Do you need rest?

Notifications of new emails and text messages rolling in and adding to the backlog of messages that demand a response, a calendar full of business and social events, supporting people who need me, keeping existing customers satisfied while exploring new opportunities to generate income, investing in the spiritual and professional lives of others, a heavy heart for those who are hurting, broken and lost, managing a household, seeking to maintain a healthy relationship with my God, my wife, and my family, and pursuing personal fitness goals. That was a brain dump of my life. Does yours sound similar?

I labor, I am heavy laden… I NEED REST!

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

How can Jesus give us rest? What does he mean by rest?

A recent burden in my life triggered the need for me to make a choice regarding where I’m going to put my trust, worry, and hope. The problem didn’t actually seem insurmountable for me to tackle myself, but I knew from experience that my way would likely lead to frustration, anxiety, and attempts at knocking on many closed doors before finding the open door – it would have worn me out. About a month ago I said to Amy, “we are going to trust God in this like never before; this problem is now his, not ours… let’s see what he does and look back on this day in awe.” The focus here is not on the end result; God is not a genie granting us everything we want. What I’ve encountered in this journey thus far is peace and rest. As soon as I start to worry, I think about His promises and greatness. Through this journey I’ve encountered:

  • Friends who don’t even know of this burden have offered assistance, from seemingly out of nowhere (although I KNOW where!)
  • Conversations with new acquaintances have given me peace and great insight.
  • Opportunities for me to share this burden and my story on trusting God with those who do not yet proclaim Jesus as their savior.
  • Inspiration from Bible Journal; specifically Jillian’s post on “The Big Ask”.
  • A greater closeness with God as I read scriptures and prayer.

Have I stumbled? Yes. There have been times when I’ve let myself worry and have attempted to take control because I was impatient. The result: stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and agitation.

I am writing all of this to you today before the “end result” with the hope that our readers can see that this life is not about immediate resolutions to problems. This is about the journey. I have no idea what God has in store, but I know that he is faithful, he is with us and he will never leave us. This leaves me humbled, thankful, and yes, it gives me rest.

Joshua 3; Psalms 126–128; Isaiah 63; Matthew 11

Is God On Your Side?

FB-purple-royalty-EJoshua 2; Psalms 123–125; Isaiah 62; Matthew 10

In the time of Rahab, Jericho’s news reports were filled with stories of the Israelites conquests. They started with wild tales about seas parting and the people walking across on dry land. As time passed, however, the number of stories raised greater suspicions.   Before long, there were reports of the Israelites destroying people. Not just regular people, they were defeating giants.  Amos describes them as mighty as oaks and as tall as cedars! How could it be?  The Israelites were puny!  Sihon had recently been sacked and the latest reports indicated that Og was utterly destroyed. How was it possible? “God is on their side,” was the only possible explanation. With Og gone, Jericho was the next likely target. Every resident feared the inevitable.

Rahab confirmed the danger as she answered the door.  She knew instantly that trouble was imminent. The men standing outside were not locals, they were Israelites. Clearly, Jericho was next. But, she was trapped. There is no way out. Nobody would save her. As a prostitute, Rahab was despised and scorned. Not even God would help her. He was on their side, not hers.

When the men asked for safe harbor, she contemplated the great risk in protecting them. Treason is punishable by death. Even so, she knew that Jericho was doomed. When the Israelites come, they will quickly and easily devastate the city. Nothing can stop them. God is on their side. Surely, Rahab considered how great it would be to have God on her side.

What is your story of God? Do you see great things that he has done? Is he on your side, or are you still oppressed, like Rahab? Did you notice how she turned it around? Rahab realizes that a better life is possible. One that does not live in fear and oppression, but one that is purposeful and filled with opportunities. She saw this living hope clearly in lives of the Israelites. What she saw was God. She confesses to the men, “the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. “ (Joshua 2:11). It’s that simple.

What happened to Rahab? Was her life changed? Was God on her side? Thankfully, the Bible provides the answer. Matthew 1:5 tells us that she gave birth to a boy named Boaz. Boaz son fathered Obed, who fathered Jesse, who sired King David. David, of course, is the predecessor to the King of King’s, Jesus.  Obviously, God honored Rahab’s confession.  He changed her from a slave to the world, facing certain death, and replaced oppression with life. Not just any life, but life worthy of a King’s lineage. Royalty. God was on her side!

There is no other force, no other power, no other name that can compare with the power of God.  Is God on your side?

According to your faith

Today’s reading: Joshua 1; Psalms 120–122; Isaiah 61; Matthew 9

June 29th, 2016

And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us. And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it. – Matthew 9:27–30

Reading about this miracle lead me into a study on all the miracles Jesus performed. Many questions came forth in the study. All throughout the gospel scriptures we read about the critical element of faith in those seeking Jesus restoration (Matthew 8:10, Matthew 9:2, Matthew 9:22, Matthew 15:28, Matthew 17:17-20, Mark 6:5-6, Luke 18:42, Mark 10:52, John 40:50-51, John 11:22-27). Another version of faith in my estimation is humility, in which faith in God’s word is required, specifically that He is God and we are not. Humbling ourselves and aligning ourselves underneath our LORD and Master in truth (Mark 1:40-41, Luke 7:13-14, Matthew 9:18, Mark 7:32, Mark 8:22, Matthew 15:22, Matthew 20:30, Luke 17:13).  Why did God choose faith as the key to unlock His mercy?

Why does Jesus tell those he healed not to talk about it (Mark 7:36, Mark 8:26, Matthew 9:30)? Why did Jesus withdraw from crowds to perform miracles (Mark 7:33, Mark 8:23)? When performing miracles, why did Jesus command the evil spirits not to reveal who He was (Mark 1:25, Mark 1:34, Mark 3:11-12, Luke 4:35, Luke 4:41)? Why did Jesus tell the disciples not to tell people who He was (Mark 8:29-30)? Could it be that Jesus knew that His kingdom would require a stronger faith that did not include a ‘seeing is believing’ level of faith (John 2:22-24, John 4:48, Matthew 18:1-4, John 20:29, 1Corinthians 1:22, John 9:4)? I’m not sure I can answer all these questions, but I know Who has all the answers.

What is faith? 

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1

Why faith?

That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:7-10

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. – Hebrews 11:16

Extra Credit. For a more complete answer read all of Hebrews chapter 11 and Ephesians chapter 2. You will not regret it.

Lessons in Leadership

Ever since I was a young kid I would say that I want to live to be 100 years old. To this day I will say the same thing until I read Deuteronomy 33-34. I’ve change my mind,  I’d like to 120. Yesterday, in Jillian’s post The Not So Promised Land Jill talked about the life of Moses and the missing out of this promise land because of a prior choices.  At the top of Mount Nebo in Moab the Lord speaks to Moses one more time before he dies.

Deuteronomy 34:7 says that His eye was undimmed, and his vigor was unabated.

Moses was seeing clearly and his mind was still focused on the Lord. Moses then gives one final blessing to Israel. Instead of worrying about himself and the fact he was told he was about to die. He gives a final blessing to Israel. Moses was serving others, just like he had his whole life.  Today, I want to share a couple lessons on leadership we can learn from Moses.

Today’s Date: June 28, 2016

Today’s Reading: Deuteronomy 33–34; Psalm 119:145–176; Isaiah 60; Matthew 8

Moses life of leadership (excluding the run in he had with an Egyptian who was hurting a Hebrew, even in this event he saw something was wrong and he was trying to do something about it. ) models principles of how we can become better disciples of the Lord.

  • God is always speaking in our lives. The first thing that we need to always do is trust that God has a plan for your life.  From Moses’s birth in Exodus 2, God has his plan for Moses The life of Moses shows how He will take care of you. Moses kept this faith in adversity.
  • Moses cared for others.  The phrase, “people don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care” comes to mind.  He truly cared for others and their well being. It was more then a superficial level. Moses showed concern for his people while they were in Egypt and at the time of the exodus, but as well in his continued care for them during their wanderings in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.
  • Moses was a great listener.  We read about Moses listening to God and listening to the Israelites. He believed in the message of the Lord and shared this message so they could also be brothers and sisters in Christ.  (Deuteronomy 28:1-2)  Personally, I know I could do more whole body listening as I tell students at school. We listen with our ears, eyes, and mind.  I need to continue to empathize and affirm the things others say to me. This is especially true when people share their emotions and feelings in a situations where I do not share those same emotions and feelings. I need to make sure I am whole body listening to the people I’m around and actively adjusting what I say and do in light of what they feel.
  • Be humble in your leadership. Moses showed humility. Exodus 4:10 But Moses said to the Lord, Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Moses was always willing to listen to others and not do everything by his own accord. He would listen and give credit to others.
  • Moses didn’t change or compromise in the face of adversity. He stayed true to what the Lord asked him to do.  He was responsible in making sure that the job gets done. Throughout the life of Moses God was always in charge and always provided direction for what Moses did and how Moses led. Whether it was from when Moses was first called by God in Exodus 3:1-3  or Moses taking steps to ensure the people were obedient to God’s teaching in Deuteronomy 31:9. Moses never changed when staying faithful to God and His word.

A defining character trait of a leader is someone who is willing to take responsibility. Moses is willing to step up to the plate because the job needs to be done. He wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t experienced, and he stuttered when he spoke. But when he saw his people were in trouble, when he saw a job that needed to be done, he acted on it. He took responsibility, even at risk to his own life. Therefore the Almighty chose him to lead. We demonstrate our leadership traits to ourselves, our partners, our children, our friends, our colleagues, our community, and what is important to us by our actions.

Will you find ways to mirror some of the leadership traits from Moses in your life today?

At times we can feel inadequate in our ability to lead people and do God’s work. Personally, based on Moses’s life I need to have more belief and confidence in God. We need to have more confidence because if we allow God to be in charge of leading the way for me to follow, then He will do what He wants done.

What leadership qualities have you learned from the life of Moses?

Dear God, We pray for your presence in us and in our world. We pray you impact our hearts to lead our lives, families, and others in a manner that would fulfill Your will.  Thanks you for sharing examples of disciples of Christ like Moses. Help us to understand Your word so we can open doors for others and lead like Moses.  Thank you for your Love and Grace in order to help us  “Finish ” the journey.  Amen

Psalm 90 offers the Prayer of Moses, the man of God

 

 

 

The Not So Promised Land

Fantastic dreamy sunrise on top of rocky mountain with view into misty valley.Mountain view.Foggy mountain.Dreamy forrest. Sunrise clouds. Forest hill.Autumn mist.Misty peaks.Foggy landscape. Rock top

Deuteronomy 32, Psalm 119: 121-144, Isaiah 59, Matthew 7

Hello friends! It’s Monday again. What a beautiful weekend we had! I hope you had some time with your family and friends and most of all I hope you spent some time worshiping God this weekend. I did and it renewed my soul! We have so many great scriptures to consider today. I just love Matthew 7:24 Build Your House on a Rock! I read that one over and over and was excited to apply that timeless message to our daily life. I made lots of notes about building foundations and came up with a few paragraphs of good stuff to raise our spirits today. But…then I changed my mind. Of course, Matthew 7 has so many pearls of wisdom including: judgment of others, the golden rule and false prophets. I decided instead to take a little risk. If you are a frequent flyer here at Bible Journal you know that I’m a new Christian. Often, when I’m writing my weekly post, I come across a scripture I’ve never read in my life. It’s usually really exciting for me and I get all fired up about the message I’ve uncovered. This week something different happened. I read something at the end of Deuteronomy that broke my heart. Something that has been bothering me all week. Here it is:

“That very day the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.” Deuteronomy 32:48-52

 Are you kidding me? I am so upset about this. Moses, the only person who has ever spoken to God face to face, Israel’s greatest prophet is not allowed to enter the Promised Land? I can’t even take it. The guy that brought us the Ten Commandments and persevered for years through trial after trial has to climb to the top of a mountain and just die there while looking directly at the treasure he fought so hard for? Spoiler alert…In Deuteronomy 34, he obeys God and does exactly that. 120 year old Moses sidles up this Mount Nebo where the Lord shows him the whole land from one end to the other. Then God says to him:

“This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to your offspring. I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” Deuteronomy 34:4

 So then Moses just lays down, or I don’t know maybe he’s still standing up but he dies. What does this mean for me? I can’t shake the feeling that I’m nowhere near Moses-ness in my journey to heaven. When it’s my time, is God going to send me to the top of the mountain and say, “here’s all the great stuff I promised for your kids and their kids and all your friends…you weren’t 100% faithful on earth so this is your punishment” Yikes. I did a little research into just exactly what Moses did wrong, so that I could definitely avoid this transgression myself. All study bibles pointed me to Numbers 20:10.

“Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Numbers 10-12

 What now? Ok so more research revealed that God told Moses and Aaron in Numbers 20:8 that they should speak to the rock and water would flow out for the people but instead Moses and Aaron told the stressed out thirsty people that they were going to bring water from the rock and then they hit it with the staff not once but two times instead of speaking to it like God had commanded them. So by striking the rock and taking credit for the miracle, Moses disobeyed God’s direct command and dishonored God in the presence of his people. The punishment was grave and irreversible. I must admit it makes me a little worried. It seems like a real human thing to do in such desperate circumstances. I can see how Moses just wanted the people to trust him and that it probably felt great when they were all praising him for the miracle of water. How often to I take credit for something I don’t really deserve? It feels good to be the one that swoops in and saves the day. I’ve really been wrestling with this one. It’s just not the way I wanted Moses’ story to end. I want him to run on his 120 year old legs and lay down in his promised land. It’s just not a photo finish. It leaves me wondering if it was impossible for a guy like Moses to be fully obedient to God, is it even worth trying for a sin filled person like me?

I was encouraged by the commentary in my NIV today. It says:

“No matter how good we are, or how much we’ve done for God, we sometimes disobey him. The result of our disobedience is that we will be disciplined. God disciplined Moses severely, but still called him his friend. When you experience the sting of God’s discipline, respond as Moses did. Don’t turn away in anger, embarrassment, or resentment. Instead, turn toward God with love, openness, and a desire to do better.”

Isn’t that just great advice? That’s exactly what Moses did, he was open and accepting, he wasn’t at all resentful. He climbed up that mountain, looked out on the Promised Land and then surrendered to his heavenly Father. It doesn’t say in my Bible if he went to heaven or not. So, here comes the risk in my post today. If you are still reading, I hope you’ll leave me a comment below. I’d like to know how you feel about this part of the Moses story? I hope you’ll share your wisdom and experience with me. How does this story make you a better Christian, what can we learn from it and how can we understand what God wants from us? Also, I couldn’t find any later references to whether or not Moses gets to spend eternity with God, even though he was disobedient on earth. I’d like to know, so please share!

A Letter to Hate

The other morning I found myself watching the news about the Orlando massacre and crying. As I looked over at my wife Heather, there were tears streaming down her face as well. How is it that there is so much senseless violence in our country, in our world? Where does such hatred come from? My only answer was it is born of selfishness, confusion and pain. Perhaps some form of mental illness triggered by indifference that flourishes in self pity and self righteous.

When I think about history, I know that in other times and other places there have been terrible genocides and atrocities of massive proportions. Perhaps these are just as senseless, even on a grander scale. Sometimes the history of the world seems mostly about people taking each other’s stuff and killing. Certainly not the utopia of the garden where man once “walked” in harmony with God.

We live in a modern society with abundant freedoms to pursue our dreams and raise our children in relative tranquility. In contrast, violence of any kind is quite disturbing, and perhaps, without a strong anchor of truth, contagious. This all makes me wonder, where does such evil come from?

Does selfishness and indifference reside in the heart of man? My personal experience tells me it does, and so does the Bible. In our own power we will always fall short of God’s greater glory. The tendency to justify our desires, and our achievements; sometimes with great pride, always puts the focus on us instead of on others; instead of on God. Is it possible that even the smallest acts of self interest ripple beyond our understanding into great evil?

Todays Reading Link: Duetoronomy 31, Psalm 119:97-120. Isaiah 58, Matherw 6

The verse below from last Sunday’s reading offered me hope and understanding. It also encouraged me to write a letter to the problem, HATRED.

Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. -Psalm 115:1

Dear Hatred,

Why do you torment the helpless, the weak and the unprepared? Why do you spill the blood of grief upon those who suffer for your treachery? Are you a coward? Is your life driven by fear or confusion? Did you not see the sunrise or the sunset, and the dome of the heavens or the magnificence of nature that hath ceaselessly proclaimed the glory of the living God? Have you been passed over by love, unable to feel God’s love in the lives of those who have chosen to turn from their selfish desires? Have you not heard the good news: God’s grace is sufficient for all mankind! God’s love endures forever!

Yes, even you Hatred are loved are offered freedom from your malice and self loathing, through the redemption of the blood of Jesus. God proclaims your salvation as His hand reaches deep, into the depths of your despair, to pull you into the light of His amazing grace and love. Look away from your self. Look up. What would your life be if you knew the truth of God’s amazing love?

Hatred, I cry for you in your confusion, and for those who must wrestle in the pain that you deliver in the evil of your delusion. But you need to know this; love cannot be overcome! You cannot extinguish the light of hope, for it will only grow stronger, as the wounded and the left behind search for answers to your senseless violence.

In the light of the glory of God.

With all my Love,

Love

No spin zone

Hand On Well Used Old Bible Under Painted Light

Deuteronomy 30; Psalm 119:73–96; Isaiah 57; Matthew 5

Revisionist history – re-interpretation of the historical record.

According to Wikipedia, this term can be used to describe a positive situation, such as a time when new evidence has come to light and the accuracy of the historical record is improved. Or it can describe a negative situation, a time when the historical record is distorted so that certain events appear in a more or less favorable light; changing the facts of the situation to support whatever case you are trying to make.

I had never heard this term until a few years ago when a co-worker of mine used it. In the context of a performance review for one of HIS direct reports who was making the facts sound better than they actually were, the word made me snicker.  Unfortunately over time, I found myself using the term more and more to describe some unhealthy behaviors regularly occurring on our team. A lot of needless time was being spent gathering evidence to either prove or disprove assertions made in our office.  In a society that puts incredible value on being the best in class, I wasn’t surprised by the behavior, just disappointed.

And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:36-37).

As I read Matthew 5 this week, I thought about the time I spent with the leadership team I described above. I didn’t snicker this time. Jesus’ teaching here is specific to the use of vows or oaths, but the core message is simply about the goodness of truth telling. He says swearing, or making a vow, that something is true doesn’t make it so.  In the same way, changing the facts of the situation to support your case doesn’t make it reality either.  He goes on to remind his listeners that speaking truth is always the best approach.  The Berean Study Bible says it this way, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ Anything more comes from the evil one.

A consistent truth-teller never needs to say “I promise” or “I swear” to get others to believe him. His reputation speaks for itself.  Other people want to be on his team.

What about you? Are you known as a person of your word? Are you fostering a truth telling environment?

I run to you now

Today’s journal entry is my own prayer to correspond to Psalm 119:57-64. The more I read these verses, the more they spoke to me. Perhaps some or all of this prayer applies to you as a reader so would you consider reading today’s post in prayer with me? Thanks for reading!

Deuteronomy 29; Psalm 119:49–72; Isaiah 56; Matthew 4

57 The Lord is my portion;
    I promise to keep your words.

Father God, you are enough. Forgive me for the many times when I seek to fill my soul with the empty things of this world. Instill in me a strong desire to choose you; your eternal truths and worthy commands.

58 I entreat your favor with all my heart;
    be gracious to me according to your promise.

Thank you God for showing us through this psalm that we can entreat (beg) you. That assures me that you will listen. I am sorry for doubting you. Let me not fall victim to the lies of the enemy; “this problem is too big”, “he will not answer that prayer”, “he will not smile upon you”, “there is not enough grace for you”. You promised grace, that which I don’t deserve, but yet you freely give; therefore I seek your grace right now, with my whole heart.

59 When I think on my ways,
    I turn my feet to your testimonies;

Lord, as you know, I was on a reckless path without you. When I think of this path I remember emptiness, despair, and guilt; I was lost. I run to you now; you fill the empty void in my life, you have given me hope, you have washed away my guilt from sin through your son’s one-time act of death, burial, and resurrection. My true identity is found now that I have you, your word, your rules, your promises, and I have a better understanding of your love.

60 I hasten and do not delay
    to keep your commandments.

Reveal to me my sins and equip me to immediately turn from them, to you. Teach me your commandments; let me remember them throughout the day in every situation. Give me a heart that cannot wait to do your will and follow you like the first disciples in Matthew 4:20: Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

61 Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,
    I do not forget your law.

There are those who would like to attempt to steal your glory by making me stumble. Oh God, do not let me be deceived. Let me fully rely on your righteous commands. Protect me from all evil.

62 At midnight I rise to praise you,
    because of your righteous rules.

Thank you for waking me in the night and reminding me of your goodness. Let my first waking thoughts at all times be praise for you, your ways, your mercy.

63 I am a companion of all who fear you,
    of those who keep your precepts.

Thank you Lord for my christian brothers and sisters, they are truly my companions! They teach me, they pray for me, they share their insights into your word, will, and ways. I am truly blessed to have so many people who love me with the love of Christ. Let me be the companion to them that they need me to be. Please strengthen those who are persecuted for fearing you; especially those in other countries who risk torture and even death because they proclaim you as Lord.

64 The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love;
    teach me your statutes!

We do not have to look far to see your love for us. You create a marvelous symphony morning and night through the birds of the air; let us close our eyes and listen, and give all glory to you. You enable this earth to spin, giving us glorious sunrises and sunsets. Sun and rain give life to our sustenance because you make it happen. You show your love by equipping us with a sense of humor; let us use it properly. You showed the ultimate act of love on this earth by sending your son Jesus. Amen.

Readers, tomorrow’s reading will start the Sermon on the Mount. Would you consider reading it in its entirety as a complete sermon? I fell in love with this sermon several years ago and it continues to have a special place in my life. My Christ-following journey in 2010 started with the reading of Matthew with a quest to learn who Jesus really was and what he really was asking of us. The sermon really answered that for me in a miraculous way. Here’s a link: Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

The Great Stone Face

stonefaces6Deuteronomy 28:20–68; Psalm 119:25–48; Isaiah 55; Matthew 3

In 2011, I attended the Global Leadership Summit.  On the second day, after hearing a half dozen amazing speakers and leaders, the host Bill Hybels, introduced a sweet, unassuming woman named Maggie Gobran. His summary of her life was brief and, as I recall, unremarkable. He explained how Maggie answered God’s calling on her life.  She was to serve the poorest of the poor in Cairo. In obedience, she gave up her upper-middle class life as an academic to become a servant to the children in the slums of Cairo.  She founded an organization called Stephen’s Children that had become world-class. Her efforts even earned her a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. As Bill left the stage, all eyes were keenly focused on Maggie, eager to hear her story and to glean her leadership genius.

Words cannot describe the next several minutes. I remember standing, looking down on the stage and thinking about how small she was. Maybe 5’ tall and 80 pounds. I didn’t see an ear to ear grin, nor did I see a face of anger. I saw depth. As she stood there silently, applause erupted, bringing every person to their feet. Clearly, Maggie was someone special. Rather than dissipating like a normal standing ovation, this one continued to grow. The energy in the room had a presence. As the applause gave way to silence, she knelt and bowed her head. It was as if all the love in the world existed in that single auditorium. The best I can say is that it radiated from her, touching the core of every soul, overpowering even the hardest of hearts.  Dry eyes were impossible.

I can’t help but wonder if John the Baptist was a bit like Maggie Gobran. Based on the description in today’s reading, he wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, most people would never notice him, just like Maggie. Even crazier, “John’s food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4 ESV). Despite John’s oddities and seemingly repellent characteristics, people flocked to him, just like Maggie. This is the important thing. What is it that was drawing the people and where did it come from?

You probably already know the answer to that question. Of course, you are going to answer Jesus, right? To be honest, I am not happy with that answer. Of course, I believe that it is the right one, but it’s too simple. The answer is trite. It does not solve the riddle of how I get it. How do I get a pure heart that goes irresistibly into the world? I found the answer to that question in a short story that was originally presented to me by Dr. JK Jones. In his book What the Monks Can Teach Us, he summarizes Nathaniel Hawthorn’s story of The Great Stone Face. The story was so impactful for me that I wanted to share it with you exactly as Dr. Jones has written it in his book.

Hawthorne describes a people living in a valley, shadowed and surrounded by a huge rock formation. The rocks are shaped together in such a manner that if viewed from a proper distance, a great face can be seen. The face appears divine. It seems to express both warmth and sweetness while embracing all people who look upon it. Hawthorne’s main character, Ernest, is a man who has gazed upon the Great Stone Face day after day and year after year. His mother first passed on to Ernest the ancient legend when he was a boy. According to the story there would one day come an incarnation of the great rock. Throughout the narrative rumors surface that a man has appeared who resembles the great stone face. First, Mr. Gathergold, a shrewd and active man whose name identifies his chief ambition in life, is thought to be fulfillment of the prophecy. Though the people of the valley want ot believe that Gathergold is the image of the great face, Ernest knows he is not. Later, a war hero, Old Blood-and-Thunder, is heralded to be the one in whom the likeness is seen. Again, Ernest recognizes what the crowd does not. The general is only a war-worn, weather-beaten hero. Years go by, the people have settled down and now are able to admit the previous two men were not the prophecy’s fulfillment. A third character appears in the story, Old Stony Phiz, a man in whom is found a magical oratory skill. His spoken words are like the sweetest music ever heard. As is expected, the people of the valley once again see in this man the Great Stone Face, and once again Ernest is disappointed. Time reveals that Ernest is correct and the people in error. Years pass by. Ernest is quite old. People come to him from all over seeking the understanding of this simple man that cannot be found in books. From college professors to statesmen they visit with this gentle, sincere soul. One last time Ernest hopes he will meet that special one who has been foretold. A poet does appear that Ernest admires greatly, but both the poet and Ernest realize he is not the one. The story closes with Ernest being asked by neighboring villagers to speak to them and while the golden sun is setting, both the poet and people recognize what Ernest has not and cannot. Ernest, himself, is the fulfillment of the Great Stone Face! In his humility, constant gaze, and unquenchable seeking he has become that which he sought.

As far as I can tell, Maggie Gobran, John the Baptist, even Hawthorn’s Ernest became irresistible in the same way.  In fact, it’s true for all of us.  We become what we seek and serve every day.

When you are ready to seek hard after God, check out this awesome program presented by Dr. JK Jones and the incredible faculty at Lincoln Christian University.

God’s law loves you too

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 27–28:19; Psalm 119:1–24; Isaiah 54; Matthew 2

June 22nd, 2016

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways. Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments. I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments. I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. – Psalm 119: 1-11

To me the law is a beautiful thing. It is full of judgement, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23-24). The law is love written on our hearts (Romans 13:10, Hebrews 8:10). In my estimation, so that we are hardwired with the ability to love others with the love of Jesus Christ. Like an operating system for our soul, when we divert from the law and choose not to love another, the system gets confused and pushes back; “processing, processing, processing…” God reboot my soul, reset my system anew with love. My soul longs for it. God’s law leads me, directs me, governs me and to the extent that I accept this truth, seek after it and hold to it moment-by-moment, my soul is at rest in the peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Still from time to time I encounter a sort of push back amongst Christians when the phase God’s law is used. For some the word law carries with it evil connotations of the very worst sort. To the extent the word ‘law’ or phrase ‘God’s law’ is perceived as an enemy of love. A fear arises in some that God’s law will push non-believers away. The phase “old testament god” is used, as if there were such a thing. God is God and has always been, no shadow of turning (James 1:17, Hebrews 13:8). Oh how this saddens me. I hate this perversion of my Master’s holiness. My anger is with the evil that has managed to redefine the meaning of the word law through hypocrisy.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. – Matthew 23:23–24

James Tissot, Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees.
James Tissot, Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees.

Gnats and camels alike where considered unclean. Camels were likely the largest unclean thing while gnats were likely among the smallest. Religious leaders would strain out gnats before drinking wine to be sure to uphold the law and not unknowingly consume something unclean. Jesus here describes a rather comical situation. Imagine watching someone meticulously straining wine through a linen to “be sure” to uphold the law in every way, the whole time a camels is somehow sitting in their cup, which they then gulp down proudly.

In my estimation, Jesus here criticizes the religious leaders for their blinding attention to detail that caused them to lead others astray from the truth of the law. My prayer is that the Pharisees’ and hypocrites’ perversions of the law will be untwisted and made straight. That we may dismiss the worldly definition of God’s law, wave God’s banner and return to the truth, proclaiming a biblical definition of His law. That we would all fall in love with God’s beautiful law. That we would never be deceived into a judgemental nor self righteous nature. That we would not be fear-driven conditional lovers and so pervert God’s law. That any inner Pharisees within us would be vanquished by God’s truth (Psalm 139:23-24).

Judgement is not about one person assessing another’s keeping of the law but rather the law helping one keep their own affairs in order (Isaiah 1:17, Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:9–10; Micah 6:8; Habakkuk 2:4). Praise God for writing His law on our hearts that we may live abundantly (Jeremiah 31:31-34)!

Keeping the law is beautiful

Straining out the gnat is not evil in any way. Jesus makes it clear that we should do it (Matthew 23:23). His criticism is that the Pharisees had done it to the dismissal of things that were more important and where lost thinking they had not only kept the law but kept the finer points that others had missed. 

Loving the LORD thy God with all one’s heart and soul and mind and desiring to do His will in all things; Beautiful. Thinking one’s self capable of judging another’s love for God; Ugly. Deep concern for one’s own stewardship; Wise. Being overly concerned for someone else’s; Foolish.

Judgement is a gift from God to help us with our stewardship. Let us not pervert this gift by trying to unwrap it for another. Instead let us rejoice in it, praising God for His gift to us in humility as we are judged in grace and mercy to the glory of God as we are made whole and mature in Christ (1 John 4:17).

Let us also consider the inverse. If we pass by and see another straining out a gnat and think, “that hypocrite” are we not in judgement of another? By straining a gnat have they judged another? If so how is one to obey Jesus command to let their light shine? (Matthew 5:16)

Shine Your light oh LORD and vanquish darkness. Here is truth about the law:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. – Ecclesiastes 12:13

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. – John 13:34–35

Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:10

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. – Matthew 22:36–40

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. – Matthew 7:12

 

Extra Credit:

  1. Check out the eight woes of the Pharisees, this post mostly drew on the fifth.
  2. Golden Rule thought experiment on the power of God’s law in love

Scripture: Matthew 7:12, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 13:5

God gives us a simple and basic, at the most fundamental level, instruction on how to keep the law well. Many call it the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). I say it is most fundamental because it is by way of that which we are most intimate with than any other; ourselves. We know exactly how we should like to be treated and regarded and so forth. Even if not consciously, subconsciously we are hardwired to love ourselves well. Follow along for one simple illustration of this truth. We know that love thinketh no evil or, put another way, keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).

What if we were to apply how we feel about ourselves in this matter on to others? In order to explore this question I encourage you to join me in a thought experiment on your being wrong. Popular exercise, I know.

  1. Name a time when you were wrong; no excuses, no circumstances at work that were out of your control, no anything but you and your wrongness hanging out being wrong.
  2. Let’s say you came up with something. Then let us go to how long it took to recall. Checking all those excuse boxes may have taken a bit of time. Well that one wasn’t really all my fault, etc. So how long did it take you to recall?
  3. Now think back to the first time you had admitted you were wrong in this instance. Think on how quickly and completely you forgave yourself. Did it even take a second? Did it really even register?

Is not love a beautiful thing?!?! Praise God that His law is written on our hearts! (Jeremiah 31:31-34) His forgiveness, His grace and His mercy are written on our hearts!!! The questions then become, does it take you as long to come up with something someone close to you has done wrong? Has it taken you more than a second to dismiss it from your mind?

The point here is that our love of ourselves is much nearer perfection in fulfilling the law than our love for our fellows. God has written it on our hearts to help us, to enable us for the good work He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). How can we not fall in love with His law? Is it not beautiful? Does it not equip us to save souls and rescue others from bondage as it all the time rescues us from a hopeless existence with ourselves? God Your beauty is unimaginable! Your goodness unsearchable! Your ways are beyond me my God and my redeemer! Praise Your Name!