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.

UNSEEN AND UNKNOWN Psalm 77

Don’t you wish you could see directly, without a doubt, when God acts?  Answers to prayer as clear as a bell?  No long-shot, thin ice uncertainty about His responding to our needs and wants?  Everything out in the open?  Alas, not to be!

Life requires faith in Jesus.  A trust which relies on Him with all the unseen and unknown.  His helping hand when less than obvious.  His actions as if behind closed doors.  Or is He another Wizard of Oz?  A fantasy of my own making?  An opiate to soothe life’s pains?

Reading Psalm 77 you overhear another anguished voice–‘In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.  When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints…I am so troubled that I cannot speak…’ (vs.2-4).

Maybe you’re also in a pickle, a tight spot, hot water.  Haven’t we all had those moments?  Can’t find your way out?  As if God has turned His back on you?  Given up on us as we stumble and fall all over sin’s consequences, which land squarely on the old kisser?

Read on as the poet remembers when God leads Israel out of slavery in Egypt, the Exodus event.  Psalm 77:19–‘Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.’  The Hebrew word ‘unseen’ also translates as ‘unknown’.  Though the Israelites couldn’t directly see the Lord doing these wonders, they will experience the results.  Their deliverance.  Their enemies defeated.

Often in hindsight, we see much clearer through eyes of faith.  Gazing back, remembering God’s promises and how He’s worked them out in our lives.   No ifs, ands, or buts.  An unshakeable, unmoved certainty that can sit with the unseen and unknown, patiently leaning on God’s shoulders.  Even beginning to wait…on Him.  That would be nice for a change (speaking of myself here).

I’m asking Jesus for more faith in Him alone.  To bear down, plugging away at trusting and believing Jesus, again with all the unknown and unseen, which usually puzzle me, giving me the heebie-jeebies.

I want to get closer to Jesus.  To take His hand in mine, telling Him all about it, stretching my faith His way.  It won’t break.  His hold is firm.  Want to try it?

Lord Jesus, help me to develop strong muscles of faith in you.  Amen.

HIS ARMS AROUND US John 10

When I’m feeling a bit down with the blues, mopey and gloomy, I need to hear from my Lord Jesus.  Who better to put His arms around me, assuring me that all will be well?  Good to get reassurances from family and friends; equally to give such to those we love who need a shot in the arm (I don’t mean vaccination necessarily!); but no one satisfies like Jesus.  No one and nothing, plain and simple.

Sounds like the words of an old hymn, doesn’t it?  ‘Jesus loves me, this I know…’  ‘There’s something about that name…’  You can hum others, I’m sure, with all circling back to Jesus. He’s the reason for life, here and now, then and there.

Take a gander at John 10.  Just a few verses, which will give you a lift if you’re feeling somewhat like a wet blanket today.  Gives me a boost or two (still not talking about vax!).  More like a hug from above.  Verses 27-30 offer the best medicine even the Mayo Clinic can’t dispense.

Why not hang out around the neighborhood of Jesus’ words?  Listen up.  Chew on them.  Digest them.  Offer a large slice to someone else.  Imagine this– we can hear Jesus.  His voice.  What He has to say.

About what?  Primarily, that we’re His people.  ‘My sheep hear my voice’ (v.27).  To hear Him is to stand close by, within earshot, focusing on Him and those words from His mouth.  That we’re His own–‘ My sheep…’.  Family in the very best sense of the word.

Then Jesus says that He knows us through and through.  No reason to try to impress Him.  Or cover-up.  Or put on a mask (not referring to pandemic again!).  But be who you are, warts and all.  ‘…and I know them…’ (John 10: 27).

We should follow Him.  Be in His company, walking behind our Master and Lord–‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ (v. 27).  Better company you’ll never find, in addition to being our leader par excellence.

If all that isn’t enough, He has gifts for us–‘I give them eternal life…’ (v. 28).  Note that His gift is not earned.  Nothing you have to do to get it.  It’s offered freely.  That’s what gifts are.  Without strings.  No fine print to catch us off guard.  No bait and switch or false advertising.

Only to welcome Him into your life.  With a genuine appreciation for all that Jesus has done for you and me.  Why not?  Have nothing to lose except all that’s rotten in life.  ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (John 10: 28-29).

His gift is eternal life which no one can take from us.  When we’re His, we’re His.  Settled.  Period.  Just make sure that you’ve accepted Him into your life and that you’re living for Him.  You know this when you want more and more to be like Him and less and less like…well, you know who.

Is Jesus worth trusting in?  Putting all your hope in?  You’ll discover that there’s nothing like His arms around you no matter what!

Thank you, Jesus, for promises made and kept.  Amen.

WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN 2 Chronicles 5-7

When the chips are down, we need only a few words shared with our Lord.  Say what’s on your mind.  Get to the point, speaking directly rather than beating around the bush.  He craves a relationship that’s all in, no holds barred.  Whatever’s good or bad, we’re to come to Him.  His gates are open.  The back porch lights are on.  Doors unlocked.

Does asking you to read 3 chapters in 2 Chronicles seem a bit much?  Well, do it anyway.  Am I getting rude in my old age?  Never mind.   What jumps out at me from these chapters is the short and sweet response of God’s people when dedicating the Temple of the Lord.

Here’s what they say–‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever’ (2 Chr. 5:13, 7:3).    Uncomplicated words.  Unpretentious.  Making a long story short (only 5 words in the original Hebrew), reminding themselves of His goodness and never-ending love.  From head to toe, God is good.  All the time.  In all ways.  Even when I can’t see it or figure it out.  Especially then.

For God is good.  He keeps His promises.  His love knows no bounds.  Endures putting up with you…and me.  Forever.  Period.

How about praying all week this Old Testament piece of cake, easy as pie, praise-prayer to our Lord?  Count me in!  ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.’  Do I hear an echo?

Thank you, Jesus, for all your goodness and love.  Amen.