THAT FORK IN THE ROAD…Psalm 52

Psalm 52 offers a contrast of godly living with one quite the contrary.  King David paints a vivid picture of two different lives.  Verse one describes the ungodly as a ‘mighty man’.  Mighty…but all for himself.  A boaster, braggart, image-maker, and spin doctor with all his might geared to coming out on top, regardless of the cost. His tongue will cut you to shreds.  His deceit knows no bounds.  Saying and doing whatever he can to lower you only to puff himself up, the winner who takes all.

Psalm 52 says that taking the wrong fork in the road is a huge mistake.  Don’t take it.  It leads to ruin and destruction.  Judged by God Almighty, torn from home and security, uprooted and lost.  A fatal mistake–not making God his stronghold and foundation.

He trusted in his wealth.  He would stop at nothing to get what he wanted.  Step over his own mother if need be.  If he has to destroy others in the process, so be it.

Psalm 52 spends seven of its nine verses describing the ungodly, but only two with its contrast, the godly person.  Maybe that’s because the ungodly lead complicated, twisted and messed-up lives.  Those of us who seek to follow the Lord, as imperfectly as we do, find life a bit more straightforward, hopeful and helped!

David says that the godly are like olive trees, useful and productive.  Flourishing…in God’s house, a safe place where the oil of His gladness never dries up.  A place of praise… for all the Lord has done.  Nothing of the ungodly or their ways in God’s house.

I like that last phrase of Psalm 52.  Not lonely anymore, but ‘in the presence of your saints’!  With His people, we sing beautiful harmony to our God.  To the Father, the Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  No debates or arguments, false promises or divisions anymore.  Not for those who have asked Jesus into their hearts, repenting of sin and wanting to take the right path in life.

This is the ultimate fork in the road.  Don’t get lost.  Follow the signs leading to the Jesus Road!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for making the way clear to salvation through your Son Jesus.  In His name.  Amen.

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BEING FULL…Psalm 57: 1-3

In Psalm 57, David finds himself hiding in a cave, seeking safety from the deadly threats of King Saul.  David pleads for God’s protection.  Prays to take cover in the shadow of God’s wings.  His shadow alone would be enough.  Knowing God’s promises is reassurance enough.  Not seeing Him directly or having all the answers, but satisfied with trusting Him.

David writes in verse two that ‘I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills His purpose for me.’  My translation(NIV) has brackets around the words ‘His purpose’.  Why?  This is how translators tell us that the words inside the brackets are not in the original language, but are words added that the translators feel will make more sense of the original to us reading today.  Whenever I see those bracketed words, I remove them in my mind and read the verse without them.  Sometimes, a fresh insight comes my way.

David says.  ‘I cry out to God…to God who fulfills(…) for me’.   Did you catch it?  Even in a cave, far from home, far from certain safety, surrounded by darkness and hemmed-in, even there we can be fulfilled by God Himself.  All the props gone.  The goodies of life?  Without them, God can be enough.

Surrounded by a cornucopia of material things, we have no idea what David is talking about.  Too much stuff.  Not only when He blesses us, but even when life seems to shrink and blow away.  Even then, He wants to fill us… with Himself.

Full in Him!  Faith that rides above any storms that come our way.  ‘I cry out to God…to God, who fulfills(…) me’!

Prayer:  Dear God, be my all in all.  No matter what may come, help me to be satisfied to know you.  To love you, to obey and submit to you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

COULD I HAVE?…Psalm 57

For those who know me well, please do not answer this question.  I had to ask myself–could I have eaten too much?  Remember, I asked you kindly to keep your answer to yourself!  While driving through Kentucky we stopped at the town of Corbin.  The home of the very first restaurant owned and operated by Harlan Sanders.  Colonel Sanders!  A fun place to visit but the portions of fried chicken were way over-the-top!  And I ate them all!  Could I have?  I did!  Fully!  There’s your answer!

Psalm 57 has young David, fleeing from King Saul, pleading for God’s help, crying out for His mercy and a place of refuge.  He fully needs God to save his life.   He prays, ‘I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed'(Psalm 57: 1).  He doesn’t ask to see the Lord fully, face-to-face.  Only His shadow.   God’s help–like being under the ‘shadow of His wings’.  His shadow alone will give all the help that’s needed.  His shadow.  Fully.

Much of life is hard to understand, difficult to comprehend this side of heaven.  As if we’re wearing sunglasses in a darkened basement.  We can only make out passing shadows.  We grope and carefully maneuver around the room, hoping not to trip or make too many messes in the process.

We can’t see the Lord fully.  Not face-to-face.  But He does give us His shadow, reminding us of His care and presence.  Can you sense Him?  Like the wind you can’t see but can feel.  His shadow is all we need in this life.  A smidgeon of faith.  A tiny mustard seed.  A small amount of yeast.

His shadow is all we need.  Can you sense Him?  In the shadows…

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for being with us.  We can’t see you directly but know you are there.  Your shadow is enough.  Your promises fulfilled for all of us who believe in you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

EVERYTHING IS… Psalm 47

A favorite song from Robin Williams’ movie ‘Popeye’ is entitled,  ‘Everything is Food, Food, Food!’  We can’t stop singing it!  And we’re starting to bug each other!  Psalm 47 emphasizes a life that’s more than food.  Time to think of something else, even though lunch is not far off.  And it’s pizza, too!  See what I mean?  I’m food helpless!

Back to Psalm 47.  Everything is praise…praise…praise!  Five times in verses 5 and 6 we’re told to praise the Lord.  Sing praises to our God!  Here’s a challenge for you–praise Him all day long.  Today!  Don’t go shouting it in the middle of the night, disturbing family and neighbors!  No, say it quietly to the One who deserves it most of all.  Focus on praising God.  Everything is Praise…Praise…Praise!

But you know what my problem is? Can you anticipate what I’m going to say?  I’m so distracted in prayer.  Praise the Lord for whatever and my mind starts scampering down some unrelated ‘rabbit trail’.  I thank the Lord for a beautiful day, all the time wondering how the weather will be next week when we take a road trip to the mountains.  Or rehashing something from our European river cruise.  Or when will the accountant get our taxes done, hoping for a refund while preparing to pay more if need be?  Praise to the Lord?  Out the window.  Lost… and not found!

Often praise deteriorates into heightened anxieties.  Thanking Him for our kids and grandchildren only to trudge down the most perilous worry-roads our imaginations can take us on.  Fears stacked high upon each other.  ‘What if this happens?  What about that’?  See what I mean?  Start with praise…end in panic!

So, let’s ask the Lord to help us focus on praise to Him.  We’ll need His help to stay on course.  Jesus knows how weak we are.  He understands and stands ready to help.  When we mean it, He makes it happen.   Are you with me?  Ready, get set…praise!

Prayer:  Lord, thank you.  We praise you all day long.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THE ULTIMATE CONTRAST… Psalm 46 and Judges 21

These chapters present quite the contrast.  Reading both, I couldn’t help but think of those polar opposites– heaven and hell.  Psalm 46– so reassuring.  Judges 21– as if all hell breaks loose.

In Psalm 46, God is our refuge and strength, assuaging fears even when everything seems to be falling apart.  He’s like the river that Jerusalem never had.  Yes, a major spring courses through the city even today, but unlike most ancient cities, there was no river.  There’s something better.  The Lord Himself!

If you’ve been to Jerusalem, you know how steep the streets are and how slippery they become when wet.  We saw many tourists in wheelchairs, wearing slings around their arms!  Had to really watch our step.  So easy to lose our balance, falling down on the hard stone surface.

Not in heaven!  Not with God!  No falling there.  Psalm 46: 10 says this–‘Be still and know that I am God’.  ‘Be still…’ in the original Hebrew means to put your hands at your side.  A defenseless posture.  With nothing to fear, raising our arms to protect ourselves becomes unnecessary.  God will be our ‘refuge and strength’…’our fortress’.  That will be heaven!

Now the contrast with Judges 21 and a few chapters before.  Filled with murder, rape, kidnapping, inhospitality of the worst kind.  Coveting and craving reach epidemic proportions.  Foolish vow-making, promises carelessly broken, everyone doing whatever they want.  To top it all off, they blame God for the mess they’re in!  ‘…the Lord has made a gap in the tribes of Israel'(Judges 21:15).  Easy to blame the Lord when we’re so bloomin’ innocent!  Refusing to look in the mirror of our own sinful lives.

Scripture says that these people ‘had no king’.  No one in authority, especially Yahweh God.  For living in such a hot climate, they were certainly skating on thin ice!  Chaos reigned.  Self was on the throne.  ‘Do Your Own Thing’ bumper stickers behind every oxcart.  If it feels good, do it.  If it doesn’t, do it anyway.  Caution… cast to the wind.

What a contrast with Psalm 46.  Aren’t you glad you’re heaven bound?  I am!  Wish others were as well.   Keep praying for family and friends to come to know Jesus.  For people around the world to be welcomed into His family!

Prayer:  Thank you,  Lord, for the best future anyone could ever have.  All because of Jesus.  Amen.

GOING OUT OF BUSINESS!… Philippians 4: 4-7

A Christian counselor told me that he would be out of business if we took to heart these verses from Philippians.  Would put up a ‘Going Out of Business’ sign!   He was right.  Help can be found here.  Real help.  No placebo.

I’ve mentioned before that I will wake up at night, with a start–  worrying and fretting.  Hard to sleep when you’re all agitated.   I’ve known others who suffer from ‘night terrors’.  What triggers these fear-traumas would be different for each one.

For me, it began when I was two years old.  Contracted polio a week before my family moved out of the city into the suburbs, typical for post-WWII families.  Not the polio, however!  When diagnosed, I was taken back to the Sister Kenny Polio Clinic in Jersey City, where we had lived.  I was in isolation for awhile.  Saw none of my family.  None.  No hugs.  No kisses.  Where had they gone?  Was I abandoned?  How was a two year old to know?

The Kenny treatments were not fun.  Excessive exercise.  Boiling hot packs.  Dousing me in hot whirlpools.  I can still hear the metal bars on our cribs being put in place at night.  Snapped-in place, tight.  The old-fashioned shades being rolled down with their clickety-clack sound.  The lights that went out making the ward dark and fearful, filled with the cries of those of us stuck there in more ways than one.  What would a two-year old think?

In some ways, the emotional paralysis lasted much longer than the virus.  The body healed, largely.  The emotions, not as well.  For years, had to have a nightlight on.  Still find exercising unpleasant.  My fear of submerging my head underwater, let alone swimming, may come from being dropped into one of those whirlpools.  My wife can tell you about episodes where I wake up in an utter panic not knowing where I am, terrified of where I might be.

It’s been many moons since those hospital days.  Yet shadows linger.  That’s why I hold onto what the Apostle Paul wrote: ‘but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God…'(Philippians 4: 6).  When he said ‘everything’,  I can only imagine that he meant exactly that–‘everything’.

To know He’s there.  To hold His hands.  Telling Him what’s on our heart and mind.  Not like He doesn’t know already!  And thank Him.  For I know there’s much to be grateful for in all that I’ve been through.

What about you?  Things that have happened that made your life more difficult and tiresome?  Tell the Good Physician!  He has magnificent medicine for you in His Word, the Bible.  Take the medicine!  I’m not all better yet.  But  I’m much better.  You can be, too.  For some day, the better will become the very best!

Prayer:  Lord, you are our shelter, our hope and our constant love.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A GEM UNEARTHED FROM THE MINES OF DEUTERONOMY!…Deuteronomy 4: 1-14

I love the Old Testament.  Reading it.  Studying it.  Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the ‘Torah’,  the Law of Moses.  It contains three of Moses’ sermons.  Moses talks about communication between God and His people.  One aspect  would be prayer.  Talking openly with our Lord.  God loves to hear from us.  After all, who are we?  We’re His own dear children!  He loves it when we take time for Him.  Like when we get to spend time with our children.  Play games with our grandchildren.  Just to be with them.

As we get older, the communication-well seems to dry up quite easily.  Even with friends.  Not as much contact.  The beauty of our relationship with God, is that it never has to run dry.  If anything, our spiritual life can become more robust the older we become.  He’s always there.  24/7.  365.  Even during leap year!  Eager to hear from us.

Don’t worry about the words you use, as if a certain formula is required.  Be yourself.  However, be respectful…we are in the presence of Holy God.  I remember a pastor, preaching on prayer, saying that if you used certain words or phrases, he could guarantee God’s answer.  Guess he never read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount?  He warned us– ‘…empty phrases…for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them…'(Matthew 6: 7-8).  Then He gives His followers a very concise prayer, the Lord’s Prayer.   The first half is simply praise to God.   The second half, requests.  Short and sweet.

What’s important is knowing that God really cares.  He listens.  No matter if His answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or  ‘wait a little longer’.   What we must never forget is that He loves us and wants the very best for us.  Hang on to that no matter what.  His answer is on the way.  No doubt about it.

But, wait a minute!  What about that gem unearthed from the mines of Deuteronomy?  Where is it?   Look at Deuteronomy 4: 7.  Have you found it?  Talk about a gem!  Here it is–‘What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to Him?’   Told you so!  Whenever we pray, whatever feeble and inadequate words we use, God hears us.  He’s closer than the closest relationship we can have here on earth.  Much closer.

Let me ask you a question–if this is so, and it is, then why don’t we spend more time in prayer?  Why?  Don’t have a good reason?  Neither do I.  So, let’s pray!  Remember this:  please don’t believe in the power of prayer.   No, believe in the One who has the power to answer our prayers!  He is our Lord God Almighty!

Prayer:  Lord, we come to you and pray to you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

HOME AT LAST!…Psalm 44: 1-4

I never know when a verse from the Bible will jump off its pages, hitting me right between the eyes!  Happened again today in my quiet time with the Lord.  For years now, I’ve begun my devotions by asking the Lord to meet with me.  A new thought, reinforcing a foundational truth, a question to pursue in my biblical language study.  Some insight to feed me today.

We know the Lord is with us at all times.  What I need though, is more awareness of that.  To be more in tune with Him.  Similar wavelength more than merely my own.  To weave together His fibers with mine.  That’s my heart.  Most of the time, I mean it!

The psalmist, one of the sons of Korah who were Temple worship assistants, recounts how the Lord has given Israel great victories and a promised land.  Psalm 44: 3– ‘It was not by their word that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your face, for You loved them.”  That verse holds onto me for dear life.

All we have comes from the Lord.  His powerful arms protect and provide for us.  As if those weren’t enough, the light of His face, and love from His heart, mean the very most.  When we are away travelling for weeks and months on end, to see the faces of our children and their spouses, the smiles and laughter of our grandchildren–what joy for us!  To see their faces.  That alone means so much.

To be with the Lord.  To see His face.  To bow before Him in all His majesty and glory.  Think about that!  His face filled with love.  And home…at last!  That will be worth all the struggles of this life!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for a homecoming like none other here on earth.  With you and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.   Amen.

 

HIS LOVING FACE…Psalm 44: 1-4

Hear some wonderful words–‘the light of your face, for you loved them…'(Psalm 44: 3).  God’s loving gaze… upon us!  When a graduate student at Princeton Seminary, I took a class in child development.  We were studying how trust develops.  Such trust begins with loving, reliable parents.

You’ll never guess what children’s song we examined?  ‘Peek-a-Boo’!  This was a pricey, Ivy-league graduate school?!  When you play ‘Peek-a-Boo’ with an infant, you cover your face with your hands as if you’ve disappeared.  Then you open your hands to reveal your smiling face saying, ‘Peek-a-Boo, I see you’!  The baby laughs,  and so do you!

Play this enough times, the theory says, and your child will learn to trust that the face that goes away will come back.  The ‘face that will not go away’.  This will get challenged a few years later when ‘separation anxiety’ sets in as parents leave for a period of time.  Returning, with a loving smile, reinforces trust which has been developing since earliest days.

However, this process can be made much more difficult when trauma interferes.  I know what I’m talking about.  Hard for me to trust.  After I accepted Jesus at age 16, there were years when I struggled to believe that He had really entered my life with salvation.  Doubts were everywhere, robbing me of the joy of my newfound faith.  Like playing ‘He loves me, He loves me not!’ with ‘loves me not’ prevailing.

I imagine contracting polio at age 2 didn’t help.  In isolation for a protracted period of time.  Never seeing my family.  Where were they?  No hugs, no laughter, no ‘peek-a-boo’.  They were gone.  I was alone in this frightening ward, covered with hot packs, constantly exercised by strangers manipulating my body.  Darkness every night filled only with cries from a ward-full of stuck children.

Hard to trust when this happens.  Possibly you have your own story.  Can you guess what helps me now?  Knowing that the Lord doesn’t hold my tough-to-trust tendency against me.  He understands.  My clayeyness.  Your dustiness.  Our human frailties.  The Bible says that His is a loving face.  Gracious and forgiving.  With open hands to all who rush into His arms with an embrace unto a face that will not go away.  Never… for all who believe in Him with even a smidgeon of mustard seed faith.

The face that will not go away.  Keep saying that today.  Brand these words on your heart–  ‘…the light of your face, for you loved them…'(Psalm 44:3).

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

LESSONS FROM A GREAT NOVEL…Psalms 42 and 43

Hebrew manuscripts yoke together Psalms 42 and 43.  In both you hear the cry of the soul using much the same words.  Like ‘why?’– which we ask ourselves(and the Lord) time and again.  Maybe that’s on the tip of your tongue today?  ‘Why’?  Hear the Psalmist’s conclusion, from both psalms–‘Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God’.

We ask–how did he get to this point?  The place we all want to be.  Close to God, placing our hope and trust in Him.  How?

The key can be found in Psalm 43:3–‘Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me…’  What comes to mind?  I think of the Bible.  Guiding us through life’s perilous waters in a sinful sea.  Jesus, the light of the world, making paths clear.  He points the way, and then goes with us.

While vacationing in Charleston, South Carolina, invariably we’ll be touring Magnolia and Middleton Plantations.  Beautiful places, especially in the Spring, when the azaleas bloom.  Originally, both were profitable rice plantations until the Civil War.  I decided to read again Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.  Can see why Abraham Lincoln said that this book ‘started this Great War’.

Uncle Tom, the slave hero, is a committed Christian under horrible circumstances.  Listen to him.  Here’s what the great novel says–

‘Is it strange then that some tears fall on the pages of his Bible, as he lays it on the cotton-bale, and, with patient finger, threading his slow way from word to word, traces out its promises?  Having learned late in life, Tom was but a slow reader, and passed on laboriously from verse to verse.  Fortunately for him was it that the book he was intent on was one which slow reading cannot injure– nay, one whose words, like ingots of gold, seem often to need to be weighed separately, that the mind may take in their priceless value.  Let us follow him a moment, as, pointing to each word, and pronouncing each half aloud, he reads, ‘Let–not–your–heart–be–troubled’.

God’s light, in His Word and His Son, will light the darkest places of life.

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for Jesus and the Bible.  All from you.  In His name.  Amen.