ONLY THE BEGINNING!…Mark 1

Mark’s Gospel begins at the beginning.  Good place to start!  Mark 1:1–‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’  Of the four Gospel writers, Mark has the most abrupt ending.  No dramatic conclusion involving resurrection appearances and the ascension of Jesus.

Could Mark be telling us that life with Jesus is always just the beginning?  The start of something amazing?  An inauguration without end?

When you truly receive Jesus into your life, you become a child of God.  Sins–forgiven and forgotten by the Lord.  A new person in so many ways.  Not completely.  The old sin nature dogs us.  Two steps forward, one back.  One forward, two back.  Maybe that’s only me.

We discover, as we travel life’s roads with Jesus, that wherever we are in discipleship, it’s only the beginning.  When I think I’ve conquered this sin or that, I fall flat on my face.  Grimy and disappointed.  Years later, I’m still at the starting gate.  In this life, we never arrive.  Always more hills to climb.

Life in Jesus grows at an uneven pace.  Some I know seem much farther along.  Others lag behind even me.  What are we to do then?

Here’s a few ideas.  Accept where you are.   Then pray to the Lord to press forward.  For Mark says that Jesus’ beginning was good news.  The Gospel.  Overcoming sin, even one-time, is very good news.  Keep at it.  Don’t give in or give up.  And keep praying.

Read your Bible, the only attack weapon allowed in God’s armor (Ephesians 6: 10ff).  Every other piece is for defense.  So, strike the first blow with your Bible firmly in your heart and mind.  Works every time.  Satan flees in the face of God’s truth.  Good riddance!

For us, we have Jesus at our side.  Mark calls Him the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.  With Jesus, that strong and that close, every day becomes a new beginning!  And that’s very Good News!

Prayer:  Thank you, Jesus, for new beginnings.   Amen.

WHY BOTHER?…Job 21: 14-15

What if nothing comes of it?  Nothing changes.  No gain at all.  Would you continue?  With what, you ask?  In a word, prayer.  Why bother?  That’s what I read in the book of Job.  I couldn’t believe it.

Job 21: 14-15–“Yet they say to God,  ‘Leave us alone!  We have no desire to know your ways.  Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him?   What would we gain by praying to him?'”  See what I mean?

How self-centered can they be?  ‘Leave us alone’.  Just the ancients?  Hardly.  People today want nothing to do with God.  Forget the Bible and what it teaches.  Seems even believers know less and less of God’s Word every year.

How are you doing in that regard?  In many churches, only self-help seems emphasized, with a few scatterings of itsy-bitsy, non-offensive Bible verses tossed in for good measure.  Barely enough for any spiritual growth.  So, get in and dig deeper.  You know when you are.

Today most crave everything except the Lord.  Money, prestige, success, whatever.  Scant eagerness to follow Him.   If we gain nothing in prayer, count us out.  Job observes that that’s exactly what some people say.  But, what if I can get something for myself?  Then I’ll pray!  Such a self-aggrandizing attitude will probably receive no answer at best.  At worst…well, we won’t go there.

And anyway, who does He think He is?  This Almighty God!  We should serve Him?  Yeah, right!  Maybe He should be there for us, the almighty human in need of empowerment, a safe place, dignity and other current slogans,  ad nauseam.   Not smart to thumb their noses at God.  Their outcome?  Foolish… forever.

If no apparent answer comes to my prayers, I’ll still talk with my Lord.  Absolutely.  Why not?  He loves me and works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).  He’s all I need.  Anything else is added blessing from His kindness and goodness.  To love Him?  No bother at all!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for who you are.  In Jesus’ your Son.  Amen.

AS WE GET OLDER!…Psalm 92

Cornwall, England is such a lovely part of the country.  In one of its villages, called Tintagal, I noticed a shop selling T-shirts.  One said,  ‘The Older I Get, the Better I Was!’  If it wasn’t so true, I’d laugh.  Actually, I did!

As we get older, things change.  Our bodies, our country, the world.  Always that way.  If still alive, ask your parents.  Nothing new under the sun as wise, old Solomon aptly said.

But here’s good news!  From Psalm 92.  In particular, those last few verses (ESV), where the psalmist writes of ‘bearing fruit’  in old age.  Fresh, green and full of sap.  I’ve been called an ‘old sap’, but here’s biblical encouragement!

Our spiritual life can be vibrant and robust no matter our age.  We can get closer to God as we get closer to home, being with Him in heaven.  Here and now, we can dig deeper into our Bibles, pray as if God is right there with us (He is!), share Him with others, praise Him, inviting others to know Jesus.  Regardless of age.

I think of Cathy Brown.  Cathy lived well into her 90’s.  However, her mind had started to leave us a few years before.  A dear church member we miss to this day.  Cathy prayed to her Lord like a child to a loving parent; or, in her case, to her precious Auntie and Uncle, who raised her.  I loved to hear Cathy pray.  You would have also.  So tender, affectionate and trusting.  I can imagine Jesus holding her hands as she opened her heart to Him.

Life became more difficult for Cathy, but not in her times of prayer and worship.  That was a fruitful relationship even in old age, ‘green and full of sap’, sharing with Him who was her Rock and salvation.

As we advance in years, we have a choice to make.  Be careful for this creeps up on you without prior announcement.  We can become bitter, crotchety, dried up and mean-spirited.

Or we can get closer to Jesus, never really growing old and never really dying at all.  That’s for me!  You too?  Getting closer to Him as we get closer to home.  ‘The older I get…the better I become’!  Want to buy a T-shirt?!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for drawing us closer every day.  We love you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHO’S THAT IN THE MIRROR?…Judges 3: 7-11

Can’t believe what I’m reading.  How could they do this?  God’s own people.  A nation He saves from slavery and brings into the promised land.  I’m furious.  Indignant.  Beside myself.  But then again, you know what I’m going to say.  I look in the mirror, and I don’t see only them.  I see me.  And you, too!

The Old Testament book of Judges exposes one of the worst times in the history of God’s people.   Shouldn’t be, but it is.  You’ve read the stories.  One bad leader after another.  The next one worse than the one before.  That last verse says it all–‘In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25).  Their own eyes.  If they crave something, grab it.  No restraints.  No moral boundaries.

Not only do they do what’s evil in God’s sight, they forget all about Him (v.7).  Do they have a collective lapse of memory?  Hardly.  They choose to ignore Him.  Willfully put Him out of sight, out of mind.  Throw Him out of town.  Forgotten and rejected.  That’s what the Bible says.  All done without even one good excuse.

How many times have we neglected God?  Didn’t even give Him a thought concerning a big or little decision.  Shot off my mouth never considering what Jesus would have said.  Sinning willfully, creating mess after mess, crawling back on all fours, presuming His forgiveness.  Get the picture?

You can paint your own.  Times when you walked alone, leaving Him in the lurch.  A prideful swagger, propelling you along.  Not very nice, is it?  He who creates us, gives us life itself, blessings flowing all over the place, comes to this earth to die for us, to redeem us, making sure we’d be with Him forever in heaven.  All this…and more!  Are we satisfied to give Him only a passing nod of thanks, if that?  Are we?  No.  Not at all.

We’re going to live the way He wants us to live.  To be His and mean it.  Thoughtful.  Prayerful.  Grateful… sitting comfortably at His feet.

Prayer:  Lord, we want to genuinely live for you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHAT HAPPY ENDING?…Psalm 88

Here’s a psalm that ends without a glimmer of hope.  Psalm 88 concludes with the psalmist shunned by friends and family, leaving him with darkness as his only companion.  What happened?  No happy ending?  Will find it elsewhere in the Psalms, but not here.

This psalm tells us what we already know.  Life, even as believers, isn’t always neat and tidy.  Things don’t always turn out the way we’d like them to.  We feel hemmed in.  In a fix that never gets fixed.  A fog that refuses to lift.  Through an exit leading to nowhere.  We know this.

Remember a time when you cry out to God, and no one seems to be there?  I do.  When friends quickly disappear.  Tongues wag with gossipy glee.  Did God let go of me?  Left to my own devices?  Too bad I couldn’t blame it all on others… or Him.

You know what I needed most?  Someone to sit by me.  Let me vent.  Use their two ears rather than a big mouth.  Possibly then I’d listen to the Lord.  Better chance than when you bomb me with guilt and unwelcome advice like Job’s friends did to him.  Or lob pointed Bible verses my way.  Here’s something else–pray with me.  Not blather some sneaky sermonette.  Pray.  Cry out to God.

In my story, life got better in some ways and not so great in others.  Not everything collapsed around me as I feared.  Neither did I get everything I hoped for.  You know how this can be.  Your experience as well?  I’m not surprised.

Looking back at Psalm 88 again, I notice something in that first verse– ‘O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.’  Wait a minute.  He hasn’t lost his faith in the Lord.  He’s hanging on to Him for dear life as best he can.  You can also.  I did.  And I’m still holding on to the One who is my salvation.  No matter what.  Even if the happy ending will not be in this life.  Even then.  Especially then.

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, that we can trust you in the darkest of times.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

 

AMAZING IN ANY LANGUAGE!…Daniel 4

Reading Daniel chapter 4, I tripped over one verse that I had to go back and re-read.  Puzzled me.  What does it mean?  But the more I thought about it, the more I was comforted by the Lord.  Who doesn’t need God’s shoulder to lean on?

Want to know which verse I’m looking at?  Here it is–verse 17.  What do you think?  Now, I must admit something strange.  Will the men in white coats come after me with a straight jacket?  Not only do I still review my biblical Hebrew and Greek languages, but now I’m studying Aramaic!  What!  Why?  Well, parts of the Old Testament are written in the Aramaic language.   So?

Aramaic.  Similar to Hebrew.  The ‘lingua franca’, common language, in biblical times.  How much of the Old Testament is in Aramaic?  Five chapters in Daniel, three in Ezra, one verse in Jeremiah and two words in Genesis!  That much, huh!?!

In Daniel 4:17 there’s an Aramaic word.  It’s the plural noun ‘watchers’.  Some translations say ‘messengers’.  The context in Daniel is judgement upon prideful King Nebuchadnezzar.  His sentencing is carried out by these ‘watchers’.  They’re called ‘holy ones’.  Who are they?  Angels?  Most likely.  Messengers of the Lord?  Without a doubt.  For judgement on the prideful.  For protection of God’s own children.

Angels watch over us.  Serving our God who knows all.  Nothing escapes His attention.  Nothing gets by Him.  That thought is most comforting.  Isn’t it?  We can feel so alone in this world.  As if no one really gives a hoot.  Even the ones we love the most often care only if it benefits them.  Love attached by many strings.

But God watches over us.  Has His angels care for us.  If we could only see all that He does for us.  Shouldn’t we stop worrying?  Can we?  Why not?  He watches over me…and you.  Constantly caring and loving.  Our ‘watcher’ for sure.  That’s amazing in any language!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for guardian angels watching over us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

THE KING’S DREADFUL DREAM!…Daniel 4

Oh, no!  The king suffers a dreadful dream.  All in his kingdom shudder in anticipation.  Now what?  He calls for Daniel.  The king can’t quite connect the dots that his pagan, polytheistic Wise Men are not so wise after all.  But Daniel has connections on high–with the One true God, Yahweh.  Daniel makes his royal, court appearance.  What of this dream, the king asks?

A tree grows, not in Brooklyn, but in ancient Babylon!  As big as a millennia-old California redwood, with branches reaching far and wide, shading the earth with its abundant foliage.  Is this a shadowy image of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom?  All due to his own greatness, power and intellect?  His and his alone?  Or so he’d like to think.  Until a dream rears its ugly head, displaying his face!  He’s bragged and boasted one too many times.  He thinks all this is due to HIM.  NEBUCHADNEZZAR…all in capital letters!

But like Humpty-Dumpty, he falls off the wall, shattering and scattering in a million pieces!  God has judged him.  The patience of the Lord is great, but not without limit.  The king has exceeded it.  Nebuchadnezzar thought himself a god, now he’ll graze like a goat in the wet, dewy morning, eating its grasses.  Only this comeuppance will cause him to come to his senses, realizing that he is but a fallen human being.  For only God is God.

Why is that so hard to comprehend?  Applies to the ancients alone who have a plethora of gods?  Not for us modern-types.   We’ve gone to the other extreme.  We want nothing of God mentioned in society or our lives.  Nothing.  No gods or God.  It’s all about me…me…me.  Such is the prevalent mood.

God is patient but not forever.  Best to embrace Jesus while there is still time.  When will His patience run out?  I don’t know.  Neither do you.  So, wait no longer.  Accept the Lord Jesus.  Turn your life over to Him.  And tell others about Him with an urgency that this gap of God’s mercy has allowed.

When will this world wake up and bow down before the One and Only?

Prayer:  Lord, we pray for others to come to Jesus, bowing the knee to Him alone.  In His name.  Amen.

NOT TO ME!…Joshua 22:5

Here’s a question–does God expect too much of us?  You could assume that.  Many people do.  Lots of commandments, do’s and don’ts, rules and regulations.  To be honest, I don’t see that in God’s Word.  Not to me.

Here’s a prime example of what I mean.  Joshua 22:5 (ESV)–‘Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.’  Maybe I’m wrong.  Could that be?!  Let’s move on.

Joshua, Israel’s leader after the death of Moses, is allocating territory to the twelve tribes/families in the promised land.  Moses has given them the 10 Commandments from the Lord.  Easy to remember as they count them off on their ten fingers.  Nothing too difficult for any of them… or us.  Ten.

Joshua in this verse condenses even more so.  Be careful, he says.  Don’t be sloppy in obeying God.  Or pick and choose the easy commandments, ignoring the tough ones.

Consider those active verbs Joshua uses–to ‘love’ the Lord, to ‘walk’ in His ways, to ‘keep’ His commands, to ‘cling’ to Him, and to ‘serve’ Him.  How?  He says that this will come from your heart and soul.  From deep within.  A willingness toward the One you love the most.  Not difficult to want to be the best for someone you love.  Is it?

If following God feels more like a chore, a big bother, much drudgery, it’s high time to check out our commitment to Him.  Take our spiritual pulse.  Any sign of life?!  To follow Him wholeheartedly is not a lot to ask.  After all, He’s the One who gives up all for us because He loves us so much.  Should we give Him less?

Prayer:  Lord, we want to follow you wholeheartedly.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

JUST A FEW!…Judges 7

There were only eighteen in attendance when I started ministering at our last church.  Eighteen hearty souls, almost all 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 appeared way too often.  Pastors with their own dire problems and needs.  In a matter of thirty short years, the church was down to about ten percent of its prior membership.  A mournful tithe.

The very first sermon series 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–not 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 the 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 on Him.  So low we have no choice but to cry out to God.  Why would we turn to anyone else?  But we do.  The Israelites 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.

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.