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A gun, a window, justice, and mercy.
When I was thirteen years old I shot a BB gun and broke a very expensive window of a nearby home. It wasn’t intentional nor an act of aggression, it was a thoughtless and irresponsible act by a kid who knew nothing about guns. I’d like to say it was “unlucky” but the immediate response would be “and what did you think would happen when you pointed a gun at someone’s home, then pulled the trigger?”
To make matters worse, I tried to hide the crime. I was fearful and filled with regret and sadness. When the whole thing came to light of course I was in serious trouble with my parents and our neighbors.
To reconcile, it was decided that I would be paying for that window, and first I must apologize in person to our neighbors. They were an older, retired couple who were known for being kind and generous (especially with Halloween candy). They accepted my apology and reminded me how much the window would cost to replace. I reassured them that I’d be paying for it but it would take some time.
In today’s dollars, the window would cost about $2,000 to replace so there was a lot of work to be done! My dad helped me by creating a paper ledger (my first lesson in the world of accounting) that would show the starting balance, and with each chore or paid task I’d write the description and update the balance. Since it was autumn there would be no high-paying lawn mowing or landscaping gigs so, unfortunately, the main thing I could do was babysit. No more weekend fun until the debt was paid and after three months I hardly made a dent in the amount due. It was going to take a long, long time to repay and I was miserable.
God, Justice, and Mercy
Yesterday at a Bible study meeting we discussed how God is both merciful and just, and I recalled my crime as a kid. God keeps his promises and he also loves us so he also shows us mercy. Here’s a great resource from The Bible Project which beautifully presents the Character of God.
For three months I labored heavily so that justice would be served, yet I received no mercy. For Christmas, I had hoped for some cash to help pay off the debt quicker. After the presents were unwrapped, my parents reminded me to open my stocking. Great, maybe I can sell some of the candy at school (in those days I was known as the candyman as I often sold candy to other kids).
My parents were watching me intently sifting through the contents of the stocking when suddenly there was a piece of paper; the ledger. Not understanding why the ledger was in the stocking, I looked at my parents, and they said, “look at it”. Then I realized, my parents crossed out the balance and had written “paid” on it. I couldn’t believe it! We all suddenly had tears in our eyes; it was the best gift I’d ever received.
My parents gave me a good lesson in justice and an even better lesson in mercy which better equips me to understand what Christ did for us in his work on the cross. Our debt of sin is astronomical and impossible for us to pay on our own.
Call to Action
Think of a time when you were shown mercy and think through how you would retell the story, then pray for an opportunity to share with a non-believer. Pray that the Holy Spirit will give you the words and that the other person’s heart will start to soften to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Let your mercy story stand on its own until the right time for the parallel to be drawn. This is what I’m praying for. If one heart moves closer to eternity with God then shooting that window was very much worthwhile.
Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 23-26 and Luke 11
Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 19-22, Psalm 6, Luke 10
During the month of January, B.J. and I decided to start the new year with better eating habits by following the Whole 30 diet (whole30.com). On this diet, you can have whole foods – meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, natural fats, herbs, spices, and seasonings. Sound easy? Here’s the hard part. You can have nothing processed, therefore you must totally eliminate:
- Added sugar, real or artificial
- Alcohol in any form
- Legumes (beans, peanuts, soy)
- Carrageenan or sulfites
- Baked goods,”treats”, or junk food even if made with approved ingredients
This diet is designed to change your habits. It requires 100% compliance for 30 days. No cheating, no days off. To be successful, you have to totally eliminate all processed, unapproved foods from your kitchen. Why? When you are starving and don’t have time or energy to fix a healthy meal or snack, you will make poor choices and fill your belly with bad things. It is just human nature.
Over the past several days we’ve been reading through the book of Deuteronomy. This book is kind of like the Cliff Notes version of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers because it is Moses re-teaching God’s law to the second generation of God’s people before they entered The Promised Land. Deuteronomy chapter 20 was God’s guidance for how his people were to take over the land he had promised to their ancestors.
…in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you (Deuteronomy 20:16-17).
Wait, is this true? Was a loving merciful God really directing his people to eliminate everyone and everything? Why?
Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 20:18).
It was true. God was serious about sin. He knew that anything less than total elimination of the existing pagan culture was a temptation for his people to let themselves be pulled away from God and into idol worship. It is just human nature.
God’s expectations for us in the 21st century are the same. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind (Matthew 33:37). The word “all” makes it clear he expects 100% compliance. Not for 30 days, but forever. He also knows our sinful, human nature makes this unachievable. Fortunately he loved us enough to send a savior.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17).
Deuteronomy 15-18, Psalm 115, Luke 9
Can you remember the last time you were alone? No, I am not talking about being by yourself; I am talking about being alone. Just you and your thoughts. Unless you are intentional about it, it happens less often than you think. Not because we don’t have the opportunity but because we extinguish the opportunity. That means when we find ourselves alone, we do everything possible not to be alone. Think television, the internet, social media, and maybe even alcohol. If I am honest, being alone terrifies me. But Jesus sought it out.
Jesus sought out alone time. A closer look through Luke 9 is surprising to see. Starting in verse 9, “he slipped quietly away” (NLT). Verse 18 explains that Jesus left the crowds to pray alone. He even took advantage of being alone while the others were sleeping (V32.) Clearly, Jesus understood the need to recharge. We all do. But Jesus wasn’t about “time off.” He didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to be alone with God. And that is even more terrifying than being alone.
As CS Lewis writes in The Lion, in The witch and the Wardrobe, “Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…” safe?” said Mr. Beaver … “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
You see, something happens when we are in the presence of the King. Respect and humility are only part of it. When you get alone with God, he will change you. Problem is you may not want to change. Or, maybe God wants to change you a lot, and you’re only willing to change a little. Perhaps, you are not willing to change at all? There is a simple solution to all of those. Don’t get alone with God.
Of course, that is no answer. To give up Jesus is to give up life. But, if we are to live fully, we must make time to be with him. The results will be unmistakable, just like Jesus. As he prayed, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white (v29).
Growing up, I can think of many phrases used by many adults when I decided to make some poor choices. I know I deserved many of these words and the consequences that came from the choices I made. I don’t ever recall Deuteronomy 10:16 being quoted when being talked to. This verse has many versions, but I will use the Good News Version.
16 So then, from now on be obedient to the Lord and stop being stubborn.
Various mentors from churches and friends’ parents spoke to me in ways that helped plant a seed of truth and a seed to give hope to a disobedient person. Today I still have those who speak life when the world presses in. Those who, instead of pointing to false hope, point to our true hope. (I’m reflecting on a recent sermon I just heard) Who speaks to you when you have any sense of doubt?
Deuteronomy 11:1-2 says, “Love the Lord your God and always obey all his laws. 2 Remember today what you have learned about the Lord through your experiences with him. It was you, not your children, who had these experiences. You saw the Lord‘s greatness, his power, his might,
God is with you through it all. We need to love, trust, and obey. You may be asking, ” Can I wait? What if I just put it off till another day or time? But…. as you read a little further.
26 “Today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse— 27 a blessing, if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28 but a curse, if you disobey these commands and turn away to worship other gods that you have never worshiped before.
We have today. This is your choice. What will you choose?
But wait, how long will we have to obey?
Deuteronomy 12:1 “Here are the laws that you are to obey as long as you live in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Listen to them!
As long as we live. We have to listen, learn, trust, obey, and teach. A while back, a friend of mine was talking about all the many amazing things he was doing to serve the Lord. It is a true blessing how they were able to do so much. My initial response based on what I had going on in my life was that I was praying to be more obedient. I can tell the more obedience I have, the closer I feel to God.
8 “When that time comes, you must not do as you have been doing. Until now you have all been worshiping as you please, 9 because you have not yet entered the land that the Lord your God is giving you, where you can live in peace.
Dear Heavenly Father,
You know what we will all face, have faced, and are facing right now. Let us each take time now to remember and lean in close to the love, grace, and true hope we only have in you. Father, we know our disobedient selves need you, and nothing in this world will ever give us the true peace that comes from you. We love you and submit our will to you today. We need you.
Today’s Reading: Deuteronomy 10-14, Psalm 5, Luke 8
It’s Worth the Wait
Imagine if you can…… A young boy, who is searching for his purpose in life. This young boy can make friends easily. But something is always a little bit different. This young man grows up in somewhat isolation. But he has a family that loves him and a lot of relatives that interact with him all the time. As this young man grows up, he knows that his purpose in life is a little bit different than everybody else’s. He knows that he has a specific purpose to fulfill and this waiting will lead to something greater. This young man grows up and goes. Several years later, after living in somewhat isolation. He finally understands the purpose of his life. He finally understands the purpose of all of his preparation. He sees Christ. John the Baptist knew the wait was worth it.
Luke 7: 24-28 24 When John's messengers had gone, Jesus[f] began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ 28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Growing up in a conservative and difficult life was hard for this little girl. So many hard choices that have been handed to this girl, so early in life. She did not have a chance to truly be a child. She didn’t have safety and compassion and security. She had to make hard decisions at an early age. These decisions and choices put her into different situations which followed in her shadow throughout her life. It wasn’t until she was able to meet Jesus later in her life, that she understood what she had to do. She waited. Her waiting has been shared throughout the ages. She has created a position in our history for her show of gratitude and atonement. For her it was worth the wait.
Luke 7: 37-38 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
In Deuteronomy 6 & 7, we are given instructions on how to enter the promised land. But the one thing that we forget is how God had prepared the promised land in advance for the people. There were already houses, vineyards, cisterns, wells, and everything that they needed to survive. Because they waited they were able to take full advantage of all the things that God had prepared for them. They did not have to do too much preparation or hard labor to the land because life for them is prepared for them. In Deuteronomy God is telling us that he has a life prepared for us, and that we just have to have a relationship with him. We have to be in connection with him so that we can take full advantage of what God has for us.
Deuteronomy 6: 10-12 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Deuteronomy 7:11-14 And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. 13 He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you. 14 You shall be blessed above all peoples.
How many times in our life are we waiting on the next thing? How many times are we waiting on the next thing? We have to be patient during the wait. After the wait, we also have to remember the journey that we have gone through to get to our destination. So many times, we go through obstacles and tests, we forget the lesson. Let us take the opportunity to slow down and wait for the next thing that God has prepared for us. Let us also not forget the lessons that we have learned by grace and mercy.
Everyday People Change the World – Part 2
Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 1-3, Psalm 36, and Luke 5.
The readings for today are chalked full of plenty of great topics one could write on. In Deuteronomy 1-3, Moses recounts everything that has happened to the Israelites in the wilderness. This encompasses God’s rescue and provision keeping His promises many times, as well as their flip flopping back and forth from being “all in” with God to questioning Him and wishing they were back in slavery in Egypt. There are many lessons in those chapters we can apply in our lives today. Psalm 36 speaks of God’s deep, steadfast love. Even Luke 5 covers many topics one could journal on including the calling of some of the disciples and their willingness to trust, drop everything, and follow Him.
With all these great stories, the one that bubbled up to me was in Luke 5:17-26 where Jesus healed a paralytic. This paralytic was only able to be healed because some of his friends carried Him to Jesus and went so far as to lift his bed onto the roof, remove part of the roof, and lower him down to Jesus (Luke 5:18-20). Maybe this story jumps out to me because I just read my brother Chad’s post on Monday about how everyday people can change the world as he referenced Simeon and Anna in Luke 2 (https://www.biblejournal.net/2023/03/13/every-day-people-change-the-world/).
A few years back I mentored a college intern with our company. This intern knew I was a believer and openly shared with me that he was raised in the church but now in his late teens he was questioning whether God was real and whether he truly believed for himself. He was definitely beginning to go more towards the direction away from God. Over a period of about a year he had many deep conversations with me and another person in our office who was also mentoring him and who was a man of faith. Toward the end of his time with our firm he was struggling with some things as we talked in Panera. We sat in a quiet corner uninterrupted, not noticing or hearing much of anything besides our conversation for nearly an hour. When we got to the point of our conversation where I asked to pray for him and was starting to ask him to accept Jesus into his heart..”BAM!” A broomstick fell and smacked so loud on the floor I almost jumped out of my chair. I knew this wasn’t a coincidence. There was no noise the entire time we talked until this. If you believe God is real, then the Satan is also real, and he did not like what was about to happen in our conversation as I was asking my friend to give his heart to Jesus. Needless to say, my friend did not give his heart to Jesus at that moment. I felt disappointed…this was the moment I believed he was going to give his heart to Jesus, but it didn’t happen! A pastor friend of mine once told a similar story where a traffic accident happened on the street while He was praying in a similar way for a friend sitting at a table drinking coffee at a café. Again..Satan is real.
As his time with our firm ended, we stayed in touch some but grew apart as his new professional path and my busy life got in the way. He also had lost regular touch with his other mentor at our firm. However, a few years later, he called me to catch up and let me know he had given his heart to Jesus and was attending church and a small group with his girlfriend who was also a believer. Praise God!
In Luke 5, Jesus called some to be his disciples. They brought many people to believe in Jesus and performed miracles in Jesus’ name both during Jesus’ life here on Earth and after. Some of us will be called to be ministers or employees of the church. As I’ve grown in my faith walk and quite frankly also enjoyed writing for Bible Journal, I’ve at least reflected on whether my current career or work in the ministry would be my true calling. Chad’s post on Monday, the story of my friend, and the story of Luke 5 today reminds me that we don’t have to be in the ministry to bring people to Jesus. In fact, our regular everyday careers and lives outside the ministry may give us even more opportunities to meet and mentor others and bring people to Jesus in way those in ministry may not be able to. When you don’t work for the church, people know it’s not part of your “job”…you just love Jesus and want them to also meet and know Him and His love the way you do.
The story of my friend also reminds me that sometimes we will carry our friends directly to Jesus, and we will get the satisfaction of seeing them healed by giving their life to Jesus right then like in Luke 5. Other times, they won’t make it that far right them. Some we witness to will not give their life to Jesus during the time we are with them or during the time we know them. But, the Holy Spirit does not stop working in their heart and lives and the seeds you plant may come to harvest well after the time you know them. For there are many we witness to that we may never interact with again and will never know if they became a believer. Let that not deter us from sharing the Gospel and fighting the good fight and remembering the impact we can have as everyday people like my brother Chad reminded us.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
I remember with great anticipation returning to my hometown after being away at college for a few months. The excitement to be with family and friends, wondering if they would see any change or growth in me. I had become more independent while away and been exposed to new ways of thinking, would anyone notice? I felt both apprehension and anticipation on the trek home.
In Luke 4:16-30, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth. I am sure he experienced some of those same emotions. While he had been away he had been baptized by John and received the Holy spirit. He had also spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. I’m sure he was excited to go back to his home and see his family and friends. He had been ministering in Galilee and everything was going well for him. In Luke 4:15 we read that “He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.” I am sure everyone was eager to see him and hear him preach when he returned home.
On the Sabbath day in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus went to the synagogue to pray. He was handed the scroll of Isaiah, he unrolled it and began to read…
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
Jesus was quoting this from Isaiah 61:1-2. After reading the scroll, he rolled it back up and handed it back to the attendant. Then he said,
“The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day.”
The crowd listening to Jesus was amazed. They knew him as Joseph’s son and had worked as a carpenter. How could he be saying these things? They questioned what they heard and who he claimed to be. How could this ordinary boy claim those things? The people were skeptical. Instead of easing their doubts, Jesus challenges them. The peoples skepticism and confusion soon turns to anger.
The Nazareth people were offended when Jesus told them that God loves Israel, but He also loves the rest of the world. The people were deeply enraged that God would have mercy on people who they did not like or agree with. It made them furious.
When they heard this, the people in the synagogue where furious. Jumping up, the mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.
The people were not willing to hear that God wanted to love and save all people. Jesus was there to speak the truth, not just to gain a following. Miraculously, Jesus passes through the crowd and goes on his way.
Jesus did not get the hometown welcome that he initially might have desired. But, more importantly he did not care about the popularity and thoughts that the people had about him. He cared what God thought about him.
Jesus experienced rejection. He knows the feeling. He goes on in His life to experience rejection to the point of death. But He did this so that we may have life. We get to ask for His forgiveness for when we have rejected Him and He forgives us.
Go Be Great
Numbers 30-33, Psalm 35, Luke 3
Chad’s post yesterday stirred up my own desire for greatness. Some days, I want to be like Elon Musk, changing the way the world works. Or maybe Mark Cuban, one investor at a time. Often, my desire to change the world is twisted. I have to be careful. Do I want to change the world, or do I want the world to be shaped by me?
John the Baptist didn’t see it this way. He had no interest in power or possessions. He was consumed only with the love and power of God and from that, he did what came naturally. He went into all the regions around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3).
It is no surprise that John’s passion and fever led others to view him as a leader. The people wanted more. But, John was clear. His mission was not to be the one. No, his mission was merely to tell as many people as possible that he who is mightier than I is coming (Luke 3:16).
I have to be careful with my desire for greatness. I do want to change the world. But not to look more like me.
Every day people change the world
Today’s reading: Numbers 22-25; Luke 2
I have read Luke chapter 2 many times, which speaks about the birth of Jesus, but today a few verses struck me. Luke 2:25-38 reveal two individuals that were never spoken about again the Bible, Simeon and Anna.
Starting in verse 25, Simeon is described as “this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Verse 26, “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” The Bible does not provide any detail about Simeon as a rabbi, public official, or a man of specific stature. He was “just and devout.” Seemingly, Simeon appears to be an “everyday person.”
Verse 37 tells us about Anna, “and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.” Luke outlines little detail of Anna’s interaction with Christ, but he wrote in verse 38, “and coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption of Jerusalem.” Luke referenced Anna’s interaction with Jesus to verify He was the Son of God.
What speaks to me about today’s reading are two things.
- God uses normal, “everyday people” for great things.
Perhaps you live your life as a “normal person.” What great impact are you having in the world? What can be deemed extraordinary in your life? You have a family. You have a home. You live your life attending church and praising God. Maybe your life may not seem extraordinarily “great” in our earthly eyes, but God does amazing things with His faithful servants.
Perhaps your role is to raise children, nieces and nephews, or influence grandchildren that will bring generations of your family to follow Christ. Perhaps you volunteer at church or at community organizations and there is one person who you impacted that will go on to bring their family and generations of others to Christ. Or perhaps a person you impact will go on become a spiritual leader that will have a profound impact on generations of new believers.
Being faithful and consistent is worthy in God’s eyes. God used “normal people” time and time again in the Bible to change the world.
2. God rewards and appreciates His faithful servants.
Our reward for consistency and faithfulness will be known in Heaven. Verse after verse tell us this in the Bible.
Colossians 3:23-24 – Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Romans 2:6 – God will repay each person according to what they have done.
1 Corinthians 15:58 – Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves full to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Simeon and Anna were faithful to God as “everyday people,” and God used them to verify the most important person to ever walk the earth, Jesus. God rewarded Simeon and Anna for their faithfulness, and they will forever be remembered in the Bible recorded in Luke’s account.
No matter what your status or place in life, you can have a profound impact in the eyes of our Lord. Choose to be consistent, faithful, and good and as God notes, in your doings each and every day. Know that your consistency, diligence, and labor towards a life of faith does not go unnoticed in the eyes of our Lord.
2 Timothy 4:7-8 – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Leap for joy!
A very special person came back into my life this week as she returned from Canada to visit family for about six months. Her name is Pia and she is our neighbor, friend, and honorary “Dutch Grandma”. When I saw her I felt my spirit lifted and I couldn’t help but smile! Pia speaks openly about her faith so whenever we are together I feel God’s hand and promptings from the Holy Spirit to engage in uplifting and God-honoring conversation. Pia brings joy and a sense of family to our home, even though we have known her for only a short time.
While reading the scriptures for today (Numbers 22-25 and Luke 1) I was reminded of the feeling I had when being reunited with Pia. It was as though my own spirit lept!
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, (Luke 1:41)
Similar feelings came to me this week during our small group gathering. There are people in the group who I do not know very well however I felt joy from being near people who love Jesus. There is a bond that is unexplainable and eternal.
Those who see their need of Christ, and are desirous of righteousness and life in him, he fills with good things, with the best things; and they are abundantly satisfied with the blessings he gives. (Matthew Henry)
I pray a blessing on our readers today that your heart also leaps for joy with a renewed spirit. May your heart be abundantly satisfied with the blessings of God through Christ Jesus. May we recognize His handiwork in all of the plot twists and turns in our daily lives. Seek out your brothers and sisters in Christ today. Pray for them; that God opens your heart to meaningful conversations according to the purpose that you were designed to fulfill in this life, pointing to eternal life.