He goes before us

Perhaps due to some recent beautiful summer mornings or maybe specific stories in my life, almost every day this thought comes to me, seemingly random: What will you do with this new day that has been given to you?

As I fantasize about all the great things I’ll do, a dose of reality also sets in. I am reminded that I am a sinner in need of a savior, following the ancient pattern: Doing evil, suffering the consequence of sin, a call for help, God showing mercy and grace resulting in reconciliation.

This is the pattern we repeatedly find in the lives of our ancestors thousands of years ago as described in the Bible and so it continues in today’s scriptures:  Judges 4-5.

A few things that stood out as a lesson and reminder for our lives today:

  1. We’re not that different than the people of Israel as we too are sinners, doing evil in the Lord’s sight. (Judges 4:1)
  2. Slavery is a metaphor for sin, as it holds us captive. (Judges 4:2)
  3. God makes promises. He promised victory. (Judges 4:7).
  4. Leaders need followers. Deborah was a leader but also a follower of God’s commands, and 10,000 soldiers followed Barak and Deborah into battle. (Judges 4:10)
  5. Evil forces never cease. (Judges 4:12-13)
  6. God goes before us, he is undefeated and the victory is his alone. In my mind it didn’t matter if Barak and Deborah had 1 or 1 million soldiers. (Judges 4:14-15)
  7. God is a promise-keeper; his promise of victory in Judges 4:7 comes to fruition. (Judges 4:16, 23-24)

What will we do with this new day that has been given to us? How will we respond to the promises of God? Will we put our trust in Jesus or ourselves? When our head hits the pillow, will we reflect with hearts of repentance as well as gratitude for this God who goes before us and always keeps his promises?

Loyalty

In today’s reading of Genesis 24 the word “loyalty” kept coming to mind even though the word itself does not appear within the chapter.

As I consider the word loyalty, I think about the people in my life who have been loyal to me as friends, family and loved ones and how important it is to be loyal to each other.

I’m not talking about loyalty to someones ideas or plans (because those are subject to error), I am talking loyalty to the person. Loving and supporting in good times and bad (like the marriage vows).

This past week we celebrated my wife’s birthday and one aspect of this celebration was to be able to observe how many people love and value her. She’s fun, funny, honest, a great listener, a great planner, and yes, very loyal.

When I thought about how amazing she is and how many people love her, I teared up a little bit with joy when she told everyone how she wanted to spend her birthday with just me. The woman I love, all to myself, all day, doesn’t get any better. I love and respect her loyalty to me as her husband through 19 years and counting. Thank you Amy, you are one of a kind!

Our God is loyal and he also expects us our loyalty in return.

Abraham’s servant showed loyalty as he took a long journey to find a wife for Isaac. He stayed loyal to his God in trusting his plans through miraculous answering of prayer. Rebekah’s family showed their loyalty and trust in the Lord by allowing their daughter to suddenly leave with this unknown servant and become the wife of Isaac. Young Rebekah showed her loyalty and faith by agreeing to immediately leave everything she knew and become the wife of someone she did not yet know.

Through all of this God proved himself again to be loyal and worthy of trust.

Reflect today on how God has been faithful to you, giving thanks for the sacrifice and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Additional reading for today giving further insights into the life of Isaac: Genesis 26

Mistaken Identity

At the end of a recent long journey, we were grabbing our suitcases and quickly realized one of the bags was missing. We hunted around the baggage area, looking to see if perhaps someone was accidentally walking away with our bag, but we didn’t spot anything suspicious. We inquired with the staff and they stared searching with us.

After a little while longer we noticed one lonely suitcase in the claim area. It was a similar size as ours but really looked nothing like our bag.

Did someone mistake our bag for this one? On one hand we hoped so, but on the other, we hoped not because that meant our bag was on its way to who-knows-where.

One staff member at the luggage area noticed the remaining bag as well and she began inspecting the details. She then called the phone number on the bag tag and started speaking with the person. Bottom line… someone else mistakenly took our bag. Are you kidding me? They had been driving for a little while, but they were immediately going to turn around and exchange ours for theirs. Phew!

We were all quite astonished. How could someone mistake our bag for this one? Different brand and tags, ours had a ribbon on it, and theirs had a large strap going around the middle, and the tell-tale sign of your bag: it has your name on it. If it has someone else’s name, it isn’t your bag. My sarcastic side was firing on all cylinders, we were all shaking our heads.

All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)

I wish I could say that our family’s first reaction was pure; full of love, patience and forgiveness, but it wasn’t.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.  (1 John 3:4)

We all had varying levels of anger and judgement.

No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6)

To be fair, this negativity went on for just a minute until we all took a deep breath. What would Jesus do? Nothing new here: A human made a mistake.

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

We all make mistakes. If we don’t forgive others, how can we ask God to forgive us? Do we love others or do we just say we love others?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

The world would tell us to go ahead and lay into the culprits and seek revenge. However this world is not our home, nor our final destination, and the logic of this world is not the logic nor will of our father in Heaven. It was time to bend our fleshly will toward the will of God who forgives us through his son Jesus.

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18)

About 45 minutes later we had the opportunity to exchange the bags in person. Clearly embarrassed, the man and I exchanged eye contact and he immediately said “I’m so sorry”.

 

He didn’t look like a monster, he looked like a child of God. He looked like someone’s grandfather, a kind and gentle man. Someone’s husband. Someone’s beloved. We shook hands and went our separate ways, perhaps we will meet again in Heaven and I will confess that his apology wasn’t needed: I was the one who should have apologized for my wicked heart.

Father God, I repent of the selfishness that so often wells up in my heart. For putting me first instead of first loving others like you first loved us. Thank you for being so quick to forgive even though we are not always quick to forgive. Thank you for a new day, for the hope we have in you. Guide my heart. Cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Your will be done. Amen.

 

Actions vs. Words

Last night I dreamed I was on a ship amidst a serious storm. There were monstrous waves which ultimately caused the ship to capsize. I was trapped inside with water draining into the room. There was no way out, this was it, death by drowning was imminent. I would meet my creator within moments.

Did I get it right? Have I lived a life worthy of my calling? Should I be in fear or at peace? Am I truly saved? What if…?

The bottom line is, have my life’s actions spoken louder than my words? I proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ, but do I live it out? And what are the results of my actions?

While fortunately we are not saved by works, our actions and the fruit we bear (good or bad) reflect the lives we lead. Empty words are like water vaporizing into the sky on a hot summer day.

In today’s reading in Colossians 1 we have actions and results:

This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives (Colossians 1:6a)

Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. (Colossians 1:10a)

So it is with Christ as he took action: Christ rescued us, transferred us, purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

We were once enemies of God. Separated from him, but Jesus took action and brought the result of mercy and grace: Reconciliation with Him through his death.

 22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. (Colossians 1:22)

What actions is God calling you and I to right now? Who do we need to love and serve today? Who do we need to forgive or to ask for forgiveness? Do our actions today and every day reflect true gratitude for the magnitude of what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives?

Die to Self (again)

The primary reason for a fitness run yesterday morning was more emotional and spiritual than physical. I was seeking peace and calm, and wanted to be away from various distractions in order to focus on writing this post.

During this 45 minute exercise event, the following were observed:

  • The remnants of a likely stolen purse dumped in the woods.
  • A pile of litter from an apparent party in the woods.
  • A motorcyclist speeding (illegal), passing a bus on the right (illegal), in a no passing zone in a heavily populated/tourist area (illegal, selfish, and just plain stupid). The craziest thing is the motorcyclist was angry with the driver of the bus and was sounding his horn shaking his fist at the bus driver!
  • A young woman without hair who was likely undergoing treatment for cancer.

While returning from the run with a different mindset, it wasn’t what was expected. Angry over the observed crimes and sorrow over the woman with cancer, the realization was that we live in a world full of sin and brokenness. Sin that harms ourselves and others and separates us from our creator. Brokenness from disease that brings death to the body.

In truth, I was and am no different than the criminals. I am a sinner in need of a savior. There was some hate that came into my heart, and I confess… something inside me was hoping the motorcyclist would crash. Lord, forgive me.

Today’s reading in 1 Corinthians 15 mentions the various forms of “death” (die, death, dead) twenty-four times. Death is imminent and no one can argue this, and that is why we need Jesus. He defeated death and through this we can have life eternal.

One theme that has helped guide my journey is “dying to self”. For me this means making the choice to resist temptation and “die” to the sinful desires that put “me” as priority verses God’s will.

I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! (1 Corinthians 15:31)

Like Jesus died for us, we must die every day to our selfish desires. Such as:

  • One more serving of food at the party when I’m already full. Die to self.
  • One more drink of alcohol when I’ve already had enough. Die to self.
  • Judging others when I too am a sinner. Die to self.
  • Wanting something new when what I have seems old. Die to self.
  • Trying to hold on to the things of this world while knowing our real treasure is in Heaven. Die to self.

Imperfect but forgiven, grateful today for the many who have pointed me to (and keep pointing me to) Jesus including my mom, dad, my sisters (Katie and Marne), Amy, BJ, Rick, Heather, Mike, Duane, Robbie as well as our entire Bible Journal team, past and present.

Assessing Hearts

My last two posts were related to job interviews and as I type these words I am flying to interview several additional candidates. This brings me to the realization that this is the sixth week in a row that my top priority at work has been in the assessment of people in order to build a strong team.

My mom recommended praying prior to each interview, for God’s wisdom and guidance in making decisions on each candidate. In doing this, I felt better prepared for the conversation, more spiritually aligned with my creator and had the reminder that these conversations were not about me. That was terrific advice, thanks mom, I love you!

In today’s reading of Luke 24, I observed Jesus assessing hearts for fears and disbelief. Like trying to identify the right candidate through understanding their hearts and motives, Jesus is assessing our hearts for fears, disbelief and motives. Are we living for him or for ourselves? What would Jesus say about your heart right now? Are you in?

After reading this chapter several times I thought about the priorities of Jesus immediately following the resurrection. I want to be more like Jesus, so I wonder what did he do and what can/should we do to be more like him?

Upon rising from the dead, the most important event in human history, Jesus continues to reveal his humanity as well as his lordship over all, death and life. Let’s learn from him:

  1. He appeared to two followers but they did not recognize him. Where is Jesus engaging us but we are failing to recognize him? He is in every moment of every story of our lives. Let us acknowledge and thank him for his presence, for not giving up on us, for not letting us down.
  2. And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27) He reminded them of the fulfilment of scripture concerning the Christ. He said who he was, what he did, and why he did it. Let us not take this lightly. He died to give us life eternal.
  3. He broke bread with them, asking a blessing. Communion and prayer, spending time with the people he cared about. Are we intentional in our meals with believers and future-believers? Do we invite Jesus into the conversation?
  4. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. (Luke 24:31a) In what ways do we “recognize” Jesus as we partake in Holy Communion? In what ways are our eyes closed to him right now?
  5. He reveals himself again, offering peace. As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36) We should always expect Jesus to show up in our lives, don’t doubt him, he’s there. He wants us to have the fruits of the spirit, with peace being one of them. And I cannot help but laugh a little bit wondering if Jesus intentionally tried to scare them.
  6. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? (Luke 24:38) He assessed their innermost thoughts, addressing their concerns and doubts. It is shameful how often my first response in times of trouble was more about me and my own strength (or lack thereof) than looking to God. What is eating at you right now that you’ve not given up to him?
  7. Jesus desired food. Was he hungry or did he do this to prove his body was real? Will we be hungry for food in Heaven or will it just be a pleasure to enjoy, to break bread with our brothers and sisters? Who cooks the food in Heaven and where does it come from?
  8. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45) How often do we read the scriptures but do not understand? We should pray for The Holy Spirit to supernaturally help us understand. If the disciples didn’t understand but received power to do so, it would make sense that the same would be true for us.
  9. He gives them their mission, the great commission: and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47) What a beautiful verse:
    • It proclaims forgiveness through repentance. I’ve done a lot of sinning and I need forgiveness.
    • It is a leadership statement. Jesus is clearly leading his followers, giving their mission and priority. His example is a leadership lesson for us. Go tell it on the mountain!
    • It is a reminder that this is a gift for all who will accept it, and it is critical that we share with those who do not yet believe.
  10. Jesus told his disciples to wait. While he gave them direction, he wanted them to wait for his timing and likewise we should as well. Praying for God’s will, that we seek his timing and not our own.

May you on this day be filled with the peace that comes only from our lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Interview II

The enlightenment continues through the interviewing process.

The core values of our company are spectacular. It would have been thrilling to be in the room when the countless ideas finally came together as a complete set of succinct values in written form. They are:

  • Passionate About Winning
  • Team Play with Trust
  • Honesty – Integrity – Candor
  • Caring About People
  • Positive Attitude

As a leader in the company, part of my job is not only to live the core values but teach and instill them in others, and assess job candidates and vendors for their “fit” within the organization.

I recently shared the core values with a candidate and asked him to tell me his thoughts on how he will embrace them if he joins our team. His response (paraphrased):

“I always have tried to apply what my father taught me: Manage people as you would like people to manage you.”

Simple yet eloquent, aligning with the words of Jesus, stating the second greatest commandment:

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:31a)

Today’s reading: Mark 12

In another conversation with a vendor candidate, I verbalized one of our core values “caring about people”. The leader from this vendor literally said “we care about people… more or less”, as if to say they don’t really care about people. I about fell out of my chair! On one hand I felt sorry for these people and anyone associated with them, and on the other hand I thought, thank you for making my job easier… you are dismissed.

Caring about people is not just a good corporate slogan, it is a command, second only to one other:

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29-30)

Through His miraculous and mysterious ways, God seeks relationship with us. He puts people in our lives and allows us to enter situations where people knowingly or unknowingly speak his truth (such as loving others). He gives us his commands not to restrict us but to enrich our souls here and for eternity, because he loves us.

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34a)

Father God, will you guide us today to respond wisely to your commands and your will? Grant us wisdom to understand and courage to respond so that we too can be not far from your kingdom. Reveal our sins that cloud our judgement; forgive us in the name of Jesus. Renew our hearts and spirits to set aside our selfishness and seek you first today. Amen.

Opportunity

Do you have experience assessing people whether interviewing prior to hiring and/or assessing the performance of existing talent? Chances are most of us have been the interviewee or the interviewer at some point.

Over the last two weeks I’ve spent the majority of my time assessing individual candidates as well as consulting service providers and it has been energizing and fascinating. I love meeting interesting people and love it when a candidate really takes hold of a question and surprises me with their answer. One candidate was asked to write what his “dream job” would be, and his response literally had me in tears with both laughter and amazement!

The theme of these conversations has not been “are you good enough” because in general all of these people have fantastic credentials and experience. In these interviews I’m generally doing two things:

  1. Assessing the human. Their heart, passion, attitude, and self-awareness. Are they honest? Will they be good for the team? Will they persevere in challenging situations? Will they demonstrate the core values of their employer?
  2. Selling the opportunity. I often use the phrase “keys to the kingdom” as a metaphor regarding what I believe the candidates can receive if they accept the position. The candidate can benefit, grow, and achieve her or his dreams as part of this incredible journey. Truly the opportunities are endless, and if they had any clue as to what it could mean they would jump for joy and leave their current position immediately. I am excited and I mean it from the bottom of my heart!

Unfortunately even highly qualified and extremely motivated people miss out on unimaginable opportunities. They don’t understand the vision or they are just not interested enough to try to understand.

And so it is with the opportunity God wants to give to us.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

In Luke Chapter 12, Jesus seeks to convince and convict us that what we might see or think here is not what is being offered by him eternally. Our perception is too often focused on the things of this Earth; power, money, things, experiences. Or we get caught up in fearing the bad things; illness, pain, loss.

33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:33-34)

Don’t let another day go by and miss the opportunity. As my dear friend and fellow Bible Journal author (Rick Jebb) said to me recently: “Some people might find it ok to live this life without God, but being without God in the next life is not going to go so well.

You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:40)

Father God, I repent for seeking the things of this world, for putting me first. For constantly being distracted from the eternal opportunity you are offering. Forgive me in the name of your son Jesus Christ. Amen.

In My Father’s House

As a kid I worked hard to avoid going to church. Hiding under the bed, faking an illness, often hoping my parents would forget it was Sunday (which they never did).

It wasn’t that I didn’t like being there, it was more about wanting to do something else like sleeping or playing outside.

The childlike pattern went on for way too long, but in January 2005 everything changed. There was a church just down the street that Amy and I had heard was pretty good and a little voice inside me said, “if not now, when?” So we went and never looked back.

At Eastview Christian Church, we found authentic teaching and worship changing our hearts like never before as we came to a deeper understanding of the cost of sin and the value of grace.

From the first time we went, we didn’t miss a Sunday (apart from being out of town) all the way until May 2018 when we packed up and moved out of the country. This “not missing” had nothing to do with checking a box, no bonus points with God, nor from anyone. We longed to go. We loved to go.

Last week I took the opportunity to travel back to the USA. First stop, Normal Illinois and then directly to Eastview for their night of worship on Good Friday, then back again on Easter Sunday.

There were many joyful reunions; big extended warm hugs with tears of joy and lots of smiles. Most important, once again I felt at home, in my Father’s house. Heaven will have similar feelings and realizations. Truth, peace, joy, praise, love, and awestruck wonder as the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed as King of Kings.

Please take the time to read Luke 2. It is rich with content. The birth of Jesus, angels speaking, prophecy fulfillment, insights into Jesus as a young boy and much more!

Luke 2:41-51 provides an account of Jesus at age 12 going missing then being found by his parents in the temple.

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

Jesus had an earthly mother and father, but he also knew of his Father in Heaven and he also considered the temple “his father’s house”. Physically I do not believe there is anything super spiritual the structure of our churches; what is important is what happens inside and the life change as the people live out what was taught.

There’s a song that we joyfully sing from our couch as we watch eastview.church online and have sung many times there in person. It is a song about our identity, not what the world tells us but who God says we are.

It acknowledges our Father’s house as a place for us.

Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am (Who You Say I Am – Hillsong Worship)

Here’s a link to the full song on YouTube: Who You Say I Am. Powerful lyrics and all powerful object of worship. Praise God.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah

Is there anything weighing on you today? Are there concerns in your heart that perhaps keep you awake in the night? How about problems that you want to keep private, but perhaps if a trustworthy person could see through you and ask confidentially what’s going on, you might just open up?

I’ve got a troubling situation eating at me. It has kept me up at night. The options in dealing with this situation are unpleasant. Relationships are at stake and there are potentially harsh impacts to some people no matter the current apparent solution.

Through much practice and learning from many mistakes in the past, I’m in a better habit of noticing these situations and quickly giving them over to God. I don’t pray specifically for him to fix it, I pray for him to take this burden from me. To reveal himself for his glory. To guide my heart. To remind me that the problems of this world are not mine to worry about. To forgive me for trying to control a situation on my own and for my worry.

The ensuing peace after this time in prayer is indescribable. We have a king, a father, who loves us, who knows our hearts and wants us to go directly to him with our troubles. He doesn’t want us to try to hide our problems or for us to worry, he wants us to make him lord of all things in our lives. And we can do this because he has proven himself worthy over and over again.

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 2

Nehemiah was a servant to the king. The time period is believed to have been around 444 BC.

In today’s reading, Nehemiah was suffering from deep sadness that he could no longer contain. As the king becomes aware of Nehemiah’s sadness, Nehemiah becomes fearful.

Why fear? Wouldn’t we want someone to know of our sadness and inquire as to what is going on? Well, not exactly in this case. It was against policy to show sadness in the king’s presence, and further as we learn in Esther 4:11, one could be put to death for approaching the king without being summoned.

Like our God and King, the king in Nehemiah 2 could have responded harshly, however he responded with love, grace, and mercy. The king listened and responded and responded favorably to Nehemiah’s requests.

Learning from Nehemiah’s examples:

  1. Nehemiah used his position of power (favor from the king) to serve God rather than himself. What opportunities are before us today where we could choose to serve Jesus rather than ourselves?
  2. While Nehemiah does convey that he was fearful, he also faces the fear with boldness in God’s name. Who and what can we fear when we know that God has it all in his hands? Nothing!
  3. Nehemiah appeared to have been prepared when he was given the opportunity to ask the king for a favor. We must always be prepared in the name of Jesus. “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15)
  4. Nehemiah attributes to God what should be attributed to God. How often do we praise ourselves or fail to acknowledge God when we see victory? “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” (Nehemiah 2:8b)
  5. Nehemiah called people to action (again using his power to serve God) and they followed. I believe they followed him because he stayed close to God, he proved himself worthy of being a leader, he was committed to the cause, and he was able to articulate the mission to the people as a matter of logic and heart.
  6. When facing opposition, Nehemiah boldly relied on God’s promises. Again, fearlessness and proving to be a leader worthy of following.

Father God, we seek your wisdom today. Give us the courage and the words to proclaim the truth about who you are and why we serve you. Give us also the wisdom to keep silent when we should just listen instead of talking. Help us to become better leaders and better followers, in your son Jesus’ name and for your glory. Amen.