THAT SUMMER AT L’ABRI!… Psalm 15

The summer of 1969, I was off to Europe.  That fall I would start my senior year at the Moody Bible Institute.  Had worked a few jobs in downtown Chicago, having saved $500 for that summer in Europe!  Money went a lot farther in those days.  Booked a cheap charter flight.  A boat ride across the English Channel.  Train from Belgium to Geneva.  Then a bus travelling up the mountains to a small village named Huemoz, overlooking the Rhone Valley in the magnificent Swiss Alps.  To study with Dr. Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri Fellowship.  I was a guest at this Christian commune– to study and hear from Dr. Schaeffer and his staff.  But I got into trouble!

No, didn’t run out of money.  No illicit relationships.  No heresy detected.  Only my big mouth laced with sarcastic humor nailed me as a mischief-maker!  We were studying the fall of Adam and Eve.  Original sin.  At breakfast someone dropped the jar of marmalade.  I immediately labelled it ‘fallen marmalade’ to the livid disgust and fire-storm anger of our chalet host!  Immediately, with his German-accent reminiscent of my Aunt Bertha, he confronted me with the option of keeping quiet or getting my hide out of town.  Who me?  The now and forever quiet one?!  I was not the gracious guest they wanted me to be.  But I became such, watching what I said, at least in front of the staff!

Needed to be a good guest.  As in Psalm 15.   The Lord invites us into His tent on His holy hill.  Opens the tent flap, inviting us to join Him.  Like Jesus said–‘Come unto me all you who are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest'(Matthew 11: 28).   The Bible overflows with God’s hospitality.  He loves sharing time with us.  Our intimate companionship is so precious to our Lord.

Psalm 15:2-5 –describes the guests and how they behave.  Verse 2 tells of their character–blameless, doing good things, speaking truth from within.  No masks or phony flattery.

Verse 3 is for me.  Watch what you say.  The Hebrew for ‘…who does not slander with his tongue…’  literally means ‘does not go about with his tongue’.  Suggesting what?  All talk …no godly action.  Make sure our words and deeds match up.

Verse 4 speaks of loyalty to the Lord and His people.  Pray for each other.  Encourage.  Model living for the Lord.

Verse 5 says that we’ll be good guests when we’re generous.

The point of this Psalm?  Be a good guest!  Sensitive and gracious.  Our Host loves being with you…and even me!  Like that summer at L’Abri, it’s time to be His good guest, growing up…in Him!

Prayer:  Lord, we are blessed and honored that you want to spend time with us.  You are such a marvelous Host.  May our lives show that we are your good guests.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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I READ THAT TOTALLY WRONG!… Ezekiel 44: 28-31 and Isaiah 64

Today I totally misread something.  Isaiah chapter 64 contains one of the few Old Testament references to God being ‘our Father'(v. 8).   The image of father then changes into one of a potter molding clay.  God is the potter.   We are clay in His hands.  Isaiah prays, ‘…we are all the work of your hand’.  Can’t imagine ever being in better hands than His.  Love this image of the potter molding us as He wills.  That’s our prayer, isn’t it?  Spend some time in the Isaiah 64 neighborhood, and you’ll never want to leave!

Ezekiel 44 is quite another matter.  Read that totally wrong.  This section of Ezekiel is controversial.  What does the rebuilt Temple refer to?  The millennium?  Ezekiel’s day?  Future heavenly kingdom?  Lots of theories.  No matter what, we’ll trust the Lord, the good Potter, to work out the details.  We’ll be the clay and leave the rest to Him!  Whether you’re pre- or mid- or post- or even a-millennial,  I’m pro-whatever God’s plan works out to be!

Back to my misunderstanding.  Reading Ezekiel 44:28-31, there’s reference to the Levites having an inheritance.  I thought they had none.  But that’s not what it says–‘this shall be their inheritance…’  The Levites are not to have an earthly inheritance.  But I didn’t read far enough.  For these verses say that ‘…I am their inheritance…I am their possession’.   Inheritance–not what we get… but who.

God is our inheritance.  We inherit Him!  Better than land, better than anything this world can offer.  Ever receive an inheritance?   When my mother died in 2004, she left some monies to my brother, sister and myself; a third to each.  Not much by the world’s standards, but for a house painter and wife, to leave any kind of money behind is quite something.

What of our inheritance in the Lord?  He gives us all of Himself.  When we become believers, Jesus becomes our all-in-all.  Undivided.  Equal amounts.  100% for each.  We really need nothing more.  We have everything.  God is our inheritance.

What could be better?  Can you think of something?  Win the lottery?  NO, that would be settling for way too little.  Never die of cancer or heart disease?  NO, we’re going to heaven where we’re promised new and resurrected bodies that will never grow old, fade away or die.

What could be better?  I’m totally blown away by my inheritance!  Are you?

Prayer:  Lord, we thank you for giving all of yourself to us in Jesus Christ.  What a privilege.  We have so much to thank you for and so much to look forward to.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

ONE AGAINST THE CROWD… Psalm 1

When I feel I’m the last Christian, the Lord shows me a crowd gathering.   I become disheartened thinking about our society.  Those cultural roots deep in the Bible, now dug up as useless debris.   As a believer in Jesus, can feel somewhat lonely.  One against the crowd.

Until you go to church.   And on Christmas Eve.  I know what you’re thinking.  Who doesn’t go to church then?  Or on Easter?  I understand that.   ‘C and E’ church members– who attend worship on Christmas and Easter only!   We attended Christmas Eve service at a new church for us.  Had three services.  Two, Four and Six PM.  We attended the middle one.  Packed would be an understatement.  Arrived a half hour early, and we could hardly find a place to park.  When they finally let us into the sanctuary, we were tight as tight can be.  Felt like the Lord was saying,  ‘Fischer, you’re one but I have a crowd also!  Look around’!

A week later, I read Psalm 1.  Familiar words?  They are for me.  Begins with the person who is blessed by the Lord.    Anyone.  This one stands out from the crowd.  I remember being in New Orleans with my wife before a river boat cruise up the Mississippi River.   A band was walking down Bourbon Street followed by a large group of people.  I had the impulse to leave the sidelines and join them.  So, we did!  Then we discovered that this was a group of mourners!  We went anyway for blocks and blocks.  Easy to be drawn in, especially in the ‘Big Easy’.

Psalm 1 warns us to be careful.  Watch out for what siren song calls out to you.  Easily moved by ungodly advice–  ‘…walk in the counsel of the wicked…’  Or standing opposed to what God has called sin so we can more easily fit in– ‘…stand in the way of sinners…’  Finally, to mock the Word of God– ‘…or sit in the seat of  mockers…’  Nothing blessed in this.

Be the one against the crowd.  You’re not alone.  God has His thousands and thousands.  The ungodly crowd travels the wide road.  It’s filled with the faithless, failures and fakers…all destined for utter futility and frustration.  A great big ‘F’!

We’ll journey on the narrow one…to the Father, with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, accompanied by countless angels and those who have gone to glory before us.  Hey, who said we’re all alone?    This narrow way is as broad as the heart of God Almighty!

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for encouraging us when we need it most.  And let me be an encouragement to someone else today.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHO?…Micah 7: 18-20

When I was a little boy, an old neighbor across the street used to call me ‘Johnny What’.  Guess he called me that because I kept asking him ‘what does that mean’, ‘what did you say’, and ‘what about that’.  Inquisitive little guy who probably wore out his welcome much like Dennis the Menace with Mr. Wilson!  I liked that old neighbor in spite of ‘what’ he said about me!

Today’s Bible reading is not only about ‘what’ but also ‘who’.  The Old Testament prophet Micah poses a most important question–‘who is a God like you…?(v.18).   Good question?  Any comparisons worth their salt?  Here’s a ‘what’ for my old neighbor–what is God like?  His character?

Micah 7 is packed full.  Who is like our God?  What can be said of Him?  Well, for starters, He forgives sin.  If that were all, that’s good enough for me!  But there’s more.  Called before the Judge to give account of our breaking the law, instead of giving us a deserved sentence, he pardons us.  What!  We’re set free!

Then Micah says that He ‘…forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance’.  God lets go of our guilt when we’ve crossed over the line, stepped way out of bounds.  Did you notice what we are to Him?  His inheritance!  His legacy!  When the last will and testament of Heaven is read, those who believe in Jesus Christ are awarded as inheritance to God Himself!  You and me… God’s bequest!

Micah 7:19 tells us more about who God is.  His anger and wrath?  Not for long for His inheritance, us.  Doesn’t hold a grudge or throw salt on our wounds.  I might.  You might.  He doesn’t.  The Bible says that He ‘…delight(s) to show mercy'(v.18).  Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve.  Mercy, not getting what we do deserve.  I’ll take mercy any day of the week!  He has lots of it to give.

Why is all this so hard to accept?  Too good to be true?  Possibly.  For me, it’s that I know myself, my failures and foibles.  We drag alongside us all that weight of sin that God has let go of.  He’s free of them.  So should we.  Hard to do.  But go for it anyway.  No pain, no gain.  Get behind Him.  Believe what He says.  Be free as free can be…in Jesus Christ!  Amen?

Prayer:  For freeing us in forgiveness and mercy, we thank you our God.  We want to be an inheritance worth receiving.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

HEARING THE SHEPHERD’S VOICE…John 10: 1-18

A vivid childhood memory is of a trip to the Bronx in New York City to attend a night game at the old Yankee Stadium, the one I thought Babe Ruth had actually built!  My father carefully parked his 1956 Lincoln Capri in one of the huge parking lots at the stadium(we always called it ‘the stadium’, as if none other existed!).  Then, hand-in-hand, walking together, through the turnstiles having our tickets punched, buying a program for that day’s game, inching our way up those concrete ramps to our seating level, squeezing through the musty, cavernous tunnels leading right out to the brightest, greenest grass I had ever seen.  This was the playing field of the New York Yankees!

I could hardly believe my eyes.  Stadium lights so brilliant that daylight surely could never be brighter.  Smells of hot dogs, warm peanuts and sweet cotton candy floated in the air.  Sounds of baseballs cracking off wooden bats, and mitts slapping in response to a ball going so fast and being caught so well.  And then…then came the voice of the Yankees’ announcer, the one who announced their games for over 50 years.

The voice of Bob Sheppard.  I can still hear his euphonious voice saying ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Yankee Stadium’.  Then ‘and now batting for the Yankees, number 7, Mickey Mantle, number 7.’  Still sends shivers up my spine.  And then Yogi, Phil, Whitey, Gil and Billy!

The 10th chapter of John tells us about sheep and the shepherd.  They know his voice and follow him.  It’s the very voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  ‘…the sheep listen to His voice, He calls His own sheep by name and leads them…I am the Good Shepherd;  I know my sheep and my sheep know me…they too will listen to my voice…'(vs. 3,14,16).

As Bob Sheppard called each Yankee player by name, so Jesus knows us, each one of His very own, and calls us into His service…by name.  Our names.  What’s more, He goes before us and leads us.  We know His voice…from the Bible.  Read it…pause over verses that grab you…Listen to the voice of the Shepherd!  Do you hear Him calling your name?

Prayer:  We hear your voice, our Lord, in the Bible.  The more we read and study, the clearer your voice becomes.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

I THOUGHT IT SAID BROUGHT…Mark 16:1-8

I thought it said ‘brought’–that they had brought some spices to the tomb.  On second reading, the Gospel of Mark records that the women had ‘bought’ spices for his body after His death.  That interested me.  Not only because I truly don’t like to waste money!  Some of you are snickering, those who know me well.  My Scots’ DNA rises to the surface!

These women didn’t hunt high-and-low in their pantries for out-of-date spices they could bring to the tomb that day.  After all, who would know if the spices were fresh or not.  Some re-gifting might be in the air!  Use them up.  Clear the shelves for a new batch for our family!  Waste not…

Usually, someone would come to a tomb after three days, to make sure the deceased was truly that, dead!  These women waited for after the Sabbath, out of respect.  It was customary to anoint the cadaver with aromatic oils to mask the odor of a decomposing body.  (If you’re soon to have a meal, bon appetite!)  Here’s an interesting twist to the story.  The women bought and brought spices for Jesus’ body.  Spices.  Not aromatic oils.  Spices were often reserved for royal burials.  Like King Asa in 2 Chronicles 16:14–‘they laid him(King Asa) on a bier that had been filled with various kinds of spices prepared by the perfumer’s art…’

Spices for a king.  Anointed in death.  Odors masked.  Decay covered.  A costly gift for royalty, worthy of the best we can offer.  But this king, Jesus, is not dead.  Not anymore.  Not any longer.  He has risen from the dead!  He is alive.  Now, what can be bring Him?  What can we offer the One who now sits at the right hand of God the Father?

Certainly not out dated stuff from the pantry of our lives.  The women ‘bought’ spices for royalty, which we can assume was quite costly.  They had to dig deep for Him.  We can never buy our salvation, but we can offer Him our best.  What that entails, each of us will have to discover for ourselves.  What that means for me, may not even come close to what it means for you.  But find out.  Then do it.  It will cost us, but what did our salvation cost Him?

Prayer:  Lord, we want to give our best for you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?… Psalm 23

The 23rd Psalm.   So familiar, having recited it at every funeral in addition to preaching on it countless times.  But in my personal devotions,  these words have become way too rote.   So, when a new meaning comes my way, I get excited!

Verse 6– where goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives.  Follow us.  Sounds like a tired old dog, lagging far behind.  Or a child, unable to keep up the pace.  ‘…goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…'(Psalm 23: 6).

I began searching the meaning of the Hebrew verb ‘to follow’.  Low-and-behold, nothing passive in this verb.   Active, pursuing, chasing and seeking out.  Follows us in hot pursuit.  God’s love searches high-and-low, in every nook-and-cranny, behind locked doors, and doesn’t stop until it finds.  As the Apostle John says:  ‘this is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us'(1 John 4: 10).

His is always the first step.  He approaches us …with goodness and mercy.  In the dance of life, He takes the lead.  When I was a student at Princeton Seminary, I was accepted into a chaplaincy program called Clinical Pastoral Education at the Medical Center at Princeton.  There were only eight of us in the program.  We were learning to effectively listen to others.  In class, we did a number of self-revealing exercises.  One involved two of us going into each corner of the conference room.  Then we were told to greet the others in the room.  What would you do?  Sounded quite simple to me!  Obvious!

I sauntered over to the other three corners of the room, shaking hands with everyone, as I had been instructed.   What amazed me was that only one other student did as I did.  The others waited for us to come to them.  They didn’t budge.  Our supervisor informed us that he had never told us to go across the room, but simply to greet each other.   What I discovered was that my personality actively reaches out.  Takes the first step.  Others will be different.  But for me, I move forward.  That’s my inclination in life.

Whether we step out  or hold back, know that God is biting at our heels as we travel the rough and tumble roads of life.  He doesn’t lag behind.  He’s not lackadaisical.  Low on energy.   No, He’s on the hunt!

Such love and goodness will come right to us in whatever corner we find ourselves in.  All the days of our lives until we’re with Him in His house, forever!  Thank you, Lord, for loving us even before we sought you out!

Prayer:  Thank you, Jesus, for taking that very first step in goodness and mercy.  In your name.  Amen.

NESTLED ON A HILL IN THE SAWTOOTH MOUNTAINS…Psalm 8

Nestled on a hill high up in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, sits an old rustic lodge built in 1930.  Sits solitary outside the tiny town of Stanley, which they say has only thirty or so days a year when the temperatures don’t hit freezing.  It’s the Old West you experience here at the guest ranch.  Its pool is a thermal one with temperatures steady at over 100 degrees, even in darkest winter when the air descends to 20 below!  We’ve been here in late June and early September, both times the freeze greeted us most mornings.  This was Summer!  I called this a rustic lodge.  Don’t be fooled.  It’s luxury through and through!  With an accommodating and friendly staff to pamper our every need, along with their two managers who make us feel like family, welcomed and urged to come back real soon.  No doubt we will!

Far from city lights, you can see stars as rarely seen anywhere or anymore.  Light pollution is not heard of at the guest ranch in Stanley.  Only problem is that it doesn’t get dark in the summer ’til after 10pm.  Even though I find it almost painful, I dragged myself out of our king-sized bed at 3am, stumbled around our comfy cabin, finding my sweats, hoping not to stub a toe or two, keeping quiet as my wife is soundly sleeping.  Tip toe out the door, careful not to slip on the frozen grass below my sandals.  I look up.  And I mean look!

Stars.  More stars.  The Milky Way.  The Big Dipper– bigger than I’ve ever seen it.  Constellations.  And a new moon tonight, meaning very little of its light to dampen my gander at God’s creation.  That’s what it is.  The handiwork of our Lord.  Psalm 8: 3-4–‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?’  Looking at all God’s wonders in the sky that night, I couldn’t help feeling so miniscule.  Almost nothing compared to creation’s grandeur.  Could you?

I wish I could have stayed out all night.  But soon I felt some fear building within.  This city boy wonders what nocturnal animal may be lurking in those shadows.  But still, there was time to gaze and ponder and thank God for His creation, ‘the work of His fingers’, as the psalmist says.  I thank the Lord for the luxury of seeing so much on a cloudless night at the ranch in Stanley, Idaho.

I humbly concur with King David at the end of Psalm 8–‘O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!’  He was looking at the same sky that I was and worshipping the same Lord that we know.

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for creation at its best.  Through Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Savior.  Amen.

 

COVERS IT ALL!…Read Psalm 19

Why do I keep coming back to this psalm?  Like a magnet to metal.  Read it– you’ll know why!  Covers it all!   As in some really big issues in life.  What is truth?  Where can we find it?  The purpose of life?  Psalm 19– turn to it for answers.

Let’s look at those first six verses.  Want to know about God?  Look around you.  Check out your surroundings.  Gaze at the night sky.  We live a mile or two from Puget Sound.   Sitting on the beach, watching a state ferry ply the waters, or watching the distant snow-covered Olympic mountains, is magical.  Tall evergreens sway majestically in a gentle breeze.

But I see more than that.  We see creation.  With eyes of faith, we see Creator God.  His works…magnificent and beautiful.  We adore Him, who is beyond compare.  But there’s more.  Always more… with Him.  We see His work, but also He has given us His Word, the Bible.

Look at Psalm 19: 7-11.  King David, the psalmist, uses so many nouns, adjectives and verbs to describe His wonderful word.  From these 5 verses, we learn that God’s Word is called the ‘law’, the ‘testimony’ to God’s truth, ‘precepts’ where God speaks clearly and with precision, ‘commandments’ of God’s authority, and ‘rules’ that bring His judicial decisions to bear in our lives.  Five nouns.

Then David writes about God’s word as ‘perfect’, and ‘sure’, ‘right’, and ‘pure’ and ‘clean’.  Five adjectives.  All together God’s Word results in ‘reviving’, ‘making (us) wise’,  ‘rejoicing the heart’, and ‘enlightening our eyes'(alert and active).  Four verbs and adverbs.

The Word of God is like nothing else.  Can sit on a shelf gathering dust or be put to use making life better in every way.  Will it end all our troubles?  Hardly.  But making better sense of our difficulties, giving us godly perspective, will take a lot of pressure off our minds and backs.

The results, pondering God’s creation and spending time in His creative Word, leads to this outcome–our worship of the Lord.  Verses 12-14 unveil a heart humbled by all that the Lord has shown.  Seeks forgiveness for sins.  Wisdom to get back on track with God’s ways.  Praying that all the psalmist’s words and actions will be acceptable to the Lord, his Rock and Redeemer.

Spend some time in Psalm 19.  More precious than gold.  Sweeter than honey.  Direction for life avoiding ungodly pitfalls, leading to blessings and great reward(vs. 10-11).  I told you!  This psalm covers it all!

Prayer:  Lord, for all of your creation, we marvel.  For your Word in the Bible, we submit.  For our worship, we bow down.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THE LOOK ON HIS FACE… Psalm 17

I can picture the look on his face.  Not a pretty sight.  Of disappointment and anger.  Mistrust and broken loyalties.  This was a man I greatly respected.  Cherished him as a brother in Christ.  Yet, after completing a Sunday evening Bible study, he approached me with what felt like a dagger.

Confronted me with this– that his son hated me and felt I was a terrible excuse for a pastor.  I was speechless.  That’s something for me!   The look on his face cut like broken glass through ribbons.  When I felt somewhat composed, I asked him what in the world he was talking about.  He said that his son had had it in for me ever since he saw that I wore a Rolex watch.  How could any pastor wear such a pricey bauble and still claim to follow Christ?  I could feel the blood rising.  Steam was coming off the roof of my red-haired head!  I’m about to blow!  I didn’t… as it turns out.

Suggested that I stop by this friend’s house to discuss this further.  I wondered what had happened to my Rolex watch.  Had someone stolen it?  Is there an insurance claim I should make?  Looking at my left arm, I can clearly see my Rolex.  Wait a second.  Does it say ‘Rolex’?  It ends in ‘ex’.   Upon further examination, my Rolex turns out to be a Timex!  Yes, a cheap-o, under $20 wonder!  What did this ‘friend’ say when I showed him my watch?   Not much.

Psalm 17: 15– King David prays, ‘And … I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness’.  Seeing God’s face will be pleasure par excellence.  The ultimate joy.  The look on His face far different from any who may misunderstand us.  Psalm 27:4– David says ‘One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…’  His face will shine upon us, not in anger or disgust or false accusation but in beauty.  After all, when the Lord sees us, He sees His Son most of all.  And that puts a smile on His face, the likes of which we’ll never, ever forget!  Amen?  Amen…

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for the kind and loving look on your face as you see us.   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.