SO FEW!…Judges 7

There were only eighteen in attendance when I started ministering at our last church.  Eighteen hearty souls, most over the age of 65.  So few and so…don’t get me in trouble!  I’m skating on thin ice!  Over the years church membership fell off for a variety of reasons.  Neighborhood changed.  People moved away.  Grim reaper made too many visits.  Pastors with their own dire problems.   In a matter of 30 short years, the church was down to about ten percent of its prior membership.  A mournful tithe.

The first sermon series that I preached was from Judges 7.  About Gideon.  Reading this chapter, it became clear that this pastorate was to be from the Lord.  Down so low–now it’s time to see what God would do.  There will be no excuses.  No extenuating circumstances.  We yearned to see the Lord at work!  ‘In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her’ (Judges 7:2).

We were few.  But the Lord is mighty.  We began to grow.  A new couple here.  Someone from the neighborhood there.  Vacation Bible School opened our doors wider.  Children came by dozens, many accepting the Lord into their lives.  It was exciting!  We were few.  God was formidable.

We grew three hundred percent in a few short years!  Okay, still only sixty-five people, but we were also giving beyond our four walls to missions.  The largest contributor to the Christmas shoebox ministry in our county year after year, yet from one of the smallest churches.  God is at work!  There is no doubt!

We were so few.  But we knew who was adding new members and increasing our mission-giving.  We knew.  There was no doubt.  Sometimes the Lord will diminish…so we can depend upon Him.  So low we have no choice but to cry out to God.  Why would we turn to anyone else?  But we do.  The Isrealites did.  That’s where Judges 7 enters the picture.  Read it again.  See what I mean?

Where do you need help?  Turn to the Lord.  He loves to support His own.  He wants to.  We may be weak…but the Lord is mighty!

Prayer:  How precious, Lord, to trust in Jesus.  In His name.  Amen.

AN EASTER THOUGHT…Colossians 2: 6-15

Debt keeps piling up for individuals, companies and countries– many up-to-their-eyeballs in hock.  To be honest, that’s not me.  I have an aversion to owing anything to anyone.  Not a lick of interest payment has slipped through my wallet for over 40 years!

Whether you’re nutty about paying debt, as I am unapologetically, or massively under the payment gun, we all owe debt to the Lord.  Me primarily, because I know myself, the sinner that I am.  You could say the same?  Will you?

Colossians 2: 13-15 is amazing.  I almost said ‘unbelievable’, but that’s not what I mean.   The Apostle Paul reminds the Colossians of their being ‘…dead in your sins…’ (v.13) before coming to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation.  Dead formerly.  Now, in Christ, alive as alive could ever be!

Verse 14 mentions  ‘…canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.’  That ‘record of debt’ is the Greek word ‘cheirographon’, a legal document acknowledging obligation to pay a debt.  Ignoring the ancient legal mumbo-jumbo, this is an IOU!

Every sin we commit issues an IOU… to God.  We are in debt to Him.  Unfortunately, we are bankrupt, unable to pay our debt.  Up a creek without a paddle.  What to do?  Don’t fret.  He’s done it all for us.  Has taken our IOU’s and written ‘paid in full’ on top of each.  Paul then says that Jesus nails those IOU’s to the cross.  For all to see.

And to believe all that Jesus has done for us.  What no one else could.  Only Jesus.  And He has!  Willingly–‘…for the joy set before Him…’ (Hebrews 12:2).  Not without pain and suffering.  This cost Him everything, so that it wouldn’t cost us what we couldn’t give Him anyway.  He knew that.  He offered Himself up for us.  Didn’t I tell you those verses in Colossians were amazing?

Do I hear an ‘amen’?  Come on–join me!  Amen!  Happy Easter!  He is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!

Prayer:  Thank you, Jesus, for cancelling our debts making us alive in you forever.  Amen.

 

DOES HE BELONG IN THE ‘HALL OF FAITH’?…Judges 13 and Hebrews 11:32

How in the world does Samson gain membership into the ‘Hall of Faith’ found in Hebrews 11?  No mention there of Elijah or Elisha, Isaiah or Jeremiah.  But Samson?  Okay, more is mentioned about him than any other leader in the Book of Judges.  More like notoriety.  When you read Judges, doesn’t sound like the same story you heard in Sunday School!  Not by a long shot.

Samson’s parents seem godly enough, wanting the Lord’s best for him.  Bible scholars are not sure what his name means.  Could be ‘sun’ from Canaanite language.  As if the sun shines down on this little tyke!  Maybe a bit too much for his own good.

He’s a grasping type, selfish and self-centered.  His parents have taken a Nazirite vow for him.  No wine bars.  No haircut appointments.  Stay far away from anything dead.  All of which he violates without a wince.  Has he taken a narcissist’s vow?!  Speaking of Samson’s grabbing nature–‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife’ (Judges 14:1).  Get her?  Ever the romantic!

Quite the story!  Chases after women rather than Israel’s enemies.  Avenges his own rivals more than delivers the nation.  Can you find one instance where he does anything at all for the Lord or Israel?  Possibly… but I doubt it.  And he’s in the Hall of Faith?  Oy veh, already!  What gives?

This is my take.  My own.  Things are so bad in Israel that the likes of Samson shine as a sunbeam of hope.  He typifies the pitiful depths Israel has fallen into.  Nevertheless, the Spirit of the Lord moves about in spite of this rough-and-tumble character.  He’s certainly not a role-model.  But God can work through the most difficult and resistant of His own.

What gives?  The Lord hears the prayers of Samson’s parents, made long before he was born.  Prayers are never wasted.  God uses surprising people in His plans.

So, seek to live a godly life.  Samson– our negative role model.  A man who never lives up to his godly potential.  We want better than that…for the Lord.  To act with integrity, backing up our words with godly works.  That sounds more like a life worthy of the ‘Hall of Faith’!  Agreed?  Welcome!

Prayer: Lord, help us to live lives honoring to you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

TOPSY-TURVY!…Daniel 2

The king’s scary dream is finally interpreted.  Happy camper is Nebuchadnezzar!  He has found a wise man with wisdom from on high.  Unfortunately, he gives praise to Daniel.  Somewhat misplaced, but this king also offers praise and sacrifice to God.  Acts of worship?  Seem to be.  Spiritual progress begins in Nebuchadnezzar’s heart.

Daniel had been forcibly seized and exiled into foreign Babylon.  Judah defeated with its Temple destroyed.  Babylonians nab the cream of Judah’s youth, to be trained as their own.  For centuries, Assyria had been the world power, but they were defeated along with the Egyptians in the famed battle of Carchemish in 605 BC.  Babylonians– now the only ‘big boys on the block’!  Forever?  Hardly.  There’s Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that Daniel deals with.  Where the world will be turned upside down.  Topsy-turvy.

Your life ever feel that way?  Mine has.  Going fine one day.  On my face in the dirt the next.  Is that how you feel?  Unfairness seizes the upper hand?  It’s not right!  Here’s where our story in the Old Testament Book of Daniel takes quite a turn…for the better.  At verse 46.  Who is on his knees before whom?  (Did I get the who/whom correct?!)  The ‘big-shot’ Babylonian king pays humble homage to the lowly, exiled Jew Daniel.  Talk about a role-reversal!  ‘… King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor…’ (v.46).  Tables turned!  Topsy-turvy!

Like what Jesus says–  ‘But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first’ (Matthew 19:30).  God has His way of making right what had been wrong.  In your life and mine.  Trust Him.  Pray.  Wait on Him.  I know waiting is not fun.  I know.  But wait on Him, anyway.  You’ll never regret it.  Never!

Prayer:  Dear God, we do trust you and look forward to your goodness prevailing.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

THAT INFERNAL JERSEY CITY FACTORY!…Jeremiah 11: 1-5

I bugged and badgered my father to visit the factory where my grandmother’s husband worked.  My grandfather Gibson died years before I was born, having collapsed from a heart attack at age 46.  A few years later, my grandmother married her second husband, Howard Harrison.  Howard was nice man.  Thin as a rail, though a heavy beer drinker.  He worked in a glass factory in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Even as a young boy, I was interested in finding out about my family.  Who they were.  What they did.  Including Howard.  I was made fun of by some for being inquisitive.  Didn’t deter me except for some lingering doubts within.  You know the feeling.  Suspecting you might have been adopted but never told!

So, I learned to assert myself.  Even to going to that infernal factory in Jersey City!  What an experience.  Poor Howard.  Working day-in-and-day-out for decades in that infernal inferno.  Blazing heat.  Sweat cascading down.  Blaring noise forcing us to cover our ears–didn’t help much.  Scary machines.  Claustrophobic spaces.  Molten glass poured into steaming molds.

Poor Howard.  Making a living in a living hell.  I don’t remember him ever retiring.  Only dying… after being told to stop drinking beer.  Poor Howard.  I wished a better workplace for that nice man.

God also wishes better for His chosen people.  However, they turn their backs on Him.  He calls them to turn around and come home to Him.  Jeremiah 11–‘…that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace…’ (v.4).  Slavery is an iron furnace.  Shackles in a blistering desert.

But deliverance comes by God’s own hand.  From His loving heart.  In Jesus, we are freed from the ‘iron furnace’.  From hell itself.  Yes, hellish whispers can be heard in this life, but the ultimate fiery blast will never consume us.  Not because of how good we are.  No.  Get that straight.  Only because of what God’s Son did for us on the cross.  Jesus’ blood alone delivers from the terrors of hell.  His blood alone.  Got it?

So, thank God.  We can never thank Him enough.  Let’s give it a good try, anyway!

Prayer:  Thank you for delivering us from final judgement.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

NEW DEVOTIONAL SITE!

I’m delighted to announce that periodically ‘Reflections Out Of Time’ weekly blogs can also be read on YOURDAILYBREAD.ORG  web site along with many other good devotional reads.  Enjoy and pass along the word!  Sue and I love to read ‘Our Daily Bread’ devotional every day.  To get your free copy just check out their web site and sign up.  Monthly issues will be mailed to you.  Or give as a gift to someone who needs good Christian devotionals.  It’s free.  But be sure to check out that first ‘Reflections’ submission in this new setting.  Pray that it and future ones will bless those who read them.  Thanks for being a faithful reader of ‘Reflections Out of Time’…John

YOU’VE GOT TO BE OUT OF YOUR MIND!…1 Corinthians 2:6–2:16

In 1972 I was accepted into an internship program at the Medical Center at Princeton, New Jersey.  A chaplaincy position for certification in Clinical Pastoral Education.  My concentration for the Master’s Degree at Princeton Seminary was pastoral counseling.  This internship would add hands-on experience to academic course work.  Putting what I’ve learned into practice.

This was the same hospital where Albert Einstein died.  No, not after one of my visits, but thanks for asking!  The famed Herr Doctor had lived only a few doors down from the Seminary.  He had said that we humans only use a small portion of our brain power.  Maybe 10-15%.  A smidgeon of all that potential.

My Grandfather Fischer used to say to his sons:  ‘you’re smart like your father, you dope you!’ (all said with his thick German accent).  Funny… really?  Maybe.  Maybe not!

Not so humorous when you read what Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians.  He says something mind-boggling–‘But we have the mind of Christ…’ (1 Corinthians 2:16).  Think about that.  We have the mind of the Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of All!  Truly?

How much do we use of it?  How much time do we spend with Him absorbing His mind, His will, His Word, His ways and His take on the world?  The mind of Christ!  How about putting it to work.  Thinking His thoughts.  Doing what He would do.

Work the mind of Christ you’ve been given.  Exercise it.  Act accordingly.  Stop making excuses.  As Paul later says, ‘…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Every thought?  To be obedient?   You’ve got to be out of your mind!  No, in your right mind with the mind of Christ!  Smart like your Savior, you saint, you!

Prayer:  Lord, help us to use all that you’ve given us.  For you…for others.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SOME NEEDED LIGHT…Psalm 132: 13-18

Recently my wife and I rented a house on the beach along the Oregon Coast.  A cozy cottage with large windows, giving us expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.  Each day it poured.  Buckets really and then clear skies with stars, planets, the Milky Way in plain sight from the hot tub we often soaked in.  We had weather in most of its Pacific Northwest winter varieties!

We slept in separate bedrooms as each had a too small bed for both of us to comfortably sleep in.  Mine had an archway that you had to be careful of when getting in or out of bed.  My head a ready target.  Have a few bruises to prove it!

Our rental home was in a remote cove that had no street lights and few neighbors.  Night comes early in winter.  When the interior lights go out, darkness becomes an eerie companion.  Unwelcome to the likes of me.  Invariably, I’ll wake up at an unknown hour to a start and startle that ushers fear and panic within.  I have to get up to shake off that old suspicion of being abandoned all-over-again.

That feeling I first experienced when I was two years old, as polio forced me to be placed in isolation in a hospital ward far from home.  That was many decades ago.  More than six.  Yet those scary, inhospitable hospital nights linger somewhere within, to frighten me in strange places.

So, what to do?  You no doubt have shadows lurking within that have been dragged along from your past.  Memories that haunt more than comfort.  That rear their ugly heads with almost no provocation.  Know what I mean?

Psalm 132: 17 says–‘…I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.’  When we become born again through faith in Jesus, we become one of God’s anointed.  Blessed and forgiven.  God’s child.  His own.  Secure.  What does He give us?  ‘A lamp…’!  Exactly what’s needed!  He sheds needed light.

Does that mean I’m all better?  Not quite.  But more like a hand has been extended to me to hold onto.  A strength beyond myself.  Light.  Don’t need much for a little goes a long way.

I know myself a tad better these days.  I’m not so ashamed to admit who I am.  Most of all, I know I can count on the Lord when I feel so ‘childish’ with fears from long ago.  He’ll be there for me.  He will.  We can always count on Jesus.  Always!  For He said, ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12).  Even my little world!  And yours, too!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for being light in the dark.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

DOUBTS AND MORE DOUBTS…John 8: 42-47

When I was a new Christian, I was dogged by doubts.  Doubts about whether I was a true believer.  Couldn’t shake those horrible feelings.  How could I go forward with Jesus when I wasn’t sure I was His?  And I was in Bible College for summer classes!  Yet miserable with doubts.  When attending evangelistic church services, I went forward three times.  Baptized and then re-baptized.  Anxious and insecure.

I wanted closeness with the Lord.  More than anything, to be His child.  But instead–churning, tossing, heaving feelings of uncertainty.  Doubts and more doubts.  Until I grabbed hold of Bible verses like those found in John chapter 8–‘He who belongs to God hears what God says…’ (v. 47).  Longing to belong.  God’s child hears Him.  Listening–the answer to my doubts?

Slowly but surely, I began to realize that the time to worry about whether I’m saved or not was when I could care less about it…or Him.  When I tell God to go His way and I’ll go mine.

But that wasn’t me.  Not at all.  Quite the contrary.  I genuinely wanted to know the Lord, but wasn’t aware that He even gave a ‘hoot’ about me.  So, the more I read God’s Word, the more time I spent with Him, the less space there was for those infernal doubts.  I say, ‘good riddance’!

If you hear Him, listen to Him and follow Him as best you can.  Warts and all.  Skinning your spiritual knees more often than not.  Nevertheless, we’re His.  He so wants us to know that.  For sure.  No doubt about it!

He’ll give you His assurance.  Knowing we’re His, strengthens us to keep living for Him.  When we doubt someone’s love, it limits our closeness to them.  Same with the Lord.  Settle right now that you believe in Jesus and want Him as Lord of your life, every moment of every day.  Settled.  Then, the Bible will be your tuning fork, registering the right note and the right pitch as you harmonize with Jesus!

Aren’t you glad you’re a child of God?  The more time we spend with Him, the less we’ll have for doubts and confusion.  His child.  Now… and forever!

Prayer:  Lord, you are so good to us, making us your children by faith alone in Jesus your Son.  Amen.

SEEKERS…I Chronicles 13

At my second church, I started a Wednesday night Bible Study group called ‘the Seekers’.  We gathered at the parsonage, next door to the church.  Invited people from the neighborhood to join us.  All would be welcome.  Unfortunately, decades before, the governing board had rejected people from our racially-mixed neighborhood.  Because of their color only, they could not be part of the church family.  The community was changing.  The church leaders were not.

But I love a challenge.  I’ve learned that about myself.  One church I served was well-organized, had lots of members and programs with ample giving, which totally bored me!  What?  You read it!

I love to see what God can do, when otherwise it appears helpless and hopeless.  Seeking His direction and His will.  That’s how our Bible study got its name.  Seekers.  I sought out lots of people.  No limitations applied while I was pastor.  None.

Our group consisted of college students, teens, new converts to Jesus, people from India and the Caribbean, mixed-race couples, the elderly–basically anyone seeking to know the Lord better, getting closer to Jesus.  Seekers!

1 Chronicles 13 offers a sobering reminder about seeking the Lord.  King David wants to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem.  What’s the Ark?–a large wooden box containing those 10 Commandments given to Moses by God.  Also, the Ark symbolizes God’s presence with His people.

David seeks the Lord–‘Let us bring the Ark of our God back to us, for we did not inquire of it during the reign of Saul’ (v.3).  What?  All during King Saul’s reign, the Ark was ignored.  A nod in God’s direction never crossed their minds.  Not seekers, that bunch.   God’s people had turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to their Lord.

But just them, right?  Couldn’t be us! No way! Fat chance!  How foolish when we cut down on our time in God’s Word.  Or pray only during some dire emergency.  Is that smart?   When I’ve taken that path, and sadly I have, it only leads to bigger messes.  Going MY way.  Prayer as a last resort.  Turning to Jesus only when convenient or desperate.

Am I alone?  Wish I was.  You know when you’re seeking His direction for the next turn in your life.  No mystery if we’re honest with ourselves…and with Him.  Seek the Lord.  GPS–God’s Positioning System!  Be a Seeker…of Him!  Always!

Prayer:   Lord, we know how important it is to follow you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.