A Time for Everything

Today’s Reading:  Ecclesiastes 3

There is a time for everything…

On August 17th it was time to take my son to college.  We rented a van, packed it full with everything we thought he might need, and headed out.  After a few hours setting up his room, we went to dinner, took him back to his dorm and left for home.  I was a little choked up when we left, but overall we’d had a great day and I held it together pretty well.

The next morning I needed to return the van at 8am.  B.J. had meetings (and my second driver now lives in Missouri), so I dropped the van at Enterprise and decided to just walk home.  Earlier that morning, my friend Teresa had sent me a short podcast called 239: A Sending Prayer for College Freshmen .

I crossed the street, got on the Constitution Trail and turned on the podcast.  On August 18th it was my time to cry.  I probably listened to that podcast at least five times as I cried the entire hour it took me to walk home.  When my heart was too sad to even find the right words to talk to God, the words of this prayer by Emily P. Freeman were just what I needed.  Thank you Lord, your timing is perfect.

They’ll move out of home this week and will bring their bags filled with clothes and their boxes filled with books. But you see what they bring in their hearts – anticipation, adventure, love, regret, anxiety, motivation, and hope.

They are a mix of excited, ready, terrified, and wide-eyed freedom.

As they look for a fresh start, remind them of your faithfulness every morning no matter where they call home.

As they look for community, remind them you are always with them no matter where they go.

As they look for adventure, remind them how you walk on water, turn water to wine, feed thousands from just a few pieces of bread. Remind them how you bring life straight up out of death, beauty straight out of ashes.

May they be open to the greatest adventures found in your divine presence and the greatest love that comes from your heart.  

When insecurity, comparison, disappointment and failure knock on their door, may they begin to understand this is part of growing up.  They’re not doing it wrong, they’re just human.  

May they be quick to listen, open to apology and swift to forgive.

Weave your wisdom into the fibers of their soul, bearing the fruit of confidence, clarity, contentment and a light heart.

May they not despise their humanity, rather may they embrace it.

May they not despise their body, rather may they learn to receive and respect their shape as a gift.

May they not despise their weakness, rather may they see how weakness brings a daily reminder to trust.

May they not fear failure, rather may they thrive in the midst of it.

May they not be quick to judge, rather may they be patient and curious.

Help them to find true friends and be a true friend in return.

Help them find their voice and to use it to be an advocate for themselves and for others.

Help them to see with eyes filled with compassion, equity, justice and love.

Replace their shame with courage.

Replace their confusion with peace.

Replace their fear with a love that moves within them, and around them, beyond their ability to understand.

May your grace surprise them kindly along their way.

Amen.

Undivided

Today’s reading:  1 Corinthians 1:1-17

I was out running the other morning and Tim McGraw and Tyler Hubbard’s 2021 song Undivided started to play.  I don’t know enough about either artist to know whether they are Christfollowers or not, but the song has a catchy tune and an uplifting message.

I think it’s time to come togetherYou and I can make a changeMaybe we can make a differenceMake the world a better placeLook around and love somebodyWe’ve been hateful long enoughLet the Good Lord reunite us‘Til this country that we love’sUndivided

In our scripture for today, Paul was writing to the Corinthian Church to encourage them and address a few problems he heard they were having, one of which was divisiveness.  The Corinthian church was a diverse group of Christfollowers that included wealthy merchants, common laborers and even former temple prostitutes.  They found themselves quarreling about a lot of things from loyalty to certain leaders (Paul, Apollos, Peter, Jesus) to which spiritual gifts were more important.

After an opening greeting and thanking God for the gifts he had given the Corinthian Church, Paul began his message by calling his audience “brothers and sisters”.  This was likely to emphasize that, despite their varied backgrounds, members of the Corinthian church were all part of the same family – the family of God.  Paul asked them to stop arguing and focus on what truly mattered, rather than the small differences that were taking them off course and driving them apart.

 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Paul’s message to the Corinthian church is very timely for us 21st century Christfollowers.  We come from a lot of different places, some of us grew up in the church and some of us didn’t.  We don’t all look the same, sound the same, or share common experiences.  But even if we don’t agree on every detail, we can be united and work together in harmony if we agree on the one thing that really matters – Jesus Christ is Lord.

...yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live (1 Corinthians 8:6).

Sunshine into your Soul

Today’s reading:  Luke 11:29-54

Your eye is a lamp for your body.  A pure eye lets sunshine into your soul.  But an evil eye shuts out the light and plunges you into darkness.  Make sure that the light you think you have is not really darkness.  If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as through a floodlight shining on you (Luke 11:34-36).

If you know me at all, you know I like sunshine.  June, when the sun rises before 6am and doesn’t set until after 8pm, is my favorite month of the year.  I like warm vacations at the lake or the beach.  I hate to shiver and have no interest in cold or snow…EVER.  As I was reading our scripture for today, it is no surprise that I was drawn to verses 34-36 (in the New Living Translation).  Sunshine into your soul…filled with light…your whole life will be radiant.  Sign me up for that!

The Bible tells us Jesus is the light.  We can be filled with the light by drawing near to him and choosing to walk in his ways over our own ways.  Selfish desires and sin blot out the light of Christ’s presence and make us much less responsive to his leading.

If I want more sunshine, if I want to be filled with light so my radiance influences others for good, what then do I need to do?  Invest in my relationship with Jesus by studying his word, spending quality time talking to him and investing in relationships with other Christfollowers.  Think about it, it is impossible to have a close relationship with someone when you don’t spend quality time with them.  The same is true for Jesus.  By filling my mind with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), I won’t have enough room in my brain (or time) to think about selfish and sinful things.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:6-7).

Joshua 22

Today’s reading:  Joshua 22:10-44

Catastrophize – (v) to imagine the worst possible outcome of an action or event (Miriam Webster).

Are you guilty of catastrophizing?  If your team goes down by 10 points, do you find yourself saying, “the game is over”, even though it is still in the first half?  If you get one piece of negative feedback at work, are you convinced your career is over?  When you get a splitting headache, do you automatically think it is a brain tumor?  If you answer yes to any of these questions, you might be guilty.

Catastrophizing can lead to some negative consequences both for you and those around you.  For example, it can cause you to waste a lot of time (and money) dealing with “emergencies”.  It can also cause unnecessary anxiety or low self esteem, as you are prone to dwell on negativity.  Even worse, it can lead to troubles in close relationships as your friends/family are forced to endure many unnecessary crisis situations with you.

Our scripture for today is about the Israelites moving into the promised land.  If you remember from Joshua 21, the tribes of Rueben, Gad and half of the Manasseh tribe all received land on the East side of the Jordan River.  So, they settled in first, before the rest of the tribes got to their new homes.  In the beginning of Joshua chapter 22, Joshua charged these three tribes to never lose sight of their journey, to remember how (and who) got them to this point, and then sent them on to their new homes.

Be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul (Joshua 22:5).

In response to Joshua’s guidance, these three tribes went to their new homes and built an altar to honor God.  What do you think happened when the remaining tribes saw it?  You guessed it, they jumped to the wrong conclusion (e.g. catastrophized the situation).  They concluded these three tribes were trying starting their own religion and were rebelling against God.  They were ready to start a war.

Fortunately Phineas, a wise priest, led a of group of people to go confront the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh to figure out what was going on.  When they explained the altar was meant to honor God, not to make pagan sacrifices, everyone was good.  Gosh that seemed easy, all it took was a simple conversation.

How often in our lives do we jump to the wrong conclusion or catastrophize a situation?  Instead of confronting those involved, we make up stories, worry, and ultimately let the situation drive a wedge in our relationships.  I know confronting sticky situations takes a lot of courage, but a simple conversation can prevent a lot of heartache.  Let’s get to talking.

The Ten Commandments

Today’s Reading:  Deuteronomy 5:1-22

Earlier in my career, I got to lead the design and implementation of a few enterprise programs that enabled my employer to comply with different laws and regulations.  Every program was a little different, as each had its own unique set of challenges.  But all of them eventually led us to the same question – “How much is enough?”  Our business partners who were responsible for executing the programs always asked more detail.  They wanted a checklist that told them exactly what to do. That way, they always had an answer for every circumstance and were less likely to make a wrong decision.  From an enterprise view, however, the law of diminishing marginal returns usually applied.  While enough rigor to produce compliant outcomes was a must, we didn’t need to measure and monitor every little thing in order to drive the right behavior.

Today’s scripture in Deuteronomy 5 is the Ten Commandments.  Verse 22 of this passage caused me to reflect on the question – “How much is enough?”

These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me (Deuteronomy 5:22).

Did you catch the end of the first sentence?  “And he added nothing more” tells us that God concluded ten commandments were enough to drive the right behavior.  We have five commandments about how we relate to God and five commandments about how we relate to other people.

In Matthew 22, Jesus affirmed that loving God and loving other people were [are] the key principles of God’s plan for our lives.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-49).

If Jesus is truly the Lord of our lives, ten commandments are enough to give us the guidance we need.

 

 

 

 

Be Ready

Today’s reading:  1 Thessalonians 5

My son Freddy leaves for college in three weeks.  From talking to several of my friends, I am finding there is a big difference between boys and girls when it comes to preparing to move away from home.  My friends with daughters tell me their girls have been preparing for months by getting their parents to buy matching bedding, decorative pictures, and every expensive toiletry under the sun.  Like me, my friends with sons have had the opposite struggle.  We can’t get our boys to do much of anything.

Week before last, we pinned Freddy down and made him work through the University’s access checklist so we could get into to his online account.  Did you know they don’t send tuition bills, or even copies of the bills, to parents anymore?  Fortunately the first time around the University also sent an email to the parents to tell us the first payment was due.  Whew, we almost missed that one!

Last night I sat down with Freddy to work the University’s move-in checklist and place a big Target order.  First thing he tried to tell me was that he didn’t need soap.  He claims that he uses shampoo to wash everything.  Nonetheless, I bought him two bottles of bodywash.  Next thing he tried to tell me was that he didn’t need a first aid kit.  We landed on one box of band aids being good enough to start.  Then he tried to tell me he didn’t EVER use Kleenexes (He said, “you know those things don’t work Mom.”).  What?  What do you think Kleenexes are designed to do, and for what have you been trying use them?  I convinced him to take one box for when he gets a cold.  Oh boy.  Three hundred and fifty dollars later, we almost have everything he needs.  While the checklist was super helpful, working through it with Freddy didn’t give me a whole lot of confidence he is really “ready” to move out.

Our scripture for today is the last chapter of Thessalonians 5.  It is also about being ready, specifically being ready for Christ’s return.  Paul wrote this first century letter to the church in Thessalonica to encourage them and give them assurance Jesus was really coming back.  He started the chapter with a reminder that no one knows the exactly when Jesus will return and compared it to a thief.  (Like working through the move-in checklist with Freddy, I’m not sure the opening of this letter gave the Thessalonian Christians much confidence.)

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2).

Fortunately, after reminding them of this potentially scary reality, Paul goes on to encourage the church with practical reminders of how to prepare for Christ’s return.  These reminders were relevant for the Thessalonian christians and are relevant for us today.

  • Warn those who are idle and disruptive (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
  • Encourage the disheartened (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
  • Help the weak (1Thessalonians 5:14)
  • Be patient with everyone (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
  • Do what is good for each other (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  • Be joyful always (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
  • Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
  • Be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Validate teaching against the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:20,21)
  • Avoid evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

There is nothing we can do to earn salvation or earn God’s favor, so don’t let Paul’s reminder to the Thessalonians scare you or overwhelm you.  Rather, use these simple reminders to help you take your focus off yourself and the things of this world.  Use them to help you draw near to God and focus on emulating Christ.  Then you will be ready!

 

Instructions for Christian Living

Today’s Reading:  Ephesians 4:17-32

A couple weeks ago, my 18 year old told me he’d had a fight with his friend about a controversial issue.  He went on to explain their disagreement and share more details about his point of view.  I walked away from that conversation with mixed emotions.  On one hand, I felt good because his theology was in line with the Bible and I was thankful that he had the courage to stand up for it.  On the other hand, I was worried his delivery may have over shadowed his message.  See my 18 year old son is very outspoken about his convictions, but has very little patience for listening to different points of view.  Discussions about controversial topics, even those about which we generally agree, often turn heated at our house.

The New International Version translation of the Bible titles Ephesians 4:17-21, our scripture for today, as “Instructions for Christian Living”.  Verses 29-32 made me think of Freddy and his loud mouth.  Unfortunately I also found them deeply convicting.  Let’s take a closer look.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (Ephesians 4:31).

Yikes.  While I don’t struggle all that much with gossip, I know what comes out of my mouth isn’t always aimed at building others up.  I have room to improve here.  But the next part is even harder.  Verse 31 goes deeper by instructing us to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice.  This isn’t just about what we say, it includes what we do and what we think/feel.  Controlling how we outwardly react to a situation is hard enough, but controlling how we feel in the heat of battle can seem almost impossible sometimes.

I definitely don’t have everything figured out, but what I have learned is that treating someone with kindness helps to diffuse bitterness, rage and anger.  When I feel wronged by someone, my natural reaction is to try and avoid contact with them.  But you know what I’ve found?  If I treat them with kindness rather than saying hurtful things or avoiding them, harboring anger and bitterness becomes much harder.  True kindness and compassion towards others helps to right a lot of wrongs.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).

 

 

Our Hope is Real – Day 2

Today’s Reading:  Hebrews 6:13 – 7:14

Yesterday, BJ unpacked Psalm 31 for us.  David, the writer of the Psalm, remembered God’s grace and generosity to him through some really tough circumstances.  Even though the circumstances were a result of David’s poor choices, God remained faithful.

Hebrews 6:13-20 carries a very similar theme.  In my Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House), this section is titled God’s Promises Bring Hope.  It is focused on God’s outlandish promise to bless Abraham and give him many descendants, even though he was childless and advanced in age (Genesis 12).  After 25 years of waiting, Isaac was born to Abraham.

The main point here is that God’s promises are true.  They are unchanging and trustworthy because God is unchanging and trustworthy.  While God’s timing doesn’t always align with our timing.  He promises us unconditional acceptance and deliverance if we truly seek him.  This is hope!

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:19a).

 

 

Comfort

Today’s Reading:  Isaiah 40

This week my son and I attended Freshman Orientation at the University of Missouri.  Since this is my oldest child, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  After check in, their first item of business was to send the parents to one location and the students to another.  I’d say about half of the auditorium was filled with rookie parents like me – parents who were sending their first child to college.  Opening remarks were given by the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs / the Dean of Students, who designed his entire 15 minute message to give parents comfort.  After watching over and protecting these kids for the last 18 years, he wanted to give us confidence that Mizzou had all the right resources to help our kids be successful as we launched them into adulthood.

In much the same way, Isaiah 40 is all about comfort.  Through the prophet Isaiah, God’s message was aimed at giving his people confidence that he would take care of them, that he alone was all they needed.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God… 

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:1, 28-31).

Am I comfortable sending my 18 year old on his own to a university with 30,000 other students?  I am, but not necessarily because the university has all the right resources he needs to be successful.  But rather because he and I both put our faith in the one true God who provides all we need.

Praise the Lord

Today’s Reading:  Psalm 47

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises (Psalm 47:6).

Praise:  verb – to express approval or admiration of; commend; extol (Dictionary.com).

Did you know the word “praise” appears in the King James version of the Bible 259 times?  As children of God, we are commanded to praise him.  Does this seem a little counterintuitive?  Throughout history, I would tell you every leader I know of that demanded his/her followers to salute, bow, or offer some sort of praise could be categorized as a narcissist (a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves).  So does it seem a little backward to you that God, who teaches his followers to be humble and to turn from self-centeredness, would require us to praise him?

It does to me.  While I trust God knows what is best, a little context on why always goes a long way for me.  A few thoughts on why we are commanded to praise God:

  • Because he is worthy of our praise. You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being (Revelation 4:11).
  • Because it is pleasant for usPraise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant (Psalm 135:3).
  • Because it builds our faithNot only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
  • Because it silences our enemiesThrough the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger (Psalm 8:2).
  • Because he enjoys itGod inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3).
May this be your testimony today.
My mouth will speak in praise of the LordLet every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever (Psalm 145:21).