AN OLD SAP! Psalm 92

I’ve been called worse.  Much worse.  One unrepentant church attender labels me the anti-christ in a letter to the elders, who wisely usher him out the back door, so to speak.  In another church, someone compares me to President Richard Nixon who resigns after threats of impeachment, suggesting that I do much the same.  Resign, that is.

But slinging mud my way for being an ‘old sap’ seems a tad childish.  You know about sticks and stones breaking bones but those blasted, shoddy downer names never hurting.  Baloney and balderdash.  Those jagged verbal stones stick in our minds and hearts better than using Gorilla glue.

Psalm 92 prescribes good medicine.  An antidote for disparaging my good name, while having no toxic side effects.  No insurance co-pay.  Just what’s needed.  The right dosage.  Take as much as you want.  You’ll feel much better.

After initial praise to God, we’re reassured that His enemies will exit as quickly as grass which grows, dies, and blows away (v. 7).  But for those of us who have trusted in Jesus for salvation, we’re like palm trees and cedars of Lebanon (v.12).  Unlike grass, trees take a lot of time to grow.  Roots dig down deep, garnering needed nourishment, strength, and stability.

Trees can live for decades…centuries…and some for millennia.  Hear God’s promises to those who stay close to Him in this life–‘The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.  They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him’ (Ps. 92: 12-15).  See?  The old sap still flows for Him!

That’s true for many of you.  All?  I wouldn’t know.  But I do know that someone crafts amazing scarves and patterns for Him.  Another teaches the Bible to a group that meets weekly in a home setting.  A couple sells glass creations at a local farmer’s market where they shine Jesus’ love.  Another couple assists at their church’s drug and alcohol recovery program.  Another knits baby clothing for couples burying their miscarried and stillborn children, giving them a respectful and loving burial.  A young woman copies these weekly devotionals for those in her church.

These are all saps…for Jesus!  Green and fresh, lively sharing their Lord with others.  At whatever age.  So, go ahead.  Call me an old sap.  I don’t mind.  In Jesus, quite the compliment!

And you?  Time to get off your duff for the Master?  Think about it.  No supply-chain shortage of needy people.  Inflation adds to their numbers.  International tensions rack up terrible gains.  What’s lacking?  Only willing, able, and loving workers.  Who brings good news of Jesus.  Of hope and help.  Is that you?

For a life worth living, we thank you, Jesus.  Amen.

WHAT SAW ME THROUGH Psalm 89

Going from the Moody Bible Institute to Princeton Theological Seminary seems like crossing a wide, deep, and turbulent river without knowing how to swim.  Why was this my educational path?  Why not attend an solidly evangelical seminary which Princeton used to be but sadly is no longer?  What gives?

Frankly, I need some theological breathing space.  Something different from what seems rote and pat.  New approaches.  A different angle.  To be stretched academically.  Be where great minds can interact with my pea-sized one.  But I wonder if an ivy-league seminary would even admit me.  They did.  I’m the first Moody degree grad accepted by Princeton.  So, I went.  And?

Since pastoral counseling becomes my master’s degree’s concentration, Bible classes are few and far between.  I make sure I take those required few from evangelical scholars like Dr. Bruce Metzger.  As it turns out, Moody lays a solid foundation for me.  A place to firmly stand.

But, at seminary, I come across all kinds of professors and teachings.  Some so far out I imagine they’d fall off the edge of the earth if there is one!  So what keeps me from having my faith in Jesus watered down?  From becoming the typical compromiser, allowing the world’s ways to dictate to, dominate, and alter God’s Word?   After all, some weird theological curve balls get pitched my way.  Would I strike out?  Maybe get traded to another team?  Or make it safely home, rounding all the bases, winning the game for the owner, God Almighty.

So, what did see me through?  Check out Psalm 89: 34–‘I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips.’  The Lord affirms that His Word will stand forever.  He’ll never break any promise that He makes.  Keeps them all.  His Word is trustworthy from cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation.  Not just some of it.  The parts I like, which tickle my ears.  No.  All of it.

When I’ve experienced pastors, professors, or anyone for that matter who spouts off that the Bible is a bunch of hooey, a figment of someone’s imagination, out of date, no longer applicable, I know where to stand.  As far from them as possible.  So should you.  Skedaddale, amscray, step on the gas, fly the coop…and don’t look back.

When God speaks we better listen…and obey.  Whether we like it or not.  If not, too bad for me…and you.  It’s His world and His Word, so get in line.  Follow the Leader.  Stand firm with what God says.  And don’t apologize.  Yet be kind.

That’s what got me through and still does–His Word, the Bible.

Father, for your trustworthy Word, we thank you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SENSES ALIVE 1 John 1

As a teenager, I remember feeling lonely, fearful, and insecure.  A normal adolescent experience?  Probably.  Then hearing that Jesus loves me and wants to be the biggest part of my life grabs my attention to that radio program I’m listening to on a Sunday evening many years ago.  God interested in me?  Jesus loves even me?  Does that make sense?

I always wondered about spiritual things.  Like who God is.  And Jesus.  Used to try to go to sleep imagining how long eternity would last.  Forever and ever, then more and more, and even some extra, making it hard to nod off.  Having polio at age 2, being isolated in a hospital far from family and home, no doubt leaves me feeling like I’m skating on very thin ice most of the time.  You think?  Makes sense to me.

But then I met Jesus.  Actually, He takes the first step, offering me a new life.  All His love and lots more.  How could I ever turn Him down?  Couldn’t and didn’t.

Okay, not everything changes overnight.  Actually, I’ve no idea what all this Jesus stuff means.  Had to take it a day at a time.  Sometimes half a day.  Slowly but surely, I wise up to the fact that Jesus is in my life.  And, best of all, He’s here to stay.

Reading my Bible daily knocks some sense into me.  As time marches on, I sense His presence more and more.  Those fears and insecurities?  Less and less.

In Jesus, sense intensifies.  Quickens.  Deepens.  Heightens.  To begin with, we receive eternal life–‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–the life was made manifest and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life… (1 John 1: 1-2).  Hear…see…touch.  Senses alive.

How long is forever?  Don’t obsess over it, Fischer!  Know that life gets better; so that at the end, which is really just the beginning, it becomes the very best.  Get the picture?

At some point, a light goes on that this earthly life isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  There’s more going on.  You can sense it.  Even see it clearer.  Less pea-soup fog and smog than before we believe in Jesus.

The Apostle John says this–‘…which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon…’ (1 John 1: 1).  No made-up stories.  No Brother John’s bogus snake oil.  No figment of someone’s imagination.  No fairy tales or myths.  They saw, heard, and touched Jesus.  This is the real stuff.

Here’s another godsend–fellowship.  That sense of belonging.  1 John 1: 3–‘…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.’  Loneliness loses traction as believers get closer to each other and to God the Father and His Son Jesus.  Guess what?  We’re never godforsaken.

But with unbelievers, as precious as their love and friendship can be, something’s missing.  You can sense it.  There’s a strangeness, a disconnect from what’s most important in our lives.  What’s that?  We know.  Not a what, but a who.  Jesus.

In Him, life comes alive.  You’ll sense that.

Thank you, Jesus, for being our all-in-all always.  Amen.

HANDS HELD UPWARD 1 Peter 1

I’m always scared stiff to go to the doctor.  In a cold sweat and panicky.  Strangely, parking myself in the dentist’s chair is no big deal.  Think it’s because I’ve had a root canal, oodles of crowns along with regular teeth cleaning, so I feel like an old pro in that chair.  Frequent flyer.  Regular customer.  Hate it when my dentist hums the old hymn ‘Crown Him With Many Crowns’ and then does just that!

But the medical doctor.  That’s a horse of a different color.  Old sawbones.   And a trip to the hospital.  Specialists.  Strange and ominous-looking scoping machines.  Robots.  Not my cup of tea.

I’d rather be almost anywhere else until I notice something hanging on the walls of those doctor’s offices and hospital rooms.  What?  Purell sanitizers?  No.  Those blasted ‘no salt’ dietary restrictions and proscriptions?  Hardly.  That ‘do not resuscitate under any circumstances’ directive?  You wish!  Or that ‘pay now or you’ll really pay later’ warning signed in blood-stained ink?  My vital fluid type, no doubt.

What captures my attention is hanging up rather high on the wall that would be easy to miss if I wasn’t so beady-eyed nosey!  Glad I am.  It’s a cross with Jesus on it.  I’m in a doctor/hospital system run by various Roman Catholic orders.  And I’m glad.

But something’s different.  This is not a crucifix with our Lord displayed dead on the cross.  No.  He’s on the cross but alive with both hands held upward in victory.  He’s overcome death and crucifixion.   And, at that moment, I sense that He’s right there with me in that scary place, holding my hands upward along with His.  Must tell you how reassuring those simple wall hangings were for me.

In the Apostle Peter’s first letter he writes this–‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…’ (1 Peter 1: 3-4).

Victory in Jesus.  Hands held high.  Death and the cross–both defanged of their toxic venom.  Now all born-again believers are gifted with a living hope through faith alone in the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Sure helped me to have His reassurance when I was shakin’ in my boots.  By the way, that’s when Jesus draws especially near.  Your need today?  Then look up…

Lord Jesus, thank you for being with me when I’m afraid.  Especially then.  Amen.

WHEN UP AGAINST IT ALL Psalm 88

Psalm 88 is the gloomiest of psalms.  The only one finishing with hardly a glimmer of hope.  Concludes in the shadows of death and darkness.  What gives?

Well, the psalmist finds himself up against it all.  Troubles multiply.  Barely a trace of light at the end of his tunnel.  Dark clouds rule the roost.  Ever been there?  Who hasn’t?  Maybe that’s where you’re at right now?

As a believer in Jesus, I try, as often as possible, to see the upside in what I’m going through.  Some situations, many really, I leave in the Lord’s hands as I can’t make heads nor tails, rhyme nor reason as to the ‘why’ of whatever’s happening.  That’s where Psalm 88 helps.  Don’t think so?  Not sure?  Well, hear me out.

Almost from the get-go, the psalmist vents anger, frustration, disappointment, you name it, at his God–‘You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.  Your wrath lies heavy upon me…You have caused my companions to shun me…’ (Ps.88: 6-8).  You…you…you.  Read on.  There’s lots more where that came from.  The blame game points the finger directly at his God.

So, why is this poem in our Bibles?  Uplifting it’s not.  But maybe we’re not seeing the forest or the trees.  Could it be that God wants us to bring whatever we’re going through, all our gut feelings, our dreams and even nightmares, to Him?

Hide nothing from Him (as if we can).  Be bold.  Be direct with your Lord.  To Him.  And with Him.  He’s big enough.  He can take it.  Not like He’s never heard it before and probably worse.  But then I note little faith-glimmers in this psalm.  A lone sunbeam or two from the Lord.

My wife is so good at nursing dead-looking plants back to life.  I’m tempted to toss them into the compost heap.  I’ve learned to keep my grubby paws off them.  Over the winter a hardy hibiscus plant looks hardy no longer.  More like it’s pushing up daisies.  But that’s when my wife performs magic with her green thumbs.  And this summer we’ve had the most amazing, dinner-plate-sized hardy hibiscus ‘Starry Night’ blooms we’ve ever seen.  No thanks to me!

That’s similar to what I see in Psalm 88.  As the curtain rises, his opening words are these– ‘O Lord, God of my salvation…Let my prayer come before you…’ (vs. 1-2).  ‘My salvation’…’prayer’…’O Lord,
God…’ (he even uses God’s personal name of ‘Yahweh’ here).  Doesn’t it sound like he knows who to pray to and who has saved him, even though he drifts in and out of despair and depression?  That he knows where His hope lies?  And with whom?

Even when it seems like we’re hanging from an unwinding thread, remember who holds you with the tightest grip ever.  God will not let go.  You may think He has or will, but guess what?  You’re wrong!  Hear His promise–“…for he said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (Heb. 13:5).  ‘Never’ still means never.

Thank you, Jesus, for always being our hope.  Amen.

TAKE THE MEDICINE Psalm 85

My doctor was pleasantly surprised to hear that I took his prescribed medication every day until the last tablet slid down my gullet.  I asked him why he was shocked by this.  Doesn’t everyone?  No, he said.  Not at all.  Many poop out after a couple of days of pill-popping.  What?  He wasn’t kidding.  And then they wonder why they’re back in his office griping and complaining about not getting any better.  Take the medicine.  All of it.

Today’s devotional will be shorter than ever.  Who said ‘amen’?  I heard you and know who you are and where you live!  Nevertheless, God’s prescription is for daily reading of Psalm 85.  When?  Whenever.  Morning, noon, or night.  Most any translation.  Ingest it as many times as you want.  Without limit.  Don’t miss a day.  Don’t skip a verse or two and call it good.  No toxic side effects.  No huge price tag or deductable.  And no speed-reading, Fischer!  Okay, already, we get the point, which is probably on the top of my head!  Take the medicine.  All of it.

At the end of this week, I wonder how you’ll feel?  A tad happier?  Mood a bit lighter?  More praise than complaints?  Fewer fears and worries?  More trust and a closer relationship with your Lord Jesus?  Pretty good stuff, huh?

Take the medicine!  All of it.  Much better than a spoon full of sugar!  Psalm 85.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the Bible, your Word, which is so precious and true.  Amen.

VALUE-ADDED Psalm 85

I had the very best district manager in my financial planner career when I worked for a large investment firm.  The man who trained and mentored me was a gem.  A former music teacher, he exhibited the best when dealing with clients or prospects.  His honesty and genuine interest in others shined ever so brightly.

In those days, long before digital obsessions, personal interaction actually meant something.  As in listening to others’ concerns and goals.  Their risk tolerance.  Family issues.  Whatever.  So, I decided early on to keep visiting people in their homes, businesses, or schools much as I did as a pastor.  Not having an office works just fine.

My manager encourages all in his district to do more than people expect.  To be a ‘value-added’ person.  If you say you’ll get back to someone at a certain time or date, do it.  Spot on.  If you need to gather more information for someone, get it and deliver it.  Pronto.  By all means, don’t wait for them to remind you.  When financial markets go cattywampus, talk, communicate, be there, reassure and explain as best you can.  And listen, most of all.  Value-added!

Psalm 85 overflows with God’s value-added blessings.  Mainly it’s His character that adds worth to our lives.  ‘You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin’ (Ps. 85:2).  God’s forgiveness becomes a complete covering of our sin.  No cover-up, but a putting out of God’s sight once and for all.  Gone.  That certainly adds value.

The conclusion of this psalm is precious–‘Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.  Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky’ (Ps. 85: 10-11).  God’s love meets and greets with a holy kiss all that’s right and peaceful.  Faithfulness springs up from the ground to embrace righteousness, which descends from the heavens.  A kiss and an embrace like no other.

To top it all off comes this promise–‘Yes, the Lord will give what is good…’ (Ps. 85:12).  All added value comes from how good God is.  His goodness knows no bounds.  It makes way for all the blessings that He gives and gives and keeps on giving…to you and me.  Thank goodness for our good God!

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving your all.  Amen.

MAKES ME WONDER Psalm 78

I wonder about Old Testament King David.  The Bible highlights his life and relationship with the Lord,  while not hiding his dirty laundry.  You know the stories of his bravery, and devotion to God, along with his moral and political failures, displaying a far from perfect life.  Such a mixed bag.  Much like me… and you.

Also, I wonder about myself.  My commitment to Jesus mottled with sins of varied kinds.  Lies told.  Mean thoughts about someone I seemingly like.  If they only knew.  Shortcuts are taken that gives me a certain advantage in life.  Think I’ll stop there.  You get the point.  You can add your own.

At the end of Psalm 78, there’s a reference to God choosing David to lead His people–‘He (God) chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people…With upright heart, he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand’ (Psalm 78:70-72).

No mention of his failures.  As if what matters most is David’s single-hearted devotion to God.  No whispers here of his shady and shoddy life.  None.  He’s aligned with the One, true God.  When the chips are down, that’s what counts.  Being faithful to God.

That’s what the Lord finds in His servant David.  He’s true blue.  Dyed in the wool.  Loyal and dependable.  No matter how far he’s drifted from God’s target, he knows his way home.  David returns to God.  And so must we as we travel life’s rocky roads, taking wrong turns, winding up stuck in dodgy deadends.  But home is where we know who’s bought us out of sin’s slavery, who saves us by forgiving and forgetting our sins (only God does that).

Travel home…to Jesus.  The backdoor light is on.  The door unlocked.  Come on in.  Welcome home.  He’s been waiting for you.  Arms wide open.  Lifting us up, putting us back on our feet… for Him.  Dignity restored.  Purpose in life now focused… on Him.

There’s truly no place like home… with Jesus.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for making us your own.  Amen.

REFRESH YOURSELF Psalm 78

Refresh yourself.  I don’t mean with ice-cold lemonade.  Or a relaxing stroll on the beach.  Or leafing through that classic novel you haven’t read since junior high or at all.  All are refreshing but that’s not what I mean.

I”m looking at Psalm 78, one of the longest, which in my Bible covers 4 pages.  It’s a good reminder that I need God’s refreshment all the time.  Not only once in a blue moon.  No.  Every day.  Am I alone?  Don’t think so.  Never met anyone, anywhere, who said they’d had enough of their Bibles.  Knew it through and through.  Nothing new between its covers.  Old hat.  Out of date.  Kapooey.  Enough already.

There’ve been times in my life when my Bible’s been neglected, which produces a spiritual desert.  Being out of touch with Jesus.  But when I draw closer to Him, giving the time He deserves, soaking in His Word, it makes troubles less so, as thanks are eagerly given to their source, my Lord Jesus.  Cracked and shattered life comes together better with Him next to me, even holding me.  He’s my superglue, so to speak.

Can I sense Him?  I can.  Through eyes of faith.  Must I be perfect to have Him nearby?  Are you kidding?  I’m just an old sinner saved by grace.  Psalm 78: 39–‘He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.’  God understands us better than we think.  Warts and all.  So, get up off the ground of guilt and self-pity.  ‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus…’

Reading verse 40 and beyond, the psalmist gives us added refresher material about God’s power and judgment.  How He saves His own, and deals with those who thumb their noses at Him.  These verses serve as reminders of what we so easily forget.  That God is there for us.  No matter what, we can depend on Him and utterly trust Him.  Easy to do?  Yeah, right.  I wish.

But as you consciously remember who He is, and what He’s done for you in the past, you begin to grasp that the present and the future will be cared for by your Lord Jesus Christ.  He’s the ‘I am’ of life.  The current.  The promise in our past, present, and future.  All of it.

How’s your grade in this refresher course?  I’m about C+ but class isn’t over yet!

Thank you, Jesus, for helping me.  Amen.

SUCH SAD WORDS Psalm 78: 32-39

Have you ever encountered such sad words?  Some of the most heartbreaking in all of the Bible.  Which ones?  Check out Psalm 78:32–‘Despite all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe’.  And these–‘They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law.  They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them’ (Ps. 78: 10-11).

Here the pile grows larger–‘ Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.  They tested God in their heart by demanding…’ (Ps. 78: 17-18).   Unfortunately, their grim description continues unabated–rebellious…forgetful…ingrates…flatterers and liars…testing and provoking their God.  Enough already.  Can’t take any more of this.  When you think things can’t get worse, then they do.

Such sad words.  Old Testament people–such downers and no-accounts.  Unlike me.  I’m so smart.  I imagine I can get away without paying attention to Jesus in my life.  That I can push Him to the exit as I take center stage.  The show’s lead.  Make room for… me!  I’ll make life’s decisions.  Even when they fall apart, slipping through my fingers, I still think I’m so stinkin’ clever.  Now who speaks such sad words?

I’ll tell you when my turn-around begins.  It’s a challenge by some friends to read my Bible from cover to cover in a year.  All of it.  Don’t skip Leviticus or Chronicles.  Not just a few familiar psalms.  Or New Testament only.  ‘All’ means all.

I quickly discover that it’s hard to miss God’s point when you’re in His Word daily.  Listening to Him at least part of the time.  Ears perked when not distracted by all kinds of tech stuff.  Eyes on Jesus when not deflected by myriad temptations.  So, I challenge you, as I was, to start getting serious about time in God’s Word.  A holy habit as regular as eating three square meals a day.

Start, determined to see it through to the end.  From Genesis to Revelation.  In whatever order.  Doesn’t matter.  Just cover it all.  Then I defy you to stop.  Please don’t!  I did early on, but I don’t recommend it.  Not at all.  Big boo-boo.  But, for decades now, I’m determined to, well, you know–stick to it.  Daily.  Year by year.

But if you’ve been tardy or negligent, just start over.  Pick up where you left off.  For sad words will be transformed into His good Word, that carries you through the most difficult of times.  Try it.  You’ll like it.  I have.  And still do.

Thank you, Jesus, for being my Word of Life.  Amen.