December
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December 1

Only Yourself

Revelation 3:27-29

 

Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

There is a church which is noted for its impressive good deeds.  The buildings are magnificent;  great amounts of money are collected for ministry; the preachers are eloquent.  Things look really good on the outside.  The church has a great reputation in the world at large.

But there is a problem here.  Inside the church there are those who have adopted new ideas.  What kind of ideas?

·         All this business of sexual purity is just a holdover from days when people didn’t know any better.  Sex is so beautiful; how could God condemn it?

·         And, of course, we need to be tolerant of other belief systems.  We’re all God’s children here.

Yes, we’ve disposed of fire and brimstone and now proclaim the gentle Jesus, who would hardly object to anything, as long as you’re sincere.

 

Feel like someplace you’ve been?  What’s an old Bible teacher to do in a church like that?  Here’s the answer Jesus gives:

·         Hold on firmly to the truth.

·         Overcome this evil in your own life.

·         Keep doing his good works until the end.

That’s it;  no heroics, no soaring protest (though I suspect Christ will appoint someone to that task).  Hang on.

For those who hang on, there is a great reward.  He tells us here that we shall rule the nations along with Him.  Then, curiously, He tells us we will be given “the Morning Star.”  In Revelation, that phrase means Jesus, Himself.  We shall be given Him.

Thomas Aquinas, the great philosopher and theologian, was praying one day when he had a vision of God.  “You have written well of me, Master Thomas.  What would you have as your reward?”  Aquinas gave a classic reply:  “Only Yourself, Lord.”  His heart desire was to have Jesus in himself. 

How great a reward is this?  Aquinas himself tells us.  After the vision, he said of his works, “They remind me of so much straw.”  He never wrote another word.

 

Lord, we cannot know how great that reward will truly be—but you have told us how to find out.

 

December 2

Bright Morning Star

Revelation 22:16

 

Here, at the very end of Revelation, Jesus proclaims this to be his words to the church (the “you” in the Greek is plural).  Such a message could not come from man;  it must come from God.  In it we are given three titles, or names, for Christ.  These have great meaning;  it is worth our time to examine them in detail.

 

Root of David

Before David existed, God knew that Jesus would be born of his lineage.  He also created that lineage, for it is God’s protective hand over the ancient nation of Israel which led to David’s kingdom.  We can see this in many ways;  here are three:

·         We read that Melchizedek, priest of God, met Abraham with bread and wine.  We know from the New Testament that this Melchizedek is (at least) a type of Christ—blessing the ancestor of David.

·         Indeed, God’s relationship with Abraham is the founding of the nation.  It shows us the key to Christ:  faith. 

·         If Abraham is the ancestor, Moses is the founder of the nation.  Remember the mighty works God did in him.

 

Offspring of David

Only the one who is fully God could be the true root of David;  only one who is fully man could be his offspring.  David too is a  type of Christ:

·         He was a victorious king

·         He was a man after God’s own heart.

 

Bright Morning Star

The morning star is the brightest of stars in the sky;  it often appears just before dawn, low on the horizon.  Dawn slowly creeps around it.  Daylight comes in our hearts the same way, says Peter;  by the Morning Star.  He tells us that by paying attention to God’s word the Morning Star will dawn in our hearts.

That is true in the way of an illustration.  The time is coming when it will be true in a much more physical sense—at the return of our Lord.  A new day is coming.  Even so, Lord Jesus, come!

 

Lord, we look forward to your coming and your reign.  Give us constant hearts to await your return.

 

December 3

Right Worship

Revelation 19:10

 

It must be difficult being an angel dealing with human beings.  It seems that every time they show up in bodily presence, we are almost certain to get things wrong.  They must spend their time straightening us out, I suppose.

Consider this angel.  After much revelation—I will leave the interpretation to the reader – John (who had known Jesus face to face) is so awed that he bows down and begins to worship this angel.  That’s one typical reaction;  evidently, they are so far above us as to be like some sort of god.  Indeed, Paul tells us that the gods and goddesses worshiped in his time were demons—which means nothing more than an angel in rebellion against God.

This reaction is often mingled with the other common reaction:  panic.  The arrival of an angel in person almost always produces fear as a reaction.  Indeed, this is so strong that often the angel is obliged to conceal his identity in human guise.  John now can see why. 

And the angelic reaction?  They have to settle the problem quickly.  Have you ever noticed that angels seem to be in a hurry?  They have no time for chit-chat.  If you’re afraid, the first words are “Fear not!”  And here we see the reaction to worship:  “Don’t do it.”

Even the angels are servants of God.   The message is “fear not” because God is love, and perfect love casts out fear.  The message is “do not worship me”  because the higher you are in the kingdom, the more clearly you know that only God is to be worshiped.

 

Angels have a purpose.  They seem to us to be the messengers of God.  What other purposes they have cannot be told, but when we encounter them, it’s as a messenger.  Angelic visits are rare;  when they come, therefore, the message is important.  What does this angel have to say to us?

It is simply this:  all the prophecies of the Old Testament and the New Testament center around one person:  Jesus, the Christ.  If you know him, then prophecy makes sense, for he is at the center of it.  If you don’t know him, you will search for truth in prophecy but never find it.  The message has now been given to us, and with the message is the burden:  to take the message to the world.  Jesus Christ, beginning and end—coming soon!

 

Lord, your first advent was in humility befitting the Savior of all.  Your next will befit the King of Kings.  Even so, come soon!

 

December 4

I Did Not Understand

Daniel 12:8-9

 

Have you ever come to the end of a conversation only to realize that, while you heard every word, you didn’t understand what was said?  You get the feeling that you should understand, you don’t understand, and you don’t know why you don’t understand.  Which, of course, if you did understand, you would understand.  But you don’t, so you don’t. Understand?

You’re not alone.  Here we meet Daniel, one of the great men of the Old Testament—and he doesn’t understand.  Of course, at the time he’s had no chance to study it, but I suspect that he still didn’t get it after that.  It’s not unusual with God.  Often Christ would tell his disciples what was going to happen, and they didn’t get it.  They would even try to correct him.  It was not until the Resurrection that they saw what he meant.  Even then, they wanted to know when God’s kingdom would come—and Christ told them it was not for them to know.

Despite the fact that we are told explicitly there are some things that even Jesus did not know, there are those among us who think they have an absolutely sure hold on prophecy.  Most by now have learned to avoid putting out a date for the return of Christ—since he rather explicitly told us that no one would know—but pretty much everything else in prophecy is fair game.

The difficulty is this:  God tells us (here and at other places) that we will not understand.  He is deliberately keeping some of this secret.  Perhaps one reason for this is to keep us humble.

Of more interest is this:  just why do we want to know?  The main reason for most of us is simply curiosity.  Humans seem to have an insatiable desire to figure things out.  In itself this is not evil;  it only becomes so when we consider ourselves capable of understanding it as well as God does.  That is not curiosity, that is pride.  We are not equal with God.

You might well ask, “Then why did God tell us anything at all?  Why not keep the whole thing secret?”  The answer simply is this:   you need to know.  You need to know that the forces of history, and its ultimate resolution, are in his hands.  We’ve looked at the answer in the back of the book;  we know how it turns out.

In this, as in many other areas of Christian experience, it is best to be content with what God gives us.  Sometimes wisdom is saying, “I don’t know.” 

 

Lord, in all things may we receive from you and be content.  Help us trust you for all things—including the future.

 

December 5

Longing

2 Corinthians 5:1-5

 

Charlie Brown (of Peanuts fame) said it best.  Speaking to his psychiatrist (Lucy, the doctor is in) he complained of not feeling comfortable in his surroundings.  She asked him where he felt uncomfortable.  He replied, “Earth!”

It is a good test of Christian growth:  just how much at home do you feel on your home planet.  Do you find yourself feeling that this world just doesn’t have the appeal it did years ago?  That there must be more than work and watering holes and back again?

You’re homesick.  Yes, you read it right.  You are homesick for your true home—your eternal home with God.  It makes sense;  you have many longings in your life, and all them have something which will satisfy that longing.  It would be strange indeed to have a longing for something that isn’t.   The more you love God, the more this feeling will grow.

The matter is much deeper than that.  The world has many answers to the question, “What happens to me after death?”  The materialist says oblivion;  the New Age gurus have a thousand different answers—but only one man has died and returned by his own power.  That man is Jesus of Nazareth.  He is the only one who really knows.

He tells us (here and elsewhere) that the time is coming when the living and the dead who have called on God’s name will be clothed with the new body—the eternal model.  The matter is beyond our comprehension now, but someday we will see “face to face.”

Now, if you please, the source this longing is inside you.  It is the Holy Spirit working his will in your life.  As you grow in the Spirit, this longing will grow more intense—as you draw closer to God.  You might ask how you can know that this is true.  The answer is given here:  the Spirit is God’s “deposit” - the down payment, if you will, certifying God’s plan for you.

An old hymn says it best, I think:

 

Beulah land, I’m longing for you

And some day on thee I’ll stand

There my home shall be eternal

Beulah land, sweet Beulah land

 

Lord, the world around us grows more wearisome to us.  We see little good and much evil;  indeed it seems that evil is in charge.  Give us the peace that comes by knowing what you have planned.

 

December 6

Signs of the Times

Matthew 24:9-13

 

If you have a bent for writing, and would like to make your mark in the world, a fine way in which to do it is by proclaiming that we are living in the end times—and you can prove it.  If you decide that you’re a prophet as well, you can actually start your own religion and, if you work things correctly, make quite a profit.

Of course, it is just possible that you might not wish to be taken in by such a person.  On the presumption you would like to guard yourself against such things, here are some signs of the times for the end.  The list is by no means all-inclusive;  but all of these must happen before the return of our Lord.

·         Official persecution.  While some feel that the U.S. Supreme Court has already begun this, may I point out the three characteristics given here?  The first is oppression.  The second is death.  The third is the hatred of all around.  Oppression and hatred may be in the eyes of the beholder, but the second of these (in America, not the rest of the world) is missing.

·         Many will stumble.  This is characterized by two things:  betrayal and hatred.  You can understand the problem (which the church has had before).  The oppression is great;  the temptation is to betray your brothers to the thought police in exchange for your own hide.  Hatred then proceeds naturally.

·         False prophets.  Now these we have had in abundance, from Mohammed to Joseph Smith.  Indeed, many have been led astray by this.

·         Iniquity will abound.  This is clear;  we live in such a nation.  We see the result of those who are led into believing that any form of sex, no matter how vile, is good.  For this reason, their love for Christ is cold.

But he who endures to the end shall be saved.  It is a grand and comforting thought.  When the world is sneering at us for our old fashioned virtues, and officialdom shuttles us to second class citizenship;  when we are betrayed by our brothers and watch many led astray, the answer is always the same.  God has thrown us the life preserver of His salvation is a storm sea of doubt, duplicity and despair.  Cling on!  Hold on until the master returns and the sea is calm again, and you will be saved.  The one who stilled the tempest that night will soon return in power and glory.

 

Lord, we do not know the time of your return.  Indeed, the season itself is not clear.  But our duty is clear;  help us to cling on.

 

December 7

Pay No Attention

Mathew 15:2-20

 

One of the classic movies from the golden age of  cinema is The Wizard of Oz.  The original story was a parable about the populist free silver movement;  the script writers reworked it into a parable convenient for the New Deal.  It is a very flexible tale;  with your kind permission I will use it here.

Consider the man behind the curtain—the real Wizard of Oz.  At first he is impressive.  The Pharisees would have envied that opening—that is the type of control the dead hand of salvation by works loves.  Impressive display;  the legend that those “in the seat of Moses” are deeply pious and far more learned that mere mortals—all these are the trappings which proclaim the doctrine of works.  The similarity does not extend all the way;  the wizard knew he was a humbug.  These leaders were wrapped up in their own system.

What do these legalists demand of the ordinary mortal?  The broom of the Wicked Witch of the West, of course.  Please note that the broom has absolutely nothing to do with Dorothy returning to Kansas.  He has assigned the heroes an impossible task.  This is familiar;  no one can keep the Law of Moses perfectly—let alone all the additions of the Pharisees.  By pomp and high sounding words, they turn guilt into docile submission.  Dorothy and friends immediately leave for the witch’s palace.

But how things change when the truth is revealed!  The wizard can give no more than recognition that reaches the vanity of three;  and for Dorothy he has no reward—and a very faulty method of transportation.  The solution lay entirely elsewhere.

The matter has changed little since the Yellow Brick Road.  Indeed, little since ancient times.  We are still in the presence of those who insist on a long list of rules;  the “truly pious” are supposed to be those who keep the rules.  But Christ gives us a greater commandment:  love one another.  It is at once harder and easier;  harder, for it takes all of our strength to truly love our brothers; easier, because the list of rules has been reduced to love for God and our fellow human beings.  Christ will look on the heart, as we cannot (therefore judge not).  Who will be there when he comes again”  Dorothy, or the Wizard?

L. Frank Baum didn’t write his story to mean that.  But he could have.

 

Lord, our hearts accuse us by the rules;  but you are stronger than our hearts.

 

December 8

Who Do You Say He Is?

1 John 2:18-23

 

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  We often hear (and repeat) this advice.  But for the Christian, what’s the small stuff?  It is easier to see what is not;  John gives it to us here.  These are the core beliefs of the faith:

·         Jesus is the Christ.  He, and no one else, is the promised Holy One of Israel, the fulfillment of prophecy.  As such, he is our atonement, as prophesied. Therefore, he must have come in the flesh, human like us.  He died and was buried, rising again on the third day.

·         Jesus is the Son of God, perfectly human.  As such, he is the example of the perfect human, and our model to imitate.  His obedience to the will of God is perfect—and therefore he shows us what God is like, in human terms.

·         Jesus is the Son of God, fully divine.  Of the same essence, carrying the same authority, his teaching is divine like none other.  When He says He is the way, it must be so.

·         The unity of the Trinity.  We are not to worship three gods, but one God in three persons.

No doubt my phrasing will displease some, and there will be argument about this and that.  But that is the core of the faith.

The reason it is so important for us to know this is quite simple:  we will be confronted with those from within the church who will deny it.  In sweet tones and oily phrases they will deny the Christ.  Note, please, that we are not speaking of (for example) a Hindu in this context.  We are speaking of someone who calls himself a Christian, may even act in a manner befitting Christian charity, but if he denies these things, he is an antichrist.  He is one who is lying like his father, the father of lies.  For if you deny the Son, you thereby deny the Father. 

“But, but, but …”  None of it.  This is not some wild-eyed rant of a fanatic;  it is the faith as defined by Christ and his Apostles.  It is the definition of Christianity.  If you believe these things and trust in them, you are a Christian.  If you don’t, you aren’t.  You are no more a Christian than I am a railroad engine—no matter how much I whistle.

There is only one question:  “Who do you say I am?”  There is only one answer:  “Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 

Lord, the wolves are ever among your sheep.  Keep us mindful of exactly who You are.

 

December 9

Five Easy Lessons

Psalm 34:1-5

 

You might notice that this Psalm has twenty-two verses to it.  This might mean nothing to you, but to the man of David’s time it meant something.  The Hebrew alphabet has twenty-two letters.  Each verse of this Psalm begins with its corresponding letter;  the Psalm is an acrostic.  This is an aid to memorizing the Psalm—you already know the first letter of each verse.

The Psalm is Hebrew poetry.  Unlike English poetry, which may rhyme in sound, Hebrew poetry rhymes in thought.  As in, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  The second phrase is an echo in thought of the first.  This too is an aid to memorization. 

So we would expect that each verse is its own lesson.  Here are the first five:

·         God is always to be praised.  Please note that this is to be done audibly—not just inside our heads.  Those around us should know the one we love.  And note, please, he tells us to do this “always.”  It’s a fine habit to form.

·         Do your boasting “in the Lord.”  It is the joy of the humble (the literal meaning).  Why?  God alone is the protector of the humble and afflicted of this world.  Those who have a good credit rating may not see this, but those who live from meal to meal know his mercy and care. 

·         Praise is not a solo exercise.  It is to be done by the church assembled.  That is why we have songs of praise in our worship services.  His praise unites us.  Even when we are divided over many things, the praise of God can unite his children, for it is one thing that never changes, for God never changes.

·         We should praise God for his deliverance.  Please note, this is not deliverance by providence.  It is deliverance for one who sought it from God.  See also this:  it is deliverance not just from physical circumstance but from our fears.

·         The humble look to him with joy.  In our time we look down upon the poor—as they look up to the Lord.  When they do, the shame we think is theirs for poverty vanishes, and is replaced by the joy of the Lord.

Five easy lessons—still true today.

 

Lord, we do not praise you as you deserve.  Teach us again the joy of your praises.

 

December 10

Self Esteem

Psalm 52:1-5

 

Among the wonderful revelations of modern psychology one that stood out as a prime specimen of psychobabble was this:  the reason the big kid bullies the other kids is that he has low self esteem.  If we can lift his self esteem, he will surely become a nice boy.

The stupidity of this is veiled in psychological journals, but eventually someone ran a long study and showed—it simply is not so.  In fact, raising a bully’s self-esteem simply makes him a bigger bully.  Of course, the educational establishment could not accept that.  We’re still raising their self-esteem levels, a task similar to pouring gasoline on a fire—it singes the person pouring and does no good, either.

You know the type I mean:  the jock, spawned on the locker room floor, always bragging and laughing at everyone.  Surrounded by sycophants, he’s the coach’s dream.  And everyone else’s nightmare.

David knew this kind.  He was a rather short fellow, and the youngest of eight brothers.  This Psalm is written about one particular jock named Doeg, but the application is general.  You can recognize who we’re talking about:

·         Boasting—have you ever noticed these people can’t shut up?  But you’ll never hear a word of kindness from them;  they have to boast of the evil they’ve done.  They’re proud of it.  These are the men who will beat someone bloody—and laugh about it.

·         Deceit—recall well;  aren’t these the ones who prefer deceit?  Ask them a question and their eyes light up—they’re going to fool you and make you look stupid.  And laugh.  Of course, it was all “just a joke.” 

·         Destruction—whatever this reptile uses for brains, they are first used to ruin someone else.  They laugh when someone else is ruined. 

In the instance to which this Psalm refers, the jock caused the death of all but one member of a priestly family.  But priests aren’t jocks, so they don’t count, right?

But there is a God.  While he is patient in waiting for repentance, swift to forgive, not wishing any to perish, he has plans for this man.  As he dispensed destruction, so shall it be dispensed to him.

 

Lord, in all these things teach us your way—to leave vengeance alone, for it is yours.  And your hand is mightier than ours.

 

December 11

Strange Happenings

Numbers 22:20-35

 

Of all the stories in the Old Testament, this is the most unlikely.  Oh sure, Jonah’s fish was a little unusual—but a talking jackass?  Hollywood used the same gimmick—as comedy.  It seems to be used here for something a little more serious—but if you see this as Charlie Chaplin style comedy, you might just understand it a little more.

Let’s start—as Joe Friday used to say—with the facts, just the facts.  To begin with, God tells Balaam to go with these guys the next day—just keep his mouth shut until God gives him the words.  Sounds OK so far?  Guess what?  God is still mad at him for wanting to go in the first place.  The schlemiel spills the soup; the schlimazel is the guy he spills it on—and that’s Balaam.

Now, God is trying to “send the boy a message.”  But the wires are down, and the boy is not receiving.  It is just not his day.  Your first clue is this:  the donkey talks.

The donkey talks????  Donkeys don’t talk.  But then again, fish don’t swallow prophets either.

What’s really funny is this:  Balaam answers—the donkey.  Right.  You and I would look around for the Candid Camera crew, but Balaam is going with the flow.  The donkey talks?  Fine, says Balaam, but he isn’t going to win the argument.

Well, not so fast.  The donkey not only talks, it’s clear he has the high ground in this discussion.  Think about it:  the donkey hasn’t ever done this before, right?  So obviously something must be different, right?

Right!  About this point God opens Balaam’s eyes—for a double take.  Once he sees this angel, the matter becomes very serious.

Have you ever had God do that to you?  One of those days where you charge down the path you think you should be going, and it seems like every little thing goes wrong?  You go to the Lord in prayer, and what do you get?  A cream pie in the face.

Maybe that’s because he loves you.  You’re going the wrong way; he knows it but he loves you.  So he hits you with the cream pie to say, “think about this.”  Comedy and tragedy are the same art.  But comedy tastes better.

We need so much to know that God is moving in our lives.  Take your tragedies and your comedies to Him—and listen.  He may be keeping you from turning your comedy to tragedy.

 

Lord, help us to see your gentle signs of trouble before we run into the serious ones.

 

December 12

Tools

Romans 6:11-14

 

For those of us who are complete klutzes with things mechanical, there is a saving grace.  The hardware stores carry tools not only for those happily coordinated fellows who can build a house with just a hammer and nails, but also for those of us who have trouble hitting the nail with the hammer it took so long to find.

Did you know there are offset pliers specifically designed to hold the nail while you whack at it with the hammer?  There are thousands of such tools.  The secret is this: you must know what tool to use for what job.

My wife (being the coordinated sort) has a different view.  If she needs to stir paint, and there’s a screwdriver handy (just used for opening the paint can) , then use it!  She has learned to do this when I am out of town.  I hold that a screwdriver is to be used for—gasp—driving screws.

It’s a pretty good rule to remember.  If you want to know how something is to be used, you need to know for what it was designed.  The same principle applies to the Christian.  God has given you the physical body for his purposes;  he does not give tools to those who cannot use them.  So then, what does God intend you to do with that body of yours?

Paul gives us three things which will serve as a starting point:

·         Obedience.  It is not sufficient to simply think about obedience.  Obedience, by its very nature, must be done in the physical body.  So we are to be obedient;  obedient to what?

·         Teaching.  Paul makes it clear that this is not specific rules and regulations so much as the “form of teaching.”  In short, you are to know the principles of Christian conduct and apply them in the body.

·         Entrusted.  Unlike the screwdriver, this teaching has been entrusted to you.  You have a responsibility to carry through with it.  So your obedience is not the blind obedience of the machine, but the instructed obedience of the human mind and body.

So it is that you will make sure that sin does not reign in your life.  Consider it well:  Christ has freed you from the iron shackles of the Law not to do as your body craves, but as your spirit knows is right and loving.  Once a slave, you are now a craftsman of God.

 

Lord, teach us to conduct ourselves in the body as the living examples of what your redemption can do.

 

December 13

Hard Work

Isaiah 5:18-24

 

One must give the devil his due:  often, sin is hard work.  Isaiah pictures it here as that of a man hauling an ox-cart along with ropes.  The devil uses this to his advantage;  the wicked then think of themselves as hard working.  It’s a tough job, closing the bar .

It’s a graphic picture here.  We see that then, as now, the wicked are in charge.  They control the press; the television; and thus the attitudes of the common man.  But the sneer is still the same:  “Where is this God?  I thought you said he was righteous!”  Then comes the belly laugh of all the drunkards around the table.

They are masters of the great reversal.  You can tell how evil the times are by how the wicked justify themselves.  Slavery in America was at first a “necessary evil.”  By the time of the Civil War, it had become (in the minds of many) much more necessary, and a positive good, both for slave and free.  The reversal is not new.

Indeed, we see it in our own time:

·         Homosexual behavior, for thousands of years a sin, is now a virtue;  homosexuals, after all, don’t overpopulate the planet.

·         Adultery is no longer a sin;  it is now “enhancing your sexual experience.” 

·         Marital fidelity—particularly for men—is now viewed as a sign of a lack of cool.  A faithful husband is a dork;  if his wife isn’t faithful, it’s obviously his fault. 

More amazing than these:  the young women of our culture—including many who think themselves Christians—think that the best place to meet Prince Charming is in the bar.  Once in the bar, the ultimate social gaffe is to go home alone.  (Ladies, one thought:  Prince Charming doesn’t cruise the bars).  Alcoholic romance is usually short-lived.

Bribery?  Financial fraud?  The papers are full of this;  regretted for the foolish stockholders who didn’t sell when the time was right.  Pity for the convicted;  they weren’t clever enough to cover their tracks.  Envy too; they got rich from someone else’s money.

All this depends upon getting away with it.  The Christian looks at such and asks, “what can I do?”  Simply this:  you are still in charge of what God has given you.  Use it in accord with his commands.  The day is coming when God will close his books on the human race;  the sneers will go into shock.  Keep the faith.

 

Lord, we have so little patience, and the power of the worldly seems so great.  Give us strength to endure for you.

 

December 14

Great Expectations?

Psalm 34:19

 

Those who are best acquainted with me are quite aware of the fact that I am the world’s greatest dental coward.  None is more convinced of this fact than my dentist.  He tells me that in all his years of practice, he has seen only one other patient with anything like this.  The matter is simply this:  ordinary anesthetics have almost no effect on me.  It’s hereditary—to the point that my father had five root canals done completely without anesthetics.

You can imagine, then, the terror that strikes when (at a routine cleaning) he announces that there is a cavity to fill.  I embossed my fingerprints on the arms of his dental chair.  But then he announced that the cavity was on a tooth where I had a root canal;  the nerves were dead.  He wouldn’t even get the needle out.

Expectations.  How they determine our attitude!  The word cavity strikes terror with the expectation of pain;  then the relief.  It helps to know what you’re really in for.

So it is surprising when Christians come up with a frantic attitude for the suffering that will come in every Christian’s life.  It’s not like it’s unexpected;  over and over the Scripture tells us that the righteous will suffer.  Christ, the only perfect man to walk the planet, certainly had his share of it.  It doesn’t matter what you do.  If it isn’t the mosquitoes, it’s the frostbite.

But take heart, Christian.  God is faithful.  He will not allow you to suffer beyond what you can bear—though you might not agree with that during the suffering.  He still rules.  Often he uses the suffering we receive as the forging hammer to shape an instrument for his purposes.  We feel it as suffering, and ask “Why me?”  He sees it as preparing his child for service—service which he will honor and reward. 

It is that way with Jesus.  God caused him to suffer for our sake.  The Scripture tells us that he was obedient even to the point of death, even the shame of a criminal’s execution on the cross.  But as a result, God has given him the name above all names, at which every knee will bow.

Ultimately, it will be that way with us.  God is not random; he is not uncaring; he loves us.  He also has his purposes for us.  Some days it seems that this can’t be;  we don’t see his love, we don’t see his care; we don’t know his purposes.  But when deliverance comes, as it will, we see him.  His deliverance gives us sight.

 

Lord, you never told us that we would see it; nor understand it—but we know it is true:  your way is perfect.

 

December 15

A Heart of Wisdom

Psalm 90:1-12

 

Those who grew up in California will know the “drop drill.”  School children are taught this from the earliest days.  It is simply so that if an earthquake strikes, the child will seek cover under something structurally sound.  Note please that such a shelter must be strong;  holding your hands over your head is of no use.

A shelter must be strong.  For the Christian, God is the shelter to run to—and He is very strong.  His nature is eternal;  indeed, His name is “I Am.”  The author of this Psalm, Moses, had plenty of opportunity to see the power of God.  No doubt he imagined it had limits—at first.  But at the end of his life he could look back and make the awed comparison:  man, compared to God, is so much burning grass.  His power ultimately is beyond our imaginings—but we can see the works of his hands, and know how much greater he is than we can be.

But that power is not like that of the earthquake.  The earthquake damage can be prevented by strong structure;  it can be remedied with construction again.  God is far beyond that.  If he ordains that a man die, there is nothing which can be done to prevent it.

Why, then, would God do this?  Moses—who had seen just how rebellious man can be—explains it simply:  sin.  Sin first and foremost is an offense against Almighty God, and He will not be shy about repaying the offender.  The righteous God is angry with the wicked, and sweeps them away. 

Of course, it often occurs to us to remark, “But not soon enough for me.”  Remember that He does not want anyone to perish; his will is that all would be saved.  But if a man is to be saved, something needs to be done about sin.  Of course, the power to do that work was provided by Christ at the Cross.  We, however, have a role to play in this.  We must claim that sacrifice and rely on it.

Moses gives us good advice here:  teach us to number our days. 

·         Number our days—so that we don’t repent “later” when it’s too late.

·         Number our days—so that we may gain a heart of wisdom, and so redeem the time we have left.

God knows the number of your days.  You don’t.  Be wise, and do not delay your repentance.

 

Lord, we so often act as if we would have all time to turn our attention to you.  Teach us to turn to you at all times.

 

December 16

Plea

Psalm 86:15-17

 

There is a curious notion among Christians today about the work of prayer.  We have become so accustomed to the gentle Jesus, walking at our side, that we forget the awesome God.  In time, we begin to feel our good works entitle us to favorable treatment by God.  It’s not like we’re counting celestial brownie points;  it’s just that God owes us a favor or two.

Don’t believe a word of it.  You have access to God only through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross—entirely his work.  So when you frame your appeal to the Almighty One, on what basis can you possibly justify such a thing?

It is not your righteousness.  But there is one thing to which the saints of God have appealed for generations.  We are but dust to Him, but his character endures forever.  We may appeal to God on the basis of Who He Is.

Look at the list here.  Does it not bear a great resemblance to the list we know as the fruit of the Spirit?  There’s a reason for this:  as we let the Spirit lead us, our lives become closer in character to the character of God.  It is to that character that we appeal:

·         Compassionate and gracious.  God takes pity upon his children, seeking eagerly to forgive them.  Indeed, for those who love him and call on his name, he is gracious in forgiving—not harsh.

·         Slow to anger.  He does not strike the sinner immediately, but gives him space and time to repent.

·         Abounding in love and faithfulness.  Not just love itself, for God is love;  but also faithfulness.  What he promises, he will do.

Upon this character you can make your appeal, confident that He never changes.  But we must also see the plea itself, for in this plea the Psalmist acknowledges God:

·         Turn to me—be my comfort in time of distress.

·         Have mercy on me—I am a sinner, asking of righteousness.

·         Give me strength, for mine is passing away.

·         Save me from the situation I’m in

And one last:  give a sign of your pure goodness, so that those who are evil may see it—and be ashamed.

 

Lord, so often our prayers sound like orders in a restaurant, when they should be pleas for mercy.  Teach us to pray.

 

December 17

Discernment

1 Corinthians 2:9-16

 

One of the finest of navigational aids, if you need to know where you’re going, is a backwards glance.

Perhaps you are like me;  looking back I see a man who didn’t know where he was going.  I never got there, either.  The Lord had other plans.  But in looking back we can see God’s wisdom for the rest of the journey.  Just how does a man gain spiritual discernment?  How do you find out what God wants of you?  What does it take to see the way and set the course?  Consider these first:

·         Purity of heart.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  It is simple enough;  there are no moral compromises with God.  If we are to be in his presence, there can be none with us, either.

·         Love of God.  “If you love me,” said Jesus, “you will obey my commandments.”  So if you would be a man of spiritual discernment, love God.  You will find that obedience comes naturally, and your spiritual sight greatly sharpened. 
One thing you will quickly note:  you cannot love Him and hate your brothers.  But if you love God and his children, He will quickly open your eyes.

·         The Holy Spirit.  Paul gives us the pinnacle of spiritual discernment.  As the Holy Spirit grows stronger in you, your discernment grows with Him.  The explanation is rather simple and elegant:

1.       Who can look inside the heart of a man?  Only the man, himself.  But “the man, himself” is simply the spirit of the man.  We still speak of people being “mean spirited”;  team spirit is prized; and we always want people to “get in the spirit of things.” 

2.       But we have the Holy Spirit—the spirit of God.  Therefore, to the extent we have the Holy Spirit, we can discern the things of God.

3.       Which means, of course, that as we grow in the Spirit, we grow in discernment.  The things of God become clearer.

There is an interesting comparison here.  Paul is alluding to a verse in Isaiah.  He speaks of those who love God;  Isaiah spoke of those who wait for God.  Perhaps there is some use to maturing patiently after all.

 

Lord, let your Spirit grow within us.  As we grow older let our hearts grow stronger by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

December 18

 

Lord, Lord

Matthew 7:15-27

 

Sometimes the best way to know where you’re going is to look back over where you’ve been.

Jesus, in describing the hypocrites here, uses the phrase “false prophets.”  It harkens back to the days of Elijah, when the king of Israel kept a whole stable full of the prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth.  Feasting at the king’s table, living at his expense, you can imagine how well pleased he was with their prophecies—until that little incident on Mt. Carmel.

Interestingly, Jesus does not here command us to punish them, but to know who they are.  The issue is not their hypocrisy but our alertness.  We are the sheep, which means we had best keep a watch for the wolves.  His test is simple:  look at their results.  For example, do they produce dissension wherever they go? 

We might well ask:  what if they have counterfeit good works?  It is not for nothing that our Lord tells us the way is narrow.  And will they walk the narrow way, without Him to guide them?

So beware of them—but do not persecute them.  God wants all to be saved.  And—you can see it from their words on Judgment Day—it’s likely they don’t know who they are themselves.  They will be surprised.  Perhaps the “we” they refer to is a bold and active church in which they have been content.  Sitting at the back of the church, they say “Praise the Lord” and “Amen” to her great works.  Prophecy?  Miracles?  Hear the echo of Paul, “… and have not love, I am nothing.”  Love is the great fruit of the true relationship with Christ.  If you love Him, you will obey his commandments.  The great commandment is to love God … and your neighbor as yourself.

Note, please, that Jesus uses the metaphor of building a house to describe those who will live, and those who will fall.  A house is not built in a day, but takes time.  Those who in this life build their house on the solid rock of Jesus need not fear the storms of this life nor the flood on Judgment Day.  Those who do not will be pained here and surprised then.

The frightening part of all this is that the ones caught in this will not know themselves.  There is the secret:  know yourself.  Examine yourself, you works, your faith, your prayers, your dreams.  Is Jesus first in your life?  First things, first.

 

Lord, we know you are coming again.  Teach us to build patiently for that day, so that we may stand firm.

 

December 19

Meekness

Numbers 12:3

 

Pity, if you will, the poor translator.  From Greek and Hebrew he must render the inspired word of God;  but Greek and Hebrew (like most other languages) do not render themselves word for word into English. 

Consider the example, if you will, of the word here translated “humble.”  We are told that Moses exceeded all others in this virtue.  So it must be very desirable for the servant of God to be humble.  But what does it mean?  Various other translators have rendered it “meek” or “quietly humble” or “gentle.”  It is no longer a virtue in our society, but a fault.  Arrogance is now the desired state of mind.

But Moses is in good company.  Two more examples will fill our list.  The first is Jesus, also said to be meek—and his burden light.  Then Paul, whom we know as a firebrand in his letters, was evidently quite humble in person.  This is distinguished company.  But why were the first Christians so enamored of this virtue, now so despised?

Perhaps it might be that they had their eyes on the prize.  They valued God’s wisdom much more than that of man.  What does God think of this?

·         We are, of course, told that the meek shall inherit the earth.  This must be at the Second Coming, as there is no trend like that in real estate today.

·         He crowns the humble with salvation. If you know yourself and know God, won’t you be humble before him?

·         We are told that a “gentle and quiet spirit” is precious to God.

Apparently, then, God loves those who are humble.  Not just in the world to come, but even now.  Humility has its strengths even in our time;  we are told that the understanding do deeds in gentleness and wisdom.  If you have such as friends, cherish them.

How is this so?

·         Humility starts with an honest self-assessment.  Know yourself;  you will see God more clearly.

·         As our three examples show, you must love your flock—and be willing to sacrifice yourself for them.

·         If you do, you will know the power of God.

 

Lord, deliver us from our pride, and lead us in the paths of the meek.  We long to be precious in your sight.

 

December 20

Humble Thyself

1 Peter 5:5-7

 

Humility is seldom preached these days.  There may be many reasons for this, but I suspect that one main reason is this:  the preacher knows he would be wasting his breath.  It is a pity.  So, if you please, could we examine some of the reasons that those of us in the pews just can’t handle humility?

We think it hypocritical.

Fair enough;  we know we are not truly humble.  But—doesn’t it seem obvious? - this is a skill that improves with practice.  We are all told to do it.  We are to put it on ourselves, like a belt.  Practice, they say, makes perfect.  Or at least as perfect as we can be.

We will be humble—with exceptions.

Even though we are told to submit to one another, we seem to have a problem with it.  The husband might argue that his wife should submit to him.  But he must submit to her (after all, your body is hers) as well.  The nature of the submission is different, but no one is exempt.  Not even Jesus, who by obedience was made perfect for his task.  A husband, therefore, may heed his wife’s correction—it is for his own benefit.  Indeed, even the best of us are wrong sometimes;  even the worst of us are right occasionally.  Let truth and wisdom prevail in gentleness.

Surely God knows that I’m better than…

The Devil’s own sin!  Pride is so corrosive.  But consider:

·         You’re better?  That’s God’s gift to you, not yours to Him.

·         Suppose you are better.  Should you not set an example?

·         Remember:  God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.  Which would you prefer?

How could I be humble in this dog-eat-dog world?

Of all excuses, this is the most bitter.  Somehow, we know we have to be the biggest shark in the tank.  Up or out!  Survival of the fittest!  Are you nothing more than a big fish with sharp teeth and a small brain?  Have you not been taught to “cast your cares on him, for He cares for you”?  Is his arm so short he cannot make a way for you?  Or is it perhaps that you crave the recognition of being on the varsity?  Please, consider the “lilies of the field.”  God has both the strength and will to care for you—if you will cast your cares on Him.

Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

 

Lord, we love too little, we trust too little, we are worried about many things.  Help us to embrace the one thing which is good.

 

December 21

The Proud Mocker

Proverbs 3:34

 

True humor is but one of two things:  a sudden perception of absurdity, or a sudden perception that the truth is also the absurd.  Modern humor works by a new paradigm:  you assume something is absurd—and sneer at it.  If you continue this long enough, you will find (as our world has) that righteousness is very funny.

The method takes in many people.  Most of us want to be “in.”  So this technique plays on our fear of being alone.  “Alone” - the saddest word in the English language.  Do you see the subtlety of the temptation?

Of course, the Christian can always say, “God is with me.”  But most of us are like the little boy going through his first thunderstorm;  Mom told him to pray, and God would be there.  “Yes, Mother, but I really need God with skin on.”  This is one reason why we are to commune with each other;  you could be that God with skin on.

We take the things of God lightly and the things of this world seriously.  Indeed, the question of “what’s important?” now has none but worldly answers.  Sex is important; get as much as often as you can.  We sneer at the chaste; but tell me—what would your wife think about your lover?  Would she just laugh it off?  There is a great test of wisdom in this.  A wise man, when rebuked for his sins and errors, is grateful for the friend who warned him.  A fool simply insults those who would correct him.

God’s point of view

Let us begin by knowing that Jesus had an excellent sense of humor.  It’s been neatly hidden in King James English, but it’s there.  (Take another look at Him calming the sea.)  But we must also remember that his ways are not our ways;  he is far above us.  In his wisdom he has given to us the Word, so that we might know Him and enjoy Him forever.  It’s not that he’s a killjoy;  it’s just that he has gone to great trouble to reconcile us to himself—and that is neither trivial nor absurd.

That being said, how many of us are quite capable of partying on Saturday night, complete with mockery, and then sitting piously in church on Sunday?  There’s a word for this:  hypocrisy.  You condemn it when you see it in others;  have you looked in the mirror lately?  God will measure you on judgment day, using your own yardstick.  Hypocrisy—even unintended—He will condemn.

 

Lord, teach us to examine ourselves so that we can see who we really are—in the light you give.

 

December 22

The Lowly, The Despised, The Nothings

1 Corinthians 12:28-29

 

Dwight Eisenhower remarked that every time he met with Russian generals just after World War II, the first question they would ask would be, “How did you arrange supply for so rapid an advance?”  The Russians expended millions of lives on the Eastern front;  the Americans lost a little more than a quarter-million on all fronts.  Those generals understood the difference.

Amateurs study tactics and strategy;  professionals study logistics.  Eisenhower knew quite well how it was done, but we can forgive him for thinking the Russians wouldn’t believe him.  In another context he said this: “...four other pieces of equipment that most senior officers came to regard as among the most vital to our success in Africa and Europe were the bulldozer, the jeep, the 2½-ton truck, and the C-47 airplane. Curiously, none of these is designed for combat.”

Victory—especially swift victory—rests in the hands of God.  In this instance their incarnation was in four civilian products.  This is God’s way;  he chooses his instruments carefully.

·         He chooses the lowly things.  The “deuce-and-half” as GIs know it, is no beauty. 

·         He chooses the despised.  Pilots will tell you that the “gooney bird” wasn’t admired as newer planes.  But they did the job.

·         He chooses the things that “are not.”  Bantam Motors was almost bankrupt when they got their first order for a few jeeps. 

Why does God do this—with jeeps or people?  There are two reasons:

·         First, it is to show you the power of God without unveiling it.  If the great of this world defeat the great of this world, that’s what we expected.  But if the lowly defeat the great, we notice.  It is his purpose that we notice Him.

·         Second, it is to check the arrogant.  Have you ever prayed, “Lead us not into temptation?”  By his use of the lowly and despised, he keeps us from the temptation of pride. 

God often lets an arrogant man run in his pride—until the inevitable fall.  The proud mocker cannot be saved, but the humble—even the recently humbled—will turn to Him.

 

Lord, lead us not into temptation.  In fact, lead us away from it—let us be the lowly tools of a mighty God.

 

December 23

Manners That Matter

Luke 14:8-11

 

As all of us have grown up accustomed to the idea of making appointments by the clock—often down to the minute—it is difficult for us to picture what is going on here.  We must remember that at this time such a banquet was a great occasion.  If you slaughter a cow in a culture without refrigeration, you’re going to need a lot of guests to help you eat it before the meat spoils.  It was the custom then to tell the guests the date of the feast, but not the time.  (No watches, no use anyway).  So the guests did not arrive all at once, but as they dribbled in.  Of course, if you sat too close to the head table, there was always the chance you’d be asked to make room.   This society had a distinct class structure.

Now, of course, we would appoint a time.  The invention of the clock was the original mistake;  the chronological deprived (always late) came after this as a matter of course.

But just as in those days, we still have the matter of protocol and the orderly seating of the guests.  Some years ago I went to the wedding of a young lady who is super-organized.  Evidently there was quite a bit of conflict among the guests, for this lady made elaborate arrangements to see that all were seated properly.  The tables were numbered—and arranged randomly throughout the hall.  The tables were round so that, like King Arthur and his knights, all might feel to be of appropriate status.  Now think how difficult this would be in a society without clocks!

In its time Jesus’ advice would have been shrewd.  Today, we see that a bold arrogance is now prized.  Push to the front of the line!  Be obnoxious so that you will get more!  Then brag about it to your friends!  If this describes you, your mother didn’t raise you right.

God’s way is different. Please note this:  good manners are usually virtue in a visible form. The day will come when you will be invited to Christ’s wedding feast.  The crowd will be immense.  If you wish to be honored by the host, you must know the host well, and what things he honors.  This he has made clear to you:  it is the imitation of Christ.  Christ has the name above all names.  How did he earn that?  By being the Suffering Servant who took upon himself the burden of all the sin in the world.  It is his humility and service which make him great. 

The Day is coming.  Mind your manners.

 

Lord, we long to be known as great in the kingdom—and the only way to that is by the road of humility, service and suffering.

 

December 24

 

Ambulance, or Hearse

Luke 18:9-14

 

The first symptom of a heart attack, gentlemen, is denial.  You start telling yourself that this can’t be a heart attack.  It’s an ulcer, you ate too much Mexican food—that’s what you tell yourself.  We just don’t want our lives interrupted by a trip to the hospital.

You might ask, “How would you know?”  Because from late afternoon until early the next morning, I invented every possible excuse (and some impossible ones, too.)  Finally, I called the front desk at the hotel and had them call the paramedics.  They treated the immediate pain.  An angiogram showed a blockage;  an angioplasty followed swiftly.  It was extremely inconvenient.  I lost a solid month in bed.  On the whole it seemed the better option.

Two responses, two outcomes.  Imagine our Pharisee going to the doctor’s office today.  He has severe chest pain, but he’s not about to admit it.  He tells the doctor just how strong he is;  how he exercises every day.  He even takes two vitamin tablets each day.  Don’t you suppose the doctor will interrupt and ask, “Then why are you here?”  The Pharisee was telling God how righteous he was.  It was a waste of time—and it annoyed God.

But our tax collector is acting like I did.  He’s come to the conclusion that he needs help—he cannot handle the situation on his own.  Everyone who could hear him would hear the list of symptoms.  Everyone would hear his plea for help.  Help is just what he would get, just as I did.

That’s what we have in this passage:  one man telling God how great he feels, the other listing his symptoms.  The Great Physician responds as he promised:  if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us.  If we tell him how wonderful we are, letting him know just how indebted he is to us for our righteousness, he will take us at our word.  If we say we don’t need any help, we won’t get any.

It’s a curious thing.  The ambulance is big and boxy—but powered to go very fast.  It is the very essence of urgency;  our laws even order the traffic out of its way.  The hearse is much more elegant looking, but it seems designed for a much slower ride.  Have you ever seen a funeral procession in a hurry?  Your choice:  ambulance or hearse.  One of the two can bring you back.  Pick well.

 

Lord, we act like we have all the time we need to deal with our sins—yet we don’t even have tomorrow.  Teach us to number our days, and to call upon Your Name early and often.

 

December 25

Servants in Authority

Luke 22:24-47

 

Let’s suppose that you are driving down a broad street, with lots of traffic.  You’re in the fast lane, perhaps just a touch over the speed limit, when some muscle man comes up behind you in a red truck.  He begins to honk his horn at you, he flashes his lights and waves his arms to signal that he wants you to pull over and let him by.  Do you?

Believe it or not, most of us do.  If, of course, the red truck in question is a fire engine.  And if that fire engine pulls in at the pizza place and picks up a few pizzas?  There’s going to be an angry letter written, right?

There is our basic reaction to authority.  When the one in authority uses that authority in line with his responsibility, we approve and submit accordingly.  It is a blessing to have the paramedics available at any time you need them.  But if some fireman tried to tell us we should move over for him in his car, just because he’s a fireman, we’d laugh.  We expect those in authority to behave with proper humility, as befits those who are public servants.  When they behave properly, they are a blessiug.

So it is within the church.  Authority is never given so that we might show off in pomp and ceremony.  It is given so that we might bear one another’s burdens.  We expect it to be exercised in the correct way;  the divine style, if you will—the style used by the Servant King.

If you see that responsibility (in the church) determines authority, then you will see that no one is to “lord it over” someone else.  Jesus, the one whose responsibility was our salvation, is given all authority.  He is the only source of legitimate authority; thus, we are told that he sanctions the government so that we might live in peace.  More than that, Jesus serves as the model for all who serve in authority.  The Servant King shows us how to rule.

So, if you’ve been given a task to do in the church, you may safely assume you have the authority that goes with it.  Accept it, just as you would accept any other tool, for such it is.  Babies in the nursery?  He who holds the diaper pins had best know how to use them;  sticking the kid because he stinks to much is not considered a blessing.  A Bible teacher for adults?  Do not be an uncertain trumpet, nor think too highly of yourself.  Rather, be a blessing to those you serve, and let your Lord deal with the reward.

 

Lord, it is given to us to serve, just as you came to serve.  Keep us mindful of your authority—and your example.

 

December 26

Justice, Faithfulness and Mercy

Psalm 9

 

If there is any truly important difference between our time and that of David the Psalmist, it is not in our technology.  It is in our view of God.

David saw him with the eyes of one who had great experience with trial and tribulation.  Seven years in the wilderness with Saul after his head taught him something.  That something is simply this:  God is worthy to be praised.

 

He is worthy to be praised for his justice

We may think of this in three ways:

·         There is civil justice, wherein God hates those who move an ancient boundary stone.

·         There is criminal justice, by which God will not allow the wicked to go unpunished.

·         There is national justice—when a nation turns from God, he gives them over to the fruits of their sins (sound familiar?)

He is worthy to be praised for his faithfulness

Here is consistency at the divine level.  Those who turn to evil have no right to take God’s name claiming his blessing.  These are those who blame God for not getting them out of the trouble brought on by their own sin.  As we would discipline an unruly small child, so God will discipline those who feel entitled to his protection despite their sin. 

·         Those who honor Him know that they can trust Him completely.  Those who give lip service wonder what happened.

·         Those who call on his name find him ever ready to be their fortress—if they do indeed depend upon his Name.

He is worth to be praised for his mercy

His mercies are new every morning.  How shall we see his mercy?

·         He warns the nations of their sins, giving them a time to repent. 

·         He listens to the cries of the needy, and sees to their needs.

·         He is the hope of the poor and the homeless.

The Day is coming when we shall see this face to face.  Are you ready to face Him?

 

Lord, we praise you for your justice; we praise you for your faithfulness, and we praise you for your mercy, on which we depend.

 

December 27

God is Sufficient

Psalm 16

 

A consistent theme runs through the earlier Psalms, particularly those by David.  In the pictures of the day, he portrays God as his refuge, a strong tower, a fortress.  But see how this claim is made:  if I trust in you, you will not fail me.  You are faithful.

Faithfulness is indeed an attribute of God, but the self-sufficient will never see it.  His faithfulness may be appealed to—but only in the context of knowing that my own self-sufficiency will fail.

It is in this context that we must read his condemnation of other gods.  The gods created by man have one common characteristic.  They can be manipulated.  If you offer just the right sacrifices (and more of them than your enemy does) then you will succeed. 

Do you not see the flaw in this?  Whether an idol, our bank account, our influence with the authorities, we count on our ability to manipulate influences, friends and foes to give us triumph.  But if that god can be so manipulated, then that god can let you down—without warning.  These are gods in our own image—so they are schemers too.

The one who acknowledges God the Faithful knows better than this.  Even in the matters of inheritance, planned before I was born, I can say with David that the boundary lines look very pleasant to me.  The things I have been given suit me very well, as a farmer might be content with inheriting bottom land.

This crescendos into the praise of God.  David teaches us three things for which God is to be praised:

·         Praise him for his counsel.  We are often taught to memorize the Scriptures, so that his counsel will be near us no matter the circumstance.  How often his wisdom has kept me from disastrous errors!

·         Praise him for the courage he gives.  When the night is dark and cold, when all other comfort has disappeared, he is with me, and my heart takes in courage like my lungs take in air.

·         Praise him for the confidence he gives.  It may not be a matter of courage;  just a matter of confidence.  If I rely on my own character I will soon retreat, I cannot be sure of victory.  But if he commands it, he will supply the confidence to do it too.

Even in death he will care for me;  the resurrection is sure.  This is prophetic—but not just of Christ.  Our turn is coming too.

 

Father, in the dark hours of our souls, give us counsel, give us courage, give us confidence.  Onward, Christian soldiers!

 

December 28

What Makes a King Great

Psalm 18

 

Your attention is invited (as they say in the Army) to the 35th verse of this Psalm of David.  The Psalm itself is magnificent poetry, an abomination to Biblical literalists.  Buried within it is the secret of personal greatness in the kingdom of God.  David, you will recall, was the runt of the litter.  When Samuel came to anoint a king, David’s father was so sure it wasn’t David that he  was the one left to look after the sheep.  In this exultant poem of praise (and work of prophecy as well) we find that one little verse.  The word used in the last phrase is a difficult one to translate.  It is profitable to us to listen to the shades of meaning:

·         Condescension.  Also translated “stooped down” or “lowliness”, it tells us of a God who is willing, indeed eager, to intervene in the affairs of man—on behalf of those who love him.  He is awesome in power, great in his magnificence who rides on every storm—and also comes down to my level.

·         Mercy.  It is not our righteousness that impels God;  it is his mercy, ever new.  If He treated us just as we deserve no one could stand.

·         Help.  In this word there is both a cry and an answer;  those who cry out to the Living God will receive his help.

·         Gentleness.  One translation has it as “caress me with your gentle ways.”  As a strong athlete might cradle his infant son, so God takes us into his arms to gently caress the creature he made to love Him.

·         Power.  We forget that this is the awesome God, whose works dwarf anything that man has done.  He who spoke and the worlds began—this God will bring his power to bear on behalf of those who give him love and obedience.

·         Discipline.  We often think this a negative, but the discipline of the Lord is a sure sign of his love.  We discipline our children, for their own good.  How much more will God discipline us in the right way?

Which is the correct translation?  Or is this one of those Hebrew words which is so complex in itself that, like a diamond held up to the light of a fire, it sparkles always—but with differing colors on each turn?  His power is revealed in our weakness.

 

Lord, the diamond of your caring love is flawless, as is your holy Word.  Teach us to treasure them.

 

December 29

Whom Shall I Fear?

Psalm 27

 

Sometimes the human species exhibits the strangest of fears.  The spider is a small creature of little brain, but many recoil at the sight of one.  The average snake is considered helpful about the garden, eliminating various pests;  they are slow, and simple precautions are effective against the rare poisonous ones.  The reaction you see in many people is to treat them as the worst of predators. 

We are not distant from the days when it was a daily experience to face the deadliest predator on the planet—man.  In David’s time tribes went to war every spring;  raiding and pillaging were considered the normal functions of the king and the army.  So the threat was real.  But David’s question is, “Whom shall I fear?”  How can he be so confident?  He knows, of long experience, who is sovereign.  He shows us God in three ways:

·         He is my light.  David’s message is clear.  God will be your light—if you will look and see.  The heart tells us to seek the Lord.  It is a fact:  in the darkness, it’s a lot easier to find a lighthouse than a cave.  But when you find Him, be prepared:  His light is not just there to make you feel good.  It is like that lighthouse:  there to guide you.  If you are willing to say, “Teach me your ways,”  His lessons are rich and fruitful.

·         He is my salvation.  Most of us understand this in New Testament terms:  he is our salvation because of what He did at Calvary.  David teaches us that the God of all creation cares for his children in this world too.  Note the way God works:  “my enemies will stumble.”  Not that I will defeat them, and risk the swelling pride—no, He will cause them to stumble.  This teaches us his awesome power—and the dangers of do it yourself salvation.  “Do not reject me,” cries David.  It is not for our merit, but by His love and righteousness we are saved.

·         He is my stronghold.  We remember from Psalm 23 that we “shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  If you read it apart you might see this as reward;  but David knows better.  God “will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle.”  Our strength is not sufficient;  His weakness is greater than all our strength.

Wait for the Lord;   He will not fail you if you will turn to Him.

 

Lord, how often we run ahead of you, risking immortal danger, when you will keep us safe forever in your shelter.

 

December 30

Tough Times

Psalm 31

 

Tough times:  your world is crumbling around you;  more than anything else you fear the shame and disgrace of being a failure.  Does it look like you’re the butt of the joke?  The bad example?

      In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge;

          let me never be put to shame;

                deliver me in your righteousness

Feels like the walls are closing in?  Like someone was just waiting for you to make one, tiny mistake, and then the trap closed?  Are you looking at the bars on the cage, panicked about getting out?

          Free me from the trap that is set for me,

                    for you are my refuge.

               Into your hands I commit my spirit;

                    redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.

Are you afflicted?  Your body betraying you in sickness, turning you into a weakling?  Your mind telling you that the end must come soon?  The anguish of your soul growing, feeding upon itself as each day is worse than the last?

          I will be glad and rejoice in your love,

                    for you saw my affliction

                                and knew the anguish of my soul.

Do you feel that you can’t go on?  Your strength is fading like a sunset, you are frail, night is coming—and your enemies close in for the kill? 

          But I trust in you, O LORD;

                    I say, "You are my God."

               My times are in your hands;

                    deliver me from my enemies

                                and from those who pursue me.

Feeling like even God has rejected you? 

          In my alarm I said,

                    "I am cut off from your sight!"

          Yet you heard my cry for mercy

                    when I called to you for help.

Three thousand years ago David knew it all.  He was a man after God’s heart;  out of all trouble, death threats, wars and rebellions God rescued him every time.  Trust in Him.

Love the LORD, all his saints!

          The LORD preserves the faithful,

            but the proud he pays back in full.


 

December 31

The Word  of God

Isaiah 55:10-12

 

There can be no doubt about this passage:  it refers to the Living Word, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Isaiah portrays it here.  We are familiar with the fact that the Word “will not return unto Me void” as the King James had it.  See in this slightly expanded selection how this occurs.

The Great Bridge

A long suspension bridge is a beautiful sight.  But will you note, please, that the bridge has a tall tower on each side, each tower anchored deep in the earth.  For the bridge to be strong, it must have a strong tower on both sides.  The Word of God is the bridge between mankind and heaven.  This bridge could not be built by man—but like the rain and snow, the Word came down from heaven.   He made the return trip possible.

Even  to this day, the bridge stands—and the written Word of God shows us the way.

Bread of Life

A farmer will tell you that if there is no water, there is no crop.  The seed in the ground dies without water.  The water comes down from heaven, the grain grows—and man makes bread.  Like the rain, the Bread of Life comes down from heaven.  Moses saw the manna from heaven, a picture of the Bread of Life come down from heaven—the Word of God.  And like ordinary bread, like the manna of the Israelites, this Bread gives us life.  It is the nourishment we need;   ultimately we die if we lack it.

The sovereign Triumph of God

He is God, there is no other.  He has told us about his Word and its place in his plan:  the Gospel will be preached to all nations and then—in God’s good time, I know not when, only He does—will come the time of the end.  Flowers have been on this planet for millions of years;  grass– who knows how long?  But they will fade away and become ancient memories, and the Word of the Lord will still be.

Results

Isaiah tells us here the results.  His word will accomplish his purpose, and when it does,   We will be blessed with true peace; our steps will be taken in joy.  Indeed, the joy is so indescribable to us that Isaiah can only picture it as the hills bursting into song.  Then we shall see the real Triumphal Entry.

 

Lord, the year ends, as time must also end.  Let us go out in joy, lead us in peace.  May we see you face to face—soon.

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