Our Responsibility

Today’s reading is Psalm 78.

Here in verses 9 through 66 the psalmist recalls the history of God rescuing the Israelites from slavery and then providing for them in the desert as they traveled towards the Promised Land. Yet despite this, they continued to doubt God’s greatness and provision and continued to sin against Him. I could not help but read this and think of the parallels between the Israelites and our country today.

Our American ancestors moaned that they were not free from British rule and rightly so, yet after fighting for freedom they did not give the same freedom and rights to Black Americans or women…keeping Black Americans as slaves for nearly 100 more years and not allowing women to vote for about 150 more. Nearly 250 years later, we still see racism and sexism present in our country. And although we should continue to pray and take action to end both, I fear we can only improve but that neither will end fully as long as there is sin in this world until Jesus comes again. Our country also continues to glorify lifestyles that the Bible clearly states are not what God wants by normalizing these ways of living in movies, TV shows, and even commercials. Christians who stand firmly on the Bible’s word are then alternatively demonized.

Not only do we as a country continue to move away from God’s will for our lives, but we also continue to question God’s greatness and provision similar to the Israelites (see Psalm 78:10-20). Suicide rates, depression, and anxiety continue to increase. We fear the next virus or economic crash and despite our lack of trust and faith, God continues to richly bless us in similar ways to the Israelites. It may not be parting of the Red Sea, manna and quail falling from the sky, or water spewing from a rock, but God continues to provide for us and improve our lives…even if we don’t attribute to Him because we are not viewing things through the correct lens.

For example, in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected President, 50% of the world lived in extreme poverty, now it’s about 10% with even less in the US. Despite the recent pandemic, US households have the highest inflation adjusted incomes in history and paid down record amounts of debt in 2020, as well as hold two times the amount in checking accounts as they did at the end of 2019. Many are still struggling yes, but the data shows most people’s lives are improving financially and poverty and hunger are becoming closer and closer to being eradicated each and every year. Most junior high students have a phone in their backpack with more computing power than was used to power the first Apollo mission to the moon. Yet we continue as a country to doubt God’s provision and separate ourselves more from Him and His biblical values and instruction. See the parallels when it comes to the Israelites and us now?

With even public schools now removing prayer and God from nearly everything and forcing the teaching of other worldly, non-Biblical views at very young ages, what are parents and grandparents to do? How do we change this trajectory our country is on currently to move further and further away from God and His teachings? Psalm 78:1-8 tells us.

Give ear, O my people to my

teaching;

incline your ears to the words

Of my mouth!

I will open my mouth in a parable.

I will utter dark saying from

of old,

things that we have heard and known,

that our fathers told us.

We will not hide them from

their children,

but tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the Lord,

and his might,

and the wonders that he has

done.

He established a testimony in

Jacob

and appointed a law in

Israel,

which He commanded our

fathers

to teach to their children,

that the next generation might

Know them,

The children yet unborn,

and arise and tell them to their

children,

so that they should set their

hope in God,

but keep His commandments;

and that they should not be like

their fathers,

a stubborn and rebellious

generation,

a generation whose heart was

not steadfast,

whose spirit was not faithful to God.

 

We as believers and followers of God’s Word must teach it and tell of His great works and provision in our lives to our children and grandchildren. We cannot merely leave it up to attending church and Sunday school and think that the next generations will believe and follow God’s will based on that alone. The Bible has always taught us it’s our responsibility in our homes. However, it is even more necessary in today’s world where God’s teachings are merely not just excluded, but again demonized as hate and discrimination while other ungodly views are forced upon our children in media and schools.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9

God knew the teaching of His Word was needed at home and that we needed consistent exposure…even before the outside influences of Hollywood entertainment and social media of today.

Think of the impact we can have by teaching our children. God has blessed my wife and I with three children and a fourth on the way. If our four children have four children who they teach God’s Word who have four children who do the same and so on and so forth…in 10 generations that would be 1,048,576 who have believed and followed the will and Word of God. And think of the impact each of them would have telling others about God who might believe and teach His Word and the Gospel to their families to not only follow God’s will but have eternal life?!

I would encourage each of to reflect today and pray for wisdom on how we can improve in the frequency of teaching God’s Word, telling of his provision, and of course speaking about His saving grace on the cross to our children and grandchildren. Imagine the difference this will have on them and their lives and generations to come!

Adoration and Worship

Today’s reading is Psalm 66.

Shout for joy to God, all the

earth,

sing the glory of His name;

give to Him glorious praise!

Psalm 66:1-2

What great things has the Lord done for you throughout your life?

He’s given most of us the blessings of friends, family, spouse, children, providing for our physical needs and then some and most importantly…He’s given all of us his one and only Son on the cross (John 3:16).

Life is busy. Life is crazy. Life is tough. There are hard times. So, what do you do to remind yourself of all the blessings God has given you? We all need reminders. The disciples were with Jesus and saw him do miracles firsthand and yet within a day or two later were filled with worry and anxiety about not having enough to eat or a bad storm. If they had trouble remembering what Jesus had done when they saw miracles done in front of their very eyes, then I would say it’s natural and normal that we need reminders, too.  So, what do you do? What helps remind you of what God’s done so that you give him the praise and worship He deserves?

For me, the two things that remind me are by beginning my prayers acknowledging who He is and what he’s done in adoration (remember A.C.T.S I’ve written on in the past for prayer…adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication) and worship music. Starting my morning prayer stating that He is and always has been in control gives me so much peace, and I may sometimes be moved to tears by a worship song in church or on a car ride by myself. I can’t tell you how great it feels to be back in church worshipping Him with others to live music again in church! Do some of you feel the same?

I’ve heard of other great ideas like writing down your prayers in a prayer book and then going back and looking at the ones which have been answered. It’s easy to forget within days or even hours like the disciples what He’s done in our lives.

I encourage you to take some time today to give God the adoration and worship He deserves..even if you’re going through tough times right now. He’s still given you all you ever really need in His only Son. We can all say and give Him praise for that. What can you do today that might help you also do this more consistently in the future? Think of the peace and hope this will give you as you go through the hard days and seasons of life.

Here’s a worship song which might help get you started today!

One Name

Today’s reading is Psalm 54.

In whom or in what do you trust? In whom or what do you put your faith and hope in?

Last year brought us arguably the most hyper partisan election in U.S. history with each side claiming the other would end democracy as we know if the other won. With the election result nearly a 50/50 split, half the country was really happy with the outcome and half the country was really disappointed.  Unfortunately, most who voted looked at their candidate to solve our country’s problems and also many to fix their own problems and to rescue them so to speak.

If you did not put your hope and trust in one of these leaders, or even if you did, we can likely find ourselves putting our hope or trust in other political figures, leaders, athletes, or celebrities. We can also find ourselves putting our hope and trust in our careers, money or belongings, or even our spouses, parents, or children looking to them to solve our problems. Sadly, most of us we form our identity or measure our self-worth based on our career, our money or belongings, or relationships. The problem is we end up finding out politicians do not solve all our problems, careers end unexpectedly or due to retirement, money does not bring happiness and can run out no matter the amount, and relationships can end due to death or falter no matter how good of a job we do to nourish them because we are all sinful humans who make mistakes. All these things are futile and end.

As I read Psalm 54, what kept coming to my mind was….one name.

“God save me by your name

and vindicate me by your might.”

Psalm 54:1

Life is short..even if we live 90 to 100 years. There is only one thing we should really fear and that is death. There is only one name that can save us from death and give us eternal life through His sacrifice on the cross. In only Him should we put our hope and trust.

“It is better to take refuge in the

Lord

than to trust in man.

It is better to take refuge in the

Lord

than to trust in princes.”

Psalm 118:8-9

Ross Blumhorst wrote in a Bible Journal post back in January, “God is always right, we never have to guess if He is right or wrong, and you that makes me rejoice-how thankful I am that there’s something in this crazy world I can always know to be true!” Wow..powerful words that are so true. Thank you, Ross. I posted this quote to my social media and my Mom reminded me of this great verse.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Hebrews 13:8

Thanks, Mom. How great it is to know this in our messed up world?!

Earlier I asked the questions, in whom or in what do you trust? In whom do you put your faith and hope in?

We should strive to constantly remember the words of David here in Psalm 54.

“Behold, God is my helper;

the Lord is the upholder of my

life. “
Psalm 54:4

“For He has delivered me from

every trouble…”

Psalm 54:7

Let us then respond as David does…

“..I will give thank to your

Name O Lord, for it is

good.”

Psalm 54:6

By only one name are we saved. Only one name should we call on and put our faith, hope, and trust in. By only one name should we form our identity. And only in one name should we give our thanks, glory, and praise. That name is Jesus.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ypXUd_vGmI

 

 

Keeping It Real

Today’s reading Psalm 42.

I have to admit I struggled a little bit to understand exactly what the psalmist was saying here, as it seemed like he was contradicting himself. Come to find out after reading studying up a bit more, he is.

In fact, I bet as we read this more closely we can all greatly relate to the psalmist struggle.

In Psalm 42:3, he says…

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

In Psalm 42:5, he says…

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?….”

Again, in Psalm 42:9….

“Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

Lastly, in Psalm 42:11…

Why are you cast down, O my soul, why are you in turmoil within me?

Can’t we all relate to complaining to God about our circumstances? There are times in our life, or even just certain areas of our life over longer periods (or even our whole life), where things just don’t seem to go our way. When we ask God, “Why?” We cry out to God, “Can’t one thing just go my way? Where are you when I need you? I’m doing everything I think you want, but I just can’t seem to catch a break! Are you still there, God? Do you really love and care about me?” And worse yet, sometimes you feel like there may be others that are happy about your challenges and problems as the psalmist describes in his situation (Psalm 42:3,10.)

Then, in his next breaths he seems to be praising God though…

Here in the 2nd part of Psalm 42:5…

“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation, and my God.”

In the 2nd part of Psalm 42:11….

Hope in my God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

He talks about in Psalm 42:4 how he would lead the procession to praise God, and then in Psalm 42:6 he remembers past successes God has helped him. Do you remember Psalm 42:9 where he complains from above? Well, he actually calls God, “my rock” in 42:9 before doing so.

The psalmist is facing the struggle I believe nearly all of us face where we are going through tough times, yet we try to still praise God but our heart is just not in it sometimes they way it should be. When we try to say we know God is in control, and He’s got us…yet maybe we wonder or doubt. He’s trying talk himself into coming back to what He knows to be true. He’s trying to remind himself that God loves him. God has him and to trust Him. God is in control. And God has a plan and His will is perfect.

The psalmist is as some would say, ‘keeping it real,” with how many of us feel or have felt at times. Are you feeling this way right now? If so, I would encourage you to check out Romans 8. If you’re in a good spot in your walk with the Lord currently, put a bookmark in Romans 8 because you may want to come back to it in the future. I would love to unpack this more but that’s just too much for today, and I really think these few verses say all that really needs to be said anyway.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:31-32

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…

Romans 8:35

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who love us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39

Adoration and Thanksgiving

Today’s reading is Psalm 30.

Sometime in the last few years I was reminded of the acronym A.C.T.S. when it comes to prayer.

A –  Adoration

C –   Confession

T –   Thanksgiving

S –   Supplication

While I’ll admit my prayers should probably be more conversational with God, I do think this has really helped my prayer life by reminding me the things I should be talking with God about. All of us probably have a tendency to focus on 1 or 2 of these areas in prayer more than the others, and if I had to guess I would say it would probably be confession and supplication. Those are both really good things to talk with God about. We must recognize and confess that we are a sinner asking for forgiveness, and God tells us to ask for what we want in the Bible (Matthew 7:7-11). I think often times we are good about asking God about what we want for others but feel guilty asking God for what we want ourselves. However, God wants us to do so when we ask with the right intention. He wants our whole heart, and He knows He has it when we ask Him for what we want so there should be no guilt in that. With thanksgiving coming after confession in this format, it also reminds me to thank Him daily for His grace on the cross as I thank Him for other blessings.

Adoration is not a part of my prayers and conversation with God that comes as natural to me. However, this helps remind me daily that He is Alpha, Omega, Almighty, and Creator. What do all these names indicate? They indicate that He is in control….in a world that seems out of control. This has been extremely helpful..especially in the last year. I can imagine that during times like the Civil War, The Great Depression, World War I and World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War with protests people probably thought things couldn’t get any crazier and worse right?  Many likely even thought this was the end of our world and Jesus was coming….or maybe the end of the US as we know it at least. One could argue it’s worse now than then and that our country’s division and direction is also worse than it’s ever been. Is it? Maybe. But one thing is for certain, due to the internet and social media and a phone with both in our hands most all of time, we are constantly bombarded with negative information making it seem like the world can’t get any worse. Expectancy Theory says that which we focus on expands. It consumes our thoughts. As a result, the negative news we are exposed to 24/7 will cause us to focus and think even more about those negative things and even other bad things. Never has it been more important remind ourselves consistently that God is in control…He’s Alpha, Omega, Almighty, Creator, and whatever other of the many names God has that remind us of this. I believe that starting our prayers with this changes our conversation with God and our recognition of His provision and role in our lives and in the other parts of our prayer life.

As I read Psalm 30, what really jumped out to me was David’s adoration and thanksgiving to God. Remember Expectancy Theory…if we focus on adoration and thanksgiving to God in our prayer life…our positive thoughts that He is in control and gratitude for all He does will consume our mind and this peace will permeate through our lives changing the way we live drawing others to Jesus as well.

You have turned for me my 

mourning into dancing;

you have loosed my sackcloth

and clothed me with gladness,

that my glory may sing your

praise and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give

thanks to you forever!

Psalm 30:11-12

Why I Believe – Part 2: Chet Bandy

Today’s reading is Psalm 18 which David wrote when God rescued him from the hand of his enemies and Saul.

I will primarily focus on Psalm 18:27-30.

For you save a humble people,

but the haughty eyes you bring down.

For it is you who light my lamp;

the Lord my God lightens my darkness.

For by you I can run against a troop,

and by my God I can leap over

a wall.

This God- His way is perfect,

the word of the Lord proves

true;

He is a shield for all those who

take refuge in Him.

 

The night before beginning to write this our family watched the new Disney movie Safety about a Clemson football player who cared for his little brother while his Mom was in rehab so he would not have to go into foster care. As I saw some of the scenes of football practice it reminded me how much I loved football and even the practice..the intensity, the hits, and the sounds of the pads popping. I mentioned in my last post which I’ll call Part I of “Why I Believe” that I had never had a rock bottom moment so to speak that caused me to believe when I didn’t previously. However, that does not mean that I have not had challenges that seemed very great at the time with some making me wonder how I would get through them.

Growing up in the small town of Auburn, IL, high school football is huge. At a young age I asked the coach to be ball boy and my dreams began to be the star quarterback someday. I always picked the teams and played quarterback on the playground and also played quarterback from youth football all the way until my junior year when I had the opportunity to realize my dream to be the starting varsity quarterback. I had not only worked my whole life up until that point for this, but also put in extra work the last year to try beat out my competition in a quarterback controversy if there is such a thing in small town high school football. This dream came crashing down quickly when about a week into practice a broke my elbow throwing a football. Yes…you heard that right..I snapped a growth plate in my elbow just throwing which is unheard of. I had done the same thing to my other elbow the year before and came back later this year only to break a growth plate in my shoulder. If your counting along with me…that’s 3 bones in 2 seasons spending most of my sophomore and junior year first semesters in a cast, and I’m sure you can imagine the “jokes” from high school classmates about my frailty. This also doesn’t do much for a high school boy’s confidence when he’s trying to get a date! The doctor said this was due to weak growth plates and since I was still growing I decided not to play football my senior year. It was crushing. These were the guys I had grown up with and lead as quarterback since the 6th grade.

I played a lot of golf working on the course in the summers, so I thought I would play that in the Fall instead. After the first few days of golf practice, it just didn’t feel right. Fall meant football to me, and I missed being with my football teammates and coaches. Thankfully, Coach Bates let me be a part of the team and chart plays, along with work with the quarterbacks. It was humbling to not be able to put the pads and work with position I always envisioned playing my senior year. We went on that year to complete the first undefeated regular season for our town in 39 years. I can remember taking pictures after winning that 9th and final regular season game and being sad I didn’t have a uniform on like my teammates (I’ll never forget Coach Mark Dudley telling me to get in and making me feel included), but I was also able to find joy by still being a part of it in some way.  I was also happy for my teammates and the 2 quarterbacks who split time that year and remain good friends still.

This may seem like a silly story as you are reading this and you may be thinking..is playing high school football and being the quarterback that big of a deal? You may be going through some very serious “real world” stuff right now. Well for me, it was a big deal at the time. And the challenges you may be going through right now are probably a big deal to you while others may feel blessed to be in your situation. We need to be empathetic and understanding to whatever our kids, neighbors, friends, and loved ones are going through. The main reason I’m sharing this story is because I believe this experience and even the ridicule from high school classmates prepared me for challenges later. The same way I found joy in being a part of the team in some way can relate to the way we can find joy in our relationship with Jesus, even when circumstances don’t turn out like we expected. The subliminal lack of confidence I had at times later in life likely due this and the teasing from classmates allowed God to put others in my life later to build me up and help me realize these events and people affected me more than I realized, but they didn’t define my life and they didn’t mean that life would always turn out this way in future areas. God had big things planned for me in other ways. I wouldn’t trade being high school quarterback for the “victories” He has given me in making me a husband and father of three.

You may read Psalm 18 and be thinking…I’m a good person and may consider myself righteous compared to others like David speaks of, but He hasn’t made me “king” or helped me reach my vision for what I thought my life would look like. It’s easy for David to praise God because he made him king. But, did David know He would be king when he wrote this Psalm or was this before? Maybe God will make you “king” at some point in the area you want or in a different way or areas. Or maybe you are already “king” compared to the alternate path your life could have gone which God rescued you from, but you don’t even know about it. I’m confident God has rescued us from “Saul’s” and our enemy the Devil and made us “king” in ways we don’t even realize.

Regardless of how our life on this Earth goes, if we make God our rock, our fortress, our strength, our deliverer, our refuge, and our shield,  and we humble ourselves as Psalm 18 speaks of by trusting in Jesus and asking for forgiveness for our mistakes….He will in fact make us righteous and blameless in Heaven someday. In fact, we already are in His eyes today.  I believe in God because we have a God who didn’t have to do what He did.  The Creator of the Universe came to Earth as a human and poured himself out and suffered the pains of losing a loved one, temptation of the Devil, facing rejection and being deserted by friends, and ultimately the pain of a Roman flogging and crucifixion that we can’t even imagine. He did this not only to forgive our sins, but lived and suffered in such a way so that we would know He gets us and understands our pain because He lived it and faced the same and then some. This is why I believe. Thank you, Jesus.

Why I Believe: Chet Bandy

Today’s reading is Psalm 6.

I’m a little embarrassed to say when reflecting and preparing on this topic of “Why I Believe” I struggled a bit. I’m blessed to have been born into a Christian home with great parents who told me about God and Jesus at a young age, took me to Sunday school and church, and sent me to vacation Bible school amongst many other things to help establish my faith early. A friend of mine and someone who I would also consider a mentor, Tom Lipscomb, says that his mom would comment about certain things, “I know it in my knower.” Many believers have had a fork in the road moment where they remember turning to God when they had no where else to go, and they felt God save them, renew their soul, and rescue them from these challenges. This is similar to what David describes throughout Psalm 6 and especially in Psalm 6:1-2, Psalm 6:4, and Psalm 6:9. In fact, the titling in my Bible above Psalm 6 is O Lord, Deliverer My Life. For me though, I’ve never not believed… it’s more like Tom’s mom said, “I know it in my knower.”

Some reading this may say if there was never a time you didn’t believe and the flip was switched so to speak, how do you really know it’s true and God is real? I will say there was a period of time around my college years when I did reflect and think to myself, “Do I really believe the Bible and what I’ve heard all these years? Or is this just something I’ve always taken as true because my parents believe and not let my mind question or think otherwise? Do I really believe myself?” As I let my mind become more open to wondering if it was true and become more cognizant to the information I was taking in, I continued to come back to what I heard and the truth I read in the Word.  Yes, there are the questions that science brings up about creation, evolution, and the miracle of the virgin birth. But, science is changing every day. Things that were believed to be scientifically true for years and years are being disproven, revised, and changed. Heck, we still don’t know fully how all the facets of the human body works today, let alone the truth about things that happened hundreds and thousands and even millions of years before any one of us were even born. I believe most of what science says just describes the way God engineered and did things. Science and God are not in opposition necessarily. For other things where science and God don’t seem to jive, I arrive at two conclusions. First, how do we know the so-called science is true? Again, science is being revised constantly. Secondly, some things we have to just say happened by the miracle of God because He is God and can do what we can’t.. and can’t even explain for that matter (Romans 11:33-34, Isaiah 55:8-9). More than anything, the love of Jesus and His grace on the cross continued to be a magnet that would not let me go away. Again, I just “know it in my knower.”

While there hasn’t been a watershed moment where I can say I first believed, I can say that almost daily I become more and more convicted as to the truth of God’s existence and the Bible. It happens when I see someone decide to break the chains of their past and the shackles of their sin and lead a changed life once they discover the love and grace of Jesus. It’s seeing the beauties of a gorgeous sunrise or sunset and looking up at the stars and moon and thinking, “There’s no way all this could happen by chance.” It’s seeing the birth of my children and reflecting on the fact that life is truly a miracle. Just think about all the things that have to go right for a baby to be born and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of chemical interactions and nerves firings, all of which happen simultaneously without us thinking about them, just for us to live. It’s seeing how something that seemed terrible at the time like a relationship split or job loss years later proves out to be a great thing by finding an even greater relationship or career path. It’s how what seemed to be a small and insignificant decision at the time later turns out to change the trajectory of your life such as my decision to pursue finance instead of orthodontics not knowing that years later I would lose fine motor skills in my hand.  How do these things happen without a greater power? How do they happen without God? My simple conclusion..they don’t. When you believe and develop awareness and look for it, you can see God’s hand on nearly everything…eventually. For other things where we never see it ourselves, we just simply have to trust Him, and I’m confident we will find out in Heaven that there was in fact a great purpose we just couldn’t see.

What is the greatest miracle though and the reason why I believe? It’s the grace of Him sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross. As Andy Stanley described in a recent series I listened to, when we as created beings question and doubt our Creator in any way, we deserve eternal punishment. But, God did what man cannot even fathom doing if we were God.

“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:7-8

Before some of us believed while we were rejecting Him, and while some us believed yet are still sinning by the day, hour, and even minute now…He suffered and died in an unimaginable and gruesome way for you and for me. Knowing what we would do and are still doing today..He did it anyway. It’s that sacrifice and His unfathomable grace which restores and renews me when I mess up constantly to bring me back together with Him..that’s why I believe.

Please take a few minutes to watch this lyric video. I promise…you won’t regret it.

https://youtu.be/C2U7ffUM5Ec

Your Christmas Star

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2:1-2

This Monday night many of us saw the bright star of Saturn and Jupiter aligning for the first time in over 800 years. How cool is it that this star, possibly similar to the star of Bethlehem that shown over Jesus’ birth, would be seen near Christmas in 2020 on what most would consider a year of darkness just like when Jesus was born?! I would assume some reading this may have grown up like me thinking the wise men were there the night of Jesus’ birth. They are in most nativity scenes, right? Today, on Christmas Eve, I can remember sitting through many candlelight church services imagining shortly after midnight about 2,000 years ago Jesus was born and all the angels, shepherds, and wise men were there in the stable under the Christmas star. However, it’s clear from these verses that it was “after” He was born when the wise men arrived, and in coming from the far east of Iraq/Bablyon (without a car or plane in those days), they would not have arrived until days and most think years later. Yet, they remembered and still came to worship Him some time in the future after seeing His star.

It may seem strange reading this on Christmas Eve to be thinking about what we do after Christmas, but that’s where my mind went in reading these verses. We worship and praise him in the days leading up to Christmas and especially today on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day….but do we continue to worship and praise Him the same after? The wise men remembered His star and came sometime later still to worship Him and bring Him gifts. What has occurred in your life that is your Christmas Star that should remind you He’s always with you and to worship Him on all the other days of the year? Perhaps something has happened where you were aware of His presence and hand on your life which is your reminder. However, we can often easily forget in the years, days, and sometimes even hours that follow..and especially during the tough times. However, this Christmas Star in your life should remind you He is with you always.

I also thank God for His Word in the Bible which serves like a Christmas Star to remind us of who He is and His promises made and kept. Since man first sinned, He gave us gave us promises of a Savior (Genesis 3:15), and He has kept that and each and every one of His promises. My prayer for all reading this is that each and every one of us recall our Christmas Star which is our personal reminder of His presence in our life, and we open and read the reminder He gave us in His Word more in 2021 than we did this past year. When we do so we will not only have more peace and comfort through growing closer to Him, but we will continue to give Him all the honor and glory and praise He deserves..just like the wise men did. As notes written from a past sermon or devotional near these verses in my Bible read, “Wise men and women still seek Him today.”

Grace and Truth

Today’s reading is John 1:9-18

Since God made man there have been questions. Satan started creating them right away in Genesis 3:1 saying, “…Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” This lead to the Fall when sin came into the world. Today, we live in time when there are arguably more questions than ever due to all the craziness in the world coupled with the access to so much information through social media and the internet. Let’s name a few. Was there fraud in the presidential election? What is true and not true about Covid 19? Do masks work? Is the vaccine safe or not and should our family get it? Is global warming a threat and caused by man or just natural and normal climate change? These questions probably ignite feelings and opinions you believe to be truth. They might even invoke anger, and if they don’t, there are probably other ones I didn’t even want to list that would. Isn’t is also ironic that access to more information than ever only seems to bring more questions than answers.

From the start, man was curious and wanted to know the truth and believed some things to be true which were not. John 1:9-18 reminds us that advent is a time where we remember God gave us truth through His Son Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem that first Christmas. He is the One and Only source of true light and the one and only source of truth (John 1:9). He is Truth.

We are also told by John in these verses He came with grace, and we know He ultimately showed us this grace through His sacrifice on the cross. Romans 5:8 reads, “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” It is not by our doing or works that we are saved. It is purely by His grace which we do not deserve.

As I mentioned earlier, most all of us (including me!) have a lot of beliefs about what is true as it relates to what is going on in the world right now. Let us all remember this advent season that Jesus, the Word, is the only real Truth. We don’t need to look any further and for more information than is found in the Bible. Let us remind others of this as well. But, let’s also remember this advent that every time the Bible talks about grace and truth, grace always comes first. Again, Romans 5:8 tells us He gave us this grace when we didn’t deserve it. When we hear people talking or posting on social media about what they believe to be truth which we may not feel the same, let us model what Jesus taught and gave us by giving them grace first. I don’t see a lot of this grace from Christians these days. By giving this love and grace we can then point them to the Truth that is Jesus. They can then find for themselves what they are looking for this Christmas (but likely don’t know it) which is the grace and truth God gave us through that babe in a manger on the first Christmas over 2,000 years ago. Only in His grace and truth will they find peace.

Finding Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Today’s reading on Thanksgiving is John 21.

Is it easy or difficult to have a grateful heart this Thanksgiving? For most reading this 2020 has been very challenging and for many downright heartbreaking. For others, it may have actually been a year of many blessings strangely enough. Whichever group you are in, or maybe neither or a combination of both, I pray this Thanksgiving we call find contentment and joy in the blessings we do have.

Our reading today gives us 4 examples of God providing exactly what was needed when it was needed..even if those involved didn’t realize it before or even after.

  1. The disciples went out to fish at night sometime in the days or weeks after Jesus crucifixion and Resurrection. They fished all night and hadn’t caught anything. Was catching fish needed for their next day’s meal because they were out of food or to sell for money because they had no more? What stress were they under? We don’t know for sure, but we do know they were likely feeling frustrated from catching nothing when Jesus showed up at just the right time before daybreak and told them from the shore to throw down their nets on the right side (John 21:6). When they listened and obeyed, they caught so many fish their nets tore….153 to be exact (John 21:11).
  2. While eating breakfast with Peter, Jesus asked Peter 3 different times if he loved Jesus. Peter affirmed he did all 3 times. What’s the significance of this? Three is the same number of times Peter denied he knew Jesus after His arrest. Jesus knew the significance of Peter saying he loved him the same number of times as he previously denied him. He knew 3 times would likely be needed to make Peter feel he was fully forgiven and redeemed…even though belief in Jesus was all that is needed to be forgiven.
  3. Jesus then told Peter the way he would die which was to be crucified upside down in John 21:18-19. You may be asking yourself how Peter being martyred was exactly what was needed. Well, we are also told in these verses this was necessary to glorify God. Through it God has some plan. What we want and what we think is needed is not actually what’s always needed for God’s glory. However, that’s why He made each one of us…for His glory..even if we don’t always like how He does it. This is hard…but we must figure out how to trust fully trust in this and His love for us no matter what.
  4. We learn in John 21:22-23 from Jesus that John would not be martyred. Most historians agree that John was the only disciple that was not killed due to his belief in Jesus. While Peter and the other disciples may have been thinking while facing death for their belief how horrible it was or how unlucky they were, John may have been sitting on the island of Patmos where He was exiled for his belief wishing he died and was in Heaven. Or maybe he was wondering if He was not worthy enough to be killed for his faith like the other disciples. It’s all about perspective. Whatever you are going through…there is likely someone that would absolutely love to be you or have your life right now as hard to believe as that may seem. Whatever you are going through…it’s necessary for God’s glory. We now know John’s long life and exile to Patmos was necessary to write the book of Revelation to complete the Bible and tell about God’s ultimate restoration of brining Heaven and Earth together some day when there will be no more pain, crying, or sin (Revelation 21:4).

We see through these 4 examples in John 21 how what happened and what was given was exactly what was needed at the right time for God’s glory. Whatever you are going through right now which might be really tough, I’m sorry. I pray you know Jesus faced pain, sorrow, and rejection in his life too…and ultimately suffered and died for you for the forgiveness of your sins. I pray you can find contentment and gratitude in your circumstances and through His grace this Thanksgiving…perhaps even joy.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18