“Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

Today’s reading is Matthew 6:19-21 and Psalm 79.

Matthew 6:19-21 could not be more fitting for today. I’m always amazed at God’s timing which makes me know there are no coincidences.

Last Tuesday April 24th, this Earth lost an amazing lady in Mary Ellen Bandy. Mary Ellen was my grandmother, but to me, and many others, she was Memaw.

Today would have marked her 94th birthday.

Memaw did not have monetary wealth when she passed away. Instead, her treasure was her wonderful heart she gave to the Lord and to others as Matthew 6:21 says. She laid herself up for treasures in Heaven by giving her life to the Lord and serving others in same the way the Lord served us.  Rev. Mark Doane said, “Mary Ellen did not talk about her faith very much, but she lived it!” As the famous song says, “…they’ll know we are Christians by our love..” Others seeing our love by our actions is more important than anything we say. People will be drawn to Christ when they see our genuine, peaceful, and caring heart we have through a relationship with Him. They will want what we have.

Memaw left an amazing legacy for us to follow, and I’m confident when she entered Heaven the Lord greeted her with a big hug and said, “Well done. my good and faithful servant!”

Happy birthday in Heaven, Memaw!

Here as an excerpt from her eulogy last week…

Memaw was just so memorable..she wasn’t just our Memaw..everyone knew her as Memaw. I have received messages from many over the last few days who may have only met her once… but they remembered her and specific things like maybe having a beer with her or talking about the Cubs or Illini. Her dad gave her the nickname “Pee-wee” because she was small, and my great Aunt Sister, Uncle Roy and their side of the family continued to call her that which was neat… but there was nothing tiny about her personality and how she lived her life! People just didn’t forget her.

Like Chad said..she NEVER missed a game..not a one..and you could always hear her yelling “Easy does it..now..Easy does it!” to whoever was on the free throw line! She was the first person I called when the Cubs won the World Series, and I’m so happy she lived to see it. She always had the Cubs game on when I called her. One of my most special memories is watching the Cubs with her and Papaw and singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. I learned to golf by her taking me a couple times a week to Oak Leaf starting at probably 7 and can still hear her little sayings on the course. My Mom is a great cook..and I’m told I have Memaw to thank for that as well because she apparently couldn’t boil water before she was married. Thank you, Memaw! I was, and still am for that matter, skinny enough growing up. I can only imagine how bad it would have been if Mom couldn’t cook!

Memaw truly left an amazing legacy and example for all of her family to follow and continue. I believe we are called to glorify God through our life and Memaw absolutely did this.

Many of the Psalms speak of singing praises to God with Psalm 98:4 specifically saying…

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”

Let’s just say Memaw was not known for her singing voice, but she didn’t care! She wasn’t singing to please you..she was singing for her Lord and Savior and to Him…. her voice was awesome though…because it was praising and glorifying Him. There is a great lesson for all of us in that. She had confidence in who God made her and lived for an Audience of One..caring only what He thought.

The book of Acts talks about how the first Church cared for the needy and widows. They served each other in the same way Christ served us. Memaw lived her life in the same way much like the first church did. She would make meals for events like today, and she made costumes for the church play up until just a few years ago. She volunteered with the Red Cross after Papaw passed serving in LA after an Earthquake and the Great Flood of the Mississippi in ‘93. She would do anything for you and give you the shirt off her back. Uncle Tim tells the story of one of his classmates, Ruthie, who was always dirty and unkept. When Uncle Tim came home from middle-school one day and told Memaw he didn’t think she had a dress for the dance..which is pretty neat, Uncle Tim…Memaw promptly went to her house and asked her parents if she could take her shopping. Not only did she buy her a dress and shoes, but she even brought her over to their house before the dance to clean her up and do her hair and dress her. Talk about going above in beyond! My Dad also told the story about how there was a man named “Little Butch” in the small town they lived in, Hindsboro, IL, who likely had mental disabilities and didn’t have any family..let alone any money. What do you think Memaw did…she always made sure “Little Butch” had a gift and food for Christmas. I wonder who the “Little Butch” is in my life I should be helping? I know I see my Dad continuing her legacy and helping widows and others in need, and Dad…she was and is very proud of you.

My Dad’s letter to her on her 90th birthday highlighted 6 lessons she taught him which I wanted to share…

  1. The greatest legacy any of us can leave to our children…raising him and Uncle Tim to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Memaw always said..”if you can find time for all the other activities in the week..you can find time for church!”
  2. Treat all people with respect..we are not better than anyone else regardless of race or ethnicity.
  3. Always stand up for what is true and honest..even when it’s difficult.
  4. Help the downtrodden and the poor as I previously shared.
  5. Stand up for yourself and never let people walk on you. The confidence I previously spoke of.
  6. Give to the needs of your family, friends, and your church before yourself.

One of my favorite sayings which Memaw lived out is, “Being humble means thinking of yourself less, not thinking less of yourself!”

 This was how Memaw lived and taught us to live. What an amazing legacy of servant leadership and loving God she left to us! I will do my best to carry on that legacy and example for Deklin, Reese, and Hudson.

Memaw….I will end by saying to you the same last words you said to me on Sunday..”Love you more than you’ll ever know.”

To Him Be The Glory

Today’s reading is Matthew 6:1-4 and Psalm 67.

The title of these verses in Matthew is “Giving to the Needy” in my Bible. The Bible tells us in many occasions we are called to help those in need.

“Give justice to the week and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the week and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”  

Psalm 82:3-4

“if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday soon.”

Isaiah 58:10

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Matthew 25:40

However, I feel like the title should really read, “Whose Glory Are You Really Seeking?” Pastor J.K. Jones always says something to the effect that, “There is a God shaped hole in all of hearts.” When God fills that hole and we develop a relationship with Jesus, our hardened heart softens, and we become more like Him. Why did Jesus do what He did during His life on Earth and ultimately suffer the ultimate pain and affliction of the cross when He didn’t have to? He did it to show the love our Father in Heaven has for us..to be the reflection of His light in the world and to glorify Him. These verses in Mathew 6:1-4 clearly tell us to do the same. Every single one of us was put on this Earth to glorify Him. Many of us have read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman which are touch, service, gifts, quality time, and words of affirmation. I believe words of affirmation are near the top for most of us. Who doesn’t like it when someone tells them “good job?” In fact, much research has shown many men in prison will admit they still yearn today to hear words they unfortunately never heard their dad say, “I love you , and I’m proud of you.” I’ll be transparent in that I like it when someone says to me “Good post today..” when writing for Bible Journal. This is my human, self-serving, and sin filled natural emotional reaction.  I then stop, think, and respond by borrowing the words of I heard author Jon Gordon say at the Christian Fellowship Breakfast for Northwestern Mutual a few years back, “God is the author. I just hold the pen.” This puts me in check, and reminds me I’m striving to live a life where truly everything I do is for His Glory..to be the reflection of the Father’s light like Jesus.

When we fully comprehend the love Jesus showed on the cross and the love the Father showed by sending Him to do so when He didn’t have to, and we develop a relationship with Him…our hearts will soften and we will give to the needy and do everything in our life for His glory rather than ours. This will in turn, draw others to Him through seeing His love in us. The God shaped hole in their heart will be filled, and they will in turn, do the same for others who will see the same. Then, we will be living out The Great Commission Jesus gave us in his last words in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

To Him be the Glory…

5 Essentials for Christian Growth

Have you ever seen a W.W.J.D. bracelet?  If you’re wondering, it stands for ‘what would Jesus do?’  When I was growing up my friends and I all wore them.  We had them in all different colors.  We wore them inside out and upside down.  We were all about our W.W.J.D. bracelets.  

I always thought W.W.J.D.  was a great reminder to do the right thing.  Growing up there are so many choices that we are faced with.  Finding the right answer was not always easy but this bracelet seemed to at least start us looking in the right direction.

As a Christian grows up they hope to mature in Christ.  They hope to have the right answers and make the right choices more than they did when they were young.  This is what happens when a Christian matures.  Scripture is clear that Christ followers will grow (2Peter 3:18, 1Peter 2:2, 1Timothy 4:15, Ephesians 4:15, 1Corinthians 13:11, Colossians 2:6-7, 2Corinthians 3:18) From our reading today, Philippians 1:9-11 reveals to us the 5 essentials for Christian growth. That is, the 5 ways the Spirit works in us as we follow Christ.

  1. Love

We love because He first loved us. (1John 4:19)  It is no surprise that the first essential to Christian growth is love.  After all, love is the greatest attribute of a follower of Christ. (John 13:35)  In a world that tosses around this word seeking to destroy its meaning, it is always a good idea to return to the truth to test our definition of this defining characteristic of our faith in Jesus.

Agape is the word here translated as love. It is a self-sacrificing love.  Later in Philippians 2:1-8, Paul gives one of the fullest descriptions of agape love in the Bible. One statement from this scripture stood out to me, “…but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  What would our lives look like if everyone’s interest were always placed above our own?

Love is not blind.  Quite the opposite love is very perceptive, very discerning.  True love produces obedience that requires knowledge of the truth.  (John 14:15, John 14:21, John 14:23, John 15:10, 1John 3:24)  Here is a list of 1236 commands from the New Testament.

And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
Philippians 1:9

  1. Excellence

Verse 10a begins, ‘that ye’ or ‘so that’ in the ESV, indicating that the first point is foundational to the second.  The word here ‘approve’ is ‘dokimazo’, meaning to allow, examine, prove, and discern.  The love of God, with its foundation in the Word (commands), not only helps us discern right from wrong but helps us discern what is best from what is only good.  God’s will is not good, it is perfect. (Romans 12:2)  Love and the Word help us find what is excellent.

When John Wesley went away to Oxford his mother wrote the following in a letter to him: “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the delight for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin.”

That ye may approve things that are excellent;
Philippians 1:10a

  1. Integrity

Verse 10b also begins with ‘that ye’ or ‘in order to be’ in the ESV, again making clear the continued progression of the text.  The word ‘sincere’ is ‘eilikrines’ and carries with it ideas of cohesiveness, oneness and unity.  What would our lives look like if everything touched everything else and ‘gelled’ as it were with no offences?  Does Christ touch every part of your life?  Is there any part of your life that you are keeping for you?  

that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.
Philippians 1:10b

  1. Good works

Verse 11a begins with ‘being’ or ‘having been filled’ in the ESV, a perfect passive participle in the Greek indicating something that happened in the past and is continuing here and now.  It is essential that we understand the progression of this Scripture.  The fruit’s appeal is instant gratification but trying to skip ahead or jump right to the fruit is a lie.  The fruit itself is not something to strive for in a direct sense.  The fruit is the byproduct of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23)  Forced fruit without the leaven of love is legalism.  

Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ
Philippians 1:11a

  1. Glory of God

Verse 11b begins with ‘unto’ or ‘to’ in the ESV, this is the purpose clause, it answers the question ‘why?’.  The most important essential is the glory of God.  Indeed it is the reason for the others.  

For a time I thought of reversing this list so that it would begin with God’s glory and end with love.  Though I decided against it, the reason was that it all actually starts here, with the end in mind.  

Our heart attitude is what sets all growth in motion, through the grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit.  Glory to God.  Glory to God is on the believer’s heart.  If God’s glory is our focus the Spirit will be at work in us, helping love abound in us, producing in us spiritual excellence, personal integrity, and genuine good works all to God’s glory.

As I made my way through this study I realised that there was one simple answer to that question ‘What would Jesus do?’ Jesus brings glory to the Father.

unto the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:11b

God, may our eyes be single for You. Amen.

 

Study sources:

Faith, Righteousness and Glory

Are you a rule follower?  Have you ever thought about why?  Most of us were taught that we either follow the rules, or get punished.  If that is you, I have another question for you.  Who do you believe God to be?  The judge?  The wrathful prosecutor?  An angry father?   Do you fear his punishment and condemnation?  Believe it or not, our answers to those questions can help us understand our faith.  Or, maybe they highlight our lack of faith.  According to Paul in Romans 4, if we believe those things about God, we are living according to the law.  How can we tell?  Let’s first consider righteousness.

How could I ever consider myself righteous?  I am painfully aware of how short I fall from God’s expectations, which is to say that I am disobedient to him and his commands.  I am sinful. But, to say so, invites the condemnation and wrath that I fear.   Even worse, to believe it, is to ignore Jesus.  Truly, because of Jesus death and resurrection, I do NOT fall short of God’s expectations.  In fact, I fully satisfy them.  That is the message that Paul is preaching today in Romans 4.  In verse 25, Paul explains that Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  So, does Jesus make us righteous?

Yes, Jesus can make us righteous.  In fact, the Bible elevates believers in Jesus to Priests and Saints, but there is a catch to reaching this mark.  We must believe. We must have faith.  Paul uses Abraham as an example.  Faith for Abraham was being “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:13).  Remember, Abraham was 100 years old, yet his faith in God’s promises enabled him to push through physical weakness (Romans 4:19).  Furthermore, “no unbelief made him waiver.”  Abraham’s unwavering posture points to mental toughness.  Faith in God, therefore, provided everything he needed to persevere and succeed.  That’s powerful!  So, the real question of righteousness looks less like living according to a strict set of rules and more like knowing, trusting and believing that God, through Jesus, has a plan for my life.

Finally, what is the evidence that our faith is full and real?  Glory.  Not to us, but glory to God.  Looking at verse 20, we see that Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”  We can conclude that faith is fully manifested in us when we give God glory for everything in every way.  Ironically, living for God’s glory means that we cannot possibly entertain thoughts, or engage behaviors that are contrary to his nature.  To do so would negate our belief and therefore, his very existence.

It’s that simple.    Faith, righteousness and glory do not come from finding all the right things to do in the Bible.  Instead, our perfection now and eternally, comes through “the one whom the Bible reveals,” Jesus Christ.  Believe it!

Chambers, Oswald (2011-05-01). My Utmost for His Highest, Classic Edition (Kindle Locations 2064-2066). Discovery House. Kindle Edition.

Jars of Clay

 

Young plant - "Ficus" in a broken flower pot
Today’s Reading: 2 Samuel 11; 2 Corinthians 4; Ezekiel 18; Psalms 62–63

I was recently asked about what I do to stay motivated. I offered the stock answers, explaining how I spend time every morning studying and praying. I exercise and eat right (sometimes). I read a lot and am careful of how much sleep I get. Sounds like a 10-step plan, doesn’t it. In fact, you could get similar advice from any self-help book ever written. Don’t get me wrong, there is some truth in those answers. The problem with them is that they don’t get to the Truth.

The Truth is that no matter how much you exercise, eat right or study and pray, you are going to have hard days. Maybe not only days, but weeks, months and years! Our lives are, in fact, fragile. In every moment, we are vulnerable physically and mentally to the forces of nature, illness, economics, character assassination, and defamation. The Apostle Paul calls us “jars of clay.” It is a fitting metaphor. You see, anything made of clay is rigid and strong enough to contain precious things. Even so, it is brittle and fragile. It reminds me of our clay flower pots.  When that clay pot makes sharp contact with the corner of your table or the wind blows it over onto your concrete patio, watch out! We encounter these same dangers in our everyday lives. So, if we are so fragile, how is it that we are to live fearlessly?   How will we stay motivated to press on?

The answer those questions lie in your “big why.” I learned about this from the founder of Keller Williams Realty, Gary Keller. He writes, “The Big Why is about having a purpose, a mission, or a need, that in turn gives you focus. High achievers always have a Big Why powering their actions.” This statement is spot on. In fact, we can look throughout history and see where many people put their very lives on the line to achieve their singular purpose. To illustrate this further, I could cite men like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. No person stands out to me more than the Apostle Paul. He endured one painful day after another. Amazingly, Paul didn’t just endure the suffering of his life he thrived in it. So, how did Paul stay motivated? Simple, he had a really big why.

as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. (2 Corinthians 4:15, NLT)

That’s it! Paul was so enamored with God that he became laser focused on Him. His sole purpose, his Big Why, in this life was to “reach more and more people so that there would be great thanksgiving and God would receive more and more glory.” Wow! I am immediately and deeply humbled by the purity and righteousness of Paul’s motives. Truly, I want to be “sold out” like that. I want to be fully aware that the dangers to my “earthen vessel” are nothing. As Paul says, “our present troubles are small and will not last very long.” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NLT) That mindset is only possible when we “fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NLT). When we do, God will remove the cares of our temporary, earthly minds and bodies, replacing them with His “surpassing power,” (2 Corinthians 4:7, ESV) which becomes our motivation. What is your Big Why?

Works Cited:
Keller, Gary; Jenks, Dave; Jay Papasan; Gary Keller; Dave Jenks; Jay Papasan (2004-03-11). The Millionaire Real Estate Agent (Kindle Location 1163). McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.

For God’s Glory

Tearing up another crumpled paper ball for the pile

Deuteronomy 21; Psalms 108–109; Isaiah 48; Revelation 18

I sat and sat trying to find the perfect story to explain Isaiah 48. I wanted to tell how we all take Gods promises and use them to glorify ourselves. Like the time that God honored my prayer for more business and I decided the growth was because of my superior product knowledge. I also wanted to tell about how we all have carved idols, we just name them other things. For example, I asked God for a car so that I can get to work more easily and he granted my request. I bought a Cadillac and quickly rose to the top of the parking lot. I am sure thankful for his great provision. Heck, I even tell anyone who asks that it was a gift from God.

If I were to write that story, I would also have to explain that these prayers are just like the Israelites. Isaiah lashes out at them in the very first verse. He illustrates that we are quick to invoke God’s name in all things, but our actions don’t reflect his commands. This is where it gets hard because people don’t want to hear about God’s commands. They only want to know about how loving and merciful he is. Besides, if he didn’t want us to sin, he wouldn’t have given us the desire to do so, right? That conversation would have taken us all the way back to the Garden of Eden. I would have to remind the reader that our bad choices demanded that God establish rules, even rules that are impossible to keep. Our failure to keep them illuminates the Truth. They can show us when we are stealing glory from him. The story would conclude with an explanation of why we are here. It would say God created us for his good pleasure and to give him glory. The answer is easy really. In fact, the answer to all of our problems lies right there. Give him the glory. When we do, he returns peace and righteousness. When we don’t, we get cut off and destroyed. In the end, I wonder why we didn’t pray for his glory and our righteousness in the first place.

If I were to write that story, I would feel really awful for having gotten it wrong all these years. I would wonder if there is still hope for me and if God could still love me. I would shed a river of tears feeling hopeless and guilty. And then I would remember Jesus.

Someday, I will write that story.