Saturday, February 28, 2015

Five Girls with Spunk


Saturday 2-28-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading:   Num 24-27  I Cor 13


S.  Num 27:1-2  One day a petition was presented by the daughters of Zelophehad — Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Their father, Zelophehad, was the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Makir, son of Manasseh, son of Joseph.  These women went and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the tribal leaders, and the entire community at the entrance of the Tabernacle. NLT


O.  Forty years had passed since the Israelites escaped from the Egyptian army across the Red Sea.  Moses had led them to the door of the promised land.  All signals were go, but the entire army chickened out as 10 of the 12 explorers spread negative propaganda through their ranks.   Now 40 years later all those “chickens” are dead and once again the Israelites are camped at the door of the promised land.  Even though Moses would never enter the promised land, he would participate in its legal distribution.  A census is taken of each tribe.  Each of their prominent tribal leaders was allotted portions of land according to their population. It’s a new day.  All seems to move like clockwork.  Soon they will cross the Jordan and claim their inheritances. 

That’s when 5 bold sisters request an official hearing before Moses.  I like these girls.  They’ve got some spunk.  Nobody is going to leave them out of an inheritance just because their daddy had no male children.  I notice that they did not go whining around among their neighbors.  No riot with placards for women’s rights.  No effort to start a rebellion against their leadership.  They just went together as one voice, to see the top dog… (excuse me, Moses).  Most of us don’t remember their names or their deceased dad, Mr. Zelo.  I like to call them Mahlie, Noie, Hoglie (poor child), Milkie, and Tirzie.  Moses gives them a hearing before the entire court… all males.  Everybody is nodding.  So Moses says, “Okay, girls, give me a moment to check this out with God.”  He slips away to the back room and says, “Lord, what do You think about this?”  God gives him the okay, the girls get the good news and a brand new law is written in the books for other girls to benefit from later.


A.  Juana** was only one of many poverty stricken ladies in the Parana Delta islands.  But when she heard that a high ranking official was going to visit her section of the islands, she prepared a hand written request and backed it up by insisting to have a personal interview.  There wasn’t a man in the area that would have dared to do this!  The result was not only a new house for her, her husband and their family, but brought political justice for many others who were suffering in the area.  Juana is now in heaven… but her bold act of stepping out still benefits their children and others.


P.  Lord, thank you for these girls and many others that have spunk mixed with wisdom.  And give us men some of the same.  Don’t make us to become a stench to society, but… although the future looks pretty dingy, give us a dose of Your holy wisdom… to give our children a better world.  Amen.  


PS. **I’ll never forget Juana.  We met her when I was driving our boat, the Messenger of Peace, at top speed on our way home after a long day.  I happened to see her standing by her little shack as I sped by.  We had never stopped there, but the Holy Spirit slapped me in the chest and said, “Hold it, man!  You need to go back to that house.”  We were in a hurry, but I checked with Cocholo… my “Joshua” who would succeed me in this ministry.  “Let’s go back!”  I slowed only slightly as I did a U turn in the river.  I pulled up alongside the fragile broken-down dock.  Juana had a baby boy in her arms and a little girl at her side.  They walked out on the dock as we climbed out of the boat to meet them.  Her husband inside the house was contemplating suicide… and that day Juana and her husband, Juan, found Jesus.  The baby boy in her arms, Victor, is now married and leads worship at our island church.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Sweet and Sour Preachers

Friday 2-27-15 (Home) 
Scripture reading:    Num 21-23     Mark 6-7

S.  Mark 6:20  Herod was disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him.  NLT

Acts 24:24-26  Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus.  As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was terrified. "Go away for now," he replied. "When it is more convenient, I'll call for you again." He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him.  NLT

O.  King Herod had John the Baptist locked up in a prison, perhaps a dungeon under his own palace, since John had been arrested for criticizing Herod’s immoral life.  But here is the oxymoron.  In spite of John the Baptist’s directly pointing out his sinful life, Herod enjoyed listening to John speak.  So apparently John was occasionally called up out of his nasty prison cell to talk with the king.  And knowing John, he didn’t mince words.  Without doubt he offered Herod the option of repentance and cleaning up his act.  So this was a “sweet and sour” situation.  He both liked to hear John and at the same time John’s message made him miserable.  

Jump ahead 15 years or more and now the Apostle Paul is in prison in Caesarea.  And Governor Felix wants to hear Paul speak.  He sends for him often.  Paul, like John the Baptist, doesn’t mince words.  He goes to the heart of the matter.  Felix is terrified by his message and sends Paul back to his cell, but still calls for him to come up out of his dungeon once in a while because he is drawn to his message (oh yes, and is hoping for a bribe, too).

A.  The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is both “sweet and sour”.  People love to hear it and yet are troubled by it.  We call it Gospel, meaning “good news.”  But the “good news” can only be understood when we hear the “bad news.”  Both these men in places of political power trembled at their sins being openly revealed, but at the same time they knew that their ears were hearing truth… something that was totally missing in their political circles.  They were used to hearing flattering words.  Their friends patted them on the back and threw parties for them.  But what is this?  Every now and again their heart would get hungry for a little dosage of “truth” and they would call up their prisoner and listen until Holy Spirit conviction started to disturb their soul.  Then it was, “Soldier, take this guy back to the dungeon until a more convenient time.” 

Why did people so love to hear Evangelist Billy Graham?  He was a “sweet and sour preacher.” That’s why!  We still both love and hate to hear the truth.

How do I respond to Holy Spirit conviction?  Do I send Him away waiting for a better time?  Or do I humble myself, admit my sin and find cleansing and healing at Jesus’ feet?  

P.  Lord, may I always be sensitive to Your wonderful Holy Spirit!  Give me a heart so humble and sensitive to You, that the slightest twinge of Your Holy Spirit conviction drives me to my knees for a fresh cleansing and Your promised victory.  May I never, ever send You away for a more convenient time!  Amen. 


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Press through… today!

Thursday 2-26-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading: Num 19-20  Ps 28  Mark 5

S.  Mark 5:28-34  Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and told him what she had done.  And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. You have been healed." NLT

O.  This lady didn’t want to make a scene.  The Mosaic Law had categorized her condition as “unclean.” She was not supposed to be in contact with other people.  But she was weak and anemic.  She had carried this disease for 12 years.  She was sick of being sick.  The medical field of her day could not help her.  They had taken all her money and only made her worse.  This lady did not want to stop the parade.  She was just desperate for her healing.  Nobody will ever know.  It will be kept a secret between her and God.  “Here He comes.  Oh God, just let me touch his clothing!”  The crowd pushes her back.  She sees the form of Jesus escaping ahead in the crowd and lunges forward.  “There!  Oh!  I touched it!”  And something happened inside her. 

But Jesus blew her cover.  Why would he embarrass this poor lady? 

Well, for one thing, we would never have heard of this lady if He had not pointed her out.  The very next chapter in Mark 6:56 we are told: “The sick begged him to let them at least touch the fringe of his robe, and all who touched it were healed.” We have never heard their individual stories of miraculous healings.  Jesus pointed her out, because there was value in her confession, for her and for others… like us.

A.  Our testimony is a part of our commitment.  Salvation comes by “confessing Jesus as our Lord with our mouth and believing in our heart that God raised Him from the dead.”  (Romans 10:9-10)  Many would prefer to keep their spiritual blessings a secret.  “I keep my religion to myself,” they say.  But Jesus pulled this lady out into plain view and upon her confession, He confirms her miracle with, “Go your way.  Your faith has saved you!”

If I had been Jairus, right now… I would have been getting nervous.  I would have been saying, “Jesus, please hurry!  You can come back later and heal this lady.  But my daughter is dying right now!  Come on!” 

P.  Lord, how long has it been since I pressed through my crowded world to reach out to touch the hem of your garment?  A dozen things struggle for a part of my schedule.  Some seem to be time sensitive.  It’s either now or never.  My schedule can so easily crowd You out.  Open my eyes to see, like this desperate lady, that my contact with You is a matter of life and death.  I must press through and touch You… today!  And as virtue flows from heaven to earth, both You and I will know… by faith I have touched the hem of Your garment. 

Ralph


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Who is this Man?

Wednesday 2-25-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading: Num 17-18 Ps 29  Mark 4

S.  Mark 4:41  And they were filled with awe and said among themselves, "Who is this man, that even the wind and waves obey him?" NLT


O.  The disciples had left behind their trades to follow this unusual Rabbi called Jesus.  His miracles of healing astounded them and the public.  His teaching was not like the scribes and Pharisees.  There was a certain authority about His presentation.  He would teach about the Kingdom of God as though He had been there. 


But still He was a man.  There was no shining light around His face.  There was no physical attraction related to His looks. (Isaiah 53:2)  He did not dress in elegant clothing like a king.  He was so much a man that after teaching the crowds and healing the sick all day He needed to get away and rest.  So He requests that His disciples take Him in a boat to the other side.  He is so exhausted that He is not even awakened by the tossing boat, the howling wind and the crash of waves swamping the boat.  Finally the unusual storm has these sailor boys in a panic.  Peter, James and John had grown up fishing on this sea.  They knew how to handle a storm, but this time it was out of their control.  The water was flooding the boat.  They were all going to die.  But Jesus is still asleep with his head on a pillow.  “Jesus, how can you sleep?  Don’t you know that we are all about to drown?”  Jesus yawns and takes a look around.  “Where is your faith, boys?”  And then He stands and speaks to the wind and the waves.   Maybe he swings His arm pointing the direction from where the wind is coming. “Hush!”  Silence!  Calm!  You could hear a pin drop.  With jaws hanging wide open they whisper among themselves, “Did you see what I saw?!  Who is this man, anyway?!”


A.  The answer we give to that question will determine our eternal destiny.  Is He really Who He claimed to be?  Is He the Creator of the seas, the wind and the water?  Is He the Son of the Living God Jehovah?  Has God, His Father really cared enough about us to reveal Himself through His only Son?  Is He really: 
  • The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world? (John 1:29)
  • The Source of Living Water? (John 4:10)
  •  The Bread of life? (John 6:35)
  • The Light of the world? (John 8:12)
  • The Gateway to salvation and to green pastures? (John 10:9)
  • The Resurrection and the Life? (John 11:25)
  • The Way, the Truth and the Life? (John 14:6)
  • The True Vine (John 15:1)? 


Jesus blew the Jewish leaders into a fury when He identified Himself as the eternal “I AM” the very name that Jehovah God used to Moses at the burning bush.  "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58)  NIV. 


Some cults and religions, like the Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons, want to reduce Him to an angel, a nice teacher, a gentle rabbi, even another god… but when He points to the wind and the waves in our lives… it is the Creator that says, “Hush!” and there is silence!  And our noisy world of surrounding confusion yields to His command.  We either brush it off as “natural causes” or we crash at His feet and humbly cry, “Master!”


P.  Master! Creator! Savior! Lover of my soul! Who are You anyway? You are God Who became a man.  You opened our eyes to be able to see the invisible Father.  You became vulnerable.  You let them call You a liar and a fake.  You let them tie You to a post and lay the flesh on Your back open with cruel whips.  You allowed the soldiers to press a crown of thorns down on your head.  You let them hit you and spit in Your face.  You placed Your hands on the cross bar for the spikes.  You became the sacrificial Lamb of God taking upon Yourself my sin and the sins of the whole world.  You suffered death that I might live.  And You rose from the grave victorious over death.  I know Who You are!  And today I fall face down at Your feet and worship You.   Amen.


Ralph



Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Forward, March!

My today's devotional: Tuesday 2-24-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading:      Num 14-16       Mark 3


S.  Num. 14:3-4  Let's get out of here and return to Egypt!" Then they plotted among themselves, "Let's choose a leader and go back to Egypt!" NLT


O.  Through Moses, God had finally led more than one million people through the wilderness to the door of the promised land of Canaan.  Twelve selected men had traveled throughout the land and brought back examples of the beautiful fruit produced there.  Two of these men, Caleb and Joshua, encouraged the people to go for it and God would be with them, but ten of the twelve men spread the word around the camp that there were giants in the land and if they entered it they would all be killed.  Rebellion rose among the people.  “Let’s choose a new leader. This Moses is leading us into certain annihilation.  Let’s go back to Egypt.  Forget about God’s promised land.  Being slaves in Egypt was not so bad after all.” The Israelites retreated and a whole generation perished in the desert.  How different it could have been!  May I learn from their negative example! 


A.  How many of us have been frightened away from God’s best for our lives right at the door of entry?  There before us was God’s challenge.  We had come a long way getting ready for this day, but the enemy fed us a lie saying that we would certainly fail.  At this crucial point too many of us choose to return to the status quo.  We see ourselves too small for the task, but fail to take into consideration our God that can make us more than conquerors. 


I still carry the remnants of a deep inferiority complex.  I cannot boast of ever being a man of great faith.  Every challenge has left me trembling, knowing that in myself I cannot be successful.  It is at this crossroad that each of us has to make a decision.  God has spoken to our heart to advance.  But perhaps we are unsure.  Was it really the voice of God?  Am I mature enough, strong enough, educated enough, brilliant enough to enter that door?  It is then we must understand that we will never be big enough to meet God’s challenges.  He does not invite us to enter the land alone.  He promises His miracle working power to accompany us as we act in obedience to His clearly revealed word, stepping out by faith.


P.  Lord, I cannot clearly see the path ahead.  You only give me enough vision to see that the task is much bigger than I am.  And as I struggle with decisions to advance or retreat, You stand beside me saying, “Go for it, my son! You will not go alone, I will go with You.  Locked doors will swing open before you.  I will make the crooked ways straight.  I will bring down the mountains and fill the valleys.  My hosts of mighty angels will go before you.  You’re gonna make it, boy.  Success is just over that hill up there.  Forward march!”


Ralph


Monday, February 23, 2015

So soon it is over!

Monday 2-23-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading:   Num 12-13    Ps 90     Mark 2


S.  Ps 90:2 You are God, without beginning or end. Vs 4 For you, a thousand years are as yesterday! They are like a few hours! Vs 10 Seventy years are given to us!  Some may even reach eighty.  But even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we are gone. Vs14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.  Vs16 Let us see your miracles again; let our children see your glory at work. NLT


O. These five excerpts taken from Psalm 90 speak to me today.  They say, “Life on this spinning planet is so brief.  We just get started and it’s all over.”  In sharp contrast, God is eternal, without beginning or end.  My mind cannot wrap itself around “without beginning and without end”.  Everything within our sphere of knowledge has a beginning, somewhere.  And even nice things have an end.  Where did God come from?  He didn’t come from anywhere.  He always was!  Okay, I confess my mind can’t go there.  But I have noticed that as time passes, life seems shorter. 


A. When I was a little child it seemed like forever between one Christmas and the next.  Now the Christmases and birthdays seem to stack up in a row.  When I look back, it seems like only yesterday when Frances and I were falling in love, when I was starting to college, when I was ordained as a minister, when our precious little blonde Ronny was starting to walk.  What has happened? 


P.  My God, where did the years go?  Can I already be wrapping it up?  It’s been wonderful, Lord… filled to the brim with excitement and fulfillment, but now time seems to fly by.  Days then weeks, months, years, decades!  I have been privileged to witness Your unfailing love.  I have lived accompanied by Your miracles.  What am I passing on to the next generation?  Oh God, don’t let me fail You!  I pray with King David, “Let us see your miracles again; let our children see your glory at work.”  Religion can become such a stale ritual, totally separate from our earthy, real lives… unless we and our children witness Your miracles personally and see Your glory at work daily in our lives. 


Only one life, ‘twill soon be past
Only what’s done for Christ will last


Yes, we have only one life here on this planet, but a better one awaits us who have placed our faith in Christ.  Then time and death shall be no more.  Rev 21:4-5  “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.  And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. KJV  Let’s hear a “Hallelujah!”


Ralph


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Set Your Reflectors Forward

Saturday 2-20-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading:        Num 8-9          Acts 28

S.  Num 8:1-4 The LORD said to Moses, "Tell Aaron that when he sets up the seven lamps in the lampstand, he is to place them so their light shines forward." So Aaron did this. He set up the seven lamps so they reflected their light forward, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. The entire lampstand, from its base to its decorative blossoms, was made of beaten gold. It was built according to the exact design the LORD had shown Moses. NLT

O.  Many of the artifacts placed within the portable tent-temple that the Lord directed Moses to build had both practical purposes and symbolic meanings.  The golden lampstand and its seven flames form a good example.  They illuminated the area in front of the great curtain where the priests would burn their incense and perform their daily duties.  But now we see that Moses instructs Aaron to position the pure gold polished reflectors so that their light shines forward. 

A.  1600 years later John the Beloved has a vision of 7 golden lampstands which he is told represent 7 churches in 7 cities.  If a beautifully decorated golden lampstand were to represent our church, which way are the reflectors directed to shine?  Inward or outward?  Facing back to focus attention on the actors on the stage?  Or outward to illuminate the path of someone stumbling in the darkness of sin? 

Puerto Deseado is a small city on the southern coast of Argentina.  It is an important port where ships from several countries and locally based fishing/processing ships meet up to transfer hundreds of huge containers of frozen seafood and dispatch their products to the nations. 

On the hill near the shore is a church with a belfry, but instead of bells, this belfry has a huge light that sends its beam, like a lighthouse out toward the sea.  At night as ships come over the distant horizon the light from the church belfry welcomes and guides them to the safety of the port. 

In February of 1996 Frances and I set up our mobile home here to help young, single Mario CaƱizares plant an Assemblies of God church.  Using our binoculars we could watch the colony of penguins just across the bay.  We rented a hall in downtown Puerto Deseado.  Argentine Pastor Segundo Gamin brought us his team from Rio Gallegos, 450 miles further south, to paint it inside and out.  We fixed the place up, put up a sign and held the first crusade to win souls.  Frances and I fell in love with this spot and with Mario.  That church has become a powerful, spiritual light in this community.  Mario is now married and with a family.  Their church has purchased property on a hilltop overlooking hundreds of homes and are in the process of building a very impressive church building three stories high. 

So… Which way is your light directed?

P.  Dear Father, You have shed your light upon our way.  Its warmth and protection have lured us into its safe haven.  Your Son, Jesus, said, “I am the Light of the World!”    And now You tell us that we are the light of the world. (Matt 5:14)  Help us to never forget which way are we should set our reflectors to direct the beam.  Amen.

Ralph
   




Friday, February 20, 2015

When all hope is lost

My Devotional Journal, Friday 2-20-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading:     Num 7           Ps 23        Acts 27

S.  Acts 27:20-23  The terrible storm raged unabated for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.  No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, "Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Fair Havens. You would have avoided all this injury and loss.  But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. NLT
O.  Who is in charge here?   There are 276 people aboard this ship.  We have an army officer named Julius, a captain of the Imperial Regiment with several soldiers under his command.  We have the ship’s captain who had probably survived many storms and was supposed to know his stuff.  And we have an unknown number of passengers heading for Rome.  Oh yes, and let’s not forget the bad guys: several prisoners in the custody of the soldiers… one of them named Paul. This guy Paul had been around the block a few times, himself.  It wasn’t the first time he had boarded a ship.  Later, in one of his letters he supplies us with a list his experiences which includes three shipwrecks and 36 hours adrift at sea probably on a piece of wreckage.  (2 Cor 11:23-27)  So this prisoner had already survived two shipwrecks.

Captain Julius preferred the ship captain’s advice to Paul’s while temporarily docked in Fair Havens.  Now after 14 terrifying days, “at last all hope was gone.”  Everyone, Captain Julius, the soldiers, the ship captain, the sailors, the passengers, the prisoners… everyone except Paul were sure they were dead meat.  So “Prisoner Paul” takes charge.  He calls a meeting below deck.  The floor is tossing them from side to side as he speaks.  “Boys, good news!  Take heart!  Nobody is going to die in this storm.  An angel of God stood by me last night and told me what is going to happen.  So, here’s the deal.  You guys have hardly eaten a bite for two weeks.  Let’s have dinner.  Eat all you can and toss the rest.  The ship will go down, but soon we will all be safely on shore!”
What a difference a message from God can make!  The storm still raged.  Their ship was tossing and starting to break up.  They had lost all hope of survival.  Then God says to one of his messengers.  “You see that little ship down there in the Mediterranean Sea?  Take this message to my servant, Paul.” And now a ray of hope pierces their darkness.  “We are going to make it!”

Our first trip to Argentina was by ship, 21 days at sea, New Orleans to Buenos Aires.  Frances and I, with our three little boys happened to be seated at the table with the Chief Petty Officer during all meals.  He was second in charge of the vessel.  There were 275 passengers aboard (Hmm… kind of like Paul’s ship) including a missionary family heading for Brazil.  Setting out from Santos, Brazil we had gone from early summer to early winter.  Our friendly officer at our table filled us in with many details of our trip.  Our ship was on its next to final voyage.  He would be the captain in charge on its final voyage soon.  He explained that the steel hull has a certain life span and can break apart after something like 20 years.  He tells us now we are heading into stormy winter waters.  “You can expect rough seas. But there is nothing to worry about unless the ship starts to shudder violently.  In that case it could break in half.”  (TMI—Too Much Information!)  

Our cabin was right in the middle of the ship.  That very night we hit a heavy storm.  The vessel would rise high and then plunge way down.  Then about 2 AM I was awakened by the shuddering.  Each time now as we plunged down, the whole ship would shudder violently.  I could picture our ship breaking in two with us in the middle. Not a nice picture. I didn’t sleep too well that night, but nothing happened.  I am guessing that the shuddering was caused by the propellers in the stern being exposed as the prow of the ship tipped down.  I don’t know.  It was probably nothing to worry about, but I did some silent praying.  “Please Lord, I want to get to my mission field safely with my family.”   

P.  Lord God, Creator of the raging seas and driving winds, I’m sure glad You allowed be to be Your friend.  I can sit with Your Captain at my table and although the storm rages, He will say, “Cool it, boy!  You are going to make it okay!  Even if your ship shudders I will carry You to Your safe harbor.  I’ve got some neat plans for you when you get there.”  Oh Lord, I admit I have been fearful when I probably was not even in danger… and other times when I was in real danger, I was too ignorant to be fearful.  Thanks, Jesus, for being my intimate Friend.  I’ll sing it again, “What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to Him in prayer!”  I read the last page of the book.  We’re going to make it!
Amen

Ralph




Thursday, February 19, 2015

From the Least to the Greatest

My Personal Devotional Journal: Thursday 2-19-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading:  Num 5-6    Ps 22     Acts 26

S.  Acts 26:21-23 Some Jews arrested me in the Temple for preaching this, and they tried to kill me.  But God protected me so that I am still alive today to tell these facts to everyone, from the least to the greatest. I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen — that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead as a light to Jews and Gentiles alike." NLT

O.  Paul asserts that he preaches the same message to everyone, from the least to the greatest… and to Jews and Gentiles alike.  He was a this very moment preaching a powerful Gospel message to some of the “greatest” among the Gentiles, King Agrippa, his sister Bernice and Governor Festus, but he would be just as quick to preach to a lady alongside a river in Philippi or a lame beggar in Lystra.
 
A.  I thank God that Paul’s and our message is Good News for “whosoever will”!  It is not reserved for the elite, the educated or for the poverty stricken and the ignorant.  Some have questioned me, “I thought Argentina was a land of civilized people.  Why do you go as a missionary to them?”  Their concept of missions was limited to the civilizing of head-hunters in some jungle.  Yes, those kind need Jesus, but so do you and I.  I have known ambassadors from three different continents who have received Christ and are powerful, Holy Spirit filled believers. 

A lovely, wealthy family in Argentina was throwing a special party for Frances and me and we were told to invite our friends.  So they came, some on a crowded public bus, some on foot and some with taxis.  Some, dressed in their best blue jeans revealing their poverty level.  One couple arrived in a black Mercedes Benz with a chauffeur.  They stepped out of the vehicle and rang the bell at the gate, outside the wall.  “Who is there?” came the voice over the speaker.  “The Ambassador of Malaysia.”  Our hosts thought it was a joke.  “Yeah, sure… here comes the Ambassador of Malaysia,” they laughed among themselves… until they looked out the upstairs window and saw the Mercedes.

Frances and I have been honored beyond measure with friends of both low and high estate.  That little ragged, barefoot girl running down the street is of equal importance to my Savior as King Agrippa, Bernice and Festus all put together.

P.  Oh Lord, who am I to be allowed entrance at Your gate?  I was just a naughty little boy that wept tears of repentance at the door of your great kingdom.  And Your compassionate heart opened wide the gate.  You lifted me in Your arms.  You welcomed me to the party.  You set a little unworthy child at Your table beside ambassadors and kings.  May I never forget where You found me!  And may I spend my days seeking the lost from the least to the greatest!  Amen.


I will trust You!

Wednesday 2-18-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading:     Num 3-4                Acts 25

S.  Acts 25:10-12 But Paul replied, "No! This is the official Roman court, so I ought to be tried right here. You know very well I am not guilty. If I have done something worthy of death, I don't refuse to die. But if I am innocent, neither you nor anyone else has a right to turn me over to these men to kill me. I appeal to Caesar!" Festus conferred with his advisers and then replied, "Very well! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you shall go!" NLT

O.  The Apostle Paul had had it with these wishy-washy Roman authorities.  They were convinced of his innocence, but wanted to pacify this group of Jewish leaders.  Just like Pilate at Jesus’ trial, they didn’t seem as concerned about justice as they were about keeping these persistent Jewish leaders at bay.  For these Roman Governors it was a game of politics protecting their own interests. So with his case undecided Paul wastes away in a dungeon for over two years in Caesarea. 

First it was the Commander Claudius Lysias, who sent him off to Felix the governor, then Felix passes him on to his successor Festus and now Festus is trying to pass him back into the hands of these Jews who are intent upon killing him.  Paul, seeing that this was going nowhere, appeals to the highest authority in the world at that time, Caesar himself.

A.  So many of God’s choice servants have spent endless days in a prison cell like Joseph, or being pursued by a deadly enemy like David, or left waste deep in a filthy mud hole like Jeremiah or a den of vicious hungry lions like Daniel.  Have you ever been there?  Your situation seems never to be resolved.  Hope is raised and crushed once again.  Will our merciful God never hear and answer our cries? 

Yes, God is merciful and many times responds to our pleas with miraculous deliverance, yet we know He allowed many to die.  I do not attempt to explain it.  I love God.  He has been my deliverer many more times than I could count. Yet the book of Hebrews lists many of God’s most faithful servants that suffered horrors.  Some were stoned, others sawed in two, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.  The world was not worthy of them.  What can we make of this?  How does this play out with those of us who hope to “name it and claim it”?

P.  Lord, I don’t understand all Your ways, yet I have made up my mind.  I will trust You!  I have no other refuge.  I have no other Savior.  I have no other protector.  I know Your heavenly armies can blind the eyes of the enemy.   Yours is the power and the glory forever.  I rest in Your hands.

And without hesitation, I can identify at least two occasions when I felt that You had let me down, but later looking back I can see that You were actually rescuing me from tragedy.

We will understand it better some day.  And then, when I stand before You, my Creator, and my Lover… my eyes will behold My Savior and my God and know that You were always present and You knew what was best for me.  You are not just equal to the task.  You are always more than enough!  Amen.

Ralph


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Life is My Message

My personal devotion:  Tuesday 2-17-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading:     Num 1-2                Acts 24

S.  Acts 24:24-26 A few days later Felix came with his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish. Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus. As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was terrified. "Go away for now," he replied. "When it is more convenient, I'll call for you again." He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him. NLT

O.  We meet three politically powerful men in this chapter and the next in Luke’s account, men that I do not expect to see in heaven, although they heard Paul’s Holy Spirit anointed message of the Gospel.  The first of these three was Governor Felix and he even brought in his Jewish wife and privately called Paul from the dungeon to hear him teach them about Jesus Christ.  There they sit, a man and wife clothed in royalty.  I am guessing that she is a beautiful woman decked out with jewelry.  Paul comes in his common clothing brought in from a dingy prison.  “Tell us about this man Jesus.”  Paul did that, but he went deep to the heart of their political culture and reasoned with him about eternal values, true righteousness and God’s judgment.  Felix is now literally shaking inside.   And as people often do, when trembling under conviction, he sends Paul away with.  “I have a really busy day today, we’ll talk about this at a more convenient time.” Felix and his wife, like us all, were needy souls.  He brought Paul up from his cell many times to discuss these things and may have felt the convicting power of the Holy Spirit time and again. 

But he was rich and powerful, and rich powerful people are often trapped by their own riches and political position.  They always want more.  So during some of these conversations Felix looks around to make sure no guards are listening, “I know you have access to money, Paul, because you said you were in Jerusalem to bring a generous gift to the poor Christians there.  Perhaps we could make a little deal.  I think I could have you out of this prison in two days with a… with a… little help.  What do you say?”  “No?”  “Maybe after eating the sloppy garbage one more week down in the dungeon you will change your mind!”  

So after two long years, when Felix is being replaced and sent to another post, he leaves Paul in prison.  And Felix, who knows the truth of Paul’s message, remains imprisoned by his own riches and political status.  I want to believe that his pretty Jewish wife became a true believer.  It could be, you know.

A.  I have never been thrown in prison, but I have been under pressure of extortion by policemen and high authorities on various occasions.  The easy way out is not always the best way out.  Paul’s refusal to compromise his integrity had to leave an indelible impression on Governor Felix.  The Gospel he heard preached, was not only heard, but witnessed in the life of the preacher.

P.   My Lord Jesus, may my life line up with my message!  May my actions concur with my words!  I know that my life is my real message.  My words will fall flat if my life does not honor Your standards of holiness.  So I pray that you will come to my rescue when the pressure is on and give me the strength to walk the talk and live the life, not only when being observed by others, but also when only Your eyes can see me.   Amen.

In my heart this morning I can hear an old song by Hal Lillenas, a song that I used to sing as a solo when in my teens:  The final words of the refrain are: “Strength for my weakness He doth impart.  He is the joy of my longing heart.  Fair Rose of Sharon is Jesus to me.  He is the theme of my song.” 

Ralph




Sunday, February 15, 2015

I will send you far away


My Personal Devotional Sunday 2-15-15 (Home) 

Scripture reading:  Lev 25       Ps 25-26  Acts 22

S.  Acts 22:21-22 "But the Lord said to me, 'Leave Jerusalem, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!' " The crowd listened until Paul came to that word; then with one voice they shouted, "Away with such a fellow! Kill him! He isn't fit to live!"  NLT

O.  Paul held this wild crowd of angry Jewish fanatics in silence as he told them of his unexpected meeting with Jesus on the Damascus Road.  He had met his new “Lord” and uses that term to refer to Jesus from there on, ready to receive his direction in life from Him.  Until that moment he had thought he was serving God in his effort to annihilate the followers of “The Way”, but suddenly he is struck blind, overwhelmed by coming face to face with One Who is “The Way, the Truth and the Life”.  He has met Jesus, the Son of God.  Until then he had only known about Jehovah God, the Father, and probably only known Him as a distant and powerful God.  But now he surrenders his future into his new Lord’s hands.  “Just tell me what to do, Lord.  I will do it!”  But when he tells the Jewish crowd that his new Master, Jesus, is sending him to carry the Good News to the Gentiles he has touched their “fury button”.  The crowd screams, “Kill this guy! He isn't fit to live!"  Once again the soldiers, who cannot imagine what is going on, have to rescue him.

A.  Jesus issued a solemn command to His disciples before His ascension.  They were to go out into “all the world” to reach out to the nations, yes, the Gentiles.  And eventually some of his disciples would become foreign missionaries.  It becomes obvious that God is concerned about the lost among the heathen. 

Paul was a Jew.  Jews hated the heathen Gentiles.  Paul’s new Lord and Master had chosen a man once filled with hatred and fury for a mistaken cause, to fill with His Spirit of love and sacrifice and send out to love and save the very people that he had formerly hated.  

I will never forget when God called me to Argentina.  The year was 1962.  A tiny elderly lady missionary, Ruth Couchman, preached that Thursday night in my church in Colfax, California.  I was kneeling at the altar afterwards weeping for the lost in Argentina.  I had never seen the face of an Argentine, but for months I could not escape that burden and the voice of my Master.  “Rise up, leave your beloved church.  I will send you far away.  You are going as a missionary to Argentina!”  And now that I have traveled the length and breadth of Argentina many times, I have learned to love these special people more than ever.  And I find myself drawn back to barrios, villages and great cities to spread the same Good News that the Apostle Paul was carrying.

P.  Dear Lord, I pray for a miracle to restore my voice and for Your Holy Spirit’s anointing as I plan to return to the nation of a spiritually hungry people in a few weeks.  Master, I am not big enough for the task.  But I have heard You speak again!  You entered my despairing world after Frances was taken from my arms with a “new chapter” and a fresh call to join my fellow missionaries in a field, ripe for the harvest.  Your first apostle to the Gentiles was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision.”  May I, like Your servant Paul, be faithful to my calling!  Amen.

Ralph


Saturday, February 14, 2015

God takes evil and makes it count for good

My Personal Devotional Saturday 2-14-15 (Home)  

Scripture reading:  Lev 23-24      Ps 24    Acts 21 

S.  Acts 21:21-22 Our Jewish Christians here at Jerusalem have been told that you are teaching all the Jews living in the Gentile world to turn their backs on the laws of Moses. They say that you teach people not to circumcise their children or follow other Jewish customs. Now what can be done? For they will certainly hear that you have come.  NLT 

O.  Paul later wrote that he tried to be “all things to all men, so that he could win some.” 1 Cor 9:20  “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;” KJV  He was willing to bend to the will of the church leadership in Jerusalem just so as to keep peace.  But it cost him dearly as can be seen in what occurred. 

Paul joined four Jewish men who had taken a week’s ceremonial vow.  He was asked to pay for their heads to be shaved and did so.  On the 7th day the ceremony would be completed with animal sacrifices.  But the 7th day never came for Paul.  A wild mob grabbed him and would have killed him, had it not been for the intervention of Roman soldiers.

We have no record of Paul ever complaining about what happened.   I would have been thinking, “I should have listened to the prophecies of my friends.”  Or “I should never have compromised my best judgment by bowing to the church leadership to go through this Jewish ceremonial act.”  I often wonder if Paul, while rotting in prison without a conclusive trial for the next two years, ever thought he had missed God’s will.
                                              
A.  Have I ever missed God’s best plan for my life?  I suppose many times.  Yet in His great mercy and love, He has taken my poor decisions and made them come out for good.  And I have often learned something to benefit me in later life. 

Paul now begins a period of many years in chains in prison.  Without being forced to slow down to a complete stop, this enthusiastic servant of God could never have written many of the letters that today serve us as our basis of true Christian doctrine. 

So… is my ever weakening voice telling me that God wants me to slow down and write? 

P.  Lord, I love to sing and preach Your Word.  And I also love to watch the glowing faces of little children as my ventriloquist dummy, Felipe, charms them with Bible stories and Gospel truths.  You have kept my body strong so that I do not lack for energy, yet recently I seem to have to force my voice to sing or even speak.  I pray for both healing and wisdom.  Please reveal to me if this weakened voice is a signal from You that I should slow my pace and dedicate more time to writing to encourage generations to come.  You well know that would represent a great sacrifice for me.  Yet I dare to ask You to speak, Lord, for I am listening.  Amen.

Ralph



Friday, February 13, 2015

Good-bye!

Friday 2-13-15 (Home)  
Scripture reading:        Lev 20-22              Acts 20

S.  Acts 20:25 And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again.  Vs 31-32 Remember the three years I was with you — my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.  And now I entrust you to God and the word of his grace — his message that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself. Vs 36-38 When he had finished speaking, he knelt and prayed with them.  They wept aloud as they embraced him in farewell, sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they accompanied him down to the ship.  NLT

O.  Paul the Missionary Apostle was always saying good-bye, but this time it was different.  He had spent 3 years of his life mentoring these church leaders.  He had rejoiced with them in their victories and wept with them in their losses.  And now he announces that he is not returning to Ephesus ever again.

A.  Missionaries are always saying good-bye.  It comes with the package.  This morning I read the story of a Moravian couple, John Montgomery and his wife that around 1800 said a tearful good-bye to little James, their 6 year old son, leaving him with a Moravian group as they sailed for Barbados.  It proved to be a final good-bye as they would both die on the mission field.  James grew up to own a newspaper that included Gospel messages and his works of poetry.  At least one of these poems became the famous Christmas song, “Angels from the realms of Glory” with the refrain repeating, “Come and worship, Come and worship, Come and worship the newborn King!” 

Frances and I were always saying good-bye.  We poured our lives into beautiful, young couples, trying to help them get their start in effective ministry.  Often we had to leave them in poverty with only their trust in Jesus.  Some of them far exceeded our highest hopes, bringing many thousands into the Kingdom of God.

P.  My Lord Jesus, I love You.  You care about your servants.  You took the Apostle Paul’s efforts and reached a whole area called Asia Minor with Your powerful Good News.  How many times have Frances and I embraced young couples with what we thought was a final good-bye?  Sometimes You allowed us to return to witness the astounding, multiplied harvest.  Some of them, like my darling Frances, have already been carried into Your loving arms.  In just a few weeks You will allow me to return again to Argentina.  There will be joyful “hellos” and again sad “good-byes.”  But there is one thing that makes, Brother Paul’s tearful “good-byes” and mine sweeter.  We know that, by Your grace, we will meet again at Your feet and never have to say “good-bye” again!  Amen.

Ralph



Thursday, February 12, 2015

I trust in Your unfailing love

Thursday 2-12-15 (Home)  

Scripture reading:        Lev 18-19      Ps 13        Acts 19

S.  Ps 13:5-6  But I trust in your unfailing love.  I will rejoice because you have rescued me.  I will sing to the LORD because he has been so good to me.  NLT   

O.  Not all of David’s psalms were filled with joy.  This song begins by pleading with God to come to his rescue.   He cries out, “How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?  How long will my enemy have the upper hand?” Obviously there are events taking place that make David feel that God has abandoned him.  He sees no visible signs of winning this battle, whatever it was.  But he has a secret weapon called “trust”.  He can look back in his life where God expressed His faithfulness and love and rescued him.  He chooses to conclude his song with an expression of God’s goodness.

A.  Have I ever been there?  Has the door been slammed in my face?  Have my prayers seemed to bounce back upon me?  Have I cried out to God with “How long?”, “Why?” and “When?”  Probably most of us have been where David was.  We may seem surrounded by failure and hopelessness.  Then David recalls earlier times when God has rescued him and he “chooses to trust” in God’s unfailing love.   Now he can sing of victory even if the evidence is still out of sight.  “Trust” brings security, blessed hope and, yes, gives us joy that prompts a song in our hearts.

P.  Father, none of my grievances have gone unheard by Your attentive ear.  Help me to recall the many times You have intervened and rescued me.  Help me to lean upon your faithfulness and simply “trust” in You one more time.  And since I “trust” that You will not fail me this time either, I can sing with joy in my heart.  Amen.

Ralph


They are out there!


My Personal Devotional  Wednesday 2-11-15 (Home)   

Scripture reading:        Lev 15-17            Acts 18

S.  Acts 18:9-10 “Don't be afraid! Speak out! Don't be silent!  For I am with you, and no one will harm you because many people here in this city belong to me." NLT

O.  Paul had seen rejection of Christ’s message by many of the Jews in Corinth so he moved in with a Gentile man, Titius Justus.  All his efforts seemed to be falling apart.  Then the Lord appeared to him in a vision and assured him of victory.  “No enemy will do you harm, Paul, because I have many people here in this city that belong to me.” 

I am reminded of Elijah when Jezebel promised to kill him.  He fled into the wilderness, and crashed in a heap under the shade of a juniper tree.  Depressed, he mumbled to God that he was the only true believer left in the whole world.  Then God spoke to him, “Hey, Elijah boy, wake up!  You’re not alone.  I’ve still got 7,000 faithfuls out there that haven’t bowed to Baal.” 

But who were these many people in Corinth that belonged to God?  Were they already believers in Jesus?  Apparently most had never yet heard the message of Christ’s Gospel.  Yet each one was precious to God.  He knew their hungry hearts.  He also knew that Paul had itchy feet, so He was telling His servant to stay put for a while.

A.  What drives a pastor or a missionary into a new area, a small village or a large city?  It is that quiet voice of the Holy Spirit saying, “Go for it, my son… my daughter!  I’ve got hundreds of spiritually hungry people in this place.  Go in there and find them.  And stay long enough to disciple them.”  

But how do I locate these tender hearts?  My personal experience in the ghetto area of La Boca was to preach on a rented open parking lot every night of the week, and on the street corners and in the parks every afternoon.  Others may discover even more effective methods.  

I still pray, Lord, how do I find them?  I know they are out there.  I know no other way than to sow the seed and let it fall, some on solid pavement to be stomped upon by heavy boots, some on shallow soil or rocky ground destined to sprout and wither, some among thorn bushes to be choked by family pressures.  Ah, but some seeds will find fertile soil! 

P. Precious Lord, You love them all, not just certain ones that You have marked as Yours.  Your message is still for “whosoever.” Every little barefoot child running down that sidewalk, every youth hidden in some alley smoking pot, every elderly woman sitting on the doorstep staring at nothing… they are all potentially “Yours”.  You want them all to hear and to have an equal chance.  And as we remain faithful to sow the seed, in due time You will reveal to us those who belong to You.  Remind us again, Lord… “They are out there!”  Amen.

Ralph