A FISH OUT OF WATER 2 Corinthians 6: 14-18

I read about a Chinese student who enrolled decades ago at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary.  This poor fellow gets expelled after having a conversion experience with Jesus while enrolled as a seminary student.  Out he goes along with having him committed to an asylum as a madman!  At least that’s what the article says.  Can you imagine?

In the mid-1970s, I’m accepted into a doctor of theology program at that same august institution.  Now, who’s mad?!  Costs a bundle, but I want to stretch my mind, challenging my little grey cells.  This particular seminary is noted for its liberal theology.  An invitation to accept the Lord Jesus for salvation can probably be heard only outside its walls, ivy-covered or not. So, what am I doing inside there?

Fair question.  Doesn’t add up, does it?  What gives for this evangelical Christian, me?   To be honest, this seminary is conveniently located as I’m the senior pastor of a church on the New Jersey side of the Big Apple’s George Washington Bridge.  A  hop, skip, and a jump from the church’s manse to New York City.  But really, do I want to immerse myself in theological banter of such a high intellectual order?  Do I?  And why?  Who knows?  I’m not sure…then or now.

But 2 Corinthians 6 pushes itself into my stubborn, degree-hungry face.  With what?  Listen–‘Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers…What agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God…(2 Cor. 6:14,16).  Can you feel the rub as  my nose gets shoved against the wall?  Putting my conscience on edge?  Have you felt the same with some compromise in your life?  Be honest now.  I won’t hear you.  What comes to mind?  Something does.

Takes me all of three weekly classes to realize that I’m a fish out of that seminary’s water. Totally, irrevocably unequally yoked.  After all, I want to share Jesus with others.  Not dissect Him or His Word by using modern intellectual guesstimates and know-it-all speculations, hunting for error among tidbits of supposed myth and legend, when the whole ball of wax, God’s infallible truth, sits right there in front of us in the Bible.  After less than one handful of classes, I know what to do.

I don’t fit.  Others may but not me.  They don’t toss me out onto Broadway at 121st Street or call for the blokes in white jackets.  No.  I leave of my own accord and get most of my money back.  Most anyway.  Needs some guts to cut bait and sail away…with Jesus.

I’m praying that I’ll know, much sooner than later, where I shouldn’t be.  But doing this makes me feel uncomfortable.  Maybe someone will criticize me or not like me, which hinders my walking behind and standing up for Jesus.  Sometimes I’ve pushed Him to the side, even out of the way, wanting to take the lead.  Mr. Nice-Guy.  The Country Club Manager-type who makes everyone happy with extra peanuts and pretzels.  Me.

Don’t you also want to be a better follower of the One who came at Christmas?  To come close to and bow down before the Babe of Bethlehem?  Joining shepherds and wise men and an old man and woman in Jerusalem’s Temple?  Standing alongside them?  Humble seekers and believers?  Unflinchingly His?  No matter what or where?

Lord Jesus, help me to follow you faithfully.  Amen.

FREE FOOD AND DRINK! Isaiah 55

Why does free food taste so good?  Scarfing down those yummy tidbit samples roaming the aisles of Costco.  After a hospital visit, I’m offered complimentary chow for a week by our insurance provider.  Really?  Freebies?  That’s for me!  After patiently (no pun intended) waiting a few days, a big box, filled with pre-packaged frozen meals, lands on our front doorstep.  Carefully tossing out the dry ice, I pop all 10 meals into our refrigerator for daily consumption.  Fortunately or not, my wife wants no part of these tasty morsels.

I scarf down one a day for a week and a half.  Until all are consumed, down to the last crumb.  How are they?  Portions are for someone without an appetite, while the taste is truly forgettable, I hope.  But still, they’re free.  And what else counts?  No comment.

Reading Isaiah 55, you’ll discover that God offers free food and drink.  Isaiah 55: 1–‘Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’  See?  Told you so.

Water, bread (v.2), milk, and wine are all precious commodities in parched desert lands.  Would tear a huge chunk out of your meager income to provide these basics, which often are not available due to drought, war, or countless other dangers.  But now for free?  Without rationing?  What?  Must be some snake oil salesman standing in the wings.  A magician performing tricks to get money out of us with nothing to show except our emptied wallets.

But no.  Not with the Lord.  His salvation, His love is not for sale.  He graciously offers them to us for free, even though it costs Him everything when His only Son Jesus dies on the cross.  He pays it all.  All we need to do is believe and accept His gift thankfully and wholeheartedly.  All in.  No turning back.  To be His and His alone.  Good deal, huh?  Nothing better.

But have you taken Jesus into your heart?  Again, you can’t earn a relationship with God.  Can’t do enough good deeds to balance off what you’re ashamed to admit you’ve done or said.  No leveling sin’s scales, hoping beyond hope that our good outweighs the bad.  None needed.  He does it all.  He has.  Still does.  And will… for you and me.

Time to trust Him.  While there’s still time.  So grab hold of Jesus’ hand which He’s extending to you.  Good.  Then, enjoy all the blessings He wants you to have.  All of them.  Mainly He gives Himself.  Why not ponder that this week as tomorrow we begin the Advent season.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving yourself for me.   Amen.

I’M SO THANKFUL 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

Happy Thanksgiving! Wherever you live in this world, some particular day is often singled out by the governing authorities as a time to be thankful. More importantly, the Bible says to do so on a regular basis. As in daily. And often during each day. Just can’t be thankful enough, can we?

Unfortunately, I have to remind myself to thank Jesus for any blessing that comes my way. And there are many. Just breath itself. My wife and family and friends along with devotional writing that the Lord wants me to do for Him, for others. I’m thankful that I’m not doing this for myself. Or for money. Or for career advancement. None of the above.

I’m thankful simply to serve God. He could use much better than the likes of me. But here I am, nevertheless. I’m so thankful.

Take time, wherever you live, to thank God for whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about using the right words or uttering some flowery speech. Be your thankful self, whom the Lord Jesus loves so much. Remember the words that St. Paul writes thousands of years ago that are as fresh as today’s news only more upbeat and encouraging–‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’ (1 Thess. 5: 16-18).

I’m so thankful that so far in 2022, people from 56 different countries, from every inhabited continent, have been reading these devotionals. My prayer is that what’s been written and read will be to the glory of God Almighty and His Son Jesus Christ through the help of the Holy Spirit. And that you are growing in thankfulness to your Lord and Savior. Me too!

I’m so thankful that you’ve read this today. Happy Thanksgiving! Blessings always, John Fischer

DOWN PAYMENT Ephesians 1: 11-14

It takes us an inordinate amount of time to find a new-build home we’d like to buy.  Months and months of hits and misses.  What looks promising turns out to have an active railroad line almost in its backyard!  Others have dangerous slopes to navigate, mortally injuring ourselves trying to mow the lawn or weed the garden.  Even our helpful realtor seems stymied.  Nothing clicks until my wife discovers online a housing development that’s barely started.

Gloom turns to hope.  A local developer earns a decades-long sterling reputation, even willing to throw in extra freebies that we ask for (you know I’d love that!).  Of the ninety lots available, only two fit our preferred home design, which means that we have to act quickly.  No hemming and hawing.  No dragging our feet.  So off we go, driving 50 miles to our realtor with a check in hand to make the down payment.

Only need to give 2% of the total cost to lock in the purchase of our new home.  A commitment is made.  Us to them with some money.  Them to us, accepting our pittance as we promise to fork over the balance at closing in a few months.  Almost sounds too easy.  And in a way it is.  Thankfully, it works out fine and dandy!

This house-buying business reminds me of what St. Paul says in Ephesians 1.  About God the Holy Spirit, who becomes our guarantee of future blessings–‘…the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it…(Eph. 1:13-14).  The word ‘guarantee’ in the original biblical language means a down payment.  First, a lower amount is given, with the fulfillment coming later.  Similar to our 2% now with the 98% later when our home is completed and the transaction is closed.

If you think that you don’t have a full appreciation of your spiritual life now, it may be because our time on earth is the down payment.  That 2% split second.  The completed transaction comes later as the 98% ushers it in forevermore.  You know where.  And when.  So, don’t be so frustrated with yourself or others or life in general (I’m looking at myself in the mirror).  It’s about as good as it gets.  Keep your head up.  This is down payment moment.  Promises made.  Hopes given.  But later…now that’s going to be something to shout about!

Think so?  You’ll know.  All because of Jesus.  Soon enough.

For the best that’s yet to come, we thank you, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

I WONDER WHAT PLEASES HIM? Psalm 147

I can think of umpteen things that God can do to please me.  How about answering all my daily prayers?  Every single one.  And there’s a ton of them.  Or adding more days to my life despite potential cancer issues?  Or more income to overcome the larger outflows from today’s inflated cost of living?  Or more caring neighbors?  I could go on and on.  How about it, God?

Two verses in Psalm 147 grab me by the collar, wake me up, and give me pause.  All at the same time!  Psalm 147: 10-11–‘His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.’  Maybe it’s time to move away from what hits my bull’s eye and think more about what hits the spot for the Lord.  No maybe about it.

The psalmist unveils what pleases God.  It’s not in horsepower, so to speak.  Or in material possessions.  Not in Olympic champions.  Or how alluring we are.  Or how much moolah we’ve invested.  Or where we’ve traveled to.  So sorry.  Have I stepped on a few toes?  Mine included?

Again I ask, what pleases God?  It’s simple, but easily overlooked and rarely done.  The Lord takes great pleasure in those who love Him, respect and revere Him, who can’t wait to sit at the feet of Jesus for comfort and guidance, letting Him lead as we follow close behind.  Not a surfacey kind of religion.  As in going through the motions, saying certain pre-approved phrases over and over again.  Buying off God through monetary gifts.  None of the above.

Rather He loves it when we put all our eggs in His basket.  Rely on Jesus’ promises, despite what we see.  We know better than to distrust our Lord, don’t we?  So, throw your hat in His ring.  Decide not to lose hope no matter what.  I know that’s hard as nails.  I’m no perfect example.  However, haven’t met anyone else who is either.  Still, I want to be His loyal, faithful follower.  That’s what pleases God.  That’s simple, isn’t it?

To be true blue, dyed in the wool, old-fashioned devoted, despite all the stuff that life throws at us.  That’s what He wants from us.   I know that it’s easier said than done.  This is where the rubber hits the road, spiritually.  Not being fair-weather Christians.  On sunny days only.  When I can benefit, wangling and getting my way in whatever way works for me, I, and myself.  An unpleasing trinity.

No.  Au contraire.  Both feet in…for Jesus.  No turning back.  Honed in on following the leader.  Eyes firmly focused on the Bible, avoiding whims even of modernistic church and state.

Ready?  For what?  To hang in there with the One who hung on a tree to make us His own.  Who paid the price none of us ever could.  Who gave His all.  So how could we give Him anything less?  Why not please Him for a change?  Why not?

Lord Jesus, we love you and put our all in your hands.  Amen.

STEADY EDDIE? 2 Peter 3

Such a smart aleck, confident without reason, standing up on a folding ladder to spray some nasty bugs which we don’t want or need outside our home.  My wife cautions me to make sure the four legs are well-positioned and secure.  Of course, I will.  What does she think I am?  No comments, please!  You know.  You know.  One leg gets lodged off-center on a piece of cement, and another is angled poorly between some rocks, which must have come from my head.

Yes, wisenheimer, you’re right, of course!  Down I go!  Like a ton of bricks.  With ribs crashing against that unforgiving metal ladder.  The shock was instantaneous.  The pain is searing.  Things broken?  Fortunately not.  But a humungous monster bruise develops that looks more like some ugly abstract artwork.  Tenderness lasts for months with access to that ladder forbidden by you-know-who from here on out.  Steady Eddie, I’m not!

The Apostle Peter warns us that this world wants to put us off guard.  Unsteady us, spiritually.  Wobbly while placing us out on a limb–‘…take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability’ (2 Peter 3:17).

Our culture bullies believers with almost any kind of sin they can think of.  Unfortunately, we’re vulnerable to their siren songs.  Are we much different from the ungodly?  Honestly?  Being different isn’t the be-all and end-all.  How about fitting in and being liked?  That’s a horse of a different color.  Getting ahead of the Joneses?  That green-eyed jealous monster?  Who doesn’t struggle with these temptations?

So what does Peter recommend to help keep us solidly on our feet, spiritually speaking?  Read on–‘ But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be glory…’ (2 Peter 3:18).  It’s simple.  Keep growing.  Not my waistline or our investment portfolio.  No.  But something far more important.  Grow in Jesus.  In His grace.  In His love, kindness, and caring.  His forgiveness.  And much more.

That’s what Peter recommends.  But how?  It’s as obvious as the ample nose on my face.  In His Word.  Your Bible.  In fellowship with other believers.  Sharing Him with others.  Giving and supporting mission work, whichever ones move your heart.

All this grows our knowledge of Jesus, which is how we stand up tall and straight, secure and steady.  Actually, nothing else seems to work.  I’ve tried a few.  They don’t.  Period.

Lord Jesus, we want to be faithful forever.  In your name and for your sake.  Amen.

TAKE THOSE SUPPLEMENTS! 2 Peter 1

After surgery, I’m restricted to an all-liquid diet.  Not a lot of fun, but survivable for a day or two.  That’s all that’s needed before soft foods arrive.  What the nutritionist makes crystal clear is that I have to supplement my diet with plenty of water.  Good old H2O.  Then add some of this and that to increase calories and even some bulk, which I’ve been blessed with since early childhood, so to speak!

Spiritually, when we’re new believers, we need an all-liquid diet.  Bible verses that tell us of Jesus’ love and salvation.  His forgiveness and kindness.  Not heavy-duty theology as in the timing of the fall of Satan and his cohort angel band, or that free will versus the elect business.  No.  But more time in the Psalms and the Gospel of John.  For a while avoiding Leviticus and Ezekiel.

But, as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, we add supplements to our spiritual diet.  Dig deeper.  Take on the tough stuff.  Placing faith, not only in what our mind’s comprehend, but also in how we live.  Reading 2 Peter 1: 5-8 we discover a cornucopia of tasty morsels.  As in building character adding these supplements–faith and virtue, knowledge and self-control, steadfastness and godliness, kindness and love.  Grab hold, and you’ll be maturing in the best possible ways.

The only problem for me is that I either forget about them or, even worse, ignore them.  Laziness leads with old habits becoming harder to break, masking God’s best medicine.  Know what I mean?

Imagine if I genuinely concentrate on adding godly virtues to my personality.  Not to be holier than thou.  Or better than thou.  But to be more honorable and honest, considerate and gentle.  More reliable and dependable.  A man of my word.  Loving and forgiving.  All just as the Lord desires for me.  And you.   Helping us grow more in our love for Jesus and others.  That’s more like it.

This week I’m going to zero in on those supplements.  To put them into practice.  See if I’m making any progress.  Or if I’m falling down on the job in this area or that.  For me, probably some of both on a good day.  How about you?  Maybe someday we’ll enjoy sharing three square meals with Jesus.  No more liquid diets.  Nothing salt-free.  With those supplements becoming part and parcel of exactly who we are.  Most of the time, at least!

While you’re at it, please pass the patience!

Thank you, Jesus, that we can grow in our love for you.  Amen.

HE’S NOT DONE YET Psalm 138

It goads me that I fall miserably short of God’s ideal.  Of all that He wants me to be.  Not even close.  It bothers me.  Shouldn’t it?

I’m humbled, even taken to the cleaners, comparing myself with classmates from my Bible college days.  I graduated 2nd in my class.  No, not of three, wise guy!, but of a couple hundred.   At alumni gatherings over the years, I hear what they’ve done for the Lord– faithful pastors and missionaries, Bible teachers, and more.  Very moving.  I wish I could disappear, right out the back door.   When it’s my turn to share, I melt into the woodwork.

Reading Psalm 138, I take my eyes off myself and place them where they should be…on the Lord.  Might help you to do the same?  The opening verse praises God with the psalmist’s whole heart.  He means business.  Don’t you want to be His next-door neighbor?  On the best of terms?  Genuinely so?  I do.  Verse 2 highlights the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness.  God’s character displays His generosity and kindness.  He yearns for us to be as close as close can be.  Really?

His devotion, unswerving and dogged, means that Jesus will never wash His hands of us.  When we’re His, we’re His.  So, when we mess up (as I do regularly), get back on track with Him, as soon as possible.  As in ‘fessing up, getting it off your chest, telling Jesus all about it.  Like He doesn’t already know?  But He wants to hear it from your lips.  Come clean and you’ll be just that.  Clean and neat as a button.

It’s that last verse that captures my attention.  Psalm 138: 8–‘The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.  Do not forsake the work of your hands.’  God’s not finished with us.  As long as we’re breathing, we can grow and mature.  To become more like Jesus.  Fulfilling His plans for us.  Doing what He wants us to do.  He’s not done yet.

Knowing that motivates me to keep busy for Him.  Not for brownie points.  Or bragging rights.  Not to shine brighter than others at our next Bible school alumni gathering.  No.  Why then?  You know.  To show my love for Jesus, putting worship into action.  For Him.  For others.  For a change.

Lord Jesus, to be busy for you is such joy and privilege.  Amen.

THE CHECK IS IN THE MAIL! 1 Peter 1: 3-12

I can’t believe it– an inheritance is coming my way.  From whom?  What does it matter as long as the check is in the mail.  Sadly, I’m kidding.  But I do remember someone promised an inheritance only to find out that the deceased had spent it all on a remodeled kitchen.  Can a claim be made on the refrigerator, toaster, and upgraded cabinets?

The Apostle Peter promises an inheritance, one which comes directly from the Lord to His own.  That’s to any who repent of sin and welcome Jesus into their lives.  I’m not being simplistic, but that’s what happened to me years ago.  Hear of Jesus’ love and respond ‘yes’ to His offer of a new life.  Nothing complicated or requiring some theological final exam to cram for.  That starts my Christian life, which rolls with the punches, stays the course with fits and starts, and hangs in there going backward and then forward.  Not a straight line, but the trend is my friend.

1 Peter 1:3-4–‘…he has caused us to be born again to a living hope…to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…’   Okay, it’s not money.  Sorry.  But the old green stuff has a way of doing a vanishing act.  Note recent stock market rollercoaster gyrations.  Better not to put your trust there.  In the perishable.

But our salvation, given us by the Lord Jesus?  As St. Peter says, it’s imperishable.  Held secure.  That check is not just in the mail, but already has been deposited into your account with the Bank of Heaven.  Nothing polluted, toxic, or mucked up about it.  It’s not from illegal or immoral sources.  Salvation remains ‘undefiled’.  Pure and clean, neat as a button, in apple-pie order.

Actually, I do have an inheritance from a friend.  It’s a personal, handwritten letter mailed from C.S. Lewis.  It hangs on my office wall.  Written from Magdalene College, Cambridge University, England on May 21, 1959.  I’ve framed the letter and the envelope, both in C. S. Lewis’ handwriting.  It’s a cherished gift from a dear friend.  But I note some fading of the ink.  Not much.  Only a tad.  But I wonder how long what C. S. Lewis has written will be visible.  Not forever.

Our inheritance from the Lord?  Fear not.  ‘Imperishable’…’undefiled’…and ‘unfading’.   You can always bank on Jesus.  Always.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being totally dependable.  Amen.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME Psalm 119: 17-24

Hazel tells me, her financial planner, that she and her home have roots and foundations deep down in her yard.  No way was she ever going to be forced out of her mobile home.  But in her 90s she had no choice but to be uprooted to a nursing home.  Was painful but necessary as it may be for us if blessed to live to a great age as Hazel did.

Somewhere within lurks the feeling that we’re not at home yet.  Uprooted.  Strangers in this life.  The joys of our early years often utterly vanish.  Kids grow up and move away.  Disputes happen that never heal.  Death claims our heartstrings.  Hearing diminishes.  Sight dims.  You name it and it’s on its way out the backdoor.

I hear a similar echo in Psalm 119: 19–‘I am a sojourner on the earth…’  A traveler and wanderer hanging out at life’s bus stop, not knowing that a labor strike has idled all transport.  Hoping to put down roots, fearing that they lie barely under the soil’s surface.

C. S. Lewis wrote in his book ‘Mere Christianity’ that we believers in Jesus have been parachuted behind enemy lines, landing in hostile territory, where we feel less than welcome.  For, in fact, we are.  There are numerous reasons for feeling left out in the cold.  Even locked out.  A primary one is that Satan has a bit of sway and swagger in this world.  Not forever.  Never for good.  But often for here and now.  Please don’t mention my own complicity.  Please!

No wonder we feel so out of place.  The old song says–‘This world is not my home.  I’m just a-passin’ through.  My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue… And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.’  Possibly you’re feeling a bit out of sorts.  Unwanted and uptight.  Displaced.

Maybe it’s because you’re not home yet.  There’s no maybe about it.  But someday, as the front door opens, Jesus will take you by the hand ushering you into the unimaginable, the unheard of, and what’s presently unseen.  And then we’ll know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we’re home.

Finally, home sweet home!

Lord Jesus, thank you for being with me always.  Amen.