Faith in Action: Learning to Listen and Believe

A work colleague and friend (we’ll call him Matt) and I were having a good conversation before a nice meal on a business trip. Matt tried to call me a few days prior while I was at church. I declined the call and later sent a quick message asking if he was alright (since it was strange that he was calling me on Sunday morning). I also conveyed that I was at church so I couldn’t answer.

We’d not seen each other in a while so it was great to catch up in person. Matt openly states that he is “not religious”; as part of this, he has felt wounded by people who have referred to themselves as Christians who have behaved with rules and/or judgment first as opposed to Christ’s love first.

Matt wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations. He said, “I didn’t know you were religious”. When I asked him what he meant, he mentioned the text message. The door was opened so I shared some of my faith journey and also made it a point to apologize to him for the wounds that he’s felt. I also admitted some of my failures as a Christian and shared that only Jesus was perfect in the way he loved people.

Later that evening I received a disturbing work-related email and I immediately became upset, worried, and even a bit angry. Then it hit me. Here I am being given the opportunity to share the reasons for my faith, yet I so easily went into panic over one email. Where was my faith in that moment?

I felt God convicting me and reminding me what was going on and that this was another example for me to trust Him alone. It opened the door again for me to confess to Matt: This is the kind of thing that I’m prone to worry about, but then my faith reshapes my attitude and pulls me through. My faith didn’t solve the problem, it merely transformed my fear into peace.

We all have a “Matt” in our lives. Don’t stop praying for opportunities to share!

I was inspired to share this story today based on one line from Hebrews 3 verses 15-19 in The Message (MSG) version as the chapter closes out:

They never got there because they never listened, never believed.

The Israelites, even though God had done so much for them, didn’t make it to the promised land based on one simple statement. Never listened, never believed. That was my conviction because even with all the prayer, studying, attending church, and other great stuff, if I don’t listen or believe, what’s it all for? It is a reminder that the world is watching and in difficult situations, will our responses show worry and unbelief, or peace and belief?

Pray for doors to open today to share your faith and the reasons you believe. This is a prayer God is ready to answer.

Let the joy return!

How do you find joy in difficult times?

One year ago, I was in the eye of a hurricane. Trouble and sorrow surrounded me personally and professionally. Friends and family had severe illnesses and catastrophic circumstances. During this time, I wrote: 

Never in my life have I seen so much trouble around me, and in turn, never in my life have I prayed so much. God is absolutely using this season of sorrow and challenges to teach and mold me to be more like his son.  

I don’t think a day has passed in the last year that I’ve not reflected on those tumultuous times. When various painful memories come back, I find joy in pausing to be thankful that those events are in the past. It was as though I was trapped or in a prison but now set free. God heard and answered my prayers, he rescued me, and he was faithful throughout. He revealed himself in mighty ways and continues to do so. May I never forget.

God has always been in the rescue business. In today’s reading (Exodus 13-15; Psalm 114; Ephesians 3), not only were the Israelites freed from slavery, they witnessed incredible miracles. As they experienced their exit, they were led by God via a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night.

Just when things were looking great, God hardened Pharoah’s heart. The enemy is relentless and will not stop until the final day.

And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so. (Exodus 14:4)

Why did God harden Pharoah’s heart? Hadn’t the Israelites been through enough already? Just like the trials and tribulations in our lives, God allowed this to happen for HIS glory. God was preparing for the crecendo, the grand finale in this story. God always has a plan and his plans are always perfect. In the very same verse we are assured that God will be victorious. He won the battle before it even started, and that’s the same with his handiwork in our lives. All we need to do is trust and obey.

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14)

And then it happened. Death to the enemy and salvation for God’s people.

28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:28-29)

All the Israelites had to do was be silent. Isn’t that how we should face our own troubles? What’s your “Red Sea” and what doubts do you have? Be silent. Pray. Listen. Trust. He’s got this. He goes before us and he stands by us. Death has already been defeated through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection so what do we have to fear?

Whatever you’re worried about today, let it go. Bring it to the altar, watch it burn, and let the joy return. 

Reference from January 2023: Perfect Peace

Jealousy’s Counter-Effect

There was a recent conflict where on the surface, one person seemed to be in the wrong, and the other person was upset. Upon getting some more facts, the truth was that there were hidden motives. The accuser made it seem like he was the victim and he fought viciously and relentlessly to point out the faults (in front of others) in the other person and took no ownership in the dispute.

The real problem is that the accuser was jealous. He didn’t get his way in a prior dispute, and ever since, things have spiraled out of control for him. He wanted what the other person had: Power, authority, success, and influence. As in most jealousy situations, the more the accuser became jealous, the more he lost. He began to lose all of the things he had so bitterly sought after. The thing is that he could have had all of those things if he’d only gone about it the honest and loving way, yielding to the decisions that had been made, and owning up to his own mistakes and insecurities.

It is easy to write this story about another person but if we’re honest, we’ve all been jealous and the hard part is that we usually don’t see it, we are in denial, or try to justify our feelings. We can be prone to jealousy when we are insecure, comparing ourselves to others, wanting more no matter how much we have, or when we fear some kind of loss.

In Mark 15, Jesus is delivered to Pilate and “accused of many things” (v. 3). Pilate knew Jesus was innocent and eventually asked the priests what evil Jesus had done (v. 15). Pilate also knew their motive: Jealousy.

For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. (Mark 15:10)

The priests “stirred up the crowd” (v. 11) in order to gain momentum for their selfish desires. They wanted Jesus brought down so they could gain power, yet through their sin, they lost, and it is the same for us as we choose our way over God’s way. In jealousy and other sins, what we think we’ll gain, we lose. Fortunately, through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sin has lost its power. The enemy lost so that we will be victorious as we are forgiven through the grace and mercy of Jesus.

Pray today for God to reveal any jealousy in your heart. I was convicted this week while focusing on these scriptures and I think if we’re all honest, jealousy is at the root of much of our frustration or anger.

Fear not though friends. In this chapter of false accusations, torture, mocking, pain, and death we can look forward to the next chapter: Sunday is coming. The stone will be rolled away. There is life, hope, and victory over death.

Promises made, promises kept.

Do you get a thrill from finding the perfect gift for someone? For me, it is a fun challenge and exhilarating when I have an idea as to what to get the person. I think about how they will be surprised, how much I love them, that they’ll know I know them well, and how they will enjoy the gift. It is not about the amount of money spent; the joy comes from the thought and act of giving.

My wife and I love to cook which means there are endless gift options in the realm of food preparation and serving. On a recent shopping excursion, I was on a high with excitement while browsing a pan that she had been wanting for a long time. It was the best color, heavy-duty, and had a classic and timeless appearance. I knew she’d love it and I couldn’t wait to use it as well.

Then I experienced something unexpected: A reminder of my mortality. The sales representative said, “This pan will last at least forty to fifty years”. While that’s a great selling point as to the quality, it hit me that the pan will outlive us, or at least outlive our capacity to whip up a clever and delicious meal. Do I really want this pan in my home, this reminder of my mortality? I thought, “Great, I’m jealous of an inanimate object.”

Knowing that God is in every life circumstance I took a deep breath and turned it over to him and this brought me peace. He’s in control. All of our days are numbered by him. Why waste another moment with morbid thoughts? Be grateful for this day. God didn’t promise an easy or even a long life. He did promise to give us peace beyond understanding:

“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Instead of a morbid symbol of mortality, the pan now sits in our home as a reminder of God’s peace, the gift of each new day, a reminder of the pleasure of the smell of food, and the joy that comes with breaking bread with loved ones.

In today’s reading, God makes several promises to Abram and Abram’s response was faithful and honorable to God:

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15:6)

Consider the promises of God and his plans for you. Ultimately, all of God’s promises from the Old Testament are fulfilled in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I pray you find peace and joy in the best promise of all, salvation through Jesus Christ.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Each day brings a new opportunity, usually unexpected, for all of us to face our fears and lean on the promises of God. He loves you, he has a plan for you, and he will never let you down.

Today’s reading: Genesis 12-15; Psalm 148; Mark 5

A Glimpse into Hell

There was a lot of excitement and anticipation for our family vacation to a favorite destination. I had a good night’s sleep the night before our journey to a distant land and I even managed to get some exercise the morning of our departure. We had two eight-hour flights as well as a two-hour layover. We booked the least expensive economy seats so it was going to be a really long trip. There would be a meal on the flight so I tried to consume healthy, smart, and not too many calories before the journey. I was energized and ready!

The meal was quite good for airplane food and shortly after dinner I was feeling a bit drowsy so I adjusted my seat and arranged my belongings for maximum sleep comfort. I fell asleep almost immediately, then about thirty minutes later I awoke in a panic with a feeling I hadn’t had in a very long time: I was going to vomit. On an airplane.

Feeling delirious, I grabbed the motion sickness bag and tried to open it. The cabin lights were dimmed and I couldn’t find the opening, so I jumped out of my seat as quickly as possible and darted toward the lavatory. The look of panic and horror on my face must have scared everyone nearby as they quickly got out of the way.

Fortunately, I was able to enter the lavatory, lock the door and “hit the target” without making a mess of the restroom or myself. All I could think as the contents of my stomach were violently emptied was “when will this be over” and “one moment at a time”. I was all alone on the dirty floor of a very small bathroom (a germophobe’s nightmare), feeling miserable and scared. Was it something I ate? Will my family also get sick? Will I get worse? When will it end?

The long journey became a really long journey as I vomited throughout both flights. My main prayers were that I’d make it to the toilet (and not have to vomit in a bag from my seat) and that none of my family would get sick.

Reflecting on those dark hours, I think I caught a glimpse into what Hell might be like. Emptiness, pain, loneliness, darkness, sorrow, and hopelessness. I felt those emotions with a huge magnitude. I wanted to cry out and while I knew God was with me, those feelings were real because we live in a fallen world, full of diseases of the physical and emotional kind.

This all leads me to the cross where Jesus hung. He was mocked, tortured, rejected, betrayed, and alone. I suffered involuntarily and only with a brief illness. Jesus voluntarily suffered and gave his life. He died so that you and I could live a life abundant, without fear of eternal punishment. His cross was unimaginable. He was perfect. I am a sinner but saved so I do not have to endure the eternal suffering because Jesus already paid the price.

Wherever you are today, whether high on the mountain or down in the depths, Jesus knows your name, he died for you, he knows your suffering, and he loves you more than you can comprehend. Rest and be glad today in his love, mercy, and grace.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, (Philippians 2:7) 

Religion *

While populating the electronic form for a tourist visa there was a field labeled Religion * with the asterisk indicating a required field. It is a strange and even uncomfortable thing to consider that to go to this place, you absoutely must indicate your religious beliefs. This caused me to pause for a moment as we are traveling to a communist nation that is not very tolerant of Christians. The pause brought me to reflection as to the importance of the answer, an eternal answer not to be taken lightly.

While I wanted to be smarty and say “I am not religious, I am a follower of Jesus Christ”, I typed “Christian”. So many thoughts went through my mind while I responded. Just one word with so much meaning and power. Follower of Jesus Christ. Forgiven. Chosen. Child of God. No power on this earth or beyond, no government, no one can take this away. The application was submitted without shame or fear as our God is eternal and all-powerful and he will be there with us.

And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. (Revelation 17:6)

There have been Christian martyrs before and there will be many to come. They all typed “Christian” and are (or will be) washed clean and deemed innocent on judgment day which is one day closer today than it was yesterday.

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14)

Will you be with him and be called chosen and faithful?

Today’s reading: Job 24-27, Revelation 17

Restored

We arrived at the train station late in the evening to pick up our vehicle after a long, enjoyable weekend as part of my birthday celebration. While approaching the car, it seemed odd that when I used the remote, the lights didn’t turn on. After pressing the remote another time and no lights, I knew something was wrong.

Unfortunately, the vehicle was targeted by criminals based on the value of its electronics. First, they smashed the driver’s window so they could enter, and then they stole most of the electronics (navigation, driver instrument panel, entertainment) and even the driver’s airbag. The car was no longer driveable. Happy birthday Jon.

It was late at night and no taxis, ridesharing, or buses were available, and our friends were unavailable to pick us up. With no other options, we walked 2.2 miles home with our suitcases and backpacks. To overcome some anger we decided to think positively: We had each other, the car was insured, we were walking off some of the extra calories from the fun weekend, and it wasn’t raining.

It has been several weeks since this event and the car is still in the hands of the repair facility. I keep wondering… when will our car be restored? The other problem is that while the car can be restored, this situation could happen again.

This is all to say that we live in a broken world where restoration is only temporary but there will be a day when we become fully restored through the blood of Jesus. Fully in awe and fully thankful for God’s goodness, mercy, love, and power forever (see Revelation 7:12). It will be a glorious day.

Until that day, keep watching, keep preparing, keep being faithful and sharing your faith, and keep praying.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:16-17)

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 7-9, Psalm 140, Revelation 7

Know Peace

It was a dark and stormy morning in Bloomington, Illinois as we boarded the plane for Chicago. Prior to takeoff, the pilot announced that we were going to go around the thunderstorms while en route to O’Hare. Good idea captain!

The small regional jet took off and at first, it was just a little bumpy, then not too long into the flight it got really, really bumpy. Surrounded by lightning, the jet shook and bounced like I’d never experienced before. If we were actually going “around” the storm, I’d hate to know what going through a storm was like.

I was stricken with fear and made eye contact with several other passengers who were nearly as terrified as I was. My hands are feeling a bit sweaty right now even as I type, recalling this event from nearly twenty years ago!

Next to me was a young lady reading the Bible. She looked at me and asked, “Is this bad?” I replied, “Bad?! Yes, this is very bad!” This really didn’t phase her at all and she went back to reading her Bible. She had peace. I did not.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)

The experience on the flight was the trigger that finally influenced me to get serious about my faith. I had called myself a Christian for a long time but was lukewarm at best, and there were good reasons to be living in fear of punishment. All praise to God who uses people and situations to bring us closer to him, and I’m thankful for the faith of the young person who was sitting next to me. While turbulence and the storms of life can still be scary, it isn’t the same as it was twenty years ago because I know Jesus and I acknowledge him as The Son of God, and therefore I know peace.

This Sunday I’ll once again briefly recount this story in front of our local church body as I confess my faith in Jesus Christ as part of officially becoming a member of the church. That’s my story. What’s yours? Do you have peace?

Today’s reading: Zechariah 6-8; 1 John 4

Father and Son

I recently visited my son Peyton whom I’ve not seen since he left for college about two months ago. After that, I visited my father whom I’ve not seen for several months.

Peyton is of course not exactly like me, but we are a lot alike. We have been a very close family since he was born. We share similar values, and he looks like me in some ways. I know very well the sound of his footsteps and could literally spot him from a mile away based on his posture and walk.

Like my observations and relationship with Peyton, my father and I have many similarities. He’s been my teacher and mentor ever since I could remember. My father humbly and quickly makes new friends and acquaintances. He is outgoing, kind, and genuinely wants to get to know people and make them laugh so I strive to be like my father in these ways.

I could easily say that because of our similarities, if you don’t like my dad and/or if you don’t like Peyton, then you won’t like me. Conversely, if you don’t like me, well, you probably won’t like my dad or Peyton.

Whoever hates me hates my Father also. (John 15:23)

Jesus lived to please his Father God by following his commands, loving and serving others as directed by God. Jesus, while king, came not to be served but to serve (ref Matthew 20:28). Jesus lived without sin yet he was still hated without cause (ref John 15:25). He was hated because we wanted (and still want) to do things our way with no repercussions. He told it like it is, and he taught the will and ways of his father. He and the father are one. He was the utmost example of perfection, God in the flesh, and so it rings true when Jesus said that if we hate him, we hate his father.

John 15 closes as follows:

And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:27)

This is our opportunity to walk and live with the Holy Spirit in us as he guides and speaks the truth into this world. For us to trust and obey. For us to bear witness with our lives honoring God instead of ourselves and our idols, not with our lips but with our actions and full hearts.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 43-45; Psalm 135; John 15

A story is…

A story is “a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it”. That’s the definition of a story as written by Donald Miller in the book “A million miles in a thousand years”.

What is the story of your life? We all want something, and we all face conflict. I spent some time thinking about “what I want” in my own life story and one thing I want is to love and be loved. To get what I want I am intentionally vulnerable thereby facing the “conflict” of risk of being hurt. You cannot have real love, real life, or a real good story unless you let your guard down and even allow the pain to shape you.

This isn’t referring to romantic love or to being loved by the masses such as a famous character; this is about a few deep personal relationships where there is meaning. In the relationships there are substories, there are adventures, there are sacrifices and selfless acts, and there is teamwork. We keep each other upright, we laugh without fear of embarrassment, we have old jokes and new memories, and there are traditions made and traditions broken. In these relationships we face pain, we fight for each other, we respect each other, we honor each other, and we are loyal almost to a fault. And when we wrong each other, we apologize and we forgive permanently and repeatedly. That’s what I think love is.

The author of Psalm 136 tells the story of God with gratitude for what he has done and for who he is. Each line ends by saying “for his steadfast love endures forever”. Notice that none of this points to a perfect life here on Earth. This Psalm exists to help us remember, for us to be grateful, and to give God the glory. I thought it would be fun to write my personal story in a similar fashion to Psalm 136 and I challenge you to do the same. Write to remember his love which endures, and that it endures forever.

God allowed me to be born into a loving family teaching me in the ways of Christ.
For his steadfast love endures forever.
I was blessed with an education.
For his steadfast love endures forever.
I have been blessed to have ample food, clothing, and shelter in my life.
For his steadfast love endures forever.
God blessed me with friends who love me.
For his steadfast love endures forever.
God allowed me to be relatively unharmed through the course of experiencing two separate vehicular rollover accidents.
For his steadfast love endures forever.
God answered my prayers by blessing me with a loving wife and loving children.
For his steadfast love endures forever.
Through my darkest hours, God gave me peace beyond understanding.
For his steadfast love endures forever.
He sent his son as a sacrifice for the millions of sins I’ve committed, and he forgave me.
For his steadfast love endures forever.
Through my failures, God has taught me.
For his steadfast love endures forever.
In times of joy, I’ve felt God celebrate with me.
For his steadfast love endures forever.
Through the Bible, God has revealed his will, his ways, his story, and his wisdom to me personally in a supernatural way.
For his steadfast love endures forever.

A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Think about God as the character who wants a relationship with you and me. He overcame the greatest conflict known to mankind because of his love for us. That’s his story, that’s THE story. For his steadfast love endures forever.

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 13-15; Psalm 136; John 5