FAVORITE BOOKS!…Mark 4: 1-21

I read that the six favorite books in the USA have three of mine on the list.  I couldn’t believe it!  ‘Gone With the Wind’ made it.  Then, ‘Moby Dick’, my all-time favorite American novel, which I’ve read three times.  You can guess which one was first.  It’s always number one.  Best-seller of all time!  Yes, of course, the Bible!

Cheered when I saw that.  Most purchased…most read and followed?  What do you think?

The Bible is our tuning fork.  We get out of tune so easily.  We sound flat and shrill due to sin.  It’s time to read that portion from the Gospel of Mark.  Very familiar parable?  About the seed and soil.  All the troubles of getting a good crop.  I know that you and I want to be good soil for the Lord.  We want our lives to mean something for Him.  Not for riches or fame, but to know Him and make Him known.

Can you imagine a better meaning in life?  Jesus says in Mark 4:20 that if you want to be good soil, you must listen to His Word.  Not buy lots of Bibles, keeping them dusted-off in case the pastor stops by unannounced.  Read the Word, chew on it, digest it, make it like ‘daily bread’.  It will become part of you.  Food for your soul that will last all of life.

Jesus promises that He will produce an abundant crop…30, 60, 100 times what we sowed.  Will happen like good seed in good soil.  How big will your crop be?  Who knows?  Don’t worry about it.  That’s God’s business.  I try(sometimes very unsuccessfully!)to not think about how few may be reading these devotionals that I’ve put so much time into.  As I said, that’s God’s business.  I’m doing this because I feel led to.  That’s it.  That’s enough for me.  On a good day!

How about you?  Seed in good soil?  The results?  God knows… and that should be enough for you too!

Prayer:  Lord, help us to put our gifts to work for you.  We ask you to help us be what you created us to be…for you, for others!  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE…Read Matthew 5: 14-16

I heard the story of an atheist who challenged a pastor to debate him about belief in God and Jesus.  The pastor agreed… but on one condition.  What was it?  That the pastor could have 100 people speak about the differences Jesus had made in their lives.   And that the atheist would also have 100 of his own choosing, testifying to what a difference atheism had made in their lives.  An equal challenge.  The pastor arrived at the auditorium with 100 people who would gladly say what the Lord had done for them.  The other side?  How many came to support atheism?  Not even the original atheist!

Jesus says in Matthew 5 that our light will shine, our salt will be tasty, when we know Him as our personal Savior.   We’ll make a difference in this world where we live.  Why?  ‘…so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven'(Matthew 5: 16).

Do good works and give Him the credit.  All to the Lord.  Makes sense really.  Our salvation has nothing to do with how good we are.  We’re not that good.  I’m not.  But Jesus is.  And He is our salvation.  Through faith in Him.

But it doesn’t end there.  As James wrote–‘do not merely listen to the word…do what it says'(James 1:22).  And– ‘You see that his faith and his actions were working together…'(2:22).  Finally– ‘…faith without works is dead'(2:26).  We get the point.  If we have faith in Jesus, it will show like salt in otherwise tasteless food or light in a darkened room.

We’ll make a difference.  Not for us.  But for the glory of God, who deserves it all.  Years ago I hosted a local television program called ‘Person-to-Person’.  It was a testimony show.  People sharing how they came to know Jesus.  All kinds of stories were told.  I loved it.  So interesting how the Holy Spirit works…with no two alike.  In the middle of the show,  a vocalist would sing a Gospel song.  Then, for the second half, we centered on the differences Christ made in their lives.  Those stories were as interesting.  Never had one with a conversion experience, who didn’t have an interesting story about the changes that came into their lives.

Lots to share when we know the Savior!  Your story, too?  If not, then welcome Jesus into your life right now.  Get ready?  Great things are ahead for you!  For sure!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for giving me salvation in your Son Jesus.  I receive Him into my heart and look forward to all the good changes that will be coming in my life for your glory.  In His name.  Amen.

SO SHARP!…Psalm 64

My mother complained that a distant family member had quite the ‘sharp tongue’.  Not a compliment!  Tongue–cutting and razor-edged.  Could hurt deeply with only a few words spoken.  Psalm 64 says much the same–‘…who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows’.  We get the point!  Or do we?

Words can cut like the sharpest of knives.  And their pain can linger for a lifetime.  Can you not remember some harsh word tossed your way, and this when you were very young?  I can.  Called a nasty word because I was chubby then and now.  Over sixty years ago now.  I can remember where, who said it, and how much it hurt.  I also remember unkind and cutting words from my mouth that were meant to hurt but did just that.

Jesus’ half -brother James wrote this–‘…the tongue is a fire, of world of unrighteousness.  The tongue is set among our members, straining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell'(ch 3:6).  That makes you sit down for awhile.  Gives pause…to what we say.  Recently, I heard that a childhood neighbor had died.  A bunch of us juvenile rascals would scare him at night, knowing he was terrified of ghosts.  I wrote his mother and widow saying what a fine man he was.  And that I was sorry for words from my mouth aimed to hurt him.  They graciously forgave me  as he had years ago.  Still can’t take those words back, however.

I’m more careful what I say these days.  More careful but far from perfect, sad to say.  Have learned that my non-stop sense of humor needs boundaries, fences and walls at times.  And never to make fun of others.  Never.  Laugh at myself.  Puck fun at me.  Be the brunt and fall-guy.  Taking myself lightly eases the potential danger of humor.  Poking fun at others is no fun at all, especially for them.  I know.  I’ve tried it.  It’s happened to me, too.

Put away the swords and arrows.  Keep the knives in a drawer.  Have fun.  Laugh.  Speak kind and loving words to each other and to yourself as well.

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for loving words meant for us your children.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SOMETHING TO HANG YOUR HAT ON!…2 Samuel 14:14

Do you find it difficult reading the Old Testament?  Books like Samuel, Kings and Chronicles?  I used to feel that way until I decided to spend more time in the Old Testament neighborhood.  Not avoiding it, but roaming down some back alleys and darkened corners.  Even dusting off my old Princeton Seminary Hebrew language texts!

Today I was reading 2 Samuel 14:14–‘But God does not take away life; instead, He devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from Him.’  What a great verse.  The context is King David estranged from his son Absalom.  Others mount an effort at reconciliation between father and son.  It seems to me that there’s a larger issue to deal with in this verse.  Beyond the familial one, we have our need to be reconciled to God.  ‘…not remain estranged from Him.’

Being reconciled to God.  Peace with God.  What we all long for.  Not only for ourselves.  We agonize over family who do not know Jesus.  Who have not experienced reconciliation with the Lord.  Salvation.  It hurts personally as I realize that my own witness for Jesus has been so poor and ineffective.  Have I done my best?  I only wish.

2 Samuel 14:14 gives me great hope.  I’m not off the hook.  Neither are you.  We must share the Lord Jesus with our own.  But what’s paramount is not my effort, but God’s.  This verse says that God never, ever stops searching for ways to reach people.  He’s ‘devising ways’.  Never stops seeking a way in.  Never stops reaching out.  Never stops knocking on the doors of hearts.  Never.

You can depend on it.  No, HE is the One we can depend on.  Something you can hang your hat on!  We’re not off the hook.  Pray…share.   But know that the Lord works in all kinds of ways to bring our loved ones to Him.  Thank you, Lord!  Thank you…

Prayer:  Dear God, we praise you for loving our loved ones even more than we do.  We pray that each one will come to know your Son Jesus for salvation.  Each and every one.  In His name.  Amen.

NOT SO BAD AFTER ALL…Psalm 119: 71

Aren’t you glad I didn’t ask you to read the entire psalm, the longest of all?!  Only one verse today.  Psalm 119:71–‘It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.’  I read that verse at night and it kept rolling around in my head all the next day.  Take a look back on your life.  High hills and low valleys.

Kick myself for quite a few forays into forbidden areas of life.  Like dangling my big toe in liberal theology only to find the water way too cold and shallow for my taste.  Wasted precious years of early ministry trying to find my way back to the Bible.  The Lord led me through the fog of my old pipe smoke, and now I can sniff out a Bible-doubter at fifty paces!  Got a good nose for subtle heresy!   Not sure I would have without traveling into that far country.  Maybe not so bad after all.

What about having polio?   Left me with a tender heart for children in need.  Can’t wait to lead another child to Jesus, the best thrill of all.  Those early experiences of abandonment and insecurity were not for naught.  Not so bad after all.

Leaving the ministry to become a financial planner was a gut-wrenching experience, to say the least.  How does one lead to the other?  Well, they did… and I did fine.  As a result of our own financial planning, we’ve retired early and could afford to take a minimal salary for fourteen years serving part-time at our last church.  Some Sundays I gave our weekly salary back for a mission project that grabbed our hearts… and wallets!  A detour in my profession was not so bad after all!

I get the feeling that you could say much the same?  As if Romans 8: 28 is still true?  ‘All things work together…’  Paul doesn’t say that all things are good.  But in God’s hands, He can work them, craft them, mold and polish them into something for His glory.  Do all things make sense to me?  Hardly.  May have to wait for heaven to find out.  Fine with me!

For now, I’m looking forward to less treks off-track, and more following Jesus on His straight and narrow.  Room to join me!  How about it?  Let’s go…

Prayer:  Lord, we want to follow you.  Give us your strength and mercy.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WE NEED EACH OTHER…Daniel 2

Let’s think about Daniel and his three friends.  Their lives are in jeopardy.  The king has issued his ultimatum.  Tell me my dream or all the Wise Men are dead!  What to do?  You know…pray.  Not a solo flier or long-stem red rose, Daniel turns to his friends to join him in prayer to the Lord.

That night, one that should have been filled with dread, God causes a deep sleep to fall on Daniel.  God reveals to him both the King’s dream and its meaning.  Daniel goes to the King with what has been revealed to him from the true God of heaven.

Daniel says, ‘This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king'(v. 36).  We?  Did they all have the dream?  Not only Daniel?  No.  He is giving credit to God for the prayers he and his friends said together.  We need each other…in prayer.  To pray for.  To be prayed for.

A number of years ago my wife and I flew to Florida to see my mother who was in assisted living in her retirement home.  She was doing better than we imagined.  When we flew back home, it nagged at me that I still had this uneasy feeling that my sharing Jesus with my mother had never been well received.  Needed to share more with her.  She never showed any interest in the Lord, at least with me.  Two weeks later, we got on yet another plane, back to Florida.

Really opened our hearts with her.  Shared Jesus and His plan of salvation.  Her reaction?  No comments were made.   I received that steely-eyed look I’ve seen before.  As if saying, without words, ‘how dare you’.  My final words to my mother were ‘I love you’.  She had some tears but only said ‘goodbye’ to us.  A few days later I got a call from my sister that our mother had had a massive heart attack and was gone.

Did what we share about the Lord sink in?  Don’t know.  No evidence I could point to.  No success stories like those I’ve heard by others over the years.  Nothing.  I began to be plagued with nightmares.  Horrifying dreams.  What had happened to my mother?

We were at a Christian conference center in Oregon, which we loved to attend.  At their prayer time, I mentioned about my mother, those dreams and fears.  Most didn’t know me.  But they all knew the Lord.   Surrounding me, they prayed to Him.  Prayed together for me.  From that day forward, no more nightmares!  They were lifted from my shoulders by ‘friends’ praying together to our Lord.  Like Daniel and his friends.  We can help each other…through prayer.  Who needs our prayers?  Who do we need to pray for us?

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for lifting burdens.  We trust you above all else.  Amen.

 

CROSSING THE THRESHOLD…Psalm 63

Could I ever forget the first time I saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem?  My jaw dropped, with mouth wide open.  Huge…awesome…forbidding–not my mouth, the church!  To enter, you go through rather small doors.  Cross a threshold and… there it is!  The most amazing church in all the world.

Was constructed by order of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 325AD.  He wanted a church to commemorate the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.  Emperor Hadrian, in the first century AD, had buried this Christian site, building over it a pagan temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and pleasure.  Hadrian wanted no place remembering Jesus.

Today the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and varied Coptic sects.  In Jerusalem, we were drawn back to this enormous, ancient edifice time and time again.  With sight of candles in darkened corners.  Incense filled the air with a certain sweet smell.  Chanting could be heard in a distant chapel.  Worshippers lined up for confession.  Tourists everywhere, including us.  Almost too amazing for words.

Psalm 63: 2–‘So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.’  Reminded me of entering through those rather small doors of the Church.  Crossing the threshold, entering the sanctuary.  Your head moves up as the entryway gives way to the heights of the building.  Higher and higher your eyes take you.  As if in the presence of Almighty God.

Also reminds me of what heaven will be like for believers.  We enter a small door.  Jesus calls Himself the door(John 10:9).  There is no other.  He is the way(John 14:6).  The only way.  He extends His hand for you to take.  Grab hold and you’ll find His grasp stronger than yours.  The way it should be.  He leads you over the threshold into His huge church.  You’ll keep looking up, gazing all around, never bored, never reaching the end of wonders.  For we find ourselves in the house of the Lord… forever!  Not even the Church of the Holy Sepulchre can hold a candle…to all the glory of God in His heaven!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for a future that is truly out of this world.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THE WONDER OF IT ALL!…Psalm 71

Do you know the hymn, written by George Beverly Shea, entitled ‘The Wonder of it All’?  Bev Shea, who lived to the wonderful age of 104, was asked by a journalist in London what it was like seeing all those thousands of people walking the aisles, all wanting to receive new life in Jesus Christ.  How did it feel?  Bev Shea thought a moment and responded by saying, ‘Ah, the wonder of it all!’   That phrase was the seed planted which grew into this hymn.

Reading Psalm 71, I sense that same flavor of excitement over what God has done and is now doing.  Verse 16–‘I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.’   All those marvels in God’s creation.  The harmony, the wildness, the beauty and order.  Majestic mountains.  Colorful trees and plants.  Rivers, streams and oceans constantly on the move.  You can think forever about God’s creation.   His ‘mighty acts’.

And then, in verse 15– how right He is.  ‘My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long…’  Like falling in love, thinking only about that other person.  All you can talk about, all you imagine, is that loved one.  The psalmist has committed himself to the Lord–‘But as for me…'(v.14).  He has made that decision as we have when we come to Jesus for salvation.  No waffling.  All in.  Nothing held back.  He then says, ‘…I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more…'(v.14).

He’s made the right decision.  One he will never regret.  Verse 15 says, ‘…though I know not its measure’.  Even though he can’t figure it out, can’t have all his questions answered to his complete satisfaction, though he ‘sees through a glass darkly'(1 Cor. 13:12) and may only have the faith of a tiny mustard seed; nevertheless, he will praise the Lord for all God’s rightness… and the majesty of His creation.

I may not be the most articulate person around, may not write the best devotionals, may not be the sharpest knife in God’s drawer or the cleanest saint that’s ever lived, but I do know the Lord of all.  So can you through faith in Jesus Christ.  Not so much what we know, as who.  I know that Jesus is the way to salvation, the path to forgiveness, and the only and best way to live in this crazy world!   Try Him…you’ll like Him!  I have and I do!

Prayer:  To know you, Jesus, is to love you.  And we do.  We love you from the bottom of our hearts.  Amen.

A LACK OF FAITH…Judges 6

Insecurity dogged me as a new believer.  Seeking some sign from God.  Never sure what He wanted me to do.  Decisions agonized over, unlike when I was not a Christian.  Was easier before conversion,  not worrying about God.  Now, indecisiveness worsened.  I truly wanted to follow the Lord’s lead.  What gives?  Doesn’t sound right, does it?

Judges 6 contains the story of Gideon.  Hardly a fearless leader.  Lots of questions and doubts of his own.  His faith in the God of Israel rather weak.  Even blames God for deserting His people in the face of relentless enemies.  Makes lots of excuses.  Even tests God with those fleeces of his.  Fleeces that question what God has already told him.  Not faith in action, but indecision and uncertainty.

I was not much different than Gideon.  We were confused ‘brothers’, not knowing who to trust, even the Lord.  Now as I look back, I cut myself some slack.  Being young has its insecurities.  Nature of that stage in our lives.  As we grow, hit some ‘speed bumps’ of disturbing times, we see God at work in ways we never expected.  We can trust Him more.  Don’t need all the answers to our infernal questions.  Leaving it with the Lord makes much more sense.  A bit long in the tooth now, I can grasp this more.  Not tight but holding onto His hands with all the strength I can muster.  I may be weak, but He remains strong.

Never been a fan of Gideon.  For his lack of faith, as I see it.  Now, I give him a break for he is listed in the ‘Hall of Faith’ of Hebrews 11.  Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t hold our weak faith against us.  Rather, He gently, but firmly, prods us to keep growing,  keep maturing in Jesus.  Press forward to gain more of His wisdom.  Want to join me?  After all, couldn’t your faith need a bit more of the same?

 

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for not giving up on us.  Grow us as men and women of maturing faith in your Son Jesus.  In His name.  Amen.

A TEAR-DOWN TOWN…Psalm 49

My favorite town in my home state of New Jersey is down the shore at Ocean City!  Since 1959, I’ve vacationed there always with great anticipation before going and with deep regret when heading over the bridge, away from Ocean City into Somers Point, heading home.  Lots of good Bible-believing churches, a dry town keeping the bar scene far away, but home values very pricey making most of us unable to buy one even if we wanted to.  Just glad to be able to rent a condo for a few weeks most years.

My wife and I have noticed that homes can be very expendable in this little barrier island town.  On a recent visit, a nice home across the street from where we rented, and another down the block were demolished, with debris carted away all in a matter of an eight hour shift.  Morning–nice home.  By dinner, a vacant lot ready for a new duplex.  Now the rental income can double with mega-property taxes flowing full-bore into the city coffers, making way for even more vacationers who are sardine-canned onto this tiny island for those ten busy summer weeks.  We always go off-season!  Much nicer.  Much!

Ocean City’s cute Victorian cottages are going, going… almost gone!  With no end in sight.  One day we were driving by a teardown in progress, and could see the demolished living room with a bookcase full of books still in place.  Not for long.  But no one had bothered to remove the books.  Give them to the local library or nursing home or the used bookstore or to anyone.  No thought.  Tear down.  Toss out.  Disposable society.

Do we have too much?  Riches receive our supreme devotion?  Idolatry of the almighty dollar?  Psalm 49–  ‘…those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches…'(v. 6).  And– ‘This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings(v. 13).   Read further–‘…for he will take nothing with him when he dies'(v. 17) and ‘…he will join the generation…who never see the light of life'(v.19).  Riches and things.  Could we be barking up the wrong tree?

If not riches, then what?  ‘But God will redeem my life from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself'(v.15).   Wealthy or poor,  our riches are to be in God’s love and forgiveness, His grace and mercy.  In Him alone.  Mansions… over the hilltop.  Not a tear-down among them!  The books will be opened.  Our dwelling place secure as only heaven can be!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for making us heaven-bound through your Son Jesus.  In His name.  Amen.