STRONG?…Romans 15:1-13

I’ve known Christians so meek and mild.  Caspar Milquetoast.  Afraid of their own shadow.  Insecure and unsure.  But then I read Romans 15:1– ‘We who are strong have an obligation…’  That gives me pause.

Paul asserts that he himself has inner strength–‘we who are strong’.  Such a person doesn’t bully or belittle,  captivated by themselves.  Not at all.  Then Paul says– ‘…to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.’  Strong… by being considerate and accommodating .  But here’s the rub.  When to say ‘no’ as voices cry out for us to say ‘yes’.  After all, we want to be helpful and liked.  The rub.

Inner strength reduces some frustration when we do say ‘no’ to others.  Otherwise, we’re weak and easily swayed.  Yanked off-course.  Not knowing when to say ‘no’ can interfere with saying ‘yes’ to what the Lord wants.  This is not easy, I know.

Our church is realizing that more small groups are needed.  In a larger church it’s easy to slip in the front door and then out the back unnoticed.  Small groups help people to connect.  Right now, my wife and I are busy writing devotionals and posting scarf patterns on a website (Sue that is!).  To be involved in a small group at this moment feels more like an obligation and a burden.  So, we choose not to.  Being fed in church on Sunday morning is vital.  Not much more… at this moment.

Knowing the Lord’s direction gives inner strength.  Do you know where He’s pointing you?  Go for it.  Say ‘no’ when you must.  Strong?  Yes…in the Lord!

Dear Jesus, you are so good to us. We want to follow you.  Amen.

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THE PIT…1 Samuel 28

Israel’s King Saul is an impatient man.  Insecure.  Impetuous.  When he refuses to wait for God’s message, Saul goes at night, behind enemy lines, to consult the witch of Endor.  Desperately needing guidance, fears eat him alive.   Samuel, Israel’s last judge, has died.  Saul imagines there’s no one to turn to.  He’s lost contact with Yahweh God.

Hence to Endor.  Disguised and furtive.  He asks this witch to bring up Samuel from down below, from the pit of the dead.  Canaanite religions picture contact with the dead as digging a pothole to unleash them.  A hole to hades.  A hollow to perdition.

Our daughter-in-law and grandsons watch a raging river during a torrential downpour, when the road suddenly gives out.  Takes awhile for emergency responders to extricate them injury-free, though their van is totaled.  Going down into that pit is not good.  Getting out is!

Seeking divine direction from horoscopes, mediums, tea leaves or lucky charms becomes more like falling into a pit.  Never a good idea.  God warns His people (Deut. 18:9-13) to stay away from the abyss.

Look up to Him.  Seek Him.  Jesus rises from the dead.  Preaches in the pit and then leaves as soon as He can (1 Peter 3:18-22).  Ascends to heaven.

Christians–stay away from tempting short-cuts.  Far, far away.  Look up.  Hold your head high.  Patiently wait for Him.  Too many times I’ve rushed in where angels…  Well, you know.  What helps is to pray often, knowing that the Lord’s answer is on the way.  To bury my face in His lap.  His Word my daily bread and breath.

To wait…and follow.  Letting God have His way… in His time.

Lord, I need patience to trust you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

LIKE FIRE AND A HAMMER!…Jeremiah 23: 23-40

How are you doing with New Year’s resolutions?  On track after only six days?  Or have you already ditched them?!  For the umpteenth year, I’ve made none… except for reading the entire Bible again this year.  Good idea?  Want to join me?  If so, go on-line and find a daily Bible reading guide.  Do it!

But why do something which almost everyone could care less about?  We know why.  Hear the prophet Jeremiah–‘Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’ (Jer. 23:29).  Ooh, this sounds dangerous.  May have to reconsider my resolution.  Not!

So here’s some background.  Jeremiah uses mining images.  Ancient miners build a fire against an ore-rich wall.  When the rock gets hot, miners toss water on the surface, causing them to split and crack.  Then they take hammers, bash and bang away, creating shards of ore for smelting.  What’s been hard now becomes malleable and useful.

Like God’s Word.  When we allow its ‘fire’ and ‘hammer’ to confront us, things change.  Not always fun and games.  Change rarely comes easy.   But don’t we want to be more like Jesus and less like our sinful selves?  I do.  I need to.

No better way than to let God’s Word do what it does best.  The heat will rise.  Hammering… noisy and disruptive.  But our stubborn ways need breaking up, chiseled apart.  My heart can be like rock at times.  Just me?

Time to get into your Bible.  No better time than today…and every day.   A resolution worth keeping?   See for yourself!

Lord, we want to be more like your Son Jesus.  Amen.

STARTING OUT ON THE RIGHT PATH…Ephesians 4: 7-16

Happy New Year!  2018!  How about starting out on the right path?  As in prayer.  Coming to God with all that’s on your hearts and minds.  After all, Emmanuel means ‘God with us’.  Why not spend time speaking with the One who is as close as close can be?  Especially since He loves you so much (Eph. 2:4).  2018–more on your knees…less biting your fingernails!

Paul encourages the Ephesians ‘…to mature manhood…’ (Eph. 4: 13).  Here’s additional directions– grow up!  Stop being childish.  Be grounded and rooted, unmoved by the whims and winds of this world.  Not easy, so spend more time in God’s Word and less in social media.  Turn off the television and smartphone.  Tune in to your Bible.  Grow up!

Ephesians 4: 14 says–‘…so that we no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves…by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.’  ‘Human cunning’ refers to dice players using trickery to cheat.  ‘Craftiness’ alludes to performing magic tricks.  Hocus-pocus.  Sleight of hand.  Quicker than the eye.  Now you see it, now you don’t.  Satan & Co. lurks near-by to deceive.  Be on guard.  The path of spiritual maturity cries out for protection.

But spiritual roots grow strong and deep when we spend quantity and quality time in the Bible.  Dare I recommend reading it all year long?  As in every day?  Not missing one?  After all, how many busy days do you have where you miss two or three meals?  I can guess.  None.  Me too!

Prayer and Bible reading.  Starting out on the right path for 2018!  Facing every challenge with both feet solidly on God’s promises!  Happy trails!  Happy New Year!

Lord, we want more of you in our lives all year long.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

RETURN POLICY!…Hosea 12: 1-9

Recently I returned a jar of the worst tasting crab meat.  Should have been suspicious when the ‘best eaten by’ date was a year from now.  A year?  Fresh crab?  Back to the store it went for a refund.  Then a cantaloupe, which never ripened but rotted right before our eyes, was returned for yet another refund!

Depending upon your Bible translation, the word ‘return’ is used almost twenty times in the book of Hosea.  This is the prophecy of a man told to take back his unfaithful wife.  As with wayward Israel,  the Lord seeks their return to Him.  Hosea 12: 6–‘So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.’

Take yourselves, sin and all, back to the Lord.  He’s drawing us to Himself.  Like metal to a magnet.  He sparks our interest, starts the ball rolling…and brings us back.  Return policy.

When we do return, our hearts fill with love.  Love for God and His Son, His people and those in need.  Love reaches out to return the favor of the Lord to someone else.  How selfish to keep good news to ourselves.  That’s why I write these weekly devotionals, sharing Jesus with you.

But here’s the hard part for me– letting Jesus take the lead.  To follow in His footsteps without getting ahead of Him and in the way, directing my own pathways.  Sound familiar?

Jesus doesn’t need more leaders.  That’s why we’re called followers.  Waiting on Him.  For Him.  Best place to be.  Wish I knew more about that.  But He’s not done with me…or you!  Not yet.

Happy New Year!

Lord, we want to follow your Son Jesus all year long.  Amen.

 

WORTH THE WAIT!…Daniel 7:13-14

As a child, Christmas Eve is the longest night of the year.  For me, that is!  None compares with the torture of endless hours, crawling at a snail’s pace, ’til Christmas morn.  Even then we’re forced to wait until our father is bloomin’ ready to lead us down the stairs to the living room where he announces that ‘Santa has been here’!

As my eyes scan the living room, I see that my Dad is right.  Santa has been here.  Around the artificial Christmas tree, under the electrified fake Santa face, in front of the faux fireplace are gifts galore!  Suddenly our perpetual waiting evaporates.

Daniel endures endless waiting for the coming Messiah.  Life in exile, far from homes and land, is grueling and backbreaking.  Daniel knows what marking time is all about.  But the Lord is good to Daniel.  In chapter 7 a vision is recorded.   A dream to hold onto.  Of a son of man, riding the clouds of heaven, coming before the Ancient of Days, who gives this son authority over everything.  His dominion will never end or fade away.

It also grows in your heart and mine.  When Jesus is born anew in our lives, God’s gifts keep coming and coming.  Christmas, an everyday experience.  Blessings beyond measure.

Daniel’s vision, of course, refers to our Lord Jesus.  God wants to reassure us that waiting for Him will be worth it.  His Kingdom will be forever and ever.  All impediments fly away.  Exile ends.  Home beckons.  Waiting ceases. Only His very best looms on your horizon!

Merry Christmas!  Remember– forever is but around the corner!

Thank you, Jesus, for being the very best.  Amen.

THE DAY OF THE LORD…Obadiah

Obadiah?  Who?  One chapter only.  A most minor prophet.  But at Christmas?  What am I crazy?  No comments, please!  Look at verse 15.  Notice a familiar phrase–‘The day of the Lord is near…’, which refers mainly to a time of judgement.

Could be today, tomorrow or whenever.  Only God knows.  Before Jesus’ birth it’s hundreds of years since a prophet speaks to God’s people.  Between Malachi and John the Baptist, they endure silence…from the Lord.

Silence creates a hunger for Him.  Varied religious groups develop during this vacuum, seeking renewed spiritual ties with Yahweh God.  Like the Essenes in the desert, the Pharisees in the cities, the Sadducees and Herodians in political circles.  A yearning for Messiah heightens at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Yet His coming presents the great divide for mankind.  As Simeon says– ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel…and a sword will pierce your (Mary) own soul too’ (Luke 2: 34-35).  A sword is not a nice Christmas present for Mary.  A broken heart will merge with her joy of salvation.

Mixed emotions have always accompanied the celebration of our Savior’s birth.  The Puritans banned Christmas as frivolous and ungodly.  We struggle to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to an intolerant society.  Materialism confuses worship of the Christ child.  Family times rarely live up to their heightened expectations.

With only days ’til Christmas, let’s commit to spending time reading Jesus’ birth stories in Matthew and Luke.   Say ‘Merry Christmas’ at stores you visit, phone calls you make, and texts you send.  Consciously focus on the gift of salvation which Jesus gives to you and me.  Zoom in!

Merry Christmas!  It’s all about… Jesus!

Lord, thank you for Jesus.  In His name.  Amen.

 

STILL AFRAID!…Zechariah 14: 1-7

As a child, I was afraid of the dark.  Still am.  Started when I found myself in a polio ward being two years old.   I remember those old-fashioned shades being rolled down at night.  Clickety-clack, clickety-clack.   My crib’s metal side-bars being locked in place.   The overhead globe lights being turned off.  And that crying of other children melding with mine.

Fast forward from those days.   My wife and I stay at a bed-and-breakfast in rural Connecticut.  We’re enjoying fall foliage, staying in a cottage behind the owner’s 19th-century home, set way back from the road.

Before going to bed, we watch some television.  Then read from our devotional booklet and turn out the lights.  There’s no street light outside.  Inside nothing but darkness.  Can’t see my hand in front of my eyes.  Panic sets in.  I jump out of bed, stub my toe on the bed frame, limp over to the television, turn it on for some light!

Zechariah 14 foretells ‘the day of the Lord’, when all wrongs are made right.  No more terrorists.  Or illness.  Or phony-baloney anything.  Verse 7– ‘it will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime–a day known to the Lord.  When evening comes there will be light’.  Really?  Yes!  A time of perpetual…light!  Thank you, Lord!

Whatever darkness you fear, lift the shades of belief in Jesus, as best you can.  Even itsy-bitsy faith, the size of a tiny mustard seed, helps.  Let down the metal sides of cribs that hold you back.  Turn on His overhead light, even if you’ve stubbed your toe, walking and talking with Jesus in all His brightness…forever!  Jesus lights…everything!

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for always being our light in this dark world.  Amen.

CAN IT GET ANY WORSE?… Ezekiel 22: 23-31

Around the holidays, life gets supercharged.  Shopping… pushing… shoving!  Where is Jesus in all this pandemonium?  We wonder, don’t we?.  Could I please go to sleep and wake up on January 2nd!?  Please!

Ezekiel 22 expresses accusations against God’s people who abandon Him.  These verses paint a dark picture.  Their religious leaders, bedeviled with all-consuming greed, steal from their own people, handling sacred things as if they’re common old pots and pans.  They twist and corrupt God’s Word.  Curse and profane His name.  Like wolves tearing flesh limb from limb.  Falsehood falls from their lips without conscience, oppressing the poor and needy.

Could it get any worse?  Ezekiel 22: 30– ‘And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.’  None?  Not one can be found to intercede with the Lord for God’s people.

Doesn’t it seem as if there’s now few who follow the Lord?  The ranks thinning of Jesus’ followers?  Our culture heading for the moral cliff at breakneck speed?  God’s guide rails torn down putting us at grave risk?

Well… what about you and me?  The Lord can find us faithful.  Not perfect.  That’s for heaven.  But faithful.  Trusting and relying on Him, even when harried and hurried…and feeling alone.  How about it?

The Bible challenges us:  ‘Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His servant?  Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on His God’ (Isaiah 50: 10).  What about you… and me?  Faithful…at Christmas?  For the coming new year?

Lord, help us to stand in the breach.  As Jesus does for us.  Amen.

SHARING CANDY!…Zechariah 3: 8-10

Zechariah’s message astounds me.  Israel has recently returned from captivity in Babylon.  Back home after traumatic and heartbreaking times away.  Yet God still promises to watch over them.  To renew them through the forgiveness of their sins.

Verse 10 explains more.  God’s people barely survive exile’s turmoil.  Making it through the day consumes all their strength.  Precious little left over.  Survival…the name of the game.  But this is no game.  It’s life under the heavy hand of foreign oppression.

But there will come a day when evil will cease.  Happy days will be here again!  Verse 10– ‘In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty’.  God’s people will have plenty.  Not just for themselves, but for family, friends and neighbors.  What a blessing to share with someone else.

We love to fill shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, and practical items for Operation Christmas Child, where children will know the love of Jesus by receiving gifts at Christmastime when normally nothing would come their way.  We want them to know that we love them.  More importantly… so does Jesus.

We’re originally told to include hard candy.  Why?  Because the children never have anything extra  to give to anyone.  When they receive the hard candy in their shoebox, they eagerly share sweets  with those they love.  As in Zechariah–the joy is not for themselves alone.  They know that giving to others ushers in a far greater happiness.  Do we know this?  Do we?

‘More blessed to give…’  Where have I heard that before?!  And from whom?!

Thank you, Lord, that we can share Jesus’ love with others.  Amen.