Giving Thanks

So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture
Will give thee thanks for ever:
We will shew forth thy praise to all generations.
– Psalm 79:13

I really enjoy how Psalm 79 closes. After a long list of cries to our LORD the Psalmist ends with Praise. It reminded me of the reference to Isaiah 54:1 from our reading in Galatians 4 verse 27 that I had just read.

For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. – Galatians 4:27

This reference to Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, reads an encouragement to Sarah and a reminder to us all that even if things do not seem to be going according to what we think is best, our God is good and His promises are true. All we need to do is remember and believe, trust in Him and praise His name!

Today’s reading: 2 Samuel 24; Galatians 4; Ezekiel 31; Psalm 79

 

We are All One in Christ Jesus

Today’s  Readings: 2 Samuel 23; Galatians 3; Ezekiel 30; Psalm 78:38–72

 

26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28

I happen to have the TV on in the background and hear about the latest shooting that happens at a mall.  A news feed comes across my phone of protests and people getting hurt elsewhere.  I read an email about a child who is making  bad choices and needs to be spoken to on Monday.  It’s upsetting and I reflect on, ” How can I make more of a difference with others? How can we make a positive impact on our young adults and children?  I read back over these verses and know I need to share God more with others. I know  He will come like a thief in the night.  Beyond this breath of life, I want us all to be together for eternity by our relationship with God. 1 Thessalonians 5:2

I heard a statement that was made by Baltimore Ravens players Benjamin Watson that says, ” Our current president or whoever is elected in the future can’t save us.  The only one who can change the heart of man is the Lord!” I find comfort in this statement, I find faith, I find truth.  Today, as I reflect on the last few verses of Galatians 3. I know that we need to all work together to change our hearts.  God wants us to be prepared, there’s no time to fall asleep. Matthew 24:42

Trying to connect some dots I reflect on our small group study for last week on Baptism by Marcus Bieschke. It was a great reminder of the Almighty who is on our side how we can respond when we see everything unfolding around us.  In reflecting on baptism it was the acknowledgment that we need to be washed and put our trust in Christ.  For me it wasn’t baptism meant I had finally figured it out, but willing to make it a starting point to make a change my life. This change for you and for me will connect all people no matter our backgrounds.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4.

In times of uncertainty, know that God is our stronghold and any fear can be brought to Him. He has given us the duty to adhere to and share His commandments.  Matthew 28:19-20. I know sharing our faith can be hard but I was hit with a gut check reminder Sunday when Pastor Mike Baker said to  “Follow the Lord today like it’s your last…, because it could be! Joshua 1:9

So my prayer is to “put on” Christ all the days he gives me.  If there are those who don’t know Him, I need to better to share his Love through my words and actions.  We are in need of a lot of love.  It’s a matter of us all sharing, doing, acting in a way that impacts everyone that you contact. Amen

We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. Psalm 78:4

For We Are ALL One in Christ.

(Watch this link on Baptism or on our last sermon on Unveiled)

The first words and the last

Go Deeper in God's Word

Today’s Readings: 2 Samuel 22, Galatians 2, Ezekiel 29, Psalm 78:1-37

2 Samuel 22

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold and my refuge,
my savior; you save me from violence.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.

Psalm 78

In spite of all this, they still sinned;
despite his wonders, they did not believe.
33 So he made their days vanish like a breath
and their years in terror.
34 When he killed them, they sought him;
they repented and sought God earnestly.
35 They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God their redeemer.
36 But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.
37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.

Sometimes, when I’m writing for Bible Journal I copy down pieces of the day’s scripture in my little notebook. Throughout the week I go back to those groups of words and draw lines of meaning between them. There are endless ways to read God’s word. That’s why it’s truly His greatest gift to us. Even if you’ve read a certain verse over and over, on any given day it may take on new meaning in your life. Today, as I built a visual map of my post I realized that the verses that speak to me the most are the very first lines and last lines of our Bible reading plan. The message is so simple. It speaks to our fallibility and human nature. In the first reading from second Samuel we hear these familiar words:

“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer…” (2 Samuel 22:2)

And we know the rest…it fills our sails. God is our rock, our refuge, our stronghold and our shield. We need these words. We get through our hardest moments with these words whispered under our breath. When I’m alone with our son and he is in pain, when there is nothing I can do to make it go away, I say these words. But in spite of all of this, I still sin. Psalm 78 is about me. It’s about you, and the guy next to you drinking his morning coffee. Our days are actually vanishing like a breath.  When we get into trouble, of course we repent and we run to Him. There are times when we seek him earnestly. There are times when our hearts are not as steadfast as they should be. We are not always faithful to our covenant with Him. In spite of it all we are still going to sin. Despite the miracles and wonders he performs in our lives, we still falter. I spent some time this weekend traveling for work. I used some of that time to write down the wonders God has created in my life. I also wrote down some times that I wasn’t as faithful as I wish I could be. Some times when I questioned his presence in my life and even questioned if he was punishing me. Finally, I took the time to hand write the first four verses of second Samuel 22. Taking this time to just write God’s word brings me closer to Him. It helps me to see the lines he’s drawing and connecting in my life. Connecting our beginnings and endings help us to see His grace. I pray that you’ll consider taking time this week to write down the times He’s been your rock, your refuge, your stronghold and your shield.  Connect His word to your heart!

 

 

The Bible: God’s Love Story

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. -Galatians 1:11-12

Does God love us enough to choose to communicate? I used to wonder about this, I no longer do.

Was the Bible written by man? In a sense, I suppose it was. But does it also have Divine origins? More fundamentally; is there a God who created us, who intervenes at times, having actually stepped into our world as one of us?

After a lifetime of contemplation and prayer, I can only conclude YES!

Christianity is often maligned for being exclusive and arrogant. But if in fact God exists, and has chosen a certain path of revelation, then doesn’t it follow that any information that brings that story into light is worth exploring?

The Bible offers this opportunity by sharing the amazing story of our reconciliation with God. Not for the pious and the self-righteous, but for those of us who are at times broken, struggling to understand morality and hungry for truth. I have found the Bible to be more than a codex for life. It is a powerful love story about rebellion, redemption and salvation. This is a story we all need to understand.

Man is man and God is God — holy and separate from us. Yet it is by His grace that we are redeemed. We are not called to seek adoration or please people, but to love others. Doing this isn’t easy in our limited power. But in our surrender and contrition we receive God’s power to love; not in our strength but in our weakness.

We are made to be the instruments of God — instruments of love.

In the Bible, Jesus instructs us to have genuine concern for ALL PEOPLE. Not in arrogance or judgement, but in humility, service and sacrifice. When I live with an attitude of grace and gratitude I demonstrate a spirit of peace, kindness, and warmth towards others. And this power comes from God.

It’s not surprising that only God demonstrates constant, pure and perfect love. As Christ, God provided the perfect and ultimate example. He calls out through time, to all humanity, inviting us to follow.

I would rather be a Christ Follower than anything else. In the Bible Jesus teaches us by His life, death, burial and resurrection; and that it is possible to be in harmony with God. It is also possible to love other people unconditionally. When I am able to do this I am able to truly love myself. Then my possibilities are aligned with my purpose. Only then am I able to achieve my fullest potential and to bare the fruit of the spirit.

Thank you God for loving me, so that I, in turn, am able to genuinely love you and others. May others see your love in me. Amen.

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. -Matthew 7:16-18

Today’s reading link: 2 Samuel 21; Galatians 1; Ezekiel 28; Psalm 77

Self-Audit

Tax inspector investigating financial documents through magnifying glass forensic accounting or financial forensics inspecting offshore company financial papers documents and reports.

Today’s reading:  2 Samuel 20; 2 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 27; Psalms 75–76

Have you ever been audited? Maybe by the IRS, an independent audit firm or even by your company’s internal audit team?  If you have, I suspect you will agree with my next statement – it isn’t an overly enjoyable experience.  While often a little painful, the process is actually pretty straight forward.  A person or team of people shows up to examine, or test, your records to determine if you have conducted your business in accordance with established guidelines.  Perhaps they are testing whether you upheld the law, followed company policy, or even whether you played by your own rules.

I believe an audit is one of the most valuable tools management has in its toolkit (this should be no surprise to you, feel free to refer to my April 30 post where I told you I was a dork). Think about it.  Management sets the direction for the organization, guidelines are published to help company associates carryout out activities that support this direction.  If the guidelines are well designed, if they are followed, and if external forces don’t derail everything, the company has a reasonable chance of meeting its objectives.  Unfortunately, if, if, if doesn’t really provide a whole lot of comfort.  Management doesn’t want to think they know, they want evidence, they want to really know.  How can they really know if they are on track?  …an audit, of course.

Did you see how audit theory showed up in our 2 Corinthians 13 text today?

1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians are Paul’s letters to Christians who were struggling to live according to the faith they professed. They were a weak church.  One of the major issues they faced at the time was the presence of false teachers.  These “peddlers” (as Paul refers to them in 2 Corinthians 3:17) twisted the message, questioned Paul’s authority, and tried to lure Christians away from the truth in order to benefit themselves.  Much of the book of 2 Corinthians involves Paul defending his personal credibility and the validity of his message.  He was using all the tools in his toolkit to encourage Christians to stay on track.

2 Corinthians 13 records Paul’s final advice to the Corinthians as he is getting ready to wrap up his visit. He reminds them that they must turn from their sinful ways, as unrepentant sinners will eventually suffer harsh consequences.  Paul also talks about the mighty power of God that Jesus Christ has at his disposal.  He reminds the Corinthians that this same power is available to them if they genuinely put their faith in Jesus Christ.  This is the same “if” conundrum we talked about above.  If doesn’t provide them much comfort.  How can they really know if that power is available to them?  …an audit, of course.

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith (2 Corinthians 13:5, The New Living Translation).

Paul is calling the Corinthian Christians to determine whether they have genuinely put their faith in Jesus by conducting a self-audit. A self-audit was a valuable tool for first century Christians, and it is a valuable tool for us today.  Similar to every other audit, the hardest part of this audit is going to be the planning – how do we decide what test in order to lead us to the right conclusion?  In this audit, we are looking for a series of personal characteristics or actions we can examine to determine if our faith is genuine.  A few ideas from the New Testament to consider:

  • Do you love others? By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).
  • Do you serve others?serve one another humbly in love (Galatians 5:13).
  • Are the fruits of the spirit evident in your life? But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • What kinds of things consume your thoughts? Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).
  • Has your faith been tested? Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

I pray that the results of your self-audit reveal a genuine faith.  If they do not, will you have the courage to get on your knees and ask God for help today?  Having the mighty power of God at your back makes this a life worth living, you don’t want to miss out on it!

My Weakness

The Bible Journal team has been discussing and praying over what our approach to this site will be in 2017. Spending time thinking about this brings several realities to the forefront of my mind:

  1. Authoring blog posts is hard. Publishing every week is really hard.
  2. Writing with the intent to glorify the one who created the heavens and the earth comes with great joy and great responsibility.
  3. Without a strong commitment to this project, there is no way I would do this.
  4. I’m not a naturally gifted writer. For me personally, each week I struggle immensely with what to write.
  5. Authoring for Bible Journal has been my single most impactful spiritual habit of 2016, perhaps lifetime.

When writing these journals each week I come to a place where I feel extremely weak and helpless and pray these words, sometimes aloud, “I have nothing to say; I have nothing. Please help me God.” It is almost as though I am in a dark place, and sometimes fear and panic start to set in, but when I am at my very lowest and acknowledge my weakness and God’s tender mercy, that’s when I feel His strength. It has happened with each post, and I can only say this is a miracle.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

This is teaching me to humbly turn toward Christ, where his power is made perfect in weakness. That verse so aptly fits because at the end of our own strength which is lacking, that’s where Christ wants us. Our strengths can often keep us from being in God’s will because we think we can do it all on our own. The faster we acknowledge him as the source or our strength, the faster we will align with his will and be able to glorify him, and that is a beautiful thing.

Dear readers, would you consider praying over writing for Bible Journal on a regular basis next year (or sooner as a guest author)? Do you think you’re weak? Good, you’re already on your way. Look around you, think about all of the stories in your life right now that can be used to glorify God. Observing these stories takes practice, but it also brings us closer to our maker and closer to our purpose for being on this earth, which is to glorify Him so that others may know his son Jesus Christ and be saved.

And finally, if you happen to have a birthday today then I double-dog dare you to consider this commitment to journaling… nudge nudge… (happy birthday to my sister Katie!).

2 Samuel 19; 2 Corinthians 12; Ezekiel 26; Psalm 74

Your Eulogy

Angel on top of gravestone in the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn - Black & White

2 Samuel 18; 2 Corinthians 11; Ezekiel 25; Psalm 73

I was recently asked to write my eulogy. No, nothing is wrong. Writing your own eulogy is an exercise that prompts focus. It allows us to envision our lives complete and accomplished, thereby giving us the ability prioritize today. Have you ever thought about your own? What would it say? What will you be remembered for?

As I think about it, I am tempted to write about all of my accomplishments. Maybe I want everyone to think of the beautiful homes that I built, my beautiful wife or the amazing kids that I raised. Today, as I listen to Paul boasting of his accomplishment’s, I am reconsidering. According to 2 Corinthians 11:22-28, Paul’s eulogy would include

  • He was a Hebrew
  • He was an Israelite
  • He is the offspring of Abraham
  • He was a hardworking servant of Christ
  • For Christ, he endured prison with countless beatings, often near death
  • He was whipped, stoned and beaten with rods
  • He lived in danger of being robbed, everywhere he went
  • He was often hungry, cold and endured sleepless nights without protection

I don’t know about you but reading that list does not fill me with warm fuzzies. Even so, it’s exactly the list that Paul is most proud of. Why? They were the periods of his greatest weakness. What Paul had figured out is that when he was at his weakest, he was at his best because he was fully reliant on Christ.   Ironically, we are taught to avoid our weaknesses.  Instead of weaknesses we are taught to find our strengths.  Once we do, we are told to exploit them. Paul warns us against such philosophies in verse 3.  He says, “I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent.” (NLT).   He continues to explain that our adoption of such success strategies are really our acceptance of “different gospels.” In other words, they literally steer us away from the King and Christ, Jesus.  Paul continues to explain that our adoption of these teachings will affect our eternity.  Hear his words in verse 15. “It is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”

If you die today, what will your eulogy say?  God willing, we all have many years ahead of us.  Remember, you get to choose, today and every day, whether it will be an account of your worldly accomplishments or your ridiculous love and dangerous witness.

A Nation’s Leader

Psalm 72 is a beautiful prayer for a nation. It’s focus is primarily on its leader. In its recipe for a prosperous nation we find a leader who knows the truth from lies and acts in truth and righteousness, a leader who brings up other strong leaders, a system that brings peace to the people and a people who fear the LORD. On the other hand, we see in scripture how a nation and people who turn from God are handed over to confusion, not being able to discern the truth from lies, they pursue emptiness and the nation declines.

  • Romans 1:18-32 – Turning away from God, being handed over
  • Isaiah 1:21-31 – Outcomes: systematic ruin of economy and justice
  • Isaiah 3:2-6 – Outcomes: weak leaders
  • 2 Timothy 3:1-7 – Outcomes: false believers
  • 2 Timothy 4:3-4 – Outcomes: false religion
  • Deuteronomy 28 – Compare and contrast

May we be the salt of the earth and preserve the old ways.

Today’s reading: 2 Samuel 17; 2 Corinthians 10; Ezekiel 24; Psalm 72

The Cheerful Giver

Today’s Readings2 Samuel 16; 2 Corinthians 9; Ezekiel 23; Psalms 70–71

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  2 Cor. 9:6

Great point, so why is it so hard some days to remember this point written by Paul? Why do I hesitate when it comes to my time, finances, love, listening, or wisdom? I want to piggy back of the authentic heartfelt words from Jillian yesterday called By His Poverty.  This too is something that challenges me and my family. My best answer is to look to His word. God’s word continues with:

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you my abound in every good work.

When my heart is truly committed that is when the cheerful giver emerges in my words, actions, and time.  I would say much of my past life and still selfish current moments can leave me thinking that I can’t commit fully to something.  My only answer is lack of faith, full of fear, and believing I won’t have enough left for myself.  The truth is, God will provide all we need at all times. Amen. This faith and confidence changes your outlook of life. When I have this mindset my heart has decided to trust with all I have in God.  I pray you walk into this day, week, and life with a heart focused on cheerful giving.

For myself there are many factors that can help me make excuses as to why I’m not a cheerful giver at all times.  But I know these are excuses and that the Lord knows us, and he knows our hearts. Psalm 139:1 So, no matter your story beginnings, obstacles, hope, and future God is with you, he goes before you, and will provide anything that we need according to His will!  The part where I have struggled is when I’m doing things for My will. I can often struggle with the idea of Needs vs. Wants and whether they are His or Mine.

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Proverbs 11:24

Having a strong faith of God’s plan for my life needs to include my finances, time, words, wisdom, and actions.  As I write this you should be encouraged to know  the opportunities you will have today to give cheerfully whether that be financially or a listening ear or just love on someone.  In any scenario God will know your heart.  That the giving concept not only looks at our financial giving but our time.  In the time we give to people we give love, we listen, we can give empathy, we can encourage.

Dear Lord,  Continue to build a faith in us that portrays our faith completely in you.  That in our sharing we do it with a love that exemplifies Jesus.Teach me that all we have to offer all day long is done for others because that is what you ask us. Help us not grow weary in doing good.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9

generosity-2

 

By His Poverty

 

Today’s Readings: 2 Samuel 15, 2 Corinthians 8, Ezekiel 22, Psalm 67

This is the first time I’m really diving into 2 Corinthians…in my lifetime. I know, I probably lost half our readers there, but I’m a firm believer in transparency! I’m finding that I’m just really convicted by the messages for us there. I don’t have lots of great Bible history or insight for you today. Instead I just want to share some of my own faith story. In second Corinthians, Paul speaks of giving generously. This is an area that I have struggled in the past. Putting my whole faith and trust in the Lord to provide for us was just really scary. I’ve always struggled with the fact that despite having really successful careers, my husband and I don’t have a fancy house or really nice cars. What we do have is a lot of medical debt for our five year old and some student loans on two doctoral degrees that could pretty much build a castle!

I’ve listened to lots of sermons on cheerful giving and putting your trust in God when it comes to finances. I always felt so moved by those sermons, but that old sense of doubt would come creeping in and I’d be back to placing my trust in the dollar bill and not my Heavenly Father. This summer, our family was humbled to our knees when our son became so ill that required weeks of hospitalization. This community, our Bible Journal community showed our family what Paul meant by generosity. I was taken to my knees again this week when I read these words,

“For you know that grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

This week, my husband and I were given an opportunity to give. An opportunity to give to another family experiencing deep pain and grief. For the first time I felt the absolute freedom and grace in giving. True giving, not substantial giving, but giving of what we have to bring others closer to God. We don’t have much, but there was so much freedom and reward in sharing it. I felt like I could truly connect with Paul’s teaching,

“So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:11)

Do you see? We don’t have to wait to become wealthy to be givers. Instead, we only have to become ready. We only have to experience the deep love of Jesus through generosity one time to become ready to share it. When I think back over the last few months of our life, the moments I remember are the times when people came to the hospital to be with us even though it wasn’t easy. I remember the days I wasn’t sure how we would pay for daycare for our daughters, only to be blessed hours later with all the childcare we needed. I remember fear and sadness giving way to comfort and peace in Jesus and the plan he has for our family. Now we get to share that peace with other families. We get to share that living sacrifice with others because it was so generously given to us. I pray for all of us that we give according to what we have rather than what we don’t have. I pray for each of you that have given so generously. Thank you for shining Christ’s light in our life.  We and our children know the love of Jesus because of you.