THAT’S RUINED! Luke 1: 5-25

One son shares a similar reaction when something goes wrong.  We say, ‘that’s ruined!’  Even when it’s not.  Just like to hear ourselves say it.  Yet, way down deep, we mean it.  What we’d hoped for, longed for, planned for that doesn’t quite live up to our expectations.  That’s ruined!

A lesser known character in the Christmas story is Zechariah, found in Luke’s Gospel.  He’s an older man, whatever that means in a time when being in your 30’s was solidly middle-aged.

Zechariah serves as a priest in Jerusalem’s Temple.  Not like a church staff of three or four, there were thousands of priests assisting in this holy place.  King David is the master organizer.  He institutes twenty-four priestly orders.  Each one would be on duty a week at a time for a total of two weeks each year.  That’s far less time than some think pastors work–one day a week and only for an hour on Sunday, if that!

Priests were, of necessity, bi-vocational.  Tended sheep, raised crops, earned their family living through the trades except for those two weeks a year.  Now here’s another chore that’s remarkable–the burning of Temple incense,   symbolizing prayers to God along with masking nasty aromas of animal sacrifice and milling throngs of unwashed folk.  This incense burning only happens once in the lifetime of a priest.  Once.  And only once.  That’s it.

Finally, it’s Zechariah’s turn to do just that, burn incense (Luke 1:9).  Can you imagine his excitement?  All his godly calling looks to this very moment.  Finally, it’s here.  The day has arrived.  And now what?

An angel appears to Zechariah inside the Temple precincts.  He can’t believe what he sees and hears, leading the angel to silence him.  Which means no speaking for the foreseeable future.  Like a pastor with severe laryngitis, even though looked upon as a blessing by the congregation!

A measly fourteen days a year of God’s work.  Once in a lifetime for incense offering.  Now Zechariah’s disqualified.  Muted.  Kaput.  Hushed.  Down the drain.  The angel zips his lips.  Loud priestly prayers gagged and muzzled.  That’s ruined!

Ever feel that way?  God’s poor timing?  You had it all figured out and God messes with it.  God forbid God’s will prevails when I have it all planned out so much better.  Neat and tidy.  Really?  Sounds like bald-faced pride, which usually comes before a big Humpty-Dumpty fall, doesn’t it.

Better to be quiet and silenced.  Derailed yet now moving on God’s track.  Recognizing who knows best, waiting for Father’s plans to emerge.  Get behind Him…and follow.  Good idea?  I think so.

By the way, our daughter-in-law Erin points out that the only priest mentioned by name in Luke’s Christmas story is good old Zechariah!  Top billing.  First in his class.  Blue ribbon winner.

Hey, nothing’s ruined after all.  Especially in the Lord’s hands.


Lord, to follow you is always best.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


Thanksgiving day!  Mouthwatering, delicious food.  Appetizing aromas waft in the air, while the chitchat of adults and children compete with one another.  Pleasures abound!  What about Jonah?

Jonah?  What about him?  Well, he’s the prophet who runs away from God’s call, winding up in the belly of a great fish.  Three days and nights in its feedbag bring him some rather sobering thoughts.

Hear this stinky, slimy prophet–‘But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed I will make good.  Salvation comes from the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9).  Jonah’s thanksgiving prayer accompanies a grateful melody.  ‘Joy and rapture unforeseen’!  An example for us this Thursday?

No, not getting inside the gut of a big fish!  I’m interested in what prompts Jonah to praise God from what appears to be certain death.  A rescued outcome seems far less likely with each passing day and night.  Does he throw in the towel?  Call it a day?  Quit cold Thanksgiving turkey?  Not Jonah.

Let’s look deeper at chapter 2 with hints from the original language.  Jonah 1:17–‘But the Lord provided a great fish…’  ‘Fish’ is a masculine noun in Hebrew.  Jonah 2:1–‘From inside the fish Jonah prayed…’  Here’s a feminine noun for ‘fish’.  The last verse–‘And the Lord commanded the fish…’ (2:10)– reverts back to the masculine.  In Jonah 2:2 he uses this image to describe his location– ‘…from the depths of the grave…’  Literally– ‘the womb of Sheol’.  A feminine image.

Note the subtle shade of meaning.  The strong fish (masculine) will not eat poor Jonah for its Thanksgiving dinner, but will act like a safe womb (feminine), protecting and nurturing him, allowing him to ponder his life and where thankfulness might yet come from.  God surrounds Jonah in every way.

A light goes on in the old noggin.  Jonah, focus on the lemonade and not life’s lemons.  There’s an idea!

What Jonah’s mostly thankful for is his salvation, his deliverance by the Lord.  But remember that his praise comes days BEFORE he finds himself on dry ground (2:10).  BEFORE he’s safe and sound.  Even BEFORE God answers our prayers, we can have confidence in His strong protection and His womblike love and care.

With Jesus, death loses its grip.  His own three day and night ordeal delivers us, by His resurrection, from the consequences of our rebellion and sin.  All forgiven.  And forgotten.  Gone.  Is that not something to be thankful for?  If not, I have no idea what would be.

That’s what I’ll be thinking about this Thanksgiving week.  What Jesus has done for me.  And still does.  Of course, all the other goodies as well!  But mainly Him, who’s both powerful and protective.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Thank you, Jesus, for saving us and making us yours forever.  Amen.



JUDGE FOR YOURSELF Judges 6 and Acts 17

Maybe you shouldn’t.  What?  Judge for yourself.  Making me, I,and myself life’s deciding factor.  Decisions based on what benefits mostly me.  Judge for yourself?  No!  This isn’t to say that we’re not to use our little grey cells, experience and maturity, if we have any!

Reading the book of Judges, God’s people miss their deceased leaders Moses and Joshua.  In the very first chapter they seek God’s guidance.  What He recommends.  Where He leads.  Good start, folks!  Keep it up!

But they don’t.  Downhill from here on out.  This book’s final verse laments that ‘…everyone did as he saw fit’ (Judges 21:25).  Judging for themselves.

Where did God’s people go wrong?  Judges 6:10–“I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.  But you have not listened to me.'”  God speaks.  No one pays attention.  They stuff cotton in their ears.  Blindfold their eyes.

And where does it get them?  On the outs with God.  Cut off at the pass.  Utterly lost, following an out-of-date, moth-eaten, moldy map.  Judging for themselves.

In Acts 17, we’re introduced to polar opposites–the Bereans.  They know how to judge what they’re hearing.  Whether what the Apostle Paul says is the real McCoy or spiritual malarky.  Their discernment hinges on whether it jives with God’s Word.  They check it out, believing what complies with the Bible.  They’re tough folk.  They don’t easily fall for the latest cultural fad.  Do you?  Or me?

Societal norms keep changing.  What’s been viewed as harmful and sinful, now touted as normal, healthy and good.  The ungodly browbeat and strong-arm, gaining ground everywhere.  Even in churches.  Dominoes keep falling.  Leaders break under the pressure to conform.  Bullies win the day.  With you?  Or me?

Shouldn’t we be like the Bereans?  Checking it out with your Bible?  Seeking God’s advice. What He wants.  What the Great Physician Jesus prescribes.  WWJD–‘what would…’  Well, you know.

Here’s a radical idea.  God points the way.  Then take it!  Follow Him.  Regardless.  No guarantees of a safe landing.   Not in this life.  So, get in line behind the Lord Jesus, whom you say you love.  You’ll be in great company.  Judge that for yourself!


Lord, thank you for your trustworthy Word, the Bible.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A DYING TREE Colossians 4: 10-18

Behind our property is 5 acres destined to become a neighborhood park.  Most trees will remain with open space limited.  We’ve noticed an ugly, dying tree behind our back fence.  Each year it looks worse and worse.  With all the snow this past winter, it appears to be on its last legs, with a lean toward our home in evidence.  Timber!

To the city I call.  Out comes a water department man.  Water?  Messages get mixed up.  Another phone call.  Another city worker arrives.  I’m away but my wife speaks with him.  Late in their conversation, he shares that the next day they’ll take their two year old son to Seattle’s Children’s Hospital for special care.

Sue tells him we’ll pray.  When he phones about the removal of that tree, I mention that we’re praying.  He says that we can monitor progress on a certain website.  We do and for months and months now we get to read, weep, laugh, worry and pray as this family navigates life and death for their little boy.

We discover that this couple loves Jesus.  They praise Him, beg Him, look to Him for help and healing.  An ugly, dying tree is used by God to bring us onto their prayer team.  What a joy to know that He has His own praying when the time is right and the need is great.  I haven’t a clue how many have prayed for me over the years, over my life’s disasters.  And those I’ve prayed for who likewise hadn’t a clue.

That’s the fun of prayer–when God calls us to lift up someone we barely know.  Whether it’s a family with a child whose life hangs in the balances.  Or political leaders of varied stripes.  Or that troubled neighbor who rarely opens up.

Pray.  Pray hard.  Wrestle in prayer like Epaphras in Colossians 4.  Keep wrestling.  Don’t let go.  Don’t give up.  Keep on keeping on.  Pray it through.

Okay, I admit it.  I get discouraged.  Only me?  When will God answer my prayers?  Seems like this side of never.  Maybe on February 31st?  I should live so long.

Still I go to the Lord.  Refusing to be pinned down by Satan.  Not giving the enemy the upper hand.  Tie him up.  Give the deceiver a diving elbow drop and back kick.  ‘Epaphras…is always wrestling in prayer for you’ (Col. 4: 12).  Always a prayer wrestler.

By the way, that little boy?  His future?  Hard to say.  Still ups-and-downs.  Still in the hospital.  Us?  We’re still wrestling…and praying!


Lord, help us to pray without ever giving up.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

REMINDERS Numbers 28 and 29

Reading through the Old Testament book of Numbers each year, the thought crosses my mind–why?  What’s the point?  Slogging through census records, rules and regulations, making and placing of Temple furniture.  You know what I mean.  But this is the Word of God.  In our Bibles for a reason.  I take no shortcuts, no speedreading or skipping pages and chapters.  I’m all ears, Lord!  Mostly, that is.

But I’m puzzled by the repetition.  The same commands and instructions.  Seems unnecessary, doesn’t it?  However, a teacher friend says that he must repeat information at least five times for it to sink in.  He’s got thick-headed students!  Five times?  I must be in his class!  You too?

The Lord knows we’re made of clay and dust.  Fragile stuff, which in His hands are created good, but in ours becomes brittle and broken.  Our hearing’s impaired.  Eyesight on the blink.  So He keeps on repeating, running it by us time and time again.

Studying Numbers 28 and 29, a light goes on in the old noodle.  From daily offerings, to weekly Sabbath worship and rest, to annual Passover and Pentecost and the Day of Atonement, to camping out during the Feast of Tabernacles.  Lots of celebration.  Plenty of good food to go around.  Work forbidden.  One Fast day.  One.  I’m beginning to get the point.

Worship bids us to love our God.  Praise and thanksgiving overflow.  It’s good times for God’s thankful people.  Over-and-over again, we’re to remember our Lord and all that He’s done for us.  And, by all means, relish Him!

Reminders.  Focus…off of ourselves…onto Him.  Where it should be.  But often isn’t.  Hence reminders.  Time to reflect.  Repent.  Renew our promises to Jesus.  He needs no such renewal or reminder.  We do.  I do.  Big time.

Reminders.  Hey, run that by me again!


Thank you, Jesus, for never giving up on me.  That’s a great reminder and a precious promise.  Amen.



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Also, thanks for your faithful reading of my weekly devotions to the Lord!  John