Get Ready

Today’s reading:  Matthew 24

A global pandemic, the busiest hurricane/wildfire season on record, political divisions and racial tensions made 2020 a year like no other.  It was so crazy, the word “unprecedented” became over used.  With each awful development, I heard more “chatter” about whether the end times were upon us.  In our scripture for today, Matthew 24, Jesus was talking to his disciples about the end times – foretelling what is going to happen in advance of Jesus’ return or “the second coming”.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains (Matthew 24:6-8).

Does this sounds a little like 2020?  I’ll admit it did to me when I read it this week.  At least until I got to verse 36.

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36).

If no ones knows the day or the hour, including Jesus himself, is it reasonable to think it would be that easy for us to figure out?  We are not that smart.  Why then would we waste our time?  Rather than evaluating the “signs” and trying to predict what’s next, or worse yet, spending our time worrying about it, we should be focused on getting ready.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (Matthew 24:42, 44).

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that in Gallup’s Strengths Finder 2.0 my top strength is Achiever – I like to get stuff done.  My second and third strengths are Futuristic and Strategic – I am inspired by what could be and have a knack for coming up with alternative ways to move forward.  When I think about Matthew 24:42 and 44, I am energized about how glorious Jesus’ return will be.  But my mind quickly turns to thinking about what I need to be doing so that I’m ready when he gets here – what is my path to get from here to there.  The answer is pretty easy to come up with – I need to be following Jesus Christ and transforming my life to look like his.

That is much easier said than done, of course, so how do we break this bold goal into smaller, more consumable chunks on which we can make progress?  As I thought about this a little more, my mind went to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  These chapters are probably Jesus’ most complete description of what the life of a Chrisfollower should look like.  Starting with the Beatitudes (qualities that describe Christfollowers) and moving on to topics like murder, adultery, divorce, giving, prayer, worry, judging, etc, Jesus provides a playbook for how we should think about, act, and react when faced with various topics and challenges in life.  If you are like me, energized about the future when Jesus comes to take us home, yet want to make sure you are prepared for his arrival, spend some time studying the sermon on the mount and let it guide your choices.

…for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:).

Get Ready!

 

 

Matthew 9, 10

Today’s reading:  Matthew 9, 10

The New Testament begins with four gospels all written about the same subject, the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.   They are each, however, written from a different perspective and to a different audience.

  • John was written to new Christians and non-Christians searching for truth.  His goal was to demonstrate that Jesus was (and is) the Son of God and the only source of eternal life.
  • Luke affirms Jesus’ divinity, but emphasizes his humanity.  Luke was written to Gentiles.
  • Mark was written to present the person, work and teachings of Jesus to Roman Christians, proving to them that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.
  • Matthew was written to Jews.  His objective was to prove that Jesus was the Messiah for whom they had been waiting, and to provide a better understanding of God’s Kingdom.

Matthew was a Jew himself.  He understood Mosaic Law and was familiar with its rules/traditions/sacrifices.  In chapter 9 verse 13 he challenged the Pharisees, who were criticizing him for keeping company with sinners, to search for a deeper understanding of the Old Testament words from Hosea 6:6.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13).

God calls us to demonstrate faith in Him by showing love and mercy to others. True believers in Christ genuinely care for others, just as Christ did.  This, not empty ritual, is what God desires for His children.  This was hard for the Jews, who had been living under Mosiac Law for centuries, to fully understand and accept.  Under the new covenant, relationship replaced ritual.

Today, I spent the day celebrating the life of my great aunt Veva Appel.  After a visitation, funeral, graveside service, lunch and family pictures, the day was long and I was tired.  But I left with a full heart.  It was so fun to see cousins I hadn’t seen in many years and share stories of the crazy summer vacations we spent on Long Lake as kids.

I am part of the Appel family through my grandma Evelyn Doris Appel York.  But more importantly, our extended family is bound together by our faith in Jesus.  As I listened to the stories of Veva’s life, I left knowing she spent it showing love and care for others – the same mercy Jesus talked about in Matthew 9:13.  I am confident she was welcomed in to the arms of Jesus last Sunday with these words:

Well done my good and faithful servant.

 

Psalm 144

Summer is the only season I like.  June is my favorite month of the summer and, therefore, my favorite month of the entire year.  Kids are out of school, the temperature is warm (but not super hot and humid), and fun summer activities are in full swing.  After June of 2020 when COVID was on the rise and so many things were cancelled, I have found June of 2021 to be extra fun doing things WITH people rather than trying to social distance all the time.  In fact, I have played more golf so far in 2021 than I played in 2017, 2018 and 2019 combined.

I play golf and have dinner most every Tuesday night during the summer with a group of friends.  Five of us played together this week (rather than a typical foursome), so 9 holes took us a little longer.  Because it was guest night, there were also more people eating dinner than usual.  It was almost 9pm my the time we got our food and I found myself starting to get a little frustrated because everything was so slow…UNTIL…I realized it was June 15.  My favorite month of the year was half over already.  Oh no!  The “self talk” that followed this revelation sounded just like the Zac Brown song I’d listened to earlier in the day –

Quiet your mind
Soak it all in
It’s a game you can’t win
Enjoy the ride (Zac Brown and Wyatt Durrette, 2010)

I stopped and reminded myself to slow down, as I really had NOTHING for which I needed to get home – kids are too old to need my help at bedtime, I didn’t have any work to do, and I didn’t need to get my lunch and clothes ready for tomorrow since I’m working from home.  So, we ordered dessert and stayed out a little longer.  So fun!

Given the events of Tuesday night, it is no surprise that my heart was draw to David’s words in verse 4 of our scripture for today –

For we are like a breath of air; our days are like a passing shadow (Psalm 144:4).

Life is short.  We have the opportunity to choose Jesus and live the life to which God has called us while we are alive, but when life is over, we don’t have a “re-do” option.  Knowing that God alone is the source of purpose, fulfillment and joy for our lives, why then would we chose to live for anything else?

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Carpe diem!

Psalm 132

The author and occasion for this Psalm are not mentioned in the Bible.  However, the context suggests the setting may have been when the tabernacle was brought to Jerusalem during David’s reign.  In the first half of this passage, we see that David was obsessed with finding a permanent dwelling place for the Lord.  After many years of dwelling in a traveling tabernacle, David was convinced God deserved better and was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.

 

“I will not enter my house or get into my bed, I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (Psalm 132:3-5).

By describing him as a man after God’s own heart, the Bible tells us David was in close relationship with God.  The kind of relationship marked by putting others’ needs ahead of your own.  Can you identify?  Are you in a relationship that is so close you prioritize others’ needs ahead of your own?  If yes, consider yourself very fortunate.  Relationships that close are rare and seldom exist outside of a family.  I would love to say I’m good at this, but I’m not.  Case in point – I’m writing this post today from the parking lot outside of the Orange Leaf frozen yogurt shop where I wait for my daughter.  Putting someone else’s needs ahead of mine today looked like 4 trips to/from the pool, a trip to/from Orange Leaf, a trip to/from the park, then home to make dinner. This certainly isn’t how I planned to spend my day.  I was willing to do it, however, because I know my 14 year old daughter needs every opportunity to get summer off on the right foot after 15 long months of COVID isolation.  Did I put her needs ahead of mine today?  Yes.  But I’m tired and did I do it without grumbling at least a little bit?  No.

 

As I think about my life and my relationship with God, I am humbled today.  Despite occasionally putting others’ first, I am not capable of “outgiving” God.  He created me and continually provides for my needs.  Even though I am undeserving, he continues to provide for me and my family.  Most importantly, he sent Jesus to make a way for me to spend eternity with him.  Thank you Lord.

Psalm 120

Our text for today is only 7 verses long.  Don’t let the length, however, shortchange the impact of its message.  The Psalmist is calling out to God for help overcoming the impact of slander.

Slanderwords falsely spoken that damage the reputation of another (vocabulary.com).

One of the hardest things about dealing with the impact of slander is that you don’t even know it has happened until after the damage is done.  Have you ever experienced this?  I have, and I will attest that the scars run deep.  It is an incredibly hard experience to overcome especially when the perpetrator was someone you trusted and/or thought was on your side.

As I was preparing for today’s post, I consulted my Life Application Study Bible to see what insight it had on Psalm 120.  Its message was just what I needed to hear today.  Rather than focusing on the sin and its harmful impact, the notes for this chapter focus on a God-honoring response – peacemaking.

Peacemaking is not always popular.  Some people prefer to fight for what they believe in.  The glory of the battle is in the hope of winning, but someone must be a loser.  The glory of peacemaking is that it may actually produce two winners.  Peacemaking is God’s way, so we should carefully and prayerfully attempt to be peacemakers (Tyndale House, 1996).

Deciding when to fight for what is right and when to simply pursue peace, especially in the face of slander, isn’t easy.  On one hand, you don’t want to be perceived as a pushover.  But on the other hand, you also don’t want a bad reputation, to be seen as confrontational or viewed as closed-minded.  This may also mar your reputation.  I know peacemaking is supposed to produce two winners, but I will attest, it still feels like losing a lot of the time.  My fourteen year old daughter and I often talk about “taking the high road” and “turning the other cheek”.  It is hard in junior high, but even harder as an adult.  Think about it, the stakes are higher when a bad reputation has the potential to impact things in which you’ve made long-term investment (like your career or long-term relationships).

The Bible gives Christfollowers clear direction on how we are to respond to those who sin against us – return good for evil.  Turns out this is even harder than turning the other cheek and walking away!  Fortunately we have a God who is willing to help us do the right thing even when we don’t feel like it.  Can making peace with those who have sinned against you help repair your reputation?  Perhaps.  Even if it doesn’t though, obedience to the ways of the Lord will always produce a better outcome.  It may not change your reputation, but it may change your heart.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psalm 108

RemixA new version of a recording made by recombining and re-editing the elements of the existing recording and often adding material such as new vocals or instrumental tracks (thefreedictionary.com).

Reprisea repeated passage in music (Oxford dictionary).

Greatest HitsAn album, sometimes called a best of album or a catalog album, that is a compilation of songs by a particular artist or band. Most often the track list contains previously released recordings with a high degree of notability (definitions.net).

Remix, reprise and greatest hits all have a common theme – taking something that was great or successful on its own, using it again and/or trying to make it better.  Our scripture for today, Psalm 108, could be described as a remix, reprise or even a greatest hit.  This Psalm is made up of un-edited verses taken from two other Psalms – verses 1-5 are from Psalm 57:7-11, and verses 6-13 are from Psalm 60:5-12.

Both Psalms 57 and 60 are Psalms of lament, or Psalms that express deep sorrow for the painful experiences of God’s nation and cry out to God for his intervention/blessing.  Because the lament portion of these Psalms did not carryover, Psalm 108 essentially turned into a Psalm of victory where David 1) offers praise to God, 2) asks for God’s help, and 3) conveys his expectation of deliverance.

  • David’ personal exaltation of God

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, higher than the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth (Psalm 108:3-5).

  • David’s request for help

Save us and help us with your right hand,
    that those you love may be delivered (Psalm 108:6).         

  • David’s expression of confidence in God’s ability to deliver      

Give us aid against the enemy,
    for human help is worthless.
With God we will gain the victory,
    and he will trample down our enemies
(Psalm 108:12-13).

David’s formula was simple. Without God, he could do nothing.  But with God, anything was possible.  Do you have confidence in God’s ability to deliver you from your enemies? From your distress? From your pain?

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

 

 

 

 

Psalm 96

Its not about you (Warren, 2002).

I love how Rick Warren begins The Purpose Driven Life by reminding us that God created us in his image for his good purposes, not our own.  In this best-selling book, Warren invites readers into a 40 day spiritual journey to discover (or affirm) their life’s purpose through studying God’s plan.

  • Purpose #1: You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure
  • Purpose #2: You Were Formed for God’s Family
  • Purpose #3: You Were Created to Become Like Christ
  • Purpose #4: You Were Shaped for Serving God
  • Purpose #5: You Were Made for a Mission

God’s plan for our lives starts with acknowledging and worshipping him as the giver and sustainer of life.  Our scripture for today, Psalm 96, provides a beautiful blueprint for how to glorify God through worship.

Did you know this Psalm appears in the Bible two times?  In 1 Chronicles 15, the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem after David’s army defeated the Philistines. Upon its arrival, David asked musicians to lead the people in worship with these words (recorded in 1 Chronicles 16:23-36)The same words were then recorded as the 96th chapter of the book of Psalms.

Each paragraph of Psalm 96 begins with a different command/call to action, thus providing a how-to blueprint for worship.  These actions, of course, are not the only way to worship God.  But if this Psalm is important enough to be recorded in God’s word more than once, it warrants our attention.  Let’s take a look –

Sing (verses 1-6)

What does it mean to sing to the Lord a new song?   We should always be finding new ways to praise God.  Worship should be a fresh experience that engages the mind and heart, rather than a boring ritual.  If God’s mercies toward us are new every morning, so should be our praise for him.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Ascribe (verses 7-9)

The word ascribe means to give proper credit where credit is due.  If everything good and perfect comes from God, glory can be ascribed to no one other than him.  This seems logical and easy to follow.  But all too often I know I am guilty of patting myself on the back for being a “good decision maker” or “using sound judgment” instead of giving God the credit for guiding my ways.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be the glory forever!  Amen (Romans 11:36).

Say (verses 10-13)

If we identify ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ and have accepted his gift of salvation, each one of us has declared Jesus as Lord.  God then uses us as his vessels for carrying the gospel message to the World.

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

Today, let us come before the throne of God with a heart of worship.  Sing, ascribe, say – all glory to his name.  Amen.

Psalm 84 – Dwelling Place

I was reading a couple articles this week about how COVID 19 has affected a variety of different living patterns like how we shop, how/where we work and where we live.  Several of them were trying to predict which of the changes are temporary and will soon shift back to pre-COVID patterns, versus which changes have become a lasting “new normal”.  For the most part, there was consensus that WFH (Working From Home) is here to stay.  In other words, the authors predict the vast majority of employees who have successfully performed their job duties from home instead of the office this last year, are likely to have some level of increased freedom to work from home more often than they did before the pandemic.

Is that good or is that bad?  I guess it depends on your perspective.  For those of us associated with the single family residential real estate industry, the impact of the WFH shift has been overwhelmingly positive so far.  Nothing makes you want to remodel your outdated house, or move to an entirely new house that better fits your needs, more than having to stay at home 24 hours a day, every day!

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!  My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord (Psalm 84:1-2).

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;  I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked (Psalm 84:10).

As I read our passage for today and pictured the Sons of Korah, or temple assistants, singing about the eternal home God is preparing for his followers, I couldn’t help but think about the emotional buying that has engulfed the residential real estate market over the past few months.  Because of record low inventory, home buyers have been willing to forgo house inspections, willing to waive appraisals, and even willing pay more than asking price to win the right to purchase a house.

Read verse Psalm 84:2 again – My soul years, even faints, for the courts of the Lord.  Can you feel a similar emotional longing?  While the Psalmist refers to the “dwelling place” and the “courts” of the Lord, he doesn’t really mean a physical structure like we picture a dwelling place or a home.  In reality, his longing is to dwell in the presence of the Lord.

In similar fashion, when you think of your home, is it the physical structure that brings out the emotion in you?  I doubt it.  While the physical structure may bring a level of safety and security, it is the people and relationships that actually give it meaning.  Can you think of the first place you lived with your spouse?  What about the room where you rocked you newborn back to sleep in the wee hours of the morning?  Or the kitchen table around which you shared meals with those you love night after night?  I’m guessing those memories stir some emotion in your heart, some longing for the people with whom you shared those physical spaces.

Family and friends with whom we can share our lives are a gift from God, and I am grateful for them.  But nothing, and no one, here on earth will ever compare to being in the presence of God for eternity.  What a day that will be!

 

 

Psalm 72 – A Perfect King

Psalm 72 describes a perfect King and/or ruler as someone who:

  • Judges people in the right way, and treats the poor fairly (verse 2)
  • Does what is right (verse 3)
  • Helps to defend the poor, rescues the children of the needy and crushes their opponents (verse 4)
  • Rescues the poor and helps the oppressed (verse 12)
  • Feels pity for, and rescues the weak and needy (verse 13)
  • Saves the weak and needy from oppression and violence (verse 14)

Would this be a leader you’d want to follow?  Do these traits describe someone for whom you would vote?  I suspect they do, as this Psalm was King Solomon’s prayer asking God to help him to lead the nation with wisdom and justice.  How different would things be if our world leaders displayed these qualities?

Honestly, it is somewhat discouraging that I don’t recall many (or any) recent candidates who’s platform was to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.  Even so, I am called by God to obey our elected officials even when my views don’t align with many of theirs.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God (Romans 13:1).

Instead of just complaining that I must follow leaders that don’t exemplify these characteristics and/or don’t follow Jesus, this Psalm has helped remind me I have another responsibility.  As Christfollowers, 1 Timothy instructs us to pray for elected officials.

Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2:2).

This is tough for me.  My natural approach is to turn off the 24 hour news channels and completely disengage in the political spin.  So, I can pray for our leaders simply out of obedience to 1 Timothy 2:2, or I can pray for our leaders expecting it will really make a difference.  At first blush, this may seem a little naive.  But I know –

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).

God may change the hearts and/or actions of our world leaders as a result of my prayers, or he may simply change my heart.  Either way is a win!

Psalm 60

This afternoon I was helping out a friend by doing a mock interview with one of her team members who is interviewing for a Manager job.  In the course of our conversation, I asked him my favorite interview question for aspiring leaders –

Tell me about a time you made a mistake at work; how did you recover from it?

After he was done answering the question, I shared with him why I ask this question whenever I get the chance.  From my perspective, a good answer contains evidence the aspiring leader did 3 things:

  • Took ownership for the mistake.
  • Did whatever he/she needed to do to make it right.
  • Identified the root cause and took action to prevent it from happening again.

As I sat down to reflect on Psalm 60, I kept coming back to this interview question.  In fact, David’s actions in Psalm 60 illustrate a wise approach to confronting mistakes.

The context for this Psalm was defeat.  David and his army had suffered some kind of a loss in battle.  David knew that when the Lord was on their side, his army was always victorious.  So this defeat told him that someone had made a mistake that resulted in God’s disfavor.  As the leader, David owned the mistake and he set out to make it right.

The Psalm opens with David recognizing God’s rejection and taking ownership for the mistake.  Next, he calls out to God for restoration and deliverance from his enemies.  David knew the solution for preventing future defeat was improved obedience to God’s plan.  He closes the Psalm by acknowledging God’s power and affirming his allegiance.

 

No matter the mistake or situation, I am confident greater obedience to the ways of the Lord, and greater reliance on God’s power to overcome will always produce greater outcomes.  Let God’s word guide your actions today.

 

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him (Psalm 28:7).