The most spiritual thing you can do today.

“The most spiritual thing you can do today is to choose.” – Erwin Raphael McManus

My interpretation of that quote basically boils down to trusting in God or trusting in ourselves. It is so easy to fall into the trap of worry, to let our minds wander into a place that tries to control situations based on what we know of the past or what we fear of the future. This life is a journey with many opportunities to choose. God has a plan. Our choice: Trust and obey even when it doesn’t seem logical, or go at it on our own/disobey and therefore face the consequences.

In 1 Kings 17:8-24 we read about a widow who is starving. Widows in that time were generally poor and had to rely on others for daily sustenance. This widow was no exception. She had enough food for one last meal then after that, death. To make matters worse, while preparing for her last meal she is approached by Elijah who asks her for some food.

Verse 9 says that God instructed (NLT) or commanded (ESV) a woman to feed Elijah. The scriptures do not tell us how he instructed or commanded her, we just know that he did. Her response wasn’t “oh, you’re the guy God told me about”, it was simply something to the effect of “well I have almost nothing, and what I do have isn’t even enough for me”. That was her reality. Give it away and die now, or consume what she had and die a little later.

Elijah then encourages her saying not to worry and shares God’s promise:

For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!” (1 Kings 8:14)

The most spiritual thing she did in that moment was to choose. Through God’s miraculous power, it was on her heart to make the decision to comply even though apparently she didn’t know Elijah, and her decision came with a cost.  Maybe you’re like me. If someone came up to me on the street and said to give them all I have because God said so, I’d dismiss them and keep moving (and a bit quicker).

She trusted. She obeyed. God honored her choice by delivering abundance.

The power that filled the container of oil is the same power in Jesus to feed thousands, turn water into wine, raise the dead, heal the sick, and ultimately to resurrect his dead body. This same power is ours as well if we choose to follow Jesus. As he forgives our sins, he resurrects us to a life with him, and as we live for him, he “fills our jars with oil” for eternity.

Jesus is calling. What is God calling you to trust and obey today and how will you respond? There is an abundance of joy and peace on the horizon that only comes from him.

May the Lord prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies. May he anoint your head with oil. May your cup overflow. Amen.

Redeemed, a love story.

I love you.

How do you know if those three words are true when spoken to you? While words can be meaningful, it is truly only action that defines love. Love is a verb, it is not a feeling that comes and goes. Love is a choice and it is not always easy to love. If it were easy to love our neighbor there would be no war, no murder, no racism, no oppression, and so on.

In today’s reading (Hosea 3:1-4:10), God tells Hosea to love his wife Gomer even though she commits adultery. She was a prostitute, seemingly unlovable, amongst the lowest of low in any society.

Then the Lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.” (Hosea 3:1 NLT)

It is easy to judge Gomer for her choices. She continues to go back to the same sin, and even though she had a husband, she chose to turn to other men. Unfortunately this is the same for you and I as we choose to go back to our sin and disobey God over and over. We exchange God’s loving arms and his perfect ways for something quite the opposite. This verse from Proverbs keeps coming to mind:

Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly. (Proverbs 26:11)

Redeemed!

Think about how Hosea must have felt. Betrayed, embarrassed, and unloved by his wife. Even if he were to obey God and take her back, how much is he going to trust her after her history?

Hosea takes the step to be faithful and obey God, and he goes so far as to buy his wife back. He redeems her. He loves her unconditionally. While God told him to do it, he was the one to make the choice.

Jesus loves us unconditionally even though we are like prostitutes, exchanging something pure and good for something cheap and wrong. We worship our own idols (money, power, experiences, ourselves, things of this world) instead of wholehearted dedication to God. When Jesus experienced the cross he too was rejected and betrayed, even by his best friends. Yet, he redeemed us as he paid the price, voluntarily giving up his life to set us free.

Like Gomer, we did not earn this redemption. She didn’t earn her husband’s love. From a worldly perspective, she didn’t even deserve his love. And that’s the beauty of Jesus and his love for us. We can’t buy it, we don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it. All we need to do is accept it, follow him, and be redeemed, for eternity.

Text a prayer.

Recently a good friend of ours had a very serious medical condition which resulted in him being hospitalized in the intensive care unit. This friend was able to post on social media what was going on and asked for prayer.

I’m prone to what I believe are distractions from the enemy who does not want us to pray. How about you? Knowing my weakness, I decided to immediately take action and write a prayer and send it to my friend via text message. My prayer was deep to the point of me having tears while writing. I felt the Holy Spirit guiding my heart and words while lifting up our friend.

Upon receiving the text my friend later shared that he broke down crying while reading the prayer and said he needs to be taught how to pray. Praise God for this humble request. Praise God as our friend’s health has made great improvement.

Want to pray better? We can do this by learning from Jesus and from today’s reading.

Pray like Jesus

When asked by his disciples how to pray, Jesus responds:

“When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭11:2b-4‬ ‭ESV)

Habakkuk’s Prayer

Chapters one and two of Habakkuk contain conversations between Habakkuk and God. Those two chapters are more of a dialogue (Habakkuk complaining, God answering) and then chapter three (the final chapter) takes on a different tone as a direct prayer. We can learn from Habakkuk’s prayer as he:

  • Prays with a humble posture, with a healthy fear
  • Praises God
  • Petitions God
  • Remembers what God did in the past and trusts he will do it again
  • Acknowledges God’s power over all the earth, that God is his source of joy and strength
  • Asks questions to God
  • Waits patiently and faithfully for God, trusting he will respond

A Challenge!

Today I challenge our readers to pray for someone via text message. The first person who comes to mind (even if the person seems to be just fine, encourage him or her, just pray). Don’t wait because I’m guessing I’m not alone in being distracted. Keep it simple or go deep; pray for the Holy Spirit to put something on your heart. Let’s change the world through prayer as it is our most powerful weapon!

BB gun, broken window, broken phone, amusement park

Do you recall a time when you were a kid and got into big trouble and received punishment? To name just a couple of my mishaps from 1980s…

The BB gun and the window.

When I destroyed the neighbors very large and expensive window with a single shot from a BB gun. In today’s dollars this window would be approximately $2,000. It was more difficult to apologize to these people in person than it was to work countless hours to earn the funds to pay for the window to be fixed. Lessons learned: Don’t do dumb things. Don’t point guns at homes. While it wasn’t intentional to break the window (I was aiming at a different target), the whole idea was completely stupid.

Spite, a phone, deceit, and Cedar Point.

Out of spite for a lifeguard who was not very nice to me (probably because I was a jerk): While at the swimming pool I took the receiver of a very long corded telephone which was attached to a wall, then I extended the cord as far as it would go, then while looking the lifeguard in the eye I let the receiver fly and crash to the ground. As a result I was banned from the pool until my parents met with the pool leadership.

Only a couple days later I had plans to go to the greatest place on Earth for a 13 year old boy (Cedar Point amusement park) with a good friend. It was near the end of summer, and the pool would be closed soon, therefore this genius hoped that maybe next summer it would all be forgotten. Wrong. When I arrived home from Cedar Point it was like an angry mob was waiting for me.

Darkness follows.

My sins of anger, selfishness, deceit, and spitefulness (to name only a few) brought some serious wrath. Even to this day I could make several convincing arguments as to the circumstances around the crimes which might make them seem less bad or “not my fault”, but in the end, I was guilty. And those weren’t even the worst things I did.

Lament

Noun: a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Complaint.

Verb: express passionate grief about. Express regret or disappointment about something. (Oxford Languages)

In today’s reading (Lamentations 3:1-33) Jeremiah laments over the afflictions of God’s wrath. The first 20 verses are tough to swallow. It is filled with words and themes such as darkness, broken bones, bitterness, hardship, dead, weighed down, cries for help, dragged from the path, mangled, left without help, pierced, mocked, broken teeth, trampled, without peace, hopelessness, and downcast soul.

Aren’t all of those words/themes some resemblance as to what it feels like when we sin? The Cedar Point trip wasn’t that fun because deep down I knew the consequences would be faced soon. Imagine those feelings for an eternity as a result of being separated from God. Our sins are our choices. God’s wrath is a result of our sin, therefore the result of our choices.

Do those afflictions remind you also of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus? And this man Jesus who committed no crime, voluntarily experienced all of those hardships so that ultimately we do not have to experience them for an eternity. He received the punishment so we didn’t have to.

The first twenty verses are dark, then comes the sun, the joy and hope of our loving savior. This joy in the morning comes from our loving God who goes through great lengths each day to reach us so that we may turn to him, to be grateful, to repent, to live life in the abundance of his love and mercy.

21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

31 For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone. (Lamentations 3:21-24, 31-33)

No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace.

What Joy!

Today we have three questions related to three verses from Psalm 84 to help us understand how to experience the true joy that comes from God.

What do we long for most?

What we often long for here on earth is security, fun, vacations, relationships, health, etc. The trouble with earthly things is that they are temporary. While not inherently good or bad on their own, each of these longings are subject to becoming idols if we prioritize them over our longing for God.

What joy for those who can live in your house,
    always singing your praises.

A portion from Psalm 84:10-12 within The Message (MSG) really convicted me because of my own longing for the beaches of Greece. It reads “One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches.” I confess to have put more longing into this type of experience than I put into longing for dwelling in God’s house.

Where do we find strength?

As we read the unbelievably somber news headlines each day, what are our first thoughts? It’s scary out there, but we shouldn’t be surprised. We know the end game. We know our physical bodies were not meant to last.

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
    who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (Psalm 84:5)

The more we fill ourselves God’s word and put our faith in him alone, the more we understand our purpose and live that purpose (God’s purpose), the less room there is for fear. We will most certainly experience failures, that is how we grow, and if we’re not failing, we’re probably not taking enough risks.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)

Where do we place our trust?

How ironic that the US currency says “In God we trust”, yet what so many of us trust is currency itself! Another conviction for me this morning, yet joy as I repent, and am grateful for the instant forgiveness that Jesus offers.

Lord of Heaven’s Armies, what joy for those who trust in you. (Psalm 84:12)

May we all trust like Philip.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (John 14:8)

 

Best Fruit

What is your favorite fruit?

My answers have changed in years past from grapefruit (my primary grievance with comedian Jim Gaffigan as he refers to this as the worst fruit) to avocado (we can all agree this is a fruit right?), or papaya (which my family despises). Those are all excellent fruits so it has been very difficult to choose. Until now.

There is a new fruit champion in my life. It is seasonal, and where I live it seems they suddenly appear on shelves then without notice after a couple months they are gone. The mystery of their elusive coming and going makes them even more desirable.

This fruit’s lovely aroma fills the air even before it is sliced. The color scheme is brilliant, providing yet one more reason to believe in intelligent design. And then of course the best part; eating them. They are incredibly juicy and the flavor is like a regular orange but turbo-charged as though injected with hints of sweet grapefruit, tangy raspberries, and cherries.

In case the picture didn’t give it away, I’m talking about blood oranges.

Whatever your favorite fruit is, think about it for a moment. The smell, the taste, a memorable time when you enjoyed it thinking in that particular moment you found the best most perfectly ripe specimen. Fruits are truly gifts from God.

In today’s reading (John 15:1-17) Jesus uses fruit as a metaphor for the outcome of our spiritual well-being. My beloved orange tree that produces no fruit is useless apart from being used as firewood. A stark reminder for us as Christ-followers. Our Christ-likeness on the outside reflects the Holy Spirit working within us.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

What would your friends and family say about those attributes in your life? Do they see the fruit? From experience I know of times when I was not abiding in Jesus that the exact opposite of the fruits were apparent in my life.

In short, we can abide in Jesus when we:

  • Read and memorize his word, consistently, keeping his word in our hearts and minds at all times. Praying, asking, trusting he will respond. (reference to verse 7)
  • Recognize the love that Jesus has for us; loving him back (love is a verb), turning to him (not the world) as the source for love. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  (John 15:9)
  • Following the commandments of Jesus (reference to verses 10 & 14)
  • Loving others (verses 12 & 17)

The world will tell us that to have a better life we need to try harder. The world is wrong. Life abundant comes from the source of abundant life, Jesus. May we seek him with all of our heart today and bear much fruit.

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Who are you?

Consider how you judge someone’s character and abilities (such as a teacher, church leader, caregiver whether medical or for children, or leaders within your organization). This assessment could come through an interview, research or observations during time spent together.

I’m currently in the midst of interviewing multiple people for multiple positions on our team. On paper, everyone is amazing. The question is, are they who they say they are?

They claim to be the best at something, to have many years honing a specific skill, to have won awards, to be honest, dependable, innovative leaders, and all other sorts of things. While laughing a little about how people present themselves with grandeur I am quickly reminded of my own resume and online profile. Do my actions match my words?

In today’s reading (John 1:19-34) John the Baptist (note he was not the author of the book of John) is being interrogated as to who he is. His responses first clarified who he was not. He was not the Christ, not Elijah, nor the Prophet. When pressed further, John articulated what he was doing and his purpose rather than saying who he was.

John’s responses were full of humility by focusing not on himself but with the intent to point people to Jesus. John was quite popular at the time yet he acknowledged in verse 27 that he was not even worthy to untie the sandal of “one you do not know” (Jesus).

What is your response when someone asks who you are? Sometimes we share our job title, family role or merely our name. Regardless of these surface answers, consider who God says you are: loved, his child, uniquely made. In Christ we also have a new identity: forgiven, set free, a friend of Jesus, chosen, redeemed, not forsaken, a new creation.

Regardless of who we are, the most important question we must answer is: who is Jesus?

32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son[b] of God.”

Like John, at first we did not know him (Jesus), but God reveals his purpose to us daily. It all points to Jesus, the one who made all things.

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3)

So then, who do you say Jesus is? If you call him “Son of God” then pause right now and acknowledge who you are not (like John the Baptist’s example) and who he is. Let our actions today match the words in our hearts by putting him in his rightful place as Lord over all things.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

Once dead, not always dead.

There was a marriage once proclaimed dead but against all odds, it came back to life. The couple found reconciliation and even came out stronger, forgiving each other, owning their parts, acknowledging their weaknesses. The wife was near death more than once but she lived and is a beloved grandmother and mother. The husband was dead in his own sin but he was raised to life through forgiveness and faith which resulted in him living life abundantly.

This couple has seen a lot over the last fifty plus years of marriage. They face new challenges every day but one thing that does not waiver is their faith and hope in the eternal. The husband in this marriage has been known to say for many years “keep the faith eh!”, reminiscent of 2 Timothy 4:7.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

On top of all of it all, this couple has built a legacy in shepherding Christ-following relationships in their children, grandchildren and in discipling relationships.

I for one am a great benefactor of this legacy as the husband and wife in this story are my parents and the day this post was published on their wedding anniversary. The lessons taught and observed in them being humble, putting others first, thinking before speaking, loving others, turning the other cheek, giving, serving, forgiving, and listening resonate with me daily. In these teachings I have become equipped to lead myself, my family, in the workplace and in organizations where I serve. Ultimately their love and sacrifice has equipped me to live fearlessly with eternity in mind and so for that I am grateful beyond words.

Similar to what I’ve seen through my own family, in Acts 9:26-43 we find two “no way!” stories, once dead, now alive.

The believers meet Saul after his conversion but before understanding his major change of heart. This is the guy who set out to punish and kill the believers, yet now is following as they are, and speaking boldly as a proponent of Jesus and the resurrection. He was once dead in his pride and then became more alive than ever after his transformation. He was once the self-proclaimed foremost of sinners and went on to become the foremost in preaching and teaching the Gospel. Saul (Paul) was responsible for writing much of what we know today as The New Testament.

We also learn of a believer named Tabitha who became ill, died, and was washed for burial. People had surrounded her weeping and mourning over the loss. She was dead, no doubt about it. Then Peter arrives at the scene, sends everyone away, and begins to pray. I’m thinking “Why pray now, she’s dead?”… But God.

Peter speaks to Tabitha, telling her to get up, then she opens her eyes and sat up. Dead then alive!

If God can raise the dead, transform my parent’s marriage, guide them through illnesses, transform their hearts and save a sinner like me, there is nothing he cannot do. This resurrecting power is not a magic trick, you can’t buy it, and you cannot even earn it because it is freely given when we choose to put our faith, hope, trust and our life in Jesus.

Why not take one simple step in trusting him today whether for the first time or trusting him more than ever? Start with one area such as your finances, career, marriage, illness, or a broken relationship. If you open your heart and let him work, you will see what might seem dead now come to life eternal.

Warm Reunion

We all want to be loved. We want to be accepted. We want to be received warmly by others. To hear our name. To be valued.

My wife is currently traveling for an extended period to spend quality time with friends and family. One thing that has stood out is witnessing online and hearing from her about the joy that she has had while reuniting with loved ones. Equally impactful is how she has been received so warmly and lovingly. It brings me great joy to know that she is being well taken care of and loved. I miss her terribly and can’t wait for her to be back home safe and reunite as a couple and as a family.

Less than a week after Amy returns, I’ll be traveling solo for business and to visit my sisters and parents. One thing I look forward to is the warm welcomes; those initial moments when you make eye contact and there is no need for words. Loving eyes and big hugs; and yes even many of my work colleagues give big hugs as we are like family.

Typically greetings are influenced by the amount of love, respect and gratitude we have for the other person. We also tend to have “more heart” when the reunion is long overdue, or if the time together is due to the need to grieve together, or if the occasion is related to a much anticipated event.

Next time you see a friend or family member, make a mental note how they received you and how you received them. Did you feel loved? Did they?

In the same way, how do you envision a face-to-face meeting with Jesus?

In today’s reading (Luke 7:36-50) “A Sinful Woman Forgiven” we find two different greetings. One marked by a man who did not even meet the bare minimum courtesy, and a woman who showed great love and adoration. The man judged Jesus and the woman harshly by questioning Jesus’ response to the woman and referring to the woman as a sinner (as though he himself had no sin).

The man’s response had an inward selfish focus. I sense that perhaps he invited Jesus to his home to show off to others and/or to gain favor with Jesus. The woman’s response was selfless. She wept at the feet of Jesus, pouring expensive perfume onto him. She humbled herself to the lowest point. Maybe her tears were a result of guilt or joy as she knew her great debt was paid. Either way, Jesus knew her heart and deemed her to be forgiven.

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

I regret sometimes being like the judging man by looking at the sins of others and thinking how awful they are (and of course how much better I am). Or worse, taking for granted the price paid for me to be forgiven. All of my sins, all of your sins. In return, like the woman’s response, he wants our hearts, all in. How would you greet Jesus today?

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Is this the end?

Which city is your favorite? Is there a city you’ve not visited for a long time? If you went there today, what do you think has changed since you were there last?

I’m writing to you today from one of my favorite cities, one I’ve not been to in nearly twenty years. It was and is a magical place with new adventures around every corner, incredible food and even just the smell of food makes you feel good. There are beautiful attractions, and there is always something to do. While here, one of my sons asked me “What has changed since your last visit?” Great question!

What’s changed?

What struck me the most was not necessarily the landscape or food or things to do, it was the behavior of the people; specifically their (our) obsession with mobile devices. On the subway people used to look at each other, talk to each other, or read from paper. They used to observe their surroundings, they used to “just be”. Parks, cafes, restaurants, ground transportation, and museums all felt “free” where now it feels like we are almost imprisoned by our phones. We cannot set them down for a few minutes without wondering what we are missing. They are modern idols and it gave me a sinking feeling of a glimpse into the end times.

As we close out 2021 today’s reading in Revelation 21-22 (the final two chapters of The Bible) warns of idolatry and other sins that can keep us from eternal life.

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

Going back to the title of the post, asking if this is the end: We don’t know and we won’t know until it is in fact the end (and too late to make a change). If you put your trust in Jesus, even in these times of death, mourning, crying and pain – you are assured of life everlasting. Jesus didn’t remain a baby in the manger, he wasn’t just a good teacher nor merely some cool rebel talking peace and love. He was a man, his life and miracles are documented, he was crucified and he came back from the dead. People witnessed these things and went so far as to be crucified themselves rather than denying what they saw.

While the scary words in Revelation should give us chills, this resurrection and life eternal should also give us joy, peace, and hope!

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

While it is the end of another calendar year, this moment can be a new beginning. Forget the New Year’s resolutions that you’re going to break anyway and make this the greatest eternal resolution you’ve ever made. Check out Jennifer’s brief post titled “Are You In?” as it will will give you clear instruction as to what to do next in your faith journey through some simple verses and prayer.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21)