our shoulders.  A purpose beyond myself.  Thinking about others.  Even those whom I utterly dislike.  I need to love and pray for them.  Feels right to do that.  Not easy, though.

He also gives us an open communication route–prayer.  Psalm 64:1– ‘Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint…’  We can tell Him whatever is on our hearts and minds.  Then verse two tells us of God’s protection and care–‘Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked…’   He hides us from many hazards in life.  I can’t even imagine all the times He’s spared me, hid me, protected me from some horrible threat.  I wasn’t even aware of it at the time.  Thought it was some lucky break.  Not quite!  Angels are all around us.

Finally, and best of all, we’ll praise Him–‘All mankind will fear(worship); they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done.  Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; let all the upright in heart praise him!'(Psalm 64: 9-10).

Let’s think hard and long on the things of the Lord.  Not focusing on this life alone, but on what’s lasting… the Lord Himself!   Finally, like the grand finale fireworks on the 4th of July, to praise Him more and more.  The skies erupt with color!  Aerial salutes in praise to our wonderful God and Lord!  I’m feeling better already!  You too?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for giving us the best life of all.  Not due to anything in us, but all from your Son Jesus Christ.  In His name.  Amen.

HOW I WISH… TO LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP!…Matthew 11:25-30

I’m thinking about the phrase from the Song of Solomon, about those ‘little foxes that ruin'(S of S 2:15).  So many little things that rob us of joy and peace.  Sending us down ‘dead ends’,  off-course from where the Lord wants us to be.  We could go on-and-on with a list of what distracts us in life.

For me, lots of ‘little foxes’ roam my emotions.  Happens in the middle of the night.  I need some shuteye, but ‘little foxes’ pursue me.  Fears roll on.  Worries rear their ugly heads.  It’s dark outside.   I sense something within that feels very threatened and frightened.  When these ‘little foxes’ wake me, there’s not much chance of falling back to sleep.  At least not for awhile.    Possibly, it’s as we age, that sleep becomes a rarer commodity.  I’m no expert in almost anything, but I do know what ‘dogs’ me at night.  It’s not dogs, but those ‘little foxes that ruin’.

How I wish I could lay me down to sleep.  It was not many years ago now that the Lord put an idea into my ‘pea brain’ that helps.  I asked Him for relief.  This is what came to me.  Pray.  I know this sounds like something a pastor would recommend!   Typical.  But that’s it.  So, when I wake up with a jolt,  I begin to praise the Lord!  Stop the panic… start to pray.

Do you know how hard it is to praise Him?   Stopping my incessant asking and begging for things for me or others I know?  Takes real effort, sad to say.  But I do it.  Thank Him for Himself.  Praise Him for His amazing creation, His constant care for a world that increasingly thumbs-its-collective-nose at Him.  I thank Him–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Then I pray for our family and friends, for missionaries we know and support.  Christian organizations we love to give to, our church family, the other churches which I served rather poorly sad to admit, and for our country drifting farther and farther away from the Lord.  Certainly, my writing.  That He would be glorified, and you would be edified, encouraged and even stretched in your faith.

After awhile, never know when, off I go to sleep!  A peace passes over my weary mind as I slumber off to ‘nodsville’!  Sometimes to a disturbing dream!  Oh well, sleep… nevertheless!   Prayer is the primary aid in my battle for slumber and ‘forty-winks’!  Then again, should prayer ever be called yet another ‘aid’?  No, it’s more like the way to go, first-and-foremost.  I’m staying with Him in prayer…whenever.  Sleep or no sleep!  Join me?

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that we can praise you.  We need your peace and rest.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.