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.

Take Notice

Today’s reading is Matthew 6 and Psalm 79.

Do you ever have situations where things happen that you know are not a coincidence, and God gives you the right message (usually multiple) at just the right time? So many times, daily devotionals fit right into exactly what you need to hear that day due to what’s going on in your life. I had a couple circumstances this week that all fit together telling me they were not a coincidence.

It started with an unplanned conversation with a successful Christian business owner with much experience and wisdom through years of faithful servanthood. He said many times in his life he became anxious and tried to push and rush initiatives on his own timeline. He said over the years he learned when you trust in God and live life for His glory He will bless you in ways you cannot even imagine, but it will be on His timeline, not your own. We just need to live for Him and trust Him, and He will provide in ways you beyond what you can think of. Does this sound familiar (Matthew 6:25-34)? He compared this to the 2017 Super Bowl. The game looked like there was absolutely no way the Patriots would win.  In fact, it couldn’t have started any worse for the Patriots and their fans. Then, in ways no one could have imagined, everything went perfectly and the Patriots won leaving everyone thinking, “How did that just happened?” If you were a Patriots fan (which I am definitely not) and you knew the ending, wouldn’t you have felt differently during it? Would there have been any anxiety, stress, and maybe even anger in what wa occurring? Absolutely not! Maybe just a thought of, “Did we really wine this game..are you sure?” As a University of Illinois basketball fan, I still feel this way when watching our 2005 game vs. Arizona to advance to the Final Four. As Christians, this gentleman said when you live to glorify God, He will make things fit perfectly to eventually “win the game” throughout life on Earth, and ultimately assure us we will “win” the only game that matters by giving us eternal life. This man is doing some amazing things with his resources with more things in the works to glorify God, and he shared some amazing stories about how God fit the pieces together perfectly leaving me shaking my head in awe.

The second non-coincidental occurence came while traveling with a Christian brother, Patrick Scheina, the same week. I was telling him about this conversation, and we both began to share very challenging situations we had in the last year where God “bailed us out” and fit the pieces together in crazy ways that if you would have given us a million chances to figure out how things would play out we wouldn’t have guessed how they ended up coming together positively. How often do we even slow down to notice how God is working in our lives? If we did, why would we ever worry? It’s really almost silly when you think about it. Not only do we have his Word hear in Matthew 6 which we know is true, but we also have our own experiences! It’s hard to not judge and condemn the disciples when they get stressed about running out of food, a bad storm, and even His death. I can read it and think…”Umm..hello..don’t you guys remember what he just did a few days ago?” Then, I sigh and think, “Am I really any different?” No…we just have to wake up and look for the ways God works and reminds ourselves of them when trials come our way. We need to listen what what He tells us in His word. “Be still and know I am God.” Psalm 46:10. And also in Isaiah 26:3, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

As Patrick and I were discussing things, he mentioned how important remembering and praying the Lord’s prayer is. He said how perfect every statement is and how if we really prayed it every day and reflected on every part, it covers everything we need to remember and request. If we applied each part to what was going on in our lives, it would be all we really need. There’s so much wisdom in Patrick’s statement. When I read Psalm 79, I couldn’t believe how much of it seemed like an Old Testament version of the Lord’s Prayer.

I was left shaking my head when 2 days after my conversation with this Christian business owner and the night I returned home from my trip with Patrick, I checked my next Bible Journal writing and found it was on Matthew 6 which included the Lord’s Prayer and a section on not being anxious. Coincidence? God is speaking and working in your life to write your story, and make it a part of His story. Are you noticing?

 

Is It Worth It?

2 Corinthians 11

What can I physically and emotionally endure? How much pain, stress, and anguish can I take? Well, probably not as much as Paul. He states in this chapter five times he received thirty-nine lashes by the Jews. Three times he was beaten with rods. He tells us here he was stoned which we remember from Acts 14. Stoning is intended to kill a person. Three times he was lost at sea and shipwrecked. He references threats from both his own people, the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, the Romans.

Let’s stop and reflect on that for a second. The two dominant groups at the time were the Romans who wanted to kill Christians for denouncing that Caesar was God and Jews who wanted to persecute Christians as well because they did not believe Jesus was the true Messiah. Both wanted Paul dead. He also references danger from the wilderness, hunger, thirst, the cold, and not to mention false brothers here. Whew! Quite the list!

Let’s revert to Acts 14 where Paul was stoned in Lystra for a moment. They dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead (Acts 14:19). He was not though, and we are told by Luke here in Acts that not only did he get up and go to Derbe to preach the next day, but when he was done there he went back to Lystra where he was just stoned! We are told in Acts 14:22 he was “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

I recently finished a great book which I highly recommend called What Is God Really Like? Each chapter is written by an all-star team of pastors. One pastor gives an analogy by asking the question whether you would tell a surgeon operating on a loved one to save their life to hurry up? I don’t know what you are going through right now, and it may be something very terrible and for that I am extremely empathetic and sympathetic so I hope this is not taken the wrong way. But, whatever pain and anguish Satan is causing you (because it is not God..see Romans 8:1), God is using that which Satan thinks is for his glory to positively shape your heart and soul into the person he wants you to become and to impact those around you. He is performing a delicate surgery in just the right amount of time to make it a perfect and successful one. Although God may not reveal the answer now or even in this lifetime, we must ask ourselves what God may be wanting to do in our lives and the lives of those around us through this to reveal his glory?  Let’s learn from Paul. Would you be ok with your present or future suffering if through it you could help just one person know Jesus and have eternal life in Heaven? If not one, what about ten people…or one thousand… or maybe even ten thousand people?

God is the supreme potter. He is shaping what looks like a mess of sloppy clay which is your life into his masterpiece. Have you ever looked at the backside of a beautifully crocheted piece? It looks like a huge jumbled mess with colors in the wrong places and different size strands hanging off of it everywhere. This is how we see our lives and how Satan wants us to see it. Flip over that crocheted piece, and what do you see? Again, it is a perfect picture, a masterpiece. THAT is what God sees because he sees our entire life and the lives of those around us.

Ultimately, all we can do in tough times is go back to the only truth that exists and that is the Word. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose.”  I don’t know what pain and suffering I, or you, may go through in this life and quite frankly I don’t want to think about it. Jesus tells us not to worry about it (Matthew 6:34). But, I know one thing, my life here on Earth of somewhere between 33 and hopefully 80 to 100 years is like one grain of sand amongst all the beaches of the Earth when compared to the length of eternity. Romans 8:18 tells us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” A week ago we read 2 Corinthians 4:17 which says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” I struggle with this like most, but I am growing to try to enjoy the precious present of each day, and I am extremely grateful for Jesus’ saving grace on the cross. When we see his face and spend eternity with him and others who the Holy Spirit helped be saved through our earthly lives, there will be no doubt to the answer to the question, was it worth it?

 

 

Deadly thoughts

Today’s reading: 1 Samuel 9; Romans 7; Jeremiah 46; Psalm 22

August 17th, 2016

In today’s reading Paul wrestles with his sin.

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. – Romans 7:14-15

Sin starts on the inside

When Jesus came he blew the lid off of religious pretense. The word became flesh (John 1:14), the word was truth and the truth could separate peoples’ thoughts and hearts from what is seen on the outside (Hebrews 4:12). Jesus knew what was happening on the inside and He called people on it. And the people were amazed! He did not raise the standard, He helped people understand that their religious leaders were blind to it. The Sermon on the Mount is not about virtuous living, it is about the truth and salvation. It is a true look at salvation. Jesus helps us understand how important the state of our thoughts and our hearts are when it comes to building the house of our life on a foundation of solid rock.

Thoughts, sin, death

Some call the book of James a commentary of the Sermon on the Mount. In James 1:14-15, we are taught the origin point of death. We are taught that death begins with thoughts, specifically lustful thoughts; desiring things of this world; wanting things for ourselves. When one lets their mind fix on getting things of this world, their heart follows after. The lust then graduates to sin as their life turns and shapes to take hold and position itself to claim what it desires (James 1:14). Sin, then fully mature, becomes death as it realizes itself (James 1:15). 

Battleground

Our thoughts are a spiritual battleground (Romans 12:2, 2Corinthians 10:3-5), on a realm of great importance (Proverbs 4:23). Thoughts mature into beliefs and beliefs shape our heart. The heart pursues itself with words(Luke 6:45) that then shape our lives (James 3:2-6). We must be aware of our thoughts and fight for the state of our hearts! Our hearts and our lives must belong to the LORD in truth. 

Foundation on the rock

As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, wise people will build the house of their life on the truth. The truth is our weapon against deadly thoughts (John 8:32, Ephesians 6:17). As we sharpen our swords consider with me the truth in Psalms 23:1:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

I have come to believe that this is not a verse about getting things. Instead, I believe this is a verse about giving our heart and thoughts to the LORD. Not a verse about us getting everything we want if we submit to the LORD as our Shepherd. Instead, a truth about not wanting anything because we trust in the LORD to provide us with everything. The rest of the chapter 23 goes on to help us understand what that state of perfect trust will look like in our lives.

So if sin and death have their beginnings in the desires of our heart and mind (James 1:14-15), and we know that trusting in the Shepherd will guard us from wanting improper things (Psalm 23:1), the question then becomes; what do you want? If someone asked you “if you could have anything, what would it be?”… What would it be? Would it be something to be realized in this world or in heaven? What are we trusting in, the promises of this world or God’s promises

God may we all trust in You with everything and not want anything this world promises. May our trust be wholly in Your promises. Amen.

 

Extra Credit.

  • Close your eyes and repeat Psalm 23:1 to yourself three times in a row:
    • The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    • First, I want to congratulate you on being able to read with your eyes closed. #Props
    • Now imagine how peaceful your life would be if you did not want. What would there be to stress about? 
  • I listened to this sermon from John MacArthur to prepare for this post. I highly recommend it: Sanctification and Sins of the Mind.

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