Go Does Great Things, Go Do Great Things

As I sat down to write this in my Word document where I keep all my Bible Journal writings, I saw the heading from my last writing 2 weeks ago which was “Leadership Lessons from David.” If you read today’s readings of 2 Samuel 11 and Psalm 43 before reading this, you will know right away this will not be a Volume 2! In fact, it could easily be title “David Shows Us What Not To Do.” Here we read that David breaks at least 2 and really 3 of the Ten Commandments. He lusts over a woman who is not his wife committing adultery after first coveting her when she’s married to Uriah and essentially commits murder by ordering Joab to send him into the front lines of battle and pull back support so he would be killed. Wow..this is some heavy stuff which could easily be on Dateline or an afternoon soap opera.

As I read this I’m very humbled. I will admit I am quick to condemn those who commit sins which I consider to be more serious than my
“little ones”…especially those who may be a celebrity, athlete, or have different political views than myself. But, I’m quick to forgive myself or others who I know personally by making excuses for myself or them. Our Pastor, Mike Baker, often reminds us all sins are the same in God’s eyes because breaking any one of the Ten Commandments permanently separates us from God without a Savior, and not only have we all broken at least one by commission or omission, but we all have broken all ten! In Acts 13:22, God calls David “a man after my own heart.” It’s hard to believe one who God refers to in this manner could do what David did.

This convicts me of 2 truths….

  • We all need a Savior in Jesus Christ. No one is perfect. We all of sinned..even someone as great as David who lived for God in so many ways, who God did many great things through, and who wrote over 70 Psalms. If someone as great as David is capable of something this terrible, what might I be capable of if I’m not extremely careful and stay in the Word and in prayer close to Him. Although we are called to repent and turn from sin, and not excusing sin in any way, how much comfort can we have in knowing that God, when we ask, will forgive any past sin we have done (see Mark 3:28-30 which says blaspheming the Holy Spirit or essentially not believing and accepting Jesus is the only one that cannot)?! Even something as bad as what David did can be and is forgiven through the grace of Jesus Christ death on the cross. All we have to do is repent and believe in Him. Praise God!
  • God can do great things with those who have committed some of the worst sins imaginable. Saul, later named Paul, persecuted and killed many Christians. Yet after his conversion, he wrote 13 books of the New Testament and is responsible (with the help of the Holy Spirit) for much of the spreading of Christianity and the early church! As we read in Joshua, Rahab, who was a prostitute, helped the Israelites win at Jericho and became part of the bloodline of Jesus. David is still called “a man after God’s heart” after what we read here today and had a son Solomon who built the temple and is known as the wisest person to ever live outside of Jesus. David also is part of the direct lineage of our Savior, Jesus. We could go on and on…

How much hope should we have in these truths that God will forgive us from our most horrific past sins and can also do amazing things with us during our remaining lifetime despite our past shortcomings when we believe in and give our life to Jesus! If you are facing the challenge of believing something you have done can turn out to be ok and God can forgive it and do great things with your remaining life, please take note of these truths of redemption in the Bible. I can’t think of anything we should carry into our day today to be more grateful for than this!

God does great things, let’s go do great things!!


Who Shall Dwell On Your Holy Hill?

Today’s readings come from 1 Samuel 14 and Psalm 15.

Yes, it’s mid February. And yes, we are still listening to Christmas Carols. Earlier this week my four year old son asked me to pause the song and wanted to know what the third verse of Away in a Manger meant – “how do we fit us for heaven”?  I tried to explain it in the simplest way possible that a tiny (yet growing) mind may understand:

  • God is so holy and perfect in every way.
  • We must be made pure and clean to be with Him in heaven.
  • We sin and are unclean, but because Jesus is perfect, when He died on the cross to pay for our sin, He makes us clean.
  • Our time here on earth is to truly believe in Jesus, every day love Him with all of our heart. This is how we “get ready” or “get fit” to live with God in heaven.

Psalm 15 takes us through a much better description of who can be in God’s presence, in His holy place, or “fit for heaven”.  And WOW, it’s convicting and motivating! I can’t wait to read this scripture with my little guy as a follow up to his question.

Psalm 15

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
    Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
    and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
    and does no evil to his neighbor,
    nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
    but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
    and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

While this isn’t a checklist to enter heaven, if it were, we would all fail.  We are all disqualified at the very first qualification: blameless. Because we have all sinned, we all have blame. But Jesus took our blame and shame that day on Calvary. Our belief in Him is what allows us to dwell with Him in His holy place.

As I continue studying the different verse meanings and praying through each one, the Holy Spirit is challenging me to rid and repent of any of these sins in my life.  One characteristic that really stands out is the end of verse four. Am I able to keep my word and commitments even when it hurts?  Am I unchanging even when it’s hard?

I’m humbled that my God still loves me through my failings, continues to cleanse me through His perfect Son, and keeps calling me to a deeper communion with Him.  I can’t help but think of another kids’ song I’m thankful for:

He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars,
The sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be,
He’s still working on me. 

God With Us

Mark 2, Psalm 136

Sometimes I wonder what God was thinking.  Why did he create us? You see every day, we do things that are contrary to his nature.  Contrary to his purpose for us.  We even attempt to replace him with something different, yet God persists.  As I wonder why, I am drawn to Psalm 136.    Its author has taken the time to identify why  and how God works.

To start, we must think about who God is.  The Psalmist reminds us that He is good.  He is the God of God and Lord of Lords.  He does great wonders and created the heavens.  He made the earth, the lights, the sun and the moon.  He ordered them perfectly.  He struck Israel’s enemy and delivered them into freedom.  He is mighty and caring at the same time, able to part an entire sea.  He uses  this miraculous work to protect those he loves and to destroy to their enemies.  He led his people through the wilderness, striking down and killing great and mighty kings.  He takes their territory and gives it to those who love him.  He doesn’t care about his servants position, high or low.  He cares and provides for us in every situation. 

These are powerful words about our great God and his abilities.  If you are like me, you ask why.  Why would this God do such things for us?  More directly, why would he do them for me?  He knows that I am unruly and rebellious. The Psalmist gets it right with one simple word.  Love.  In my attempt to define what love is, I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.  It says,

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

Yes this describes God’s love for us.  In fact, God is so patient, so kind, so caring that he sent his own son, to live among us.  You see, real love doesn’t sit on the throne looking down.  Real love comes along side us.  Real love is personal.  Real love is messy.  This is why Jesus was born.  This is why he is called Emmanuel.  It means “God with us.”  

His love endures forever!

Emmanuel – God With US , Mercy Me



“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15: 1 – 2; 4 – 8).

I never used to be much of a gardener until we moved into the house we currently live in. The previous owners had created and lovingly maintained several beautiful gardens. They reminded me of English gardens, the kind you see on the cover of a novel – lots of colorful flowers, plenty of tall green grasses that turned golden in the late summer, and a white picket fence encircling it all. There is even a little stone walkway that curves between the two main sections of the garden.

The gardens are still here today, but we have changed them a bit, made them our own. We did this because we realized what a big job it is to care for and maintain a garden. So we took some plants out. We planted more perennials. And we continue to prune the gardens regularly.

Pruning is certainly one of the most time-consuming parts of gardening. (As is weeding…definitely weeding!) We do quite a bit of pruning throughout the year. Every few days during the growing season, I go outside and cut off any dead flowers from our plants. And, at the end of every autumn, my husband cuts back every plant until it stands just above the ground. This pruning – both mid-season and at the end of the season – allows the plant’s energy to be directed to feeding the good, healthy parts of the plant. Pruning also encourages the roots to grow deeper. The plant grows back full and strong the next spring.

John 15 opens with Jesus talking about how our lives as believers are to be entwined with his, and he uses a gardening image to help us to understand His words. He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2).

Did you catch that? God removes the dead stuff completely – He takes it away – and He prunes the still-alive parts! He prunes “every branch that does bear fruit”. That means that He may choose to prune good things, beautiful things – because He knows that pruning results in even better things. Sometimes those better things are new versions of pruned branches, and sometimes they look nothing like what was pruned.

Without pruning, a garden begins to look faded. Its colors soften and become muted. Pruning eliminates the non-productive and encourages the healthy. Pruning restores the vibrancy of the garden’s colors. This weekend in Central Illinois, the temperature hit 60 degrees, which is rare for late November. My husband took advantage of the day to cut down the rest of our garden. Today, as I write this looking out the front window, the plants looked short and bare, almost shocked. But I know that deep underground, within the roots, lies the promise of new growth, and if I am patient, I will see sprouts of green come springtime. May it be so with us, too. May we not resist His pruning, and may what God prunes grow back even stronger and healthier.

Familiar Words

John 3:16. What does this make you think of? This verse is probably one of the most well-known in the Bible, recognized by believers and non-believers alike. It is certainly quoted more often than many other verses. When I read the words “John 3:16”, a few images pop into my mind. I see a person holding up a large sign toward the camera at a football game. I picture a person in a city, standing on a box at a street corner, calling out the words of this verse to anyone who will listen.

My most vivid memory, though, is from when I was around nine years old. I remember walking in downtown Boston with my parents and my sister. A man handed me a small piece of paper as our family walked by; the only writing on it was this: “John 3:16”. I wonder if he thought I knew the verse? Or maybe he assumed that I would be curious enough to go look it up, to read the words for myself. Having grown up attending church, I did know the verse. But I did not know Christ, and because of this, I did not truly understand this verse. It made no impact on me that day.

It does now.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

Today, I understand those words in a way I did not, could not, 40 years ago. I did not understand what it meant to have a personal relationship with Christ until I was almost 30 years old. So I know from experience how it feels to live life not knowing my Savior – and I know what it means to walk through life now, knowing Him. Since I became a believer, I have seen people I love put their faith in Christ and subsequently change in ways I could not have imagined. I have witnessed miracles.

Today, John 3:16 represents new life to me. Changed life. A saved life. And we need that now, don’t we? Our world needs that. Today, as you read John 3 in its entirety, pause for a moment. Be still. Think about the words you are reading; ponder them in your heart and treasure them as Mary did (Luke 2:19). Give thanks for Christ’s ongoing work in your life and on your behalf, and pray for those you know who do not yet know Him. Finally, rest in this truth: “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” (John 3:33 – 36).

I am praying for each one of you who reads this today.

Made Clean

Today’s Reading: Matthew 8 and Psalm 81

Today’s chapter from the Gospel of Matthew reads like a collection of short stories.  We hear about five separate miracles performed by Jesus. I must admit, I never like to read collections of short stories. Mostly because I’m always left wanting more. It feels as if I’m just getting to know the characters and understand their circumstance and then the story ends. But, like all good novels, the Bible doesn’t disappoint. When we consider these miracles collectively we see the common thread: Jesus the Messiah. Of course, this is Matthew’s purpose, to show the Jews that He is the eternal King.

The first story we hear is about Jesus healing a man with leprosy. When I first read it, I breezed through the text. It’s a familiar tale, one we have all heard as children in Sunday school. Often, we use it to teach children not to judge by outward appearance. It’s so convicting when Jesus reaches out and touches the leper in verse three of chapter eight. But what surprised me was the leper says in verse two,

“Lord if you will you can make me clean.” Matthew 8:2

 The title of the chapter is, “Jesus Heals a Leper” and yet, what we hear is the leper asking to be made clean. I checked several other translations and found that each time, the request is the same, “Lord make me clean.” Yes, the man wants to be healed. He wants to be cured. Just like leprosy, sin is an incurable disease. Only the hand of Jesus can cure it. Only the love of Jesus can truly clean our soul. So is there a difference between being clean and being cured? I’m not sure. The leper had to be inspected by a priest and be declared clean before Jesus’ miracle could be authenticated. The HSCB translation notes that Jesus performed many of his miracles through touch but he certainly had the power to heal by command and a great distance from the sufferer. Touching the leper was an expression of deep compassion since doing so put Jesus at great risk.

All of this leads me to ask, how can I ask to be made clean? I’ve prayed fervently for healing over the years. All three of our children have faced significant health challenges. But maybe, I’ve placed my focus on the wrong outcome. Perhaps by boldly asking for Jesus to reach out and touch our broken lives, we can be made clean. What are the sins in my life that need to be wiped away? How can I accept my ragged edges, my incomplete spiritual self and become content with the slow process of being made clean? Our Psalm today echo’s the idea of God’s goodness in our waywardness,

“I remove the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket. In your distress, you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thundercloud.” Psalm 81: 6-7

 He answers us out of our thunderclouds. He can wipe us clean and in doing so, heal not only our physical wounds but our hearts as well. Boldly ask Him and as His word says, He will answer.


Fulfilled Promises

My mom and I are going Christmas shopping together this week. Yes, it is only mid-October – so why Christmas shop a full two months BEFORE Christmas? One word: anticipation. My mom and I look forward to this time together every fall. We anticipate our shopping day, planning out the stores where we will shop, the gifts that we will purchase, and the restaurant where we will eat lunch – and in doing so, we also anticipate celebrating Christmas with our family.
In our text for today, which is Matthew 2, we read one small part of what we traditionally call the “Christmas Story”. Here, we learn of the wise men visiting King Herod, Joseph fleeing with his family from Jerusalem into Egypt, and their subsequent return to Nazareth.
Today, I’d like us to consider the promises kept and prophecies fulfilled that Matthew references in this chapter. In Micah 5:2, this prophet writes that “one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me.” This prophecy was fulfilled almost 800 years later. Matthew wrote that when King Herod asks his chief priests and scribes where Christ would be born, “They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5) Christ Himself was the fulfillment of this promise.
Let’s look at another example. The Old Testament prophet Hosea explained that God would one day call his Son out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). In Matthew 2:15, we read that, “He (Joseph) remained there (in Egypt) until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my Son.’” Over 800 years after Micah’s original prophecy was recorded, it too was fulfilled in Christ.
Thinking about these prophetic words which were fulfilled years after they were originally uttered simply amazes me. I hope you take some time to ponder these words today. Approximately 2000 prophesies in the Bible have been fulfilled – 2000! After you let that sink in for a few minutes, consider this verse, found in Isaiah 53:5 (NIV): “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah wrote these words HUNDREDS of years before Christ sacrificed Himself on the cross as a forgiveness for our sins. Oh, what a Savior!

Luke 13

I am a reader. Those who know me will probably smile when they read those words. In my free time, I am rarely without a book in my hand. When I was younger, I read mostly fiction – especially the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden series. My favorite author, though, was Louisa May Alcott. I read and re-read every book she ever wrote because I loved how she created a story. Even though her books were fiction, I felt as though I were reading a true story – her plot and details were that believable. And I always learned something from her books.

Jesus is the master story-teller. Over and over in the New Testament, we read of our Savior using a story to make a point or to teach a lesson. In doing so, He teaches about complex topics like faith and grace and salvation. We see this over and over in Luke 13, our chapter for today.

Jesus uses the parable of a barren fig tree to teach about how to live a Godly life (Luke 13:6 – 9). He compares the kingdom of God to both a mustard seed and to leaven used in baking bread (Luke 13:18 – 21) He uses the idea of a narrow door to represent the fact that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (Luke 13:24 – 30; John 14:6). The people to whom He was talking would have had as difficult a time as we do now understanding concepts like the kingdom of God, faith, and salvation. Fig trees, mustard seeds, leaven and doors, though? They understood those. They were familiar with these objects, because they used them in their daily lives. By using stories, Jesus made complex topics more easily understood.

As Jesus ends this time of teaching, He laments over the lost in Jerusalem, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). As I finish writing this devotion, it is Monday morning, and our country is waking to the news of the massacre in Las Vegas. Jesus’ poignant cries over Jerusalem remind me that my Savior also weeps today, along with those who grieve.

One Way to the Father

Today’s reading is Luke 3 and Psalm 51.

Our family attends Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois. Our mission statement is, “A fearless church of Christ followers whose ridiculous love and dangerous witness are irresistible.” As we read Luke 3, it’s hard to think of too many people who were more of a “dangerous witness” than John the Baptist. He dedicated his life to preparing the way for Jesus, and we read today how he was imprisoned and it later cost him his life by beheading.

John knew there was only one way for forgiveness of sins and one way to the Father as we read about in Psalm 51. Then, he was committed to giving others the good news of Jesus as Psalm 51:13-15 speaks of, regardless of the risks involved. We live in a world today that tells us to do whatever you “feel” like. Do whatever makes you personally happy. And anyone who doesn’t approve of it is a bigot. However, the Bible tells us there is only one way to the Father in Heaven which by believing in Jesus Christ as our Savior through his death on the cross. John felt it was critical people know Jesus was the Messiah, and we should feel and do the same today. This is the opposite of the society we live in which says you can do whatever makes you feel good, so it would only make sense that are multiple ways to get to Heaven and  if you just do more good than bad you’re in. Wrong. Jesus tells us this in John 14:6 which says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

One of my biggest take aways from a recent mission trip was when we asked people how they get to Heaven nearly every one said “be a good person.” Then, when we shared we believe there was only one way, through belief in Jesus, they would say, “yeah..that’s what I believe too,” because they would in fact call themselves a Christian! Many of them grew up in, and some even still went to, the church. How often do we have conversations with friends and family who call themselves Christians and may even go to church about what they believe? Do they know there is only one way to Heaven which is through Jesus? Do they truly believe what Jesus says in John 14:6? Let us follow the example of John the Baptist by being a dangerous witness, not only internationally and in our local communities, but also in our own homes, families, churches, and personal relationships. Even better news is that we don’t have to wear camel’s hair clothing and eat locusts and honey to do so!

Remind The People

A few days ago, our Bible Journal community began reading the book of Titus together. This is a short book, so we are actually finishing it up today! Paul begins the last part of his letter with the words, “Remind them” (Titus 3:1). In the NIV version, it reads, “Remind the people.” He then lists several things that he wants Titus to be sure to tell the people in the churches he is overseeing: “…to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:1).

All of these admonishments are as relevant today as they were when Paul first penned these words. Each relates to living in community with others – and living in community is hard work! Paul understood that it was necessary to encourage people to pursue behaviors that lead to a healthy community and society.

There is one section of this verse that Paul returns to twice more before he ends this letter. In verse 1, Paul writes, “…be ready for every good work…” (Titus 3:1). Later, in verse 8, he writes, “…so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to good work.” (Titus 3:8). Finally, in verse 14, Paul states, “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works.” (Titus 3:14) Clearly, doing what is good is important to Paul.

In our lives today, what does this look like, to “devote ourselves to good work”? It can be any number of things. Good work can be working at the job God has called us to to the best of our ability and with integrity. It can be something practical, like blessing a friend with a meal. It can be anything, really, that reveals Christ to someone else.

And what is the benefit to our doing good work? Is it for our own salvation? No. Paul states this clearly: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us rightly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7, emphasis mine). That verse is a long one, but the part I want us to focus on today is this: devoting ourselves to good works does not save us. Only Christ in his mercy does this. However, doing good works might draw others to us, giving us the opportunity to share the “the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Today, let’s consider how we can do something for the benefit of someone else, and let’s always be ready to share the reason for our hope: Jesus.