A Change in Paradigm

When you think of a funeral and what Bible passages are read most commonly, which ones come to mind? Today’s reading of Psalm 23 most certainly is in the top few. When I hear this verse, I picture a person walking down a dark path lonely with a light up ahead. I’m not sure this would be the mental vision God would want me to have about death. As I read this verse more closely, what stuck out to me is that it is “the valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23:4. We, who are still living, are in the “shadow of death.” This is where we have fears, anxieties, and worries that cause us stress. This is when we need his “rod and staff” to “comfort me.” This is when I need to “fear no evil” and my soul needs restoring by laying in “green pastures” and by going “beside still waters.”

Revelation 21:4 tells us, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be morning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” When I die, I want my funeral to be a celebration that I’m living in Heaven in perfect peace worshiping the only King forever. I want a band playing songs of praise with everyone standing and worshiping Him reminding all there of the joy they can have in eternal life through confessing their sins and belief in Him and His resurrection! They don’t need to be sad for me…I’m not in a dark valley standing there by myself lonely. I’m experiencing a joy we can’t even imagine on this Earth worshiping Him in a similar way to how I hope they are at that moment.

The first part of Psalm 23:8 says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” telling us maybe Psalm 23 is more appropriate for a baby dedication, a first communion, a baptism, or even a wedding. We can live in perfect peace throughout our life because the second part of Psalm 23:8 says, “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” When we fix our eyes on that which is eternal (the only thing that matters), we will have comfort and respite from the challenges in this life.

Here is the song 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman which was sung at my wife’s great uncle Lee Dexheimer’s funeral. It reminded me we will experience a peace that passes all human understanding just like Lee did that day and still is today, forever and ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXDGE_lRI0E

Angels We Have Heard..in Brooklyn??

In July of 2017, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip doing street ministry with Spread Truth. This was something I had never done before and stretched my comfort zone. Our first day was on parks where you are typically approaching people that are seated, and let’s just say the first guy we approached was about as rude and mean as you could be and I thought to myself..”well…it can’t get any worse than that. It can only get better, so let’s move on and go to the next one!” The rest of the day resulted in some great conversations where the Holy Spirit was at work. Day 2 was a different assignment standing on the sidewalks in the streets of Brooklyn as people passed. To say we were off to a rough start was an understatement. For nearly an hour we could not get anyone to even stop to talk to us as they busily hurried to wherever they were headed. We were very discouraged to say the least, and then came a conversation with Thomas King, a name and an interaction I will never forget.

Thomas, who we later would learn was age 93, was standing by a bench, and we approached him to hopefully tell him the Gospel and change his life..instead…he changed ours. He encouraged us immediately and told us to look at the faces of every person that walked by. He said they were all filled with stress, anxiety, and worry…he said, “What they all need is Jesus!” If they would just remember and lean on the words of Isaiah 26:3, they would not be so troubled. He then told us the words of this verse from memory..

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 26:3

Not only did this emotional pep talk fire us up like a coach before a big game to remind us that people needed what we had and we had to go back out there and push through the rejection, challenges, and disappointments we had experienced and tell them about what they truly needed….which was Jesus, but it was also a great reminder that fear, anxiety, and stress all come from selfish thoughts and concerns about ourselves. 1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” When we are focused on Him and his perfect love for us given on the cross and we know His love shown in this way means we will spend eternity in Heaven with Him and that is all that really matters, we will be in “perfect peace” as Isaiah 26:3 says.

It’s hard to describe our feelings as Thomas captured our hearts and minds with his words of wisdom. Sadly though, Thomas told us than many younger than him, including his church, did not listen. He told us he was recently recognized by his church for his years of membership there, but they would not give him the opportunity to speak when he asked. This saddened me because not only did it disappoint Thomas, but his words had so much impact on us that we did not want him to stop speaking and others would be missing out on his wisdom. Job 12:12 says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”  How many times do we miss out on the opportunity to learn from our elders by not asking them or not listening to them and discounting their credibility which should be gained, not lost, with age?

Hebrews 13:2 reads, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” I don’t know if Thomas was an angel, but I do know that his words cut sharp like a knife at exactly the right time when we needed it and reminded us that what we were doing was not about us and we needed to re-direct our fear to focus on Jesus and His perfect love which every person who walked by needed. As we head into 2019, we hope and pray that it will bring us many blessings, but it will undoubtedly also will bring us challenges. Let’s commit to being prepared to face those trials because our minds will be fixed on Him and His perfect love, and we will trust in Him which will give us “perfect peace.” We have faith He will give us exactly what we need when we need it..just like He gave us Thomas King.

Greatly Distressed

Matthew 17

A couple of weeks ago, I began asking people if it were a full moon outside.  It was my sarcastic way of downplaying the distress in my life.  To be distressed, according to google, is to experience anxiety, sorrow or pain.  But, distress is more than that.  In fact, Marriam-Webster (by the way in our world that is all things Google, we lose some richness from our lives – use other sources for information occasionally) adds that distress is a state of danger or desperate need.  Distress, in my life, shows up when the things that I put my hope in, the things that I trust my future with, don’t perform the way that I expect them to.  The disciples experienced this too.

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. Matthew 17:22-23

Do you see it?  At this point, the disciples had given up their entire lives for Jesus.  Their careers, family life, money, everything.  The only comfort and security they know is Jesus.  What does he do?  He tells them that he is going away.  Worse than that, he is going to die.    They knew that they found the very best thing to live for and now it is going away.  It could never be replaced.  No relationship, no job, no wealth could give them hope.  The result?  Distress – agony, anguish, tribulation, excruciation, torment and torture.

As I consider the disciples’ lost hope, I see that distress reveals much about our own lives.  Chiefly, distress in our lives exposes the object of our affection. Some of us, put our hope in people, maybe a spouse.  Many choose the organization that we work for.   When these let us down, or they change course, our future looks different than what we originally chose.  We find distress.  Do not, for a second, think that distress is a bad thing.  I think Jesus allowed, even wanted his disciples to experience it.  Why?  Because it caused them to reevaluate.  It caused them to clarify why they were following him and was it worth continuing.

History shows that the disciples continued to choose Jesus, despite their distress and the uncertainty of his future.  In him, they found life, abundantly.  That abundant life continued even after his death.  Today, we get that same benefit.  In fact, he promises that he will be with us “even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).  Because of that eternal promise, we never have to experience distress.   When we do, our hope is in the wrong place.

 

Do Not Worry

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Today’s Readings: 1 Chronicles 24-25, 1 Peter 5, Micah 3, Luke 12

On Friday I spent the day in Chicago eagerly hunting Black Friday deals. I made a plan, packed protein snacks, skipped the coffee so I wouldn’t have to pee and made a map. Not just a map of the city but a map of deals. To say that I was caught up in the materialism of the season is an understatement. I invited a close friend to join me in my quest, which resulted in an honest conversation about money. Not just having or not having money but the fear associated with our need for wealth in order to feel secure. We live in an economy of plenty. Many of us are driven by worry to work more and more in order to achieve that level of financial security that will make us feel safe. In reality, that threshold of safety really doesn’t exist. The more successful we are, the more fear we have of losing that assurance. In today’s readings we hear from Luke on God’s provision in our lives. I love, love, love this scripture. I love it because I’ve lived its power and truth in our family life. Here it is:

“And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” Luke 12:22-31

 I know, it’s long but every word of that scripture is so important, we need to read it all! Jesus is telling us that there will never be “enough” money for us to feel secure. No matter how much money we make it will never feel like enough. Instead, Jesus tells us to seek his kingdom…and these things will be added to you. That is so significant! Why? Because Jesus is telling us that if God’s kingdom is your ultimate goal, not wealth or security, then you have total assurance that your goal will be met. When you feel that assurance, really believe in His promise you will recognize that the money you make is actually enough. That God is providing for your needs, every single day.

When I prepare to write each week, I read the commentary from my three different study bibles. While studying Luke this week, I copied down part of the notes from my NIV Bible into my journal. It’s sort of an action list for managing worry in a biblical way. I’m praying that it reaches someone that is reading today that doesn’t know how they will afford tomorrow. Someone that may not be able to buy gifts for Christmas, or may not be receiving a gift because of financial burden. Here it is:

Overcoming worry requires:

  1. Simple trust in God, your heavenly Father. This trust is expressed by praying to Him rather than worrying.
  2. Perspective on your problems. This can be gained by developing a strategy for addressing and correcting your problems.
  3. A support team to help. Find some believers who will pray for you to find wisdom and strength to pray for your worries.

NIV Life Application Study Bible pg. 1698

 I believe that the power in Bible Journal is our willingness to be vulnerable as authors by sharing our testimony. I’m writing to you each week from my heart. I said earlier that I love this scripture because I’ve lived its power. Just 5 months ago our family was in a position in which we didn’t know quite how we would afford tomorrow. Our son was very sick; he needed me to be with him for an extended time in the hospital. We didn’t know when I could go back to work, and we didn’t know who would care for our girls. It was you, the authors and readers of Bible Journal that lifted us up and held us in that time. You were our support team to help. You were the believers that prayed for us and found wisdom and strength when we couldn’t muster it ourselves. And of course, through you, God provided for Oliver’s needs and the needs of our family. We’ll never be able to thank you enough.

As we begin a new week and welcome December, I’m praying that we can take stock of our life and ask ourselves, are the things I’m worried about genuine needs? Are they comparable to the things that the poor and hungry need? If not, then actively work toward letting those worries go. God does provide.