A Prayer of Repentence

Psalm 51

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.

And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me away from Your presence.

And do not take Your Holy Spirt from me.

2 Samuel 11 outlines a salacious story about King David, a chosen leader of God.  David, who was king of Israel, saw an attractive woman on the roof of her home.  Being a man of great power, David called on the woman, who he found out was the wife of one of his leading warriors.  Even though David knew of her marriage to one of his loyal fighters, Uriah, David had a relationship with the woman, Bathsheba.  Bathsheba became pregnant. Discovering this, David arranged for Uriah to be sent to the frontline of battle where he knew he would be killed.  David not only slept with a married woman, but he also had her husband “murdered.”

King David was rich, was the most powerful person in Israel, and was accountable to no man.  He was accustomed to getting what he wanted.  He was accomplished and things typically worked in his favor.  His expectations of his life became bigger than his accountability and commitment to God.

What gives us a “moral compass” to do the right thing? How do we hold ourselves accountable to what is good and what is bad?

Acknowledging that we need guidance and admit when our life goes “off track” is imperative.  The inspiring part of this story is that David acknowledged his sin and prayed to God to “cleanse him” of his sin and help him be a better person.  We will sin.  We will make bad decisions.  God wants us to acknowledge our sin, which we call repentance, and apply His commands to our lives.  God will allow us to sin. He does not control our actions. The most vital decision for us is to admit and acknowledge when we have done wrong.

Admitting we are wrong can be a hard “pill to swallow.”  Humility is not always a common trait. Life will throw us challenges and strife, along with happy times and hopefully prosperity.  The constant in our journey on earth is that God loves us and wants us to give Him reverence and praise for our blessings.  Even when we sin, God loves us.  He is a loving Father that wants what is best for us. But as a loving Father, He allows challenges and strife in our lives so we will appreciate and acknowledge His love and grace for us.

Love and Punishment

My wife and I have reflected often about what we thought parenting would be like and what has been our real-life experience. I can honestly say be both really looked forward to being a mom and dad. You have foundations, lessons, and ideals that you want to teach your children, hoping the result will be well-adjusted, loving, and faithful adults.  You rely on your own experience, gain perspective in your own life, as well as watching, and learning from your parents. Then, you discover it’s likely the most difficult thing you will ever do.

Along come cell phones and social media, and you are now dealing with challenges that you are not prepared for. Add on the treacherous content on laptops and mobile devices, which include pornography, the glamorization of what life “should be like,” along with the pressure that kids feel to be included and popular.  Let’s not forget peer pressure which includes vaping, drinking, and sex. All that, and we are not out of the middle school years yet!

With all of that, it can be a challenge to develop a loving relationship with your children and discipline them at the same time. You are constantly counseling and advising them.  You are constantly monitoring their friends, where they go, and who they socialize with. Can you remember your parents telling you as a child, “I am only doing this because I love you…” followed by a punishment?  Wait, you love me, but I am (insert punishment here)?

The nature of humans is that we need to be disciplined.  Our nature is to sin.  Without the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in our heart, we stray from God.  We will worship worldly things more than God.  We will commit sin and stray from our commitment and faith to our God. The world will tempt us and we will struggle.

In the Old Testament, God spoke through His prophets. God was directly involved in administering punishment to the people of Israel because they worshiped idols, committed adultery, were spiritually corrupt, engaged in prostitution, and continually turned away from God. As their Father, God was continually trying to nurture and teach the Jews throughout the Bible about following His Word and worshipping Him, rather than earthly possessions.  He was not happy with the sins that pulled the Jews away from His commandments.

The Book of Hosea was written by the prophet Hosea, who prophesized the punishment God would bring upon Israel based on their transgressions.  Chapter 9, verse 7 exclaims “The days of punishment have come; The days of recompense have come. Israel knows!” In verse 9, “They are deeply corrupted, as in the days of Gibeah. He will remember their iniquity; He will punish their sins.”

God loves us even when we are committing the worst sins.  Even though God spoke openly about the consequences that would come to the Jewish people for their sins, and He still loved them.  As a Father, He was acting, sometimes what may seem extreme to us, to discipline His children and get them right with their faith and fellowship with Him.

Even though God disciplines us, He still loves us. Scripture in the Bible tells us that continually.

1 John 4:7-8: 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:9-11 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Isaiah 54:10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Just like we love our children unconditionally, God loves us unconditionally as well, even when we are sinful.  In fact, mankind has continually defied God, our creator, and He sent His only Son to suffer and die to demonstrate His love for us. Yes, punishment is hard to accept, and even harder to administer, yet it is essential for us as humans to experience the good and bad to make the right choices in our life. Love and punishment go together.  We cannot fully understand love unless we understand that punishment and suffering is to bring us to appreciate and understand the “right path.”

Hearing God’s Voice

In Mark 12:1-12, Jesus was traveling and teaching the Gospel.  At every turn, members of the Jewish authority resented Him and attempted to trap Him into saying something blasphemous so they could arrest Him.  Jesus told the parable of man who built a vineyard and leased it to vinedressers. The vinedressers were to take care of the field and harvest the vineyard.  The landowner lived away from the property and sought to receive a portion of the fruit at harvest time.

As the parable goes, the landowner sent many servants to receive a portion of the harvest, and “they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully.”  In verse 5, “And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others beating some and killing some.”  Verse 6, “Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’”

Verse 7 tells us that the vinedressers said “This is his heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” Verse 8, “So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.” Verse 9, “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.”

At this point, the parable is hopefully beginning to make sense.  Jesus was describing the vineyard as the blessings God had provided to the Jewish people, and us, and His servants were the many prophets God had sent to the Jewish people to save them. Clearly, the “son of the landowner,” was Jesus, whom God sent to earth.

Blessings come in many forms and many times we may not recognize them at the time.  God provides for us in all ways and the best outcome for us may not always seem like it in the moment.  We live our lives searching for meaning and understanding.  We seek satisfaction and happiness from material things.  Our hearts are programmed to accept sin and we turn away from God due to our selfish, sinful tendencies. Our human nature is sinful, and the challenge is to recognize what God’s purpose for lives are and not our own.  What blessings is God providing me that I may not recognize?

Perhaps the relationship that you thought was “meant to be” did not work out. Maybe you still think about the promotion at work that you did not get and are still bitter about. Perhaps it was the home that you wanted to buy that you could not afford.  All the things we seek have consequences and impacts.  Perhaps the relationship that did not work out would have pulled you further away from God. Maybe the promotion at work would have been too much time away from home and your family.  Maybe the house you could not afford would have taken your marriage into a stressful place that would not have been productive for your relationship.

God is sending us “servants” all the time to give us messages and signs about His will for us.  Our Lord loves us unconditionally and wants what is best for us, but we may not recognize what “best” is in the moment. I strive to recognize during the disappointments or challenges, “What is God’s purpose right now? What does He want to me see that I am not seeing?  What does He want me to hear in this moment?”

Do you look back on trying times and see them differently now?  As you get older and experience life at different stages, do you recognize moments that might be “God’s purpose?”  The most difficult question for me to answer is “What is God’s plan?”

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Esther 4:14 – Perhaps you were born for such a time as this.

Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Psalm 33:11 – The plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.

Jeremiah 1:5 – Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Psalm 32:8 – I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

My prayer is that we have the humility and heart to listen to “God’s voice” in the moments when we “cannot hear” anything.  My hope this that we rest knowing there is a plan, and someday we will understand more completely the struggles and trials, when God’s plan is revealed to each of us in Heaven.

Lamentation 5: A Prayer for Restoration

Restoration is a great word.  Webster’s dictionary defines as “the act of restoring or the condition of being restored: such as a bringing back to a former position or condition; a restoring to an unimpaired or improved condition.”

As previous Bible journal posters have written, Lamentations is a troubling book of the Bible.  The prophet Jeremiah is “lamenting” about the Babylonians capture and takeover of Jerusalem.  Scripture tells us that God warned the Jewish people, for generations, of their sinful ways through the prophet Jeremiah, but they did not listen and dearly paid the price for it.

In Lamentations, Jeremiah outlined the total devastation and enslavement of the Jewish people.  Every aspect of their lives had pain and strife because of their unwillingness to relent and follow God’s wishes.  The sad part of this chapter is that the people that suffered the most were not necessarily the individuals that committed the most sins.  Generations of Jews had sinned while God was warning them and when they were captured and enslaved, future generations suffered the consequences of their ancestors.

This lesson causes me to think about the legacy our actions and faith leave for our families, sometimes generations to come.  Our willingness to acknowledge the power of our almighty God is imperative to not only our faith but to our children, their children, and future generations.  We are not just committing to faith for our own soul, but we are carving a path for our children to choose to have a relationship with Jesus. If we model the love and commitment to our faith, that we choose to follow Jesus, we are providing an opportunity for our children to follow our example.

Lamentations 5 was a “Prayer for Restoration” for the Jewish people.  They were in a very dark and miserable place. Verse 7 says, “Our fathers sinned and are no more. But we bear their iniquities. There is none to deliver us from their hand.”

Our choice to follow Jesus can save our children from a life of despair and pain.  Choose faith not only for your own life and soul, but the generations of your family to follow.  I have written before that I am so fortunate to have grandparents and parents who were believers.  We went to church, and I was baptized, but I had to make my own choice whether to believe in Jesus to be saved.  All we can do is expose our children to the teachings and lessons of the Bible so they can experience for themselves the saving grace of Jesus during their lives.

Back to restoration.  Sometimes we don’t appreciate the good times unless we experience the bad times.  Our sinful nature is to take for granted when things are going well and expect things to continue that way forever.  In our time on earth, the older we get, the more we realize that pain, death, and sadness are a part of our lives.  The beautiful thing about our relationship with Jesus, as believers, is that we know no matter how bad or awful things get, Jesus will restore us.  He will restore us while on earth through a “peace and understanding,” although still in pain, we can rest during the bad times.  But the glorious celebration will occur when we die, when we are “restored” and provided a new life in Heaven.  Revelations 21:4 tells us “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”  Heaven will be a glorious place.  I love my family with all my heart and soul. I would do anything for them and don’t want to leave them.  But I don’t fear death.  I am confident my death will be a glorious reunion with my loved ones who are already in Heaven, and my worries, pains, and discomfort will be gone. What a glorious day that will be!

That is true RESTORATION.

To Embrace Being Broken

Satisfied. Pleased. Gratified. Fulfilled. Happy. Cheerful. Unworried. Untroubled. Happy. Cheerful. Cheery. Glad. Delighted. Tranquil. At Ease.  At Peace. Comfortable. Serene. Placid.

The above are words used to describe being content.  The definition of content is “in a state of peaceful happiness.”

As we traverse life, how often do we feel content?  How often are we happy and fulfilled?  How often do we feel great about our life?

Psalm 86 is titled “A Prayer from David,” who was one of the most famous Jews in the Bible.  This is the same David who slayed the giant Goliath.  This is the same David who rose to be the king of the Jews after being raised in a common family.  This is the same David who had an affair with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered.  David lived a life with an intense faith for God, but he also lived a life where he committed terrible sins.

Although we do not know during what part of David’s life this was, he was exhorting this prayer as he walked through a range of emotions crying out to God for help.  He expressed his desire for God to be merciful to him and stated his humility and faith in God’s purpose.  David is clearly suffering from something in this prayer, and it appears his life is at risk.  David, in the face of death, comes to God to state his belief and humility toward God.

Do we react the same when our life is in turmoil?  Do we cry out to God in humility and reverence, or do we cry out in anger and resentment?

David demonstrates a clear recognition in Psalm 86:11 “Teach me Your Way, O Lord; I will walk in your truth; Unite my heart to fear your name,” that God is in control, and he needs to give his fears and insecurities to God.

For me, the most difficult part of faith, is being ok with not being ok.  Meaning, something in my life is uncomfortable.  There is strife, discontent, or unhappiness with an aspect of my life.  A family member is ill or unhappy, a relationship is strained, or the world around me feels like it is crumbling. Faith for me means accepting the unhappy times and recognizing that I need to ask God for guidance and discernment during those moments of strife.  I understand that I don’t know why the troubles are happening, but I know that if I turn to God, He will provide a path for mercy and contentment.  Our God is compassionate, and He is good.  God wants us to be happy and never promised to remove us from the sinful nature of our world. Our lives will endure pain and we must have faith that our God will provide a way for us to thrive.

Is it possible that we can be content through bad times?  Can we have peace when it seems we should be miserable?

I follow Jesus because of that promise.  The promise that I am loved, regardless of what is going on in life, and that every aspect of my life has a purpose.  What that means to me is that even in the worst moments, God is working on me to understand His purpose and not mine.  My life is about living for Him and not for myself.  My nature is to try to control things.  I am a doer.  I am a worker.  I will not be a victim.  Those principles don’t apply to working through most of the unknown tribulations of our lives.  Those traits don’t fix you when your heart is broken, or your soul is crushed.  The more blame and anger I let in, the worse the problem evolves to be.  When I praise God, ask for His mercy, humble myself, and plead for understanding and grace, He provides me a sense of peace and contentment.  Every day is a new day, and it is a daily fight against this world to maintain faith. But I know that I am loved, and I can feel Jesus’s saving grace in my heart when I truly give my troubles to God.  May you have the rest and assurance on the bad days, just like you do on the good.

Psalm 86:15 “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.”

The Lost Son vs. The Entitled Son

Today’s reading is Luke 15:11-32, which is one of more popular parables in the Bible that Jesus told, “The Parable of the Lost Son.”

A man had two sons.  The younger son approached his father and indicated that he wanted to receive his inheritance now.  The younger son gathered his belongings, took his inheritance, and left home.  As the story goes, the younger son “wasted his possessions on prodigal living.” The young son ended up destitute and broke.  The son decided to return home, thinking he would offer to be a servant in his father’s home, as he would live a better life than he was now. Verse 20 says, “and when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”  The father says in verse 22, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on the hand and sandals on his feet.” Verse 23 “And bring the fatted calf here and kill it and let us eat and be merry.”

Fast forward to the eldest son, who came home from the fields and observed “music and dancing.” The eldest son discovered his younger brother had returned home and the father was celebrating his return. The eldest son was furious and would not go into the party. Verse 29, the son addresses his father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.”

The father responded to the eldest son, verse 32, “It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”

The focus of this parable generally focuses on the association that the father, is God the Father, and the lost son is us.  No matter how great our sin, how lost we become, the Father will welcome us home with open arms.  Great parable.

I want to focus on the resentment and anger of the eldest son.  He was faithful to his father.  He was loyal.  He toiled in the fields and worked hard for his father. He stayed with the father and did what the father asked.  When he saw the celebration for his younger brother, he was clearly angry and resentful.  He made sure he told his father all of things he had done for him, and yet the father was celebrating the son who had sinned. The eldest son felt entitled.

In summary, both brothers were lost.  The eldest brother felt righteous because of his loyalty to his father, very much like when we as Christians expect God’s favor when we follow Him.

I wrote a few weeks ago about our expectations and struggles with modern-day doubt and faith. A relationship with Jesus means we have faith that no matter what trials and tribulations we have, we believe there is a greater lesson, understanding, and good for us.  We also must stay steadfast in our faith, even when things in our life go wrong.  It is inevitable, life is difficult and we will be challenged. God is for us and not against us. We must have faith that no matter how difficult or awful the challenge, God has a plan for our life and is drawing us closer to Him.

Following God and being faithful does not mean that He “owes us.”  Unfortunately, we may think the more faithful we are, the more life “should go our way.”  We equate our faithfulness with the expectation that we will be rewarded for our goodness.

If we have an expectation for Jesus and His impact on our lives that is not based on the lessons and teachings in the Bible, we will always be disappointed and lack faith while we are on earth.  If we think there’s no God because bad things happen, then we are setting an improper expectation that God never intended to meetIf we think there’s no God because life is uncomfortable and uncertain, then we are setting our own unrealistic expectation that will never be met. Faith is as much about the expectations we set and the benefits we expect to receive.

Fulfillment in our lives comes from the genuine connection and relationship we have with Christ.  We accept the good times and persevere through the terrible times we don’t like or understand.  This is certainly not easy. In fact, it seems impossible in those moments.

The last thing on my heart with this parable is that we as Christians need to set the right example for the people we want to bring to Christ.  We must embrace the difficult times, stay devout, and live our lives in way that non-believers see us as different, in a positive way.  We must live such that others want to discover what we have in our hearts that preserves us through tribulations. Let’s live for God, glorifying Him, be thankful for His blessings and favor, and expect nothing in return. Those same attributes carry over to be a kind and loving person on earth, while we are here. Even though we might be saved, we are not entitled to anything.

Jesus Is Love

Today’s verses come from the Gospel of the disciple John, chapter 2 verses 1-12.  On this Valentine’s Day, we focus on the everlasting love of Jesus.

Arguably one of the best-known stories in the Bible, Jesus, His disciples, and His mother attended a wedding in Cana. As the story goes, they ran out of wine at the wedding. You have likely heard the story before where Jesus turned the water into wine, a lot of wine! Some estimates based the description of the “six waterpots of stone, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece,” would be the equivalent of 600 to 900 bottles of wine today!  But I digress.

The question is, why did Jesus choose His first miracle to be turning water into wine?

In ancient Jewish times, the wedding reception was significant as it was the responsibility of the groom. The quality of the wedding reception, which many times was held a year after vows were exchanged, was a direct reflection on the groom. Running out of wine would have looked poorly on the groom. Did Jesus deliver this miracle to show His gift and not take credit for it? How many people at the wedding beyond the disciples and the servants knew that Jesus had “saved the reception” and produced the wine?

Verse 11 tells us “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.” I believe Jesus performed this miracle as a demonstration to His disciples that He was Son of God. The disciples saw for the first time, the power and impact Jesus could have.  Fast forward to the last supper outlined in Matthew 26:26-30, and Mark 14:22-26, Jesus announced God’s New Covenant with man, symbolizing wine as the shedding of His blood to forgive our sins. I believe another purpose of this miracle was for Jesus to make the connection of wine as a sign of His saving blood, His eventual crucifixion and death on the cross.

The Book of John tells us that after Jesus performed the miracle at the wedding, Jesus went to Jerusalem during Passover. This is another popular story of Jesus clearing the Temple, in John 2:15, “When he had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.” Jesus then goes on in verse 19 to say, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus was not speaking of the building; He was speaking of His body which would be crucified and raised from dead. I believe John chronicled the miracle of making wine at the beginning of Chapter 2 because he continued at the end of the chapter to provide the example of Jesus “cleansing the temple.”

Jesus came to earth to shed His blood, to cleanse our souls and save us from sin and death. The production of wine at the wedding represented Jesus’ blood and the cleansing of the temple represented the cleansing and forgiveness we receive by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Jesus demonstrated the most sacrificial and selfless type of love by dying on the cross for us. Jesus gave us a gift that we did not deserve. He endured criticism, doubt, pain, shame, and ultimately a horrific death to save us. Here’s the catch.  The world wants to pull us away from accepting Jesus’ gift. Christianity is portrayed and demeaned as a life of “things we cannot do,” instead of being hallowed as a life of “what we get to do.”

Choosing a life following Jesus is the most satisfying path. We can be content, feel loved, and know we are wanted. Jesus loves us and wants to have a relationship with us, in which we believe and turn our lives over to Him. That is the true message of Jesus dying on the cross.

Following the world’s ways which focuses on possessions, selfish desires, addiction, and lust, will not satisfy our hearts and souls. There will never be enough. We cannot satisfy our desires through the things of this world. The perpetual pursuit of material things will leave us sad and empty.

The pursuit of a trusting and loving relationship with Jesus will provide fulfillment, knowing you are loved no matter what has happened in your life.

My prayer is that by reading this today, you feel, maybe for the first time, that you are loved, no matter how bad you feel, no matter what you have done. Jesus wants you to feel happy and fulfilled with your life on earth and spend eternity in Heaven with Him. All you must do is accept the gift Jesus offered. Pray this prayer. “Jesus, I believe you died on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins. I believe you are the Son of God. I ask you to come into my life.  Please forgive me of my sins. Amen.”

If you prayed that prayer, and truly believed it in your heart, scriptures in the Bible tell us you are saved and will spend eternity in Heaven.  Your Valentine today and every day is Jesus.

How Expectations Drive our Faith

Today’s reading takes us to a time in Jesus’ ministry when He was approached by Jewish leaders, once again questioning His abilities, His power, and ultimately His status as the Son of God. The Book of John, chapter 10, verses 22 to 42.

Jesus’ birth and presence on earth was predicted by multiple Jewish prophet’s centuries before His arrival.  Some Biblical scholars believe there are over 300 prophecies of Jesus in the Old Testament. I have often wondered why Jewish leaders and people of that time did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.  They knew He was coming!

The Jewish people endured generations of pain, torture, death, slavery, and occupation by ruling parties.  At the time of Jesus’ life, the Romans ruled modern-day Israel.  The Jews were looking for a “king,” but, in their mind, the expectations for their “king” would have a much different purpose than what Jesus came for.  Jesus came to save their souls; the Jewish people were looking for a king to “save them on earth.”  They expected the “Jewish king or Messiah” would overtake their oppressors on earth and free them from bondage.  Even though Jesus performed miracle after miracle, His good works would never be enough.  If Jesus was the “true Messiah,” why wasn’t He freeing the Jewish people from the Roman rule and their pain on earth?  The Jewish people had the wrong expectations for the prophesied Messiah.

This makes me think about our modern-day doubt and struggles with faith.  I believe it is comparable to any relationship where our expectations of the other person are so high or unrealistic, that person will likely never meet them.  A relationship with Jesus means we have faith that no matter what trials and tribulations we have, we believe there is a greater lesson, understanding, and good for us.  We must have faith that no matter how difficult or awful the challenge, God has a plan for our life and is drawing us closer to Him.  This is not easy.

Anger, resentment, frustration, and stubbornness bring about negative emotions and questions during trial periods.  Why did that have to happen to me?  Why did that family member have to be taken?  Why did that accident occur?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Trying to answer all the earthly questions we have bring about expectations of what we want to answer our questions and end our pain.  This sounds eerily like the response from the Jewish people about Jesus.

Jesus came to earth not to save us from hurt and tribulation.  Jesus came to earth to save our souls from eternal harm.  The struggle in this life is to ensure we do not “close off” from learning what the Bible teaches us. If we have an expectation for Jesus and His impact on our lives that is not based on the lessons and teachings of Jesus in the Bible, we will always be disappointed and lack faith while we are on earth.  If we think there’s no God because bad things happen, then we are setting an improper expectation that God never intended to meet.  If we think there’s no God because life is uncomfortable and uncertain, then we are setting our own unrealistic expectation that will never be met. Faith is as much about the expectations we set and the benefits we expect to receive.

There are valid reasons to be afraid, upset, unsettled, and discontent with life on earth. Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to understand or make sense of pain and suffering.  Earth is the “devil’s domain” (1 Peter 5:8) and will continue to be until Jesus comes again!  But if we choose to follow Jesus and have faith, He will not only provide us daily peace and contentment during pain, but He will also give us everlasting life after we die.  I pray that we all set the right expectations for Jesus in our hearts and minds, so that we give our faith the chance to heal us when we need it. What a great opportunity and gift for us to receive!

Faith on a Bumpy Flight

It was 2008 and I was on a flight from Omaha, Nebraska to Denver, Colorado.  I was on a Frontier flight, a plane with two seats on each side of the row.  It was smaller plane than I usually flew.  I was seated in the last row, next to the bathroom, in the window seat.  The passenger seated next to me in the aisle was a delightful man, and he was a very big man, and he could not help but encroach on my side of the seat.  In summary, I was completely crammed into my seat, and I could not move.

It was a blistery cold winter day in Omaha, with thick clouds upon take-off. The captain announced, “Ladies and gentlemen we will try to avoid turbulence to Denver today, but it is likely our ride might be a little bumpy, but we will do our best to give you a smooth ride.”  The flight time is a just under two hours.  Little did I know I would embark on the scariest two hours of my life.

From the moment we ascended, the flight was thrashing and pitching.  The nose of the plane would dip down, the back of the plane would go up.  The wings would pitch to the left and to the right.  The entire flight was the plane making loud sounds and creaks along with bags moving around in the overhead compartment, drink carts rolling and smashing into the sides of the plane, and passengers gasping at every wild and unpredictable motion of the plane. Meanwhile, in seat 28D, I cannot move.  I am sweating profusely, and I started to lose control of my thoughts.  I was full panic mode.  I had to get off that plane!  I wanted to walk on solid ground.  I wanted my space.  I wanted to stop the scary pitches and unpredictable motion of the plane.  I had to get out of there!

Yes, fear caused me to lose faith.  I began to pray and asked God to make the bumpy ride stop.  I asked Him to provide wisdom and skill to the pilot and please ensure that we landed safely.  I was not smiling while praying, I was wincing and panicking while asking God to save us.  I felt vulnerable and out of control.  I needed to help, and God was the only thing that could help me.

Today’s reading is from Luke 8 where in verses 22 to 25, Luke tells us about a time the disciples were with Jesus on a boat in verse 23 But as they sailed He (Jesus) fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in jeopardy. 24 And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water.  And they ceased, and there was calm. 25 But He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, “Who can this be?” For He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him!”

The verses today caused me to reflect why do we “turn to God” in times of duress, to save us, to heal us, to preserve us, and not faithfully follow Him when things are going well.  Inherently, we were made by God with sin as a part of our hearts.  Our nature is not to depend on others and live without constraint or dependency. When life is good and things are going well, we often lack appreciation for what we have and take for granted the good stuff.  It is not until we suffer, experience pain, loss, and strife that we can truly know what we want, what we appreciate, and what we are missing.  We are unhappy.  We are sad.  We are conflicted.  We are mad. We have questions.  We want to understand. We don’t know where to turn and we search for meaning, guidance, and direction.  We experience a gamut of emotions, and we want to figure it out.

This leads to me the belief that we, many times, cannot progress in our faith without the experience of struggle and strife.  The worst moments in life are when we search for answers and are compelled to evaluate how we can make ourselves feel better!  These times are when we advance the most. We are miserable and need to understand how to make the bad feelings go away.  I have learned, there is no quick fix.  Sometimes we must work through tough times, and “embrace the suck.” Even though we are on a “rocking ship with crashing waves,” we can have faith that God has a plan for each of us.  We are not alone.  We are not experiencing pain without purpose, and yes, all our earthly sacrifice is for our greater good.

So, what makes us feel better?

  1. Reading scripture to learn we are loved, unconditionally, by our Heavenly Father.
  2. Studying Bible verses to understand that God wants what is best for us, but it is up to us to turn to Him. God does not allow bad things to happen because He doesn’t love us. Bad things happen because we live in a world filled with sin.  The bad times are what cause us to evaluate our faith and grow closer to God.
  3. We learn that Jesus suffered and died to forgive our sins, and we will spend eternity in Heaven with Him if we believe He died on the cross.
  4. We learn to have peace during the bad times because someday, in Heaven, all the answers to our questions will be provided.

Back to my flight.  Clearly, we landed safely.  I was NEVER so happy to be on land.  We exited the plane and I had been wearing a jacket during the flight (and sweating!).  I took my jacket off walking through the airport and a gentleman behind me said, “Are you ok, sir? The back of your shirt is soaked!” I was drenched. I did not care.  I was too focused on feeling safe and fulfilling all the promises I had made to God on that flight!

Love God or Fear God?

Today’s reading is from Romans chapter 2, verses 1 through 16 entitled “God’s Righteous Judgment.”

Judgment is a word that can bring about emotions, sometimes not positive.  The act of judgment typically comes with forming an opinion about someone’s actions, decisions, or behavior.  We can render judgment on our own actions but when someone else judges us, tensions can run high and resistance to input may follow.

In Romans 2:5, Paul wrote “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” The hard truth is that we will all be judged when we die, whether we are believers in Jesus’ birth and resurrection.

As a Christian, I expect to be judged based on the teachings and guidance of the Bible.  I work hard to follow the Word of God throughout my life.  I have become humbler as it relates to how I evaluate the decisions and behavior of my life.  Hearing judgment that I might be wrong still stings, but I am in a place to accept it. My heart and ego are softened by my desire to follow Christ and to be open to criticism and input.

I want to please Christ and build on my relationship with Him and show my love and respect to His teachings.  Like any relationship, I want to earn His trust that I am following His Word and I love Jesus for the sacrifice He made on the cross to suffer and die to forgive my sins.   I have been working on loving Christ, much like I would a parent.  Growing up, I feared my parents as I did not want to disappoint them.  I never feared physical harm, but I was afraid of their judgment if I were to make a mistake as I did not want to disappoint them. I feel the same way about God.  I want Him to be pleased and proud of me, but I expect Him to render judgment on me if I do not follow His teachings and Gospel.

I believe love versus fear is one of the key decisions for a Christian to make about God’s judgment.  Do you follow God because you love Him?  Or do you follow God because you are afraid of Him?  Many times, we “go through the motions” in our faith, go to church, sing the hymns, kneel, recite what the preacher tells us, but we are not connecting with what we are saying.  We are in the routine of reciting what we are told, or some churches teach that we will never meet God’s expectations and we continually feel guilty or conflicted in our faith. We go to church because we are afraid of God, and we are not truly connecting with the Bible to feel God’s love. There are not enough “Hail Mary’s” or confessionals that make us feel better.  It is difficult for some to feel loved by God when they only feel negative feelings of guilt related to their faith.

I think this leads to the difficult questions of “why should we believe in Christ?”  Should we believe in Christ because we fear His judgment when we die? Or should we believe in Christ because we believe He loves us?

I hope that you get to a place in your faith where you follow Christ because you love Him and believe that your daily life will be better following His teachings.   I hope you find a church community that preaches the truth about the Bible where God’s love for us is demonstrated time and time again.  God will judge us, yes.  But a life following Christ should not just be about the guilt or fear of judgment.  It is about learning how we are loved by God, and He wants what’s best for us.  Scriptures in the Bible repeat that over and over.

Written by the prophet John who was a disciple and witness to the life of Jesus on earth, he wrote in 1 John 4:7-10, 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

My prayer for you is that your relationship with Christ is centered on love.  A love for His teachings.  A love for what He has done for you.  A love for the discipline and structure that following Christ provides for your life.  I pray that you fear His judgment upon your death enough to explore a relationship with Him while you are living, where you appreciate and respect the expectations and disciplines of living a life to be saved by Him.