CASTING CARES Psalm 55

Psalm 55: 22–‘Cast your cares on the Lord…’  I’d love to do exactly that.  Give my cares, worries and anxieties to Him.  Place them squarely at Jesus’ feet.  Having a load of stress resting on His shoulders, where He can handle them much better than I can.  I’m weak but He is strong.  In addition, He asks us to do nothing less than to give Him all these messes.

So why do I grab them back at the first opportunity?  Could being freed-up be too uncomfortable?  Not used to it?  Odd not worrying or fretting over whatever?  Are you on the same beaten-down team that I’m on?  Last in the American League, so to speak?

You know me, I’m digging into biblical Hebrew language for insight.  The word ‘cares’ refers to what’s been given you.  Not fate, karma or the cards we’re dealt, but what God allows into our lives.  His permissive will.

These are to be grabbed at as from His hands into ours.  Not luck, but the Lord’s call.  What specifically this involves for you will be different than that for me.  So, it’s not so much a matter of what He gives, but our attitude.  Our willingness to receive.  Acceptance.

When I gripe to our lawn care people about a much lighter yellowish-green grass in our backyard, they inform me that this grass blows in from who-knows-where, finding a new home wherever it wants.  As in our lawn!  What to do?  They glibly tell me that nothing’s to be done except to ‘learn to love it’.  Nasty wisenheimers!

Yet (and I resist this), some things in life we must learn to love.  Tolerate, accept and even use for Jesus.  Goes against my grain.  Guess I’m a protesting Protestant for a reason!

My prayer?  To be more flexible.  Less resistant.  I’m not good at this.  I’m a fighter.  A bear.  A combatant.  More like Jacob who wrestles with God (Gen. 32).

Casting cares may be about accepting what the Lord brings my way.  A welcome I seem to know little about.  Still not sure what to meet-and-greet and what to shun.  Need discernment.  Hey, God’s not done with me…or you…yet!

Lord Jesus, please give me mature spiritual discernment.  For your glory alone.  Amen.

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MORE AMAZING GRACE! 1 Samuel 12: 18-25

I don’t know if it’s Satan or me who keeps bringing up past sins, throwing them in my face.  Probably a combination of the two.  Here in 1 Samuel 12, the namesake prophet and last judge of Israel gives the most encouragement to God’s people you’ll find almost anywhere in the Bible.  Sadly, only read by few.  Why not leaf through the whole chapter, especially verses 18-25?

God’s people regret embracing an earthly king, turning away from Yahweh God.  Life goes south for them.  They know why.  Their fault.  Like you and me.  When we get self-oriented.  ‘Me, I and myself’ rule.  Then doors slam and windows lock.  Life rambles down the wrong side of the road.  Admit it or not, we know why.

That’s when Samuel tells his people something precious.  He doesn’t throw salt on their wounds.  Refuses to rehash evils committed, never rubbing their collective noses in the muck and mire of their failures.  After all, they admit their sin (v. 19).  No waffling excuses from their mouths.  Merely regret and remorse.

Samuel’s encouragement?  Move on!  Get up and get going for God!  1 Samuel 12: 20-21–‘Do not be afraid…You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.  Do not turn away after useless idols…’  Move on… in God’s amazing grace.  Be sure not to look back as Lot’s salty wife did.

Our Lord doesn’t ignore or excuse sin.  He waits for repentance, and then gets us going again… with Him.  Why would He want us down-and-out, when we could be up-and-about for His Kingdom?  What’s the value in being sidelined?  More advantage for Satan than the Savior.

Consider all the benefits of following the Lord.  He rescues us.  For His name’s sake.  Won’t reject us when we come to Him.  Forgives and forgets.

Get alone in a quiet place, and think about all that the Lord has done for you.  Don’t rush.  Take your time.  Praise Him.  Pray.  Let Him direct your thoughts.  He will.  Then get up and get going for Jesus!

How do I know this?  By reading 1 Samuel 12: 18-25.  And my reflections are only the tip of the iceberg.  Dig deeper yourself.  You’ll find more amazing grace.  More than you ever imagined!

Thank you, Lord, for grace without end.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

BLOW UP OR BUILD UP? 1 Corinthians 8

Only one time I went fishing with my Dad.  I was 12.  We rented a rowboat, with a small outboard motor attached, plying slowly the bay waters of Ocean City, New Jersey.  Calm, sunny day with my Dad announcing that ‘if the fish were there, we’d catch ’em’.  The Fischer’s were there, the fish weren’t!

We did catch two, however.  Unfortunately, both were ‘blowfish’.  Barely edible.  Somewhat toxic.  When yanked into the rowboat, they’d puff up like they’re going to explode.  Big, round and prickly.  A face only its mother could love!  So, we gingerly toss them back.  The culmination of my angling days.

Those fish are what I think of when reading 1 Corinthians 8:1–‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.’  Paul is writing to a church with some members excessively proud of their erudition and mental masteries.  The ‘smart generation’ of its day.

Puffed up like blowfish.  Preening like peacocks.  Pausing at their reflection in any passing mirror.  Prancing around  to the beat of their own drums.

Don’t get me wrong.  Gain the best education.  Never stop learning.  Be inquisitive.  Interested and interesting.  But do so to build up yourself so you can help and encourage others.  ‘…love builds up.’

Be a builder.  Productive.  Talents at work– not only for yourself or your family.  Not exclusively for your church or pastor.  No.  Love builds up way beyond any four walls.

Leave something lasting for others.  Think about the consequences of your actions and decisions.  Not as a puffed-up blowfish…but a builder.  A giver much more than a taker.

Let me urge you to find out where you can build for others and the Lord.  Then, do it…and even more.  My task as well.  Why I’m writing these very words.

Get off yourself.  Give back.  Be for others…and for Jesus!

Lord, we want to be useful in your kingdom.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

DON’T TRY SO HARD Psalm 81

For most of my Christian life, I’ve felt the need to earn my salvation.  After all, I know I’m not good enough for God’s  love.  My faith falters.  Feeble on good days.  I try to be what He wants.  Fail more often than not, leaving me frustrated and defeated.

That’s why I need Psalm 81:1–‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.’  Nothing here (nor anywhere else in the Bible) about deserving salvation.  Israel is delivered out of slavery in Egypt only because the Lord does it for them.  Like leading a scared child to safety, so the Lord guides His people out of Egypt.  He does it.  He leads.  They follow.

What this psalm tells me is to shut my mouth, listen to Him, and then open it so He can fill me.  With what?  Fatty foods and all?  I do that in abundance without help.  No.  In my case, knowing my emotional background, God wants to fill me with His reassurance and acceptance.  Why?  He knows my needs.  His choice to care.  Mine to open my mouth, allowing Him to fill me.

Don’t try so hard.  Sit back and be fed.  Relax.  Take the pot off the heat.  Cool down.  The harder we try, the worse off we’ll be.  At least when it comes to receiving God’s gifts.  His mercy and love.  Don’t try so hard.

Remember what was called the Chinese Finger Trap?  This entwined gag, in which you insert both index fingers, which then becomes impossible to get out of the harder you try.  Pull and pull harder–no escape.  Relax.  Take off the pressure and out you go.  A lesson there?

Quicksand.  They say if you panic, using all your strength to break out and escape, you’ll only be locked deeper and tighter in its grip.  But relaxing eases your body to freedom.  Don’t try so hard.  A lesson there?

Sand.  Someone tells me the tighter you grip a handful of sand, the less you’ll have.  But open your hand, scoop up a large handful, resting the grains freely on your open palm, and you’ll hold more than you can imagine.  Held loosely.  A lesson here?

Don’t try so hard!

 

Thank you, Lord, for all you do for us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

 

WHY THEM? Daniel 8

Why do the wicked prosper?  Why them?  The Bible asks the same question.  Our hearts also cry out wondering why.  Politicians get away with almost everything you or I dare not try.  One false step and the book is thrown our way.  Don’t have to do much and that green-eyed monster rises up in others, looking askance at me, wishing me to fall hard and fast.  And this is family and friends!

The Old Testament prophet Daniel has visions that raise questions as well.  Terrifying dreams.  About despicable invaders who trample on and destroy everything in their path, especially what’s good and godly.  Ruination of God’s nation in the forecast.  As Daniel says, ‘It (evil goat) prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground’ (v. 12).

Why does evil triumph?  Leaving God’s own people trampled.  God’s truth heaved to the ground, mingled with manure and mud.  Walked all over.  Scorned with a sinister sneer.  Then in verse 24–‘He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in everything he does.  He will destroy…the holy people.’  Why them?

Everywhere he looks, Daniel sees injustice taking first prize.  Blue ribbons awarded to evil losers.  We know how that feels.  We shake our collective heads at all the news that so alarms us.  We fret over the world our children and grandchildren will inhabit and inherit, if Jesus doesn’t come back soon (and we pray He does!).  What terrors will confront them?  Why them?

But what should we do in the meantime?  Here’s where Daniel helps.  What does he do?  Read verse 27.  Clear as a bell.  Gets on with his life.  Eases nail-biting fears by doing what’s usual and normal.  Daniel 8: 27– ‘I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days.  Then I got up and went about the king’s business’.

Keep on keeping on, says Daniel.  Do what you do.  Don’t be deterred from what the Lord has for you right now.  Head held high.  Pray continually.  Keep sharing Jesus as best you can.  Look for His windows opening up with fresh air in a polluted world.

See the door in front of you?  It’s opening.  Get up and go about the King’s business!

 

Thank you, Jesus, for life worth living.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OF LITTLE BOATS AND CATTLE! Mark 4: 35-41

What fun to discover a new detail in the story of Jesus.  I’m amazed at how many fresh findings I make reading the same old stories for the umpteenth time.  Like the one about Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus shares some parables before telling the disciples to get in their boat and head to the other side.  Both Matthew and Luke relate the same story.

We know what happens.  A fierce storm stampedes through the surrounding hills, sucking through that 680′ below sea level lake, whose whitecapped waves toss the boat around as all on-board fear imminent death.  Except for Jesus.  He stills the storm.  And teaches who is Lord of Creation.  He is!

So, what about that new find?  All details, located in those three Gospels, match.  Except for one.  I’ve never noticed it before.  It’s at the end of Mark 4:36.  Nothing really earthshattering.  Only an addendum about ‘other boats’ heading across the lake.  Not just the one with Jesus and the Twelve on board.  ‘Other boats’.

So what?  Big deal?  It is to me.  What I see here is God’s mercy to others.  Not just to those in His group alone.  Like the Lord saving the ultra-pagan city of Ninevah in Jonah’s story.  Its last verse reveals the heart of God, concerned about those hundreds of thousands of Ninevites, along with all their cattle.  Cattle?  Cows?  So what?  Where’s the beef?!

Yes, God cares about everything in His creation.  From soup to nuts.  Even boatloads of others also in danger.  Animals.  Needy people then and today.  Those tossed and pitched about in life’s storms.  Me and you.

He loves us.  Not only those Twelve of years gone by, but certainly believers of generations to come, if Jesus delays His second coming a bit longer.

That’s little old me in one of those ‘other boats’ plying turbulent waters behind the Master.  You too!  We’re about to drown.  But Jesus calms the storm for us as well.  For those in ‘other boats’.

I’m happy to be in a tiny skiff in His wake.  Don’t need to be in first-class accommodations.  No special dining reservations for me.  No.  I’m grinning from ear-to-ear just to see Jesus.

When life’s seas get rough and tumble, He calms them.  Not only for the Twelve, but also for those in ‘other boats’ nearby.  Even for ‘…many cattle as well’ (Jonah 4:11).

 

Thank you, Lord, for mercy beyond measure.  In Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

 

MUST BE CRAZY! John 10: 1-30

I must be crazy!  Lost it.  Out of my gourd.  Flipped my lid.  Certifiably loony bin!  You get the point.  And no thanks to all who shouted a boisterous ‘amen’!

Let’s get serious.  I’ve been reading the Heidelberg Catechism, written in the 16th century.  Why?  Out of curiosity mainly.  A document still cherished by much of Christendom.  Which, sad to say, I’ve neglected to darken its doorway until now.

It opens on the highest note of biblical truth.  By the way, a catechism is a way of learning through a question-and-answer format.  Those raised Roman Catholic know all about this.  Previous generation Protestants would also be familiar, but no longer.  We’ve become touchy-feely.  Games dominate.  Catchy graphics and heavy-beat tunes wear the pants today.

Back to Heidelberg’s high note.  First question hits the nail-on-the-head–‘What is your only comfort, in life and in death?’  Chew on that for awhile.  What gives you comfort in life?  And in death?  What pleasures do you cherish, which capture your time and thoughts?

This catechism’s answer is precious.  Grabs me when I’m off-kilter and pulls me right back on-track.  Helps me to stand up after falling flat-on-my-face by varied distractions and time-wasters.

Here’s that answer to Heidelberg Catechism’s first question–‘That I belong–body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…’  There’s more, but this is the gist that grabs me and won’t let me go.

I’m His.  Belonging to Jesus.  He purchases me by His blood on the cross and resurrection from the dead.  Purchased–not as in human slave-trafficking– but with a faithfulness that will not let me go.  Which holds on matter what.  For dear life…and death.

I’m His.  So are you if you’re in Christ.  Comforting thought?  He is our sole comfort.  Period.  Who could ask for anything more?

Thank you for Jesus, our faithful comforter and Savior.  Amen.

IN HIS NEIGHBORHOOD John 10: 25-30

Jesus says that He knows us (John 10: 27).  He means it.  We’re aware that the word ‘know’, in the Biblical sense, can connote something different.  But here Jesus expresses that He understands us.  Who we are and what makes us tick.  ‘I know them…’

I love Jesus for knowing me inside and out.  My name and all about me.  From head to toe.  Beginning to end.  No one is like our Lord Jesus.

Someone comes close, even though he died over 15 years ago.  Who?  Fred Rogers of ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’.  A fellow Presbyterian minister whose sole service was caring about children through sensitive television programming.

It’s in the late ’70’s that I attend a 2-day pastor’s conference in New York City.  Hundreds attend.  Who do I spot sitting but a few rows away?  Right!  Fred Rogers… sitting in my neighborhood!

Can’t help myself.  Inch my way over to him, saying how much my boys, Jonathan and David, love his TV show.  A big smile greets me, wanting to know my name and where I serve the Lord.  Then I scoot back to my seat, relishing meeting this special TV personality.  Mr. Rogers–so gentle, warm and friendly.

The next day I’m standing in the hallway waiting for a friend to arrive when Fred Rogers comes right over to me saying, ‘Hi John.  How are you today?’  Could have bowled me over with a raisin!  He remembered MY name.  Me?  Little old me?

What a gift.  Caring enough to remember.  More than Mr. Rogers and his good neighborhood, Jesus knows all about us.  And loves us… forever.  Just as we are, but with enough love not to leave us that way.  Helps us get up.  Brushes off our skinned knees.  Applies a salve covered by a band-aide or two.  Comforts us… by name… as we become more and more like Him!

Thank you, Jesus, for knowing us.  In your name.  Amen.

EVER-INCREASING Romans 6: 15-23

Thumbing through the pages of the Wall Street Journal, it’s obvious to me that regional and global companies all chase after ever-increasing sales and profits.  If they miss an expert’s financial target, ooh, how the stock market slams them big time.  I’m also reading God’s Word!  Good balance, wouldn’t you agree?  The Bible still trumps all those business things which still interest me.

So, let’s turn to Romans 6, which also makes reference to something that’s ‘ever-increasing’.  Not gross revenue.  Nor net income.  But sin, which is nothing to fool with.  Only fools do.  Am I looking in the mirror?

Sin goes from bad to worse.  From flirting to flitting down dead-end streets, offering nary an exit.  However, I’ve noticed something strange.  The closer I get to the Lord, the farther away I move from sin.  As in none at all?  Hardly.  Fat chance.  Sin daily.  But it’s getting tougher.  With Jesus nearby, conscience sears red hot.  Catches me almost immediately.  Almost.

Makes sin harder and harder to pull off effectively.  It doesn’t seem to work for me as it used to.  Thank God!  Thought we’re going to look at Romans 6?  Here goes–‘…to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness’ (v.19).   Closer to Jesus, we escalate ever-increasing holiness.  That’s more like it!

Now don’t imagine this happens the very moment you believe in Jesus.  Didn’t for me or any other Christian I’ve ever known.  Not one.

For we’re on a journey.  The closer we get to our Lord, the closer we’ll be to heaven.  The scent of hell blown farther away by the refreshing winds of heaven and the Holy Spirit.  Some sin-scent still lingers on my flesh.  But less.  Ever-decreasing.  Stronger cleansing winds in God’s forecast.

Get closer to Jesus.  Drop sins at His feet.  Confess and repent.  Let it all out with Him.  Don’t carry any on your shoulders.  Will wear you down.  His are much stronger and will carry them farther away.  As in forever gone, and good riddance!

Lord, we want to be all you created us to be.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

BE CAREFUL Judges 16

The Old Testament Book of Judges contains some hair-raising stories.  Brutal sin hurled smack-dab in your face.  No candy-coating.  Its longest section centers on Samson.  You know his story.  A worthy beginning as his parents seek the Lord’s help raising this son of theirs.  A Nazarite vow taken for Samson, but never fulfilled in any way (Judges 13).

Samson disappoints at every turn.  Chasing women becomes his perpetual obsession.  Each femme fatale gets him knee-deep in escalating troubles.  Like those plaguing frogs glutting ancient Egypt, sin bursts the seams of his life.  Clings to him like ivy to brick walls.

But it’s Delilah I want to focus in on today.  The wife who makes this a truly hair-raising story!  Delilah.  She lives near Samson’s hometown.  Probably a Philistine from the Sorek Valley.  Grape and wine country.  Not sure exactly what her name means, but possibly from the Ugaritic language implying ‘lowly’ or ‘to be poor’.

Not much of a stretch to fathom her destitute and dismal background.  From a family that barely ekes out a living.  From paycheck to paycheck, so to speak.  Mouths to feed but Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard as bare as can be.

Imagine the temptation Delilah feels when five Philistine leaders each offer her 1100 shekels of silver if she’ll tell them the secret of Samson’s superhuman strength.  That’s a total of 5500 silver shekels.  Equal, in those days, to 550 times the annual average wage.  Today, multiple millions of dollars.  She salivates thinking of all that filthy lucre!

Coming from a difficult background (and who doesn’t?) can leave us wide open to certain sins.  Be careful.  Find out what urges and itches demand your attention.  Things you know are not of the Lord.  What’s bent and twisted from past generations.

Family sin.  Which too often rears its ugly head.  Trickles down and oozes out.  But not as something godly.  God forbid we pass on the same to our children… and then beyond.  Be careful.

End the cycle.  Find those weaknesses.  Pray for the Lord’s strength to overcome them.  He’ll help.  We’ll stumble and fall.  He understands.  But Jesus will pick us up.  Grab hold of His hands!  Be more like Him.  Less like Delilah.

Be careful.

Thank you, Lord, that the cycle of family sin can be broken.  Through Jesus’ strength.  Amen.