More thanks, more joy

A joyful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)

A joyful heart, oh yes, good medicine indeed! What comes to mind when you think about a joyful heart?

Joy seems to be the product of thankfulness, especially when choosing thankfulness over getting upset, being prideful or selfish. For example:

  • Hearing the footsteps of my children at a time when they’re supposed to be in bed, or when I’m trying to get some rest.
  • When our basement nearly flooded due to a frozen pipe or when our dishwasher flooded our kitchen. Both could have been 1,000 times worse. We caught both just in time. No small miracles.
  • Thinking about how long and how earnestly I prayed for a wife. The one I have is the one I will keep, for better or for worse.
  • A nice blanket of snow.
  • Deep, deep laugher, or remembering a time when we deeply laughed. That wasn’t just happiness, it was joy.
  • Getting a glimpse into the wretchedness, the weight, and the cost of my sin. What greater joy than knowing that it is forgiven?

Today’s featured photo is of Atalie Joan Somers, the newest addition to Somers family. Newborn baby foreheads: GREAT JOY! Congratulations Mike, Jamie, and Eleanor! May God continue to bless and keep you.

Today’s reading: Joshua 17 & Proverbs 17

No Secrets

Everyone has secrets that we would be horrified if anyone knew. Secret mistakes, embarrassments, sins, thoughts, pridefulness, and shortcomings.

For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
    and he ponders all his paths. (Proverbs 5:21)

The thing about secrets is that no matter how hard we try to hide them, God knows every single detail of all things. All of our words, thoughts, and actions are known by the Lord Almighty. I wonder what today would look like if every one of us had the full realization as to what it means that God sees it all. I confess to sometimes making the huge mistake thinking that no one knows my sin.

While it should strike fear in our hearts we also need to remember our God is not “out to get us”. He also sees our good deeds, how we love, how we forgive, when we humble ourselves, and when we’re in pain.

It is embarrassing to know that He knows all my sin, but I’m thankful at the same time. This holds me accountable and reminds me that He’s our God, our Heavenly Father who loves us and wants a relationship with us. If we were able to hide from him then he wouldn’t be a very good God would he?

He’s not waiting for us to mess up so he can punish us. He made a way by sending Jesus as a sacrifice for our not-so-secret sins.

Father God, I confess and repent of my sins right now. You’re so good to us. Thank you for loving us even in our most unlovable state, for making us new and white as snow through forgiveness in the name of your son Jesus. Amen.

Today’s reading: Proverbs 5 and Joshua 5

Keep your way far from her,
    and do not go near the door of her house (Proverbs 5:8)

That verse from Proverbs reminded me of a prior post that I thought would be good to revisit along with today’s readings: Do Not Open This Door

We are speaking to the creator of the universe!

This is my last post for 2017 so I’m reflecting on the past year along with Psalm 141, a Psalm of King David.

Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me!
 Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
 and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! (Psalm 141:1-2)

Note the exclamation points and the direct manner by which David starts out speaking to God. This is from the heart, passionate, and urgent. We should all pray like we mean it… we are speaking to the creator of the universe! He doesn’t need our empty words or empty promises, he wants our hearts! Lift up your hands and cry out to him right now. I triple dog dare you. Yes, ’tis the season to go straight to the triple dog dare.

Consider the urgency of Jesus as he prayed on the Mount of Olives, praying so hard that his sweat was like blood.

And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

I’ve seen God move in mighty ways this year, no doubt as a result of crying out and the faithful prayers of friends and family. When I say that I’ve seen God move, I don’t mean that he’s answered every prayer in the way that I wanted him to answer it. He also moves through saying no, not yet, or revealing a completely different plan. While it is easy to say right now that I’m thankful, there have certainly been times of frustration, sorrow, fear, and doubt.

Sitting at my favorite place to write inside, I am thinking about the people, habits, or events that had the biggest influence on my life this year.

  • Absolutely the greatest influence on my life in 2017 (same with 2016) has been writing for Bible Journal. This habit and responsibility causes me to look for the Holy Spirit in all events and to constantly be thinking about God’s ways over my ways. It teaches me to see others as who they are: first and foremost, children of God, loved by God, and therefore I must love others. After completing one post, it is time to start praying about the next one, asking for wisdom and for God’s will to be done. There are so many stories going on in all of our lives, and this journaling habit brings the stories closer to my heart. I am so thankful, humbled and honored to be part of this community.
  • Words of encouragement. Do not underestimate the power that our words have on other people, positive or negative. I’m thankful for those who have lifted me up and challenged me in a way that is pleasing to God.
  • Grace. I spent a few minutes thinking about all that I’ve been given this year that I didn’t deserve. Sit quietly and ask God to show you a glimpse of what you’ve been given this year. I believe he wants all of us to see this so that we may give him, the ultimate giver, the thanks he deserves.
  • Surprises. Meeting new people, especially those who are humble and joyful.
  • Seeing my sin as what it is: unacceptable in the eyes of God. This one stings but let’s not sugar coat it. I’m thankful to have a savior who gave his perfect life in exchange for my all too often wretched life. I’m a sinner in need of a savior. Thank you Jesus.

Unless the Lord builds the house

Our family is six months into a pending move to Italy. On the surface, one could say we’ve made no progress toward this move. There have been tears of joy and tears of sadness. There are hundreds of unanswered questions, but God continues to prove faithful, and he will never fail us.

God is showing us that our efforts, no matter how clever, unless they are in His will, they are in vain.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    those who build it labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1a)

The beautiful thing is that God has shown his mighty hand from the very beginning, and shown us several areas where our plans would have been devastating. This journey has frequently brought the temptation to put our trust in ourselves. I’d like to say we’ve been 100% faithful at every step however we’re human thus prone to the sin of thinking our ways are better.

With all of our ideas, grand plans, desired timing and frustration, as we relinquish all things to Him, we feel our house becoming stronger on a daily basis. The road has definitely been weary, but I can say I’m thankful for this desert because of what God has done, is doing, and whatever it is he will do.

We are all being prepared for something. Today in this metaphorical desert we wait, but we do not wait alone.

Regardless of any of these outcomes, there is only one name we can call to, one name above all, and that is Jesus Christ. No amount of money, no scheme of mankind, no amount of power, nor sheer will can ever replace his completed work on the cross as a replacement for our sin along with His defeat of death through his resurrection as our hope for eternal life. Cling to this truth in all things my friends. May God reveal himself to us today in unforeseen circumstances and may we give him all the thanks, praise, and glory.

Today’s reading links: Mark 3 & Psalm 127

How can this be?

In John 11 Jesus raises his good friend Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was dead for four days, and it was duly noted that they should not remove the stone from the tomb due to the odor. There was no doubt that this man was dead.

It was well documented and well known by the people there that Jesus had performed numerous miracles to this point. However, before this we are not aware of him raising anyone from the dead. Dead for FOUR DAYS then with three simple words shouted from the Son of God “Lazarus, come out.” (John 11:43b), Lazarus is up and walking, alive and well!

The thing is that even some of the closest followers of Jesus at the time believed he had the power to save Lazarus (see John 11:21 and John 11:32), but they didn’t seem to fathom that Jesus could bring Lazarus back from the dead. John 11:37 also shares the view of some other previous miracle witnesses But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

What do we restrict Jesus to? Healer? Teacher? Friend? Good for this but not for that? Unless we take him for who he said he was, and what the scriptures point us to, then we’re selling him far too short: Son of God, Savior of the World, King of Kings and Lord of Lords with power over life and death.

Think about a time when you restricted God to “this” but “not that”. Here’s the first thing that came to mind for me…

Early 2006 my wife Amy was several months pregnant. We had recently begun sharing the news with friends and family as she and the baby were well past the first trimester. Everything was fine until the moment Amy began screaming for me at the top of her lungs. Something very bad was happening so I immediately dialed 911.

Amy was in significant pain and was bleeding heavily. Her jeans were soaked with blood as was the floor. There was some sort of membrane that had fallen out of her, and at that point we were sure the baby was gone. She had a miscarriage in the past and this situation seemed even worse.

At the hospital there were lots of questions and tests, including an ultrasound. I remember saying “why do an ultrasound, she miscarried?”. The medical professional said, “let’s just see what is going on”. Then we heard it. A heartbeat. Even so, there was still doubt… “how can this be?”… Doubt and sorrow turned into joy, then lots of questions.

We were already in mourning for something that hadn’t even happened. There’s no doubt in my mind that God allowed that situation to occur in order to show his power, to teach us, and for us to consider each day with our loved ones as a special gift. Preston was born healthy and strong in August 2006 and is a true blessing to our family, like the splash of surprising colors making a sunset glorious. Thank you Jesus.

Bonus… easy memory verse (one of two “two word” verses in the Bible): Jesus wept. (John 11:35) Consider the fact that Jesus wept. He was God yet still human, experiencing human emotion just like you and I.

Who Is like the Lord Our God? Psalm 113

Eat, drink, remember.

The events in Matthew 26 take place just prior to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In verse 38 Jesus says, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death”. He knows he is nearing the end of his earthly life so he is making final preparations, and sharing parting words and guidance with his disciples.

Jesus continues to teach and love this group of followers all while knowing one of them will betray him, another will deny him, and they will all “fall away” (NLT uses the word “desert”) because of him.

Some good friends, right? Alas, I too am guilty of betrayal through my sin, denial, and most certainly desertion.

One practice that puts me back on track, reminds me of who Jesus is and the significance of what He has done is the partaking in Holy Communion (which we find in today’s chapter).

This act must not be taken lightly, nor should it be considered a box that we check over the weekend. Holy Communion is a ritual of deep significance that has been practiced for over 2,000 years, billions of times, by billions of people.

Holy Communion exists and is valuable because of the greatest sacrifice of all time. Consider coming to the table as described in Philippians 2:12b “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,”. Let us come to the table handing over our worries and doubts and confessing our sins, then receiving the free gift of salvation.

Please read these words slowly today, and even consider “mentally” partaking in communion as you read them remembering, this is his body, this is his blood, for the forgiveness of our sins.

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26-28)

Communion is about remembering, humbling ourselves, coming to the holy table of the Almighty God. Without the broken body and the spilled blood of Jesus Christ, we go to the table covered in shameful sin and we have no chance at the final judgment. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can take away our sin. He lived innocent and died innocent. Eat, drink, remember.

The Lord Reigns! Psalm 99

A lesson in humility

One observation from today’s reading in Matthew 12 is a reflection on the humility of Jesus. He did so much for so many, yet never boasted about himself. Even while he performed miracles or when he was unjustly accused numerous times, he was humble.

Today’s reading links: Matthew 12 & Psalm 85

This week I had the opportunity to observe some manual laborers who work outside, often in challenging conditions in a manufacturing environment where safety is the utmost in priority. There are lots of moving parts, vehicles and machines, thus making it a very noisy and intense environment. The workers do heavy lifting, work with their hands, and are on their feet all day. There is little room for error, the pace is fast and the pressure is high; perhaps “organized chaos” is a good description.

On this particular day, the outside temperature was about 47 degrees Fahrenheit and it was windy so it felt like about 30 degrees. The workers were wearing multiple layers of clothing, gloves, steel-toe boots, and other protective gear. The heavy rain during the two prior days had left its mark on much of the outdoor raw material area. I was in awe; these jobs are not for the weak.

In just a few minutes of observing, I had so many emotions:

  • First and foremost, great respect for these hard workers.
  • Fear that if that was my job I would be a total failure or injure myself.
  • Thankfulness for the opportunities that have been granted to me.
  • Shame for any pride I might have in thinking I might be better than anyone else, ever.
  • Humbled that hard workers like these men and women are truly the backbone of our great country.

To cap all of this off, I was introduced to a man named Jason. We asked him a couple questions about his job and he looked me in the eye, politely responded with a huge and genuine smile, “well, today is my first day on the job, so I’m just learning”.

No complaining, no nonsense, just humility. I could tell that he was thankful for his job and the opportunity that had been granted to him. Call me crazy, but I absolutely felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, teaching me, humbling me, and leading me to pray more and love more. May God bless Jason; a humble and strong man.

In closing today, please reflect on these seven verses and consider the humility of Jesus and how we can strive to become more humble as well.

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21     and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:15-21)

Two Hearts

Today we have a front row seat to an unimaginable event. We get a detailed account from Luke, describing a Roman crucifixion. Scavenger creatures are probably approaching and stench is in the air. Death is near.

It is a scene of torture, pain, blood, sweat, and tears, along with eternity-altering dialogue between three people who can barely breathe and are about to die. There was no mercy, no hope, no rescue in a crucifixion; once you’re up there, death is imminent.

With this, we get to be witnesses to what are perhaps the final words of three men. I’d think that when someone knows they are going to die, their words and thoughts become very raw and very real, very quickly. I find it truly fascinating that we have this conversation in writing.

We have Jesus (not guilty) then two men who are guilty.

First, we have words from one of the guilty men:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

Adamant, defiant, railing (I interpret “railing” to mean mocking or scoffing, much like the rulers and soldiers were doing). While he didn’t seem to be in denial of the charges at this point, there doesn’t seem to be any repentance from him.

And the other criminal with a different heart:

40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

Even the criminal knew Jesus was innocent, yet sentenced to death. We get a glimpse into the criminal’s heart and mind. He acknowledges Jesus as king.

42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

With that one simple statement of faith and a repentant heart, eternity in Heaven is his. The same goes for all of us, depending on our choice to either rail him or repent and call him who he really is: King and Lord of All.

And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Luke 23 & Psalm 71

Picture: La Crocifissione by Michele Da Verona (c. 1470 – c. 1536)

Die to Self

Luke 9:23 presents one of the greatest, direct, over-arching challenges to us in clear form. Jesus is saying, if you’re going to follow me, die to self.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

In a recent worship service, we were challenged to put everything aside apart from our focus on worshiping our heavenly father. Something was stated to the effect of “anything other than this, makes the worship about us, and not about God”.

This theme led me to once again realize that selfishness is at the root of most, if not all sin.

Selfishness manifests itself in many forms. We see people claiming to be Christ followers yet criticizing the church for preaching Biblical truth. I only see human selfishness in these arguments and it breaks my heart. Political standoffs, words of hurt, rock stars calling on Jesus but every other word points to himself or herself as someone almighty, and social media blasts clamoring on and on.

But hold on… before we get too upset over these things, do not forget that it is the ploy of the evil one to deceive and cause dissension – especially within the church. Jesus has already won. He defeated death, he defeated sin. We have love. We have the words of Jesus. We have this command:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)

It is a dark world to spiral into when we start thinking that some other human is the problem as this leads to blame, gossip, anger, retaliation, and even hatred. We cannot fall into the trap. When we judge our enemies we become hypocrites as we are basically making it about us. Revenge is his.

Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
    for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
    and their doom comes swiftly. (Deuteronomy 32:35)

Father God, please show me where I am selfish, where I need to die to self, where I need to pick up my cross and follow you, and you alone. Amen.

Luke 9 & Psalm 57

 

No matter where we are

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

What a promise. What is on your heart today that you believe is in God’s will that you need to ask him for? I know it is in his will that we share the gospel, share his love, that we give, that we repent, that we flee from sin and that we turn our hearts and will toward him.

How often do we take this promise too lightly? No matter where we are, anytime, we have the ear of the almighty God, creator of the Heavens and the Earth, Lord of All, and oftentimes my prayers are just so lame it is embarrassing.

I repent right now Lord for treating you so small. You rescued me, you gave me mercy and grace. You offer perfect truth through your Holy Spirit and your word in the Bible. Thank you for forgiving my sin, for loving me, for listening, for your mercy and grace that I can never repay.

Taking God’s promises too lightly in my world is a result of my own selfishness, which ends up becoming idolatry; me first, everything else second.

Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts. (1 John 5:21 NLT)

I asked my boys to read 1 John 5, then share any thoughts that the reading might have provoked. They both (separately) mentioned verse 21. The ESV uses the word idols, but I sure love how the NLT puts it in our terms today and basically defines idols as anything that might take God’s place in our hearts.

Preston related this verse to having the desire to play video games that he knows are wrong/bad for him. Peyton related it to choosing sports over spiritual growth. Pretty sure we can all relate!

Even during the writing of this post I allowed myself to be distracted by looking for the best hotel for an upcoming business trip. Hmm, the one with a 4.4 rating or the 4.3 rating that looks like nicer rooms but not as desirable location? Pretty sure I checked out for 15 minutes browsing photos and reading reviews. In the end, my investment in that search was about about seeking what would please me and would give me the most comfort. After wasting time on this search I literally felt empty and even a little depressed. Nothing on this earth will ever satisfy like the living water of Jesus… nothing.

Lord Jesus I need you, every day, every hour, every second. I repent for allowing the things of this world to take your rightful place in my heart. Renew me, restore me, guide me today for your glory. Amen.

Today’s reading links: 1 John 5 & Psalm 43