CAN’T BE DUE TO MY AGE! Psalm 118

I’ve noticed that I’m repeating some stories I’ve told over the years.  They must be in great demand.  Who wouldn’t want to hear them for the umpteenth time?  The problem is that I’ve forgotten that I’m regurgitating the same old, same old.  Can’t be due to my age, can it?  Please, don’t answer!

Do you know why I feel much better when reading Psalm 118?  Here’s why–certain phrases and words get repeated over and over.  We’re told that good teaching requires repetition.  If I hear something five times, it may stick in my craw.  Maybe.  Hopefully.  What was that again?!

Remember.  Cover the same ground.  It’s why Christmas, Easter, and Lent warrant our attention every year.  Like seasons keeping the rhythms of creation.  Refreshing our minds and hearts with familiar Bible stories.  Why is this important?  Are we that forgetful?  Frankly, yes.  Without reminders, we’d be clueless.  So, let’s hear from the Lord again…and again.  His familiarity will never breed contempt.  Quite the contrary.

Here are those words repeated four times in Psalm 118: 1-4–‘His steadfast love endures forever.’  The phrase ‘steadfast love’ in Hebrew is but one word.  It’s hard to translate into English.  But let’s give it a shot.  Basically, it means loyalty, faithfulness, promise-making, and -keeping; and, again, steadfast love.  Too good to be true?  Not for our God!

For a committed believer in Jesus, the gist of that one Hebrew word is worth repeating– ‘Jesus’ faithful love for me knows no end, ever.’  Say it over and over again.  All week long.  He’s ever faithful.  Always keeping any promise that He makes.  Loyal to the nth degree.  Say it again… ‘Jesus faithful love…’

Thank you, Jesus, for words to live by.  Amen.

HOPE Psalm 115

It’s tempting to put yourself directly into a Bible passage that you’re reading.  Usually, that’s fine.  But sometimes, like that famous glove at the O.J. Simpson trial, it just doesn’t fit!  How about when Judas goes out and hangs himself when next you read this– ‘go and do likewise’.  No, don’t!  But in today’s psalm, I’m holding on tightly to a fragment of a verse.  It’s for me, personally.

Psalm 115: 13–‘…he will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great.’  One word lifts my heart–  ‘small’.  As in those of us who don’t get much of the world’s attention, who leave a mark not quite matching the rich and famous.

The Lord levels the playing field.  Everyone can be blessed by God.  Everyone.  The small and the great.  Note the order here–‘ small’ first and ‘great’ later.

Our culture celebrates big-shot go-getters.  The super-rich.  The high-mucky-muck.  Prima donna hotshots.  And that’s sort of okay with me.  For many of them create jobs, foster progress moving life forward, even though many lead tragic and horrible lives.

But here in God’s Word, they’re not the only ones who matter.  There’s room even for the likes of me.  The small.  From Podunk.  Bottom rung, entry level and lightweight.  After all, I’m no Max Lucado.  Or C.S. Lewis.  Or any other popular author or preacher, for that matter.  Why not?  Lots of reasons.

Nevertheless, here I am, chugging along writing weekly devotionals for almost nine years now, to encourage and challenge others with no monetary gain for myself.  All done gladly and willingly.  Even my two published daily devotional books have put us in a lower tax bracket!  The small.  Me.

Franklin Graham hasn’t signed up to receive these weekly devotions…yet.  Oh well, his loss?  Probably not.  But really doesn’t matter.  Small is good.  I’ll take it.  Do you believe that?  I do… on good days.  But on others?  Well, you know!

What does God want?  Here’s that first part of verse 13–‘…he will bless those who fear the Lord…’  What’s this about fearing Him?  Fear means to worship, love, and be loyal to God.  Not cringing, dreading the back of His hand.  Though if we thumb our nose at God, rebelling with abandon, we probably should watch out.  But that’s not me.  Or you?

So, be blessed!  You know the Lord, don’t you?  Jesus makes us family…both small and great!  Room for all at His inn.  Mansions over His hilltop await even a small-fry follower like me!

Thank you, Jesus, for bringing me close to you forever.  Amen.

WASTING AWAY 2 Corinthians 4

Polio rears its ugly head once again. Not in some third world country, but in the New York City area of the United States. As one who contracted this disease at the age of two, let me tell you that this is not good news. Oh, that polio had been wiped out… forever.

Catching polio at such an early age leaves me fearful, apprehensive, and lonely. In isolation at a hospital polio clinic miles from home and family, life gets skewed rather early for me. Actually, I was very fortunate. I had polio’s lesser type. No permanent paralysis. No iron lung for breathing. I’ve joked over the years that the only residual effect has been a thinner left leg. Anything thin in my body, I’ll gladly take!

But it’s not so funny anymore. That leg is shrinking. Atrophy sets in. Becomes so noticeable that my sister says that I should ditch my outdoors warm weather shorts. Wear long pants. Cover up what’s becoming quite obvious.

Somehow I’m not too down-in-the-mouth about it. Not hopeless and despondent. For I’ve learned that the Bible is true, through and through. What God says matters. I try to listen to Him, as best I can.

Three verses among thousands speak to me about what’s happening with my diminishing left leg. 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18–‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.’

So, how can I handle this wasting away business? To accept what I can’t change? Not fight back saddled with unbridled fears and anxiety? Hang in there until…? You know when and where, don’t you?

I know that this life is but a prelude. We wait in the wings as the performance is about to begin, and we’re in the cast of the Show of Shows. What can’t and won’t be changed in this life will disappear like fog on a quickly warming morning. Until then be renewed day by day. Until then all we need to do is trust Him. Hold His hands. Throw our nail-biting jitters on His shoulders. Keep close by Jesus no matter what. No matter how long it takes. Until the Lord takes it all away as He’ll do for each of us who know and love Him.

Wasting away, mine or yours, will waste away once and for all. Amen to that!

Thank you, Jesus, for promises made and promises you’ll surely keep. Amen.

FROM A CURSE TO A BLESSING Nehemiah 13

Poor Balaam.  He’s really in a pickle.  Brought from his home a thousand miles away to do the nasty bidding of a king to earn a king’s ransom.  Or so he hopes.  Balaam has garnered a world-class reputation as a seer and prophet.  When he casts curses, gloom and doom arrive lickety-split.  When he offers blessings, a cornucopia of good things spills out.  When he speaks, things happen.  That’s Balaam.

But this time?  He sweats bullets, knowing that his fame could be shattered.  Why?  How?  Well, his curses against ancient Israel fall flat.  Backfire into blessings, unwanted and unexpected by Balaam along with that furious, frustrated Moabite King Balak (Numbers 22).  I love what’s written in the book of Nehemiah about all this cursing/blessing business–‘…yet our God turned the curse into a blessing’ (Neh. 13:2).

A church I served many years ago faced a toxic crisis.  It centers somewhat on me.  I’m a mere two years into this pastorate when all you-know-what breaks loose.  Poor me?  A victim of nastiness, which I’d never experienced before or after?  Could be but really not so simple.  I’m not smelling like a rose.  But neither was that small leadership gang hell-bent to oust me.

Regrets?  Of course.  I was too young to head up such a large church.  Too naive and inexperienced.  Theologically evangelical, a fish out of water in a tepid liberal church stream.  I still scratch my head wondering if this was where the Lord wanted me to be.  But Lord, here I am.  Actually, out the door, even though the congregation votes two-to-one in support of my ministry with them.

But the next higher church authority, the one with the final say, says ‘adios amigo’.  Without any ‘amigo’ said or heard.  ‘And by the way, don’t let the backdoor slam behind you on your way out.’  I’m like a painful kidney stone needing immediate surgical removal.  Ouch.

A curse the likes of which Balaam would love to cast.  All I know is that that moment of rejection becomes the very beginning of many blessings.  I start a different career as a financial planner, which I love, and am blessed eventually with over 850 clients and friends.  Even former church members.

Years later another local church, just a stone’s throw from the other, takes a chance on me, and we share fourteen amazing years, seeing all that the Lord wants to do in and beyond those four walls!  It’s about Him this time.  During the worst of times, when we rely on Him, Jesus transforms it into the good, the better, and even the best.  He does that.  He’s good at that.  Often, despite us.

He’ll do it for you.  If for me then, of course, for you.  If you’re now in one of those times, scared and spooked, ask Jesus for His help.  Could He be nudging some changes in you?  An hour or two looking in the mirror of your heart?  A bit of good old-fashioned repentance?  A pause in that handy ‘blaming others game’?  Am I stepping on tender toes?  Oh well…

For I know how He can turn lemons into tasty lemonade!  You will, too.  But in His time.  In His way.

Thank you, Jesus, for second chances.  Amen.

SUCH A CONTRAST Psalm 92

This week I’m looking at Psalm 92, which exhibits a great contrast.  Of what?  Of those close to the Lord and those who ban His presence from their lives, shunning Him, wanting nothing to do with Jesus.

Life overflows with contrasts.  Extraverts and introverts.  Savers and spenders.  Takers and givers.  Artists and me.  Those handy with tools and me.  Who can build almost anything and then there’s me!

But in Psalm 92 we see the ultimate contrast, the spiritual one, which counts for eternity.  After praising the Lord for His steadfast love and faithfulness, the psalmist paints an unflattering picture of the unbeliever–‘How great are your works, O Lord!  Your thoughts are very deep!  The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever’ (Ps. 92:5-7).  Stupid…fool…wicked…evildoers…doomed.

Those words should take your breath away.  Sad and sobering thoughts about those who thumb their noses at God.  Who tell Jesus to take a hike.  That He shouldn’t bother them.  Mind His own beeswax.  Bug off.   Vamoose.  Unfortunately for them, their wish will be granted.

But what about those who cuddle up a little closer to Jesus?  Who know how much they need Him, while not deserving one crumb from His table.  Yet He gives them His all.  Every bit…eventually.  Here’s the portrait of the believer–‘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…They still bear fruit in old age…’ (Ps. 92: 12-14).

Such a contrast.   Okay believer, now get with the program.  Stop sitting around smelling the roses.  Admiring yourself for how much God loves you.  Idle.  On the shelf.  One of God’s unemployed.  What happened to bearing fruit and flourishing?

So, keep growing.  Spending more time in your Bible.  Praying.  Being less of a worry wart and not such a nervous Nellie.  More hopeful and optimistic.  Actually believing God.

And how do I stack up?  Knew you wondered.  Probably Sr. Perfectomente?  Right?  Wrong.  To be honest, I’m working on it.  To be like Jesus, knowing I’m nowhere near that goal.  Barely in the ballpark.  More like I’m in third grade; when, at my age, I should already have received my doctorate.

But the trend is my friend.  Two steps forward, one back.  Three forward, two back.  Overall, heading His way.  Slowly but surely inching forward.  After all, He’s not done with me.  Or with you either, for that matter.

Thank you, Jesus, for helping me to be more and more like you.  Amen.

FEEDS YOU ALL WEEK LONG Psalm 91

Why not pull up your chair next to Psalm 91?  I’ve been pondering its opening verse all week long.  You know I need the Lord’s help more than ever.  Really?  Why?  What’s happened?  Nothing really.  Sorry, no juicy gossip.

Just life.  With worries about this.  Fears about that.  This one has little to do with Jesus anymore.  That one has medical issues which make me nervous for them.  That’s today.  And tomorrow?  I don’t want to talk about it.  Lay off, already!

Okay, what does the Bible recommend?  Any help there?–‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty’ (Ps. 91: 1).  Sheltered by God Himself.  Fully resting in Him.  Standing near Him unmoved.  You don’t even have to be right next to Him, but merely in His shadow.

This life is home away from home.  We’re passin’ through, hunkering down in an unwelcome, foreign land.  So, what should we do?  You know–hold tightly onto Jesus.  After all, God is ‘the Most High’, as it says in Psalm 91: 1.  He doesn’t get bogged down with petty matters.  He’s above it all.  Confident in His character and plans.  Casts His shadow wide and long so all of us have plenty of room, as close to Him as we want.

He’s the Almighty.  All-powerful.  All-knowing.  All…everything.  You name it and He’s all of the above, which is exactly why His shadow has oodles of leg and elbow room where we can find shelter.  No overcrowding in His mansions over the hilltop.  God’s shadow covers more than we can imagine.

This is from that first verse?  Right again–‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty (Ps. 91: 1).’

I know.  I’m only scratching the surface.  So why don’t you take it all in, all of Psalm 91?  You’ll find help there, even for a scaredy-cat like me.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for always having a safe place for me in your heart.  Amen.

ROLE MODEL Ezra 7

There seems to be a dearth of great, let alone good, role models.  Growing up in the ’50s and 60’s we mostly admired and respected those in authority.  They earned it.  We gave it.  Teachers taught.  Preachers preached.  Police policed.  Politicians seemed more polite and dignified then.  I still like Ike!

When I was 3, I ran away from home wanting to get some particular toy from Woolworths 5 & 10 up the street and around the corner.  Something my mother wouldn’t let me have.  Meany.  I’ll show her!  Then the police found me (minus that gizmo that I couldn’t live without) and drove me home after giving me an ice cream cone.  Guess it goes to show you that crime does pay!

I loved my teachers.  They were special.  Beginning in Kindergarten with Miss Ford.  Junior High teacher Mr. Rooney instilled in me a love of geography and travel.  Mr. Gordon in Senior High passed on his love of literature my way.  Culminating with evangelical biblical scholar Bruce Metzger at Princeton Seminary.

Disrespect them when they’re trying to help me grow?  Are you kidding?  How about the general tone today?  Well, you know.

But I do have a great role model for you.  No, not me.  But thanks for asking!  Or did you?  Ezra’s my man.  Can hardly go wrong if you’re following in his footsteps.

What am I looking at?  Ezra chapter 7 in the Old Testament–‘this Ezra…was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given…for the hand of the Lord his God was on him…For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel’ (vs.6,10).

He’s a scribe.  A religious teacher’s job pivots on being clued in with God’s Word.  He’s savvy and skilled.  Takes his job seriously.  No skimming the surface by speedreading or sloughing off with extended lunch breaks.  Ezra’s all in for the Lord.  Sounds like a hint, doesn’t it?  How am I doing?  Are you sold out for Jesus?  Only on good days?  When blessings flow your way?  But what if…

Again, what Ezra works hard at is God’s Word.  It’s the Lord’s gift to each generation of those who seek Him.  Digging in, mining its gems and minerals.  Never comes without some good old-fashioned grit and determination.  ‘For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord…’ (Ezra 7:10).  Sets his heart.  Makes a commitment.  Promises are given to his Lord.  To delve deeper.  And then even more.  Have we?

Not just study…study…study.  Makes for quite the dull boy.  No.  ‘…and to do it…’ (v.10).  You know about faith without works being dead as a doornail.  Well, it is and they are.  Waste of God’s time and yours not to put what you know into action.  Be Jesus’ ‘A-OK’ follower–‘Action-Oriented Kind’.  That was Ezra.

There’s more.  To study…do…and now share.  ‘…and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel’ (v.10).  Pass it on!  Don’t hog all that good news for you and yours.  Charity may begin at home but don’t let it hit the brakes there.  Get going and let someone else in on the best news ever.  That’s what Ezra did.

A great role model?  You think?

Thank you, Jesus, that I can be more for you and for others.  Amen.

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.