THERE’S TROUBLE BREWING!…Acts 15: 36-41

Trouble brews!  Not tea!  In church no less!  Actually, on the mission field.  Oh my, that’s not good.  Why can’t God’s people act as such?  Don’t ask me.  I was steeped once in my own hot-water brewing brouhaha.  Not exactly a quaint English High Tea either!  Can be disillusioning.  People heading for the exits, never to darken a church door again.

The truth is that Paul and Barnabas have at-each-other.  All because John Mark abandons them on a previous missionary journey.  Barnabas appeals for a second chance for his nephew.  Paul won’t risk it, possibly feeling that John Mark needs to grow up, showing maturity before he heads out with the likes of them again.  Acts 15:39–‘They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company’.  Harsh words are spoken.  They mean each one.  Off they go…in opposite directions!

What surprises me is the author Luke’s lack of criticism.  Saying that John Mark ‘deserted them’ certainly has an edge to it.  But none for Paul or Barnabas.  God’s people can and do disagree.  Harsh words will fly.  Put on God’s armor.   Good can come out of these painful situations.

How?  Be determined not to give up on what the Lord wants you to do.  Disagreements come and go.  Doors close.  Others open.  May have to rethink some plans.  Pray for God’s directions.

Stop ‘ragging’ on each other.  Cease criticizing.  Move on, praying for those you’ve had a run-in with.  Not easy…for me either.  Is this not what the Lord expects of us?  Whether I like it or not?  Then, do it.  Be the one who heads out on the high road.

Who knows how much the Lord will do through His people.  Even when a big blowup occurs.  Think about it.  Time to let go, allowing the Lord to open up new opportunities to serve Him.  Agreed?  I say ‘Yes’!  And ‘Amen’!

Prayer:  Lord, we move on to do what you’ve called us to do.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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LOOK-ALIKE FAMILY…1 John 2: 18-27

The more I read the New Testament, the more I realize that the early church has its problems.  Big ones.  Persecution.  Doctrinal heresies.  Immoral habits.  You name it.  There’s never been a time when God’s people don’t need some pointed warnings.  Today, myriad problems can ditch us without even lifting a finger.  Be careful.  Be on your guard.

Biblical illiteracy leaves Christians prey to all kinds of deception.  Church denominations slide off slippery slopes accommodating culture and modernity, abandoning the Lord’s ways found only in the Bible.  With hardly a wince or a whimper.

How can we fight back?  John, probably the last living apostle of Jesus, tells us how.  1 John 2: 27–‘But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in Him.’  How?  Stay connected to Jesus.  Again, how?  Need I remind you about prayer and giving and daily Bible study?  To bring us closer to Jesus.  Doing them.  Not merely good intentions, knowing where those roads lead to.

We know when we’re far away from Him.  When His ‘anointing’ seems distant and illusory.  As if we’re hanging on by an unwinding thread.  So, turn around, humble yourself, and get back onto the Lord’s straight and narrow path.  No dead-ends.

No counterfeits.  You’ll know the real thing.  The Holy Spirit will affirm it.  On track we’ll want more of Him and less of this world.  To please Him…most of all.  Having a burden for the lost.  A tugging at your heart when you envision their destiny.  Your wallet will open wider.  You’ll be on your knees more, depending on the only dependable One.  Trust surfaces.

You’ll know when you’re connected to Jesus.  We’ll even look like His family.  Pretty good looking bunch, from what I see!

Prayer:  Lord, help us to be connected to Jesus and His own.  In His name.  Amen.

SHOWERS IN THE FORECAST!…Psalm 84

In Psalm 84, God’s blessings transport us from a very dry place to one of abundant springs.  The Lord takes us by the hand, through the valley parched and scorched, to His cool place of blessing upon blessing.  Ready to go?  Showers are in the forecast!

Years ago, my wife worked at a grocery store exactly one mile from our home.  Many days I’d walk to Sue’s workplace to catch a ride home.  A pleasant walk, all downhill!  Always carried Gospel tracts in my back pocket to give away.

Would pray for these neighbors and the only church I passed by;  where, strangely enough, I was asked to preach for two Sundays.  They were between pastors and having a difficult time finding guest speakers.  After worship on that second Sunday, a granddaughter was brought over to me as she needed to accept the Lord into her life.  I was asked to speak with her.  Would I?  After the smelling salts revived me (!), this nine year old asked Jesus into her heart.  Had to pinch myself.  I was elated!

What’s going on here?  I wondered…and prayed.   Only eighteen were in regular attendance, but I could lead worship until the end of the year, when a new pastor was sure to arrive.  Only for a dozen Sundays or so.

Fourteen years later…!  Now, I’m their pastor emeritus.  Their first ever.  Mine also!

Check your heart for a moment.  Not with an EKG, but with that burden the Lord Jesus has put on your heart.  You know what I’m referring to.  Don’t you?  Pay attention to what moves you.  A passion aching to serve Jesus.  What exactly?  I have no idea.  Don’t ask me.  Ask the Lord.  Wait on Him.  He’ll show you. Then do it!

There are showers of blessing in the forecast!  Perhaps it’s dry now where you are, but don’t be surprised if some gentle showers are just around the corner.  Even while you’re walking down the street!

Prayer:  Lord, we want to follow you wherever you lead.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

CLOSE TOGETHER… John 15: 5-8

Visiting Jerusalem, we were stunned to discover that the exact location of the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple had been lost.  Hard to fathom that God’s holy place remains a mystery, subject only to theory and speculation.

Made me wonder– could I ever walk so far away from the Lord that His dwelling place in me would be too hard to find?  Or that my desire for Him would simply disappear?  I remember times when I was at some spiritual edge, when the abyss beckoned, that even there the Lord was tugging at my sleeves, pulling me back to safety.

Reading John 15, I can sense what happens when we’re less spiritually devoted to the Lord.  Your Bible gathers dust.  Prayer only for emergencies… if then.  A cold wind blows in our hearts, giving shivers to the Lord.  Hurts Him deeply.  Jesus yearns to be close to us.  Connected.  Making us healthy branches, bearing fruit from the vine that grows us.  Our lives finding purpose in the grand scheme of God’s plan.  That’s our heart’s desire.  Isn’t it?  Yielding to Him.  Yielding for Him.

When Jesus was speaking with His disciples as recorded in John 15, He may have been walking by the Temple.  He sees the entrance to the Holy Place, where steps lead up to a large linen curtain, covering the Holy of Holies.  This curtain is adorned with braided purple, red and blue flowers.  Above is a woven grapevine of gold that craftsmen would make longer and longer as people bring their generous Temple gifts.  Some clusters of golden grapes are said to be over six feet long.  As extra is given, the grapevine grows.

The more we give of ourselves to the Lord, the more useful we’ll be for Him.  That’s what every committed believer wants.  You too?

Give your all and watch His grapevine grow…and grow…and  grow even more!  All intertwined and knitted closely to our Lord!  That’s where I want to be.  Join me!  Won’t you?

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for making us useful.  In Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

 

SURPRISING POWER!…John 15: 5-17

It’s a lovely sunny summer Saturday.  Church is packed with family, friends and coworkers.  We’re one hour from starting the wedding march when all electric power in our area goes out!  As in kaput!  None of us knows that a truck has slammed into a nearby power pole.

What the bride knows is that her reception hall would now not be available, and that the refrigerators are getting warmer with each passing moment.  She’s inconsolable.  Tears like a winter storm!

People gather in the sanctuary.  Our organist is forced to play the piano.  It’s 2pm.  What should I do?  Begin the wedding?  Have the bridal party start down the aisle?  Will this bride’s tears flood us all out?!  No.  She agrees that we must start her special day, one she’s dreamed about all her life.

It’s a bit dark inside, but some sunshine filters through the stained-glass windows.  The wedding party processes with precision as practiced the night before.  The groom and best man sneak in with me.  For here comes the bride, escorted proudly by her father!  All now in place.

I open with a brief message about marriage, ending with the words ‘in the powerful name of Jesus Christ’ whereupon all the lights and power return!  Electricity is restored with a jolting snap from the microphone and a whoosh from the organ.  All I could say next is this–‘the name of Jesus is certainly powerful’!  Everyone laughs and claps as the wedding now goes on as planned.

My glib comment overshadows a much deeper truth–Jesus’ name is in fact powerful.  He says it is.  ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name’ (John 15:16).   In His name.

Jesus wants us to be productive.  To make a difference in other’s lives.  Not to gain ‘brownie points’ for ourselves.  No.  Only for Him.  For Jesus.  Make sure people know whose name is above all others.  Not yours…His!  After all, He can move mountains… and make lights shine!

Prayer:  We love your name, Jesus.  May we always use it with respect and honor.  Amen.

TODAY’S FOCUS…Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4

Today let’s focus on prayer.  Maybe it surprises you that we turn to the book of Revelation.  In the midst of church letters, celestial thrones, scrolls and seals, scary judgements, ‘666’ and ‘the 144,000’, come these verses we dare not ignore.

Revelation 5:8–‘…they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.’  Prayers, each and every one, uttered by each and every believer.  All in a container of precious gold, cradling our prayers, filled with sweet-smelling incense.  An aroma that masks the harsher realities that we pray about.

We remember being in Oman, a country on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, where men would stand over metal censers containing burning frankincense, which would perfume their bodies, covering offensive odors.  Their robes ballooned with incense.

The foul odors of life can be made sweet as we pray to the Lord.  Bring everything to Jesus.  He’ll put them as if in a golden bowl with sweet incense that fills God’s Temple.  He takes good care and is most attentive.

Revelation 8:3-4–‘Another angel who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.  The smoke of the incense, like the prayers of the saints, went up before God…’  Our prayers…so precious.  Directed, without any obstacle, into the very presence of our loving Lord!

Has God gotten His message across?  That He values our prayers to the nth degree?  They mean the world to Him.  Why?  Because they come from us.  His own.  And He loves His own.  Does He listen to us?  Haven’t you been paying attention?!

Since He values our prayers so much, shouldn’t we offer more of them?  Today… overflow with prayers to our Lord!

Prayer:  Lord, we love you for cherishing our prayers.  Thank you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHY?…Psalm 78: 40-55

For the life of me, I can’t figure it out.  Why is it that we so quickly forget the Lord?  After all, He cares for us like no one else does.  Jesus says that no one can snatch His own out of His hands, which means that He can hold onto us with a grip that no super-strong Olympian can match (John 10: 28-29).

Boggles the imagination that all this and more can slip through our mind’s fingers.  Hence, the call to remember.  Psalm 78: 42–‘They did not remember His power–the day He redeemed them from the oppressor.’  God’s people forget.  He slips their minds.  How could they do that?  After all that He’s done for them.  Big and little things.  The miraculous.  And yet… they forget.

Glad we’re not like that!  Right?  I’m moving out of the way, because I think lightening may soon strike…you or me!  Asaph, the psalmist, says that Israel forgets about their redemption.  How God has led them out of Egypt after displaying many miraculous judgements upon the oppressive Egyptians.  And then those forty years wandering in the desert with God never far away from them.  Never.

Here’s something else to remember.  It’s our story, too!  Not something only about God’s people of ancient times.  Remember the day of your salvation?  When you became His own?  I don’t have an exact date.  Always envied those who know month, day and hour.  But what I can’t forget is that experience of saying ‘yes’ to His loving voice asking to come into my life.  How could I ever say ‘no’ to Jesus?

I remember… as if yesterday, now over 50 years ago.  Think back to when you first encountered His love and forgiveness.  Think hard and long–that will help you not to forget.  Remembering His unsurpassed compassion for you and me.  Don’t be lazy.  Make the commitment to remember!  Remember when…!

Prayer: Lord, help us to be mindful of all you are to us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

CHECK THIS OUT!

Let me recommend that you check out the Gideon House Books website.  They have published books by Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, Charles Spurgeon, DL Moody, A W Tozer and many others.  Guess who else?  This is the publishing house for ‘Reflections Out Of Time’ devotional book! Maybe you’d like to give one to a friend or family member for 2018?  Still available!  Pass the word along.  Thanks so much and Lord bless you, John

TWO TYPES ONLY?…I Corinthians 1:18-25

In our travels, we’ve met all kinds of people.  Some live enviably.  Others less so.  Reading 1 Corinthians, a phrase the Apostle Paul uses makes me wonder.  ‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1Cor. 1:18).

Is he saying that ultimately there are only two types of people–those who are perishing and those being saved?  Sounds judgmental and offensive to modern ears.   Yet, that’s what the Bible says, like it or not.

Nevertheless, don’t give up on anyone you’ve been praying for.  Paul says that unbelievers ‘are perishing’.  On the wrong path.  A dead-end.  A cliff once fallen off of, never to be climbed back out of.  But they haven’t perished yet.  In the process.  But with hope.

Keep praying.  Keep sharing Jesus.  Don’t give up on anyone.

I remember an older man in one of my churches.  I really liked him, but he wanted nothing to do with spiritual things.  As a young boy, he was involved in church.  But something went wrong.  I never knew what.  But I did know that he always enjoyed my home visits, even when I got in his face about believing in Jesus…or else!  He brought out a hard-hitting side of me!

One morning I received a call from his wife that his time was short and he wanted to see me.  No time to waste.  Come now!  I did and he was eager to ask the Lord Jesus to be his Savior.  No more of his snide comments.  Now he reaches out his hand to the One who will save him from the brink of no return.  Later that day, he enters the presence of his loving and forgiving God!  Where there is breath, there is hope.  Never give up sharing and praying.

And for us?  Who are being saved?  We are on a journey of growth and maturity.  God’s not done with us.  Heaven will be expansive, extensive, and unlimited.  We don’t have a clue as to the pleasures of paradise!  Life, better and better, for all eternity!  Never arriving.  Never boring.  For this is God’s gift.  All of life’s fullness…forever!  All ‘being saved’ for us!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for life unending alongside Jesus.  Amen.

 

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.