Cry out!

Imagine people crying for distress as they suffer harshly under something beyond their control.

No, I’m not talking about Coronavirus, I’m talking about the people of Israel as they suffered in slavery. They cried out to God, and he saw and heard them.

Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. (Exodus 3:7)

Not only did he see and hear them, he responded.

So I have come down to rescue them (Exodus 3:8a)

As God instructed Moses on what to do as part of the rescue, Moses asked God what his name is. This interaction is the first time in the Bible where God communicates his own name, “I AM”.

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14)

Are you suffering? Worried? Having panic attacks?

Are we as a planet yet crying out to God yet or are we still trying to fix this all on our own? What are we waiting for?

Cry out in this moment to God and acknowledge him for who he is. Let us not make him into something that we want him to be or what the world might say about God. He’s not sort of this or sort of that. He is who he is, and Jesus is his son.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am! (John 8:58)

Here are some recent posts from other authors on this site that further articulate who he is. Take the opportunity to read them if you haven’t already: God of Heaven and Earth, God of gods, God over all kingdoms, God of all comfort, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God Most High, Glory, Giver.

We have all that we need.

Family, old friends and new, current and former work colleagues have been contacting our family for weeks, and in recent days the inquiries have greatly increased. The tiniest gestures have been a huge blessing to all of us, even just a quick text, so thanks to you all. Some of the recent FAQs:

  • Are you ok?
  • Are the boys ok?
  • How is Amy doing?
  • When is your next family dance video?
  • What is it like living in Italy right now?
  • Why is one location worse off than another?
  • When will everything go back to normal?

We respond with truth and as optimistically as possible. We are and will be ok because no matter what, we know the end of this story. We have all that we need, and what we need isn’t shown in the cover photo.

People, beloved, not numbers

When we look at the numbers of Covid-19 new cases and new deaths on a daily basis we must remember each “number” is a human being. Someone’s friend, beloved, a husband or wife, a grandmother or grandfather, a person who once laughed and brought joy to others, children of God. Many people are dying alone, in fear, human lives snuffed out by a wave of destruction.

Will you join me in praying for those who are sick, alone and afraid? For those who have lost loved ones and the mourning is being done in isolation. For those at the greatest risk, including the homeless. For our leaders to have wisdom. For truth to be known and shared.

The greater pandemic and a cure

Today there’s a greater pandemic that much of the world doesn’t know about. Its way worse than Coronavirus. God’s word says that if you get it, and by the way, everyone eventually gets it, then death is guaranteed. And the sickness is called sin, and it, unlike the Coronavirus is literally killing everything in this world. It is destroying homes, destroying lives, destroying hope, the future. (Mike Baker, Eastview Christian Church, 15-Mar-2020)

The only cure for the sin virus, and our only hope, all we need, is the blood of Jesus. I confess to putting too much of my hope in the things of this world: Money, things, fun, power, success, and even health. All of these things are temporary and none of them can save us, no matter how much we have. No amount of money can buy our eternity. It has already been bought and paid for, but we must choose. Run from God or run to him by putting our faith in Jesus.

Fulfilled, rested, renewed, comforted

Will you also join me today in reading Psalm 23 out loud? Yes, out loud, I dare and even beg you. Something supernatural, even indescribable happens when we read the scriptures out loud. Are you feeling lost, stressed, worried, hopeless, and tired of all of this? Cry out, He is listening and ready for you.

Psalm 23 (NLT) – A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

This uplifting five minute video was another recent blessing and source of comfort. Check it out! Psalm 23 – A Meditation

Friend of sinners

Italy is a few days into a nationwide lockdown. Retail businesses except those providing essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies are closed. Examples include schools, sporting events, restaurants, gyms, theaters, cafes, museums, libraries and even funerals are cancelled. The streets are quiet and where there are typically thousands of tourists all day every day, no one is around.

Humans are social creatures and the lockdown is precisely meant to restrict physical social interaction and isolate people so as to limit the spread of disease.

As a result, most people remain at home with little physical interaction with the outside world. No parties, no lunch out with friends, no “quick meet for a coffee”, and no chance to randomly bump into a friendly known face and have some good laughs and a hug. I’m an introvert but I’m already really missing being with friends and work colleagues.

Many of us are feeling lonely and in need of a friend. Some more than others.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Matthew 9:10-12)

Jesus recognized the importance of relationships and human interaction. He showed his own humanity by spending time with people, listening, teaching and breaking bread. His followers were seekers of truth, people with no hope, those who were sick, lost, or lonely. His followers were once defined by their sin, but now redeemed, saved and filled with hope.

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19)

Jesus was criticized and accused for spending time with sinners, but his actions were just one more way he turned the model upside down. Through reflection and soul-searching in these troubled times I am reminded that I am a sinner in need of a friend, but not just any friend. What I need isn’t a nice meal out, I need a nice meal in, with Jesus. I need to repent, to forgive others, to be still, to obey, to receive wisdom, to love and to be loved. I need Jesus today and every day as friend, savior and God.

Faithful and True

Think about the top news stories going on today domestically and abroad. What emotions do these stories bring to you? Confident? Uplifted? Full of hope? Joyful? Peaceful? Loved? If you do, please call me right away, I want to hear about it!

On the contrary, I imagine time spent following news stories gives us a glimpse into what Hell might feel like. Hopelessness, pain, despair, separation, destruction, and mourning. I believe we often feel these emotions because we are putting our faith and trust in the wrong things, and because the father of lies is behind a tremendous amount of manipulation.

The only person to put our faith and trust in is the only one who is faithful and true, and that is none other than Jesus Christ:

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. (Rev 3:14)

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. (Rev 19:11)

Jesus is the ultimate in faithful because of what he did: He remained faithful to his calling in living sinless, and then surrendered his body to be crucified. He is the ultimate in “true” because he defeated death through the resurrection. He did these things for us, this is the Good News!

What if for just one day the world skipped the headlines and got the Good News and truth from the Bible? Stories of love, redemption, joy, miracles, forgiveness and promises of hope for a wonderful future all all right at our fingertips. The choice is ours, do not be deceived: Faith in a broken world full of lies, or faith and hope in the one who is faithful and true.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?(Romans 8:31)

Defender

Rumors, gossip, unmet expectations, failures, rage, threats, crime, violence, theft, loss, stress, fear, pain.

Each of those words relates to various events in my life this week. There were some dark days and nights to say the least. At my weakest point of bewilderment, there was God, comforting me and keeping his promises. From all of these troubles, alone I have no defense and could easily be swallowed up by the pain and darkness, but then there is God…

He is our defender.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling. (Psalm 68:5 NIV)

It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. (Isaiah 19:20)

In this life we are assured of physical and emotional harm, and no matter our own strength, we cannot defend ourselves alone.

As situations this week declined, my faith grew stronger because I trusted God had it all in control. We likely won’t find the items stolen from us nor will everyone know the whole truth in some of the twisted stories, but no one will take away the peace that came through prayer.

When we prayed as a family we claimed victory in God’s name, even before the earthly battle was over. God, we know you are in this, we know you love us, we know you are above all things and we claim victory in your name alone. Jesus already won through his death, burial and resurrection, so no matter the current or future battle, we can claim victory today and every day. Amen.

Carpenter. God.

The best leaders are the ones who put people first. They are humble, reliable, trustworthy, experienced, and influence others to follow their lead. These people often fall into the category of “servant leaders”.

In the company I work for, we have some top leaders who started at the very bottom over twenty years ago. Our CEO was a welder (and is still able to showcase his skills) and our CIO/President started out in the IT service desk as an intern (and still refers to himself as an intern). Part of their ability to lead comes from humble beginnings, understanding the needs of the majority of our employees, never forgetting where they came from and recognizing our most important assets: People and relationships.

The servant leadership model works and I believe this is because it is similar to the blueprint or template that God has given us through his son Jesus Christ. God wanted (and still wants) a relationship with his creation so he sent Jesus to live amongst us. Jesus wasn’t sent as a CEO, a doctor, or an Earthly king. He started out humbly as a laborer, a carpenter.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

This carpenter went on to become a teacher, rabbi, servant leader, miracle worker and the Resurrected King. While Jesus could have had anything and everything on this Earth, he gave it all up for us. Living a life of poverty, his body broken, beaten and tortured, spit upon and humiliated, then hung on a cross – even though he could have stopped it at any time because while he was human, he was also God in the flesh.

Shortly before the crucifixion, Jesus taught and led as a servant leader, washing the feet of his disciples.

After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:5)

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8)

Through an upside-down gesture he knelt to wash the disciples feet as a symbol of their (and our) need for spiritual cleansing. In an upside-down world, will you consider letting him wash your feet today and in turn, bow to Him who calls you by name?

I’m not awesome, but God is!

No one wants to get sick, especially while traveling far from home. Recently I was traveling for work and came down with a cold at the start of the journey. The next morning not only did I have a cold, I had done something which caused severe pain in my lower back. Sitting, standing, sleeping, all had punishing consequences and I still had a job to do.

Two days later at the airport the journey home began with continued effects of a cold and back pain. During the security check, the officer informed me my carry-on toiletries would not fit into the required plastic bag for liquids. She then took the liberty of tossing my hair product into the trash. Very few times in my life have I ever felt “someone has it in for me”, but this was one of those times. She was mean-spirited, seemingly taking pleasure in giving people a hard time.

With a deep breath, I calmly explained that it was for me to decide which item should be thrown out, and kindly (in my best effort) asked for her to please remove the product from the trash and allow me to try to fit the items into the bag. She hesitated but then realized it was the right thing to do.

Moments later all of my stuff (barely) fit into the bag and I was on my way with shoes and belt off, passing through the scanner. Freedom, the other side!

Then an announcement: “Mr. Jon Harris please report to the security desk… Mr. Jon Harris please report to the security desk…”

Security then informed me that I left my credit card on the other side of the security control, and if I wanted the card I needed to go back with all of my belongings, retrieve the card and then go back through security again. Embarrassed with my mistake, and a little frustrated they couldn’t just pass the card through, I made my way back to the outside world.

This particular airport has a vending machine where all passengers pay a fee of 10 GBP (about $14) to use the airport. I left my card in this machine and unfortunately three other people used the machine after me and received “free” passes at my expense.

With card and luggage in hand, still embarrassed, it was time to go back through security. This time fortunately it was much easier and I was glad to give everyone a laugh at my expense.

In-flight due to my cold my ears had extreme pressure which caused pain as well as an inability to hear from one ear that evening. Upon arrival, a border patrol representative asked me a question and I had no idea what he was saying, partly because I couldn’t hear and partly because he was speaking Italian and wouldn’t speak English. After some back and forth, I realized he was asking my profession and I said “information systems” (in Italian) and he said, “ok go”, and that was it.

All of these stories are true and as I look back, I find it humorous and great to reflect on. First, the truth from Jesus:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And the experiences of that trip brought some insights:

  1. I probably don’t need to travel with two bottles of cologne, and I probably care too much about my hair product.
  2. I make mistakes, daily.
  3. My body is prone to failure and as we age it seems to get worse.
  4. Mean behavior is hurtful and senseless. And I’m not any better than the mean security officer because in my heart, I had anger, judgement, and mean thoughts against her.

Mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I am not awesome, BUT GOD IS!

““Who is like you among the gods, O Lord — glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders?” (Exodus 15:11 NLT)

“Then I said, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands,” (Nehemiah 1:5 NLT)

“I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands.” (Daniel 9:4 NLT)

Today and every day let us be grateful for our awesome God and his son Jesus. In our failures and non-awesomeness, our sins are forgiven and we are cleansed when we repent in the name of Jesus Christ.

Advocate

Eighteen months ago we moved into a new home that didn’t have a microwave. This small and relatively inexpensive appliance is something we’ve historically found convenience in using on a daily basis: Warm chips and cheese are a family favorite, re-heating coffee is so easy, and we love warming up vegetables for a quick and healthy snack.

Initially we said we’d buy a microwave but we held off thinking maybe we didn’t need one right away. Over time, the microwave topic manifested into conversation about wants and needs and became a great lesson for us. There were similar wants/needs in the home that we also put on hold because we really started to question our motives and mindset.

In short, living without this convenience has helped shape our thoughts from “want” to “letting go”. As a family from a developed nation, we’re accustomed to so many things that we either think we deserve or often take for granted.

I wrote the following as I thought about wants/needs, being grateful for what we have, our attitude, eternity and the cross with Jesus as our advocate (today’s theme).

Earthly things. When will the wanting cease?
Blessings. Rescue. Mercy. Answered prayers. Am I grateful?
Flowers blooming, works of art abound. People starving. Ignorance is bliss.
Daily battles, eternity at stake.
Separation is deserved, but one name brings mercy and grace.
Jesus, our advocate.

Today’s verses:

Even now my witness is in heaven;
    my advocate is on high. (Job 16:19)

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1)

Guard your heart

The freestyle “author’s choice” for daily scripture continues. Upon learning it was to be my choice the initial thought was excitement for the blank canvas then later it was “this is a serious choice and I have no idea… Lord, please give me something.” As the time grew closer to needing to write, no verses came to mind until…

While passing through airport security I overheard an officer reading an inscription on a piece of jewelry that had been left behind. It read:

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)

It was beautiful. The public reading of scripture aloud in Chicago O’Hare International Airport. There were not many witnesses but I heard it and the words were powerful and refreshing. At the time I was making the long journey home from a business trip and missing my family, exhausted from many long days and nights of work.

Was it God’s plan for me to hear this? Was it His desire for me to write about it to you this week? While I’m not certain, I believe regardless that the public reading of scripture invokes the supernatural, it brings God’s living word into our souls at that very moment.

The verse seems to break down nicely into two parts, giving us instruction and the reason for the instruction:

  1. Guard your heart above all else, (Proverbs 4:23a)

What does it mean to “guard our hearts”? Some thoughts, starting with keeping our hearts fed with daily prayer and studying of scripture.

  • In the subsequent verses we are given additional examples/instruction that corresponds to guarding our heart which I’ve paraphrased:
    • Avoiding perverse talk (Proverbs 4:24)
    • Our eyes fixed clearly on the goal – Look straight ahead (Proverbs 4:25) Turning our hearts toward our creator God and savior Jesus Christ, who he is and what he has done for us.
    • Staying on a safe path (Proverbs 4:26) – Resisting temptation; fleeing from sin.
  • Yielding to God’s will especially in times of prosperity, whether personal, health  financial or just life in general. When everything is going great, it becomes easier to think “we’ve got this” rather than relying on God for everything.
  1. for it determines the course of your life. (Proverbs 4:23b)

How does guarding our heart determine the course of our life?

As a recap from yesterday Jennifer shared a post on anxiety & Philippians 4:6-7 (references guarding our hearts). I already planned to write about guarding our hearts so not a coincidence, God is always at work!

We keep our hearts guarded by submitting to God in prayer (see Philippians 4:6) and as a result we receive the peace of God through and in Jesus:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

  • Witness; our actions are observed and often imitated by others. Being prepared for difficult conversation with people who may challenge our faith or who may need a word to guide them on their way toward salvation. As we acknowledge God, he makes our path straight.

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:6)

  • Marriage; keeping our hearts pure for one another, keeping the commitment.
  • Career; serving those whom we are entrusted to lead strengthens our bonds and builds our teams.
  • Legacy; regardless of what we do, we leave a legacy behind us based on a lifetime of guarding (or not guarding) our hearts. Who will we influence and where will we influence them to?
  • Eternity; God wants our hearts. We choose the course of our life, toward or away from him. Where are our treasures and therefore our hearts today?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:2)

Rules are made to be _______.

Recently a portion of the massive wall that lines our street collapsed. It was sudden and unexpected and it caused some panic and disruption as well as a safety risk to passers by. Fortunately no one was injured.

Immediately following this event, the police came to assess the situation and then closed the street by placing signage to warn and inform, then fences as barricades to block the passage of vehicles.

While the street is narrow and just outside the city, it is fairly busy especially during the morning commute timeframe. Motorcycles, cars, buses, bicycles and walkers all wanting to reach their destinations. Closure of this road would cause a serious disruption, especially since it is a one-way street and there are other nearby road closures.

One thing we’ve observed about our community is that while there seems to be a lot of rules, the following and enforcement of rules is very lax.

After the police departed, it took maybe two minutes for people to simply move the barriers and drive on through.

Are you picturing big, strong, tough men jumping out out their pickup trucks to move the barricades and get on their way?

If not, then good, because the perpetrators of this crime are all shapes and sizes, men and women, driving little “beep beep” cars, motor scooters, and everything else. The problem with these barricades is that they are merely lightweight aluminum fences that can easily be moved.

The police continue to move the fences back to halt the traffic, but it is futile as motorists move the fences as soon as the police leave. The police are simply doing their job for the safety of the people, however the people continue to undermine the authority of the police and put themselves and others in danger.

In today’s reading on 1 Timothy 3-4, we find a set of rules and qualifications for leaders in the church and general guidance for followers of Jesus Christ. While reading these rules it is tempting to think that they are for someone else, some may think “behind the times”, or even good to follow “most of the time”. The thing is that these rules have a history and purpose and we need to remember:

  • He is God and he gets to make the rules.
  • His word doesn’t change no matter how many years have passed since he said it. The truth, His truth remains forever.
  • His rules were made because he loves us. They are for our best interest whether we like the rules or not.
  • His word and guidance for our lives is complete and without discrepancy. We cannot pick and choose which of his commands we should follow.

If you are a Christ follower that means people are watching and observing you. Some may want us to slip up so they can make an excuse “even Christians do this and that”. As we strive to withhold God’s teaching (or if we choose to disobey) we in turn will influence others to do the same; our families, friends, co-workers and any other observer in our lives.

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)