Mark 12: Infinite, eternal

We can see differences in our world from finite to infinte (David LaFrance also referred to this on 7/27). To summarize or recap the context from my own perspective, we often think of finite: Winner vs. loser, good or bad, binary (ones and zeros), one or the other.

We put God in the finite box when we doubt his will, his word, his plans, his promises when something “seems” to not go our way. Mankind and even Satan thought of a finite God with the mindset that the death of Jesus was the end of God’s plan (alive vs. dead). But God showed himself to be infinite through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In today’s reading of Mark 12 the chief priests, scribes, elders, and Pharisees question Jesus in an attempt to trap him or prove him wrong in a finite context. Jesus in his infinite wisdom blew them all away each time, leaving the crowd speechless. Here are their various responses (which I’ve bolded for reference):

And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away. (Mark 12:12)

Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:17)

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:34)

And the great throng heard him gladly. (Mark 12:37b)

  • Reflect on the responses of those who heard Jesus real-time. What is our response? In what situations do we walk away and when do we hear him gladly?
  • In what ways do we also mistakenly attempt to make God “finite”? Hint: Our sins speak loudest.
  • Spend some time meditating on the infinite and eternal attributes of God. Praise him for what he has done, is doing, and will do in your life. A lowercase finite “god” doesn’t care about you but our infinite loving God loves you and seeks a personal relationship with you! Let him in your heart today.

What’s your “impossible”? Give it over to the God of the possible!

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Matthew 25 and Feeling Refreshed

We are nearly three weeks into our USA tour as we visit family and friends. In anticipation of the trip my prayers were focused on “rest”. Recent prayers have transformed to the theme of “feeling refreshed”. Our friends and family have welcomed us with such open arms it is humbling. There have been small intimate gatherings and some parties lasting late into the evening.

While visiting the home of one of our amazing friends, we paused as we saw a rock in their garden inscribed with Proverbs 27:9 (as per the photo). This verse made me feel in that moment that God was speaking to me directly as we felt so blessed by these friends, for their love and kindness. That verse has since been the theme of my trip to the USA; feeling refreshed by sweet friendship, family, old friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ.

Self-reflection questions:

  1. Do I intentionally invest in others to refresh them?
  2. Am I refreshing to be around? Do I sweeten the souls of others in every interaction?
  3. Do I actively giving thanks to God and to the “friend” for sweet friendships, for the refreshing of my soul?
  4. Do I let friends know how much they mean to me, that they are an answer to prayer?

Today’s reading is Matthew 25 and I felt some tie-in with the following verse:

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

While most of the time recently has been with friends and family, this verse speaks to me about loving those beyond our “safe zone”, and how refreshed the unloved feel when they are given love. We are to love not only those whom we know well, but also the marginalized; those whom society does not love nor accept. We are to love the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, those in prison, the sinner, the offender, our enemies and those who persecute us.

Jesus said we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14a). Let us believe his words and act now; giving love, bringing joy, refreshing souls, in the name of Jesus.

Matthew 11 & Rest

It is summer in the northern hemisphere where there is a generally optimistic view of the status of the pandemic. Covid 19 vaccines are becoming more readily available and worldwide there have been over 3 billion doses administered. As a result, people are starting to take vacations and there is some excitement in the air.

Not sure about you but I’m exhausted and ready for some rest. Work stress, pandemic stress, not having seen friends and family for two years stress, etc. The closing verses of today’s chapter (Matthew 11) were very timely.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  (Matthew 11:28-29)

First thought was yes, I am going to enjoy some rest and vacation time. Then praying over the same verses the thought came that “this isn’t about me” and its not the “rest” that I initially had in mind. Then some guilt with the realization that selfish worry was ruling my emotions. Worrying about things beyond my control. Nudging God out. I had “unrest” because I wasn’t putting all of my hope and trust in Jesus.

And so I repented and asked for God’s guidance, for wisdom. For my heart and soul to have the kind of rest that HE has in mind. I prayed for the new opportunities with friends and family to be fruitful, to be more focused on others and not myself. To share the reasons for my hope. If you pray a similar prayer you will not be disappointed.

Soul Taxi

One answer to prayer surprisingly arrived in a taxi. A couple days ago my boys and I were en route across town when a Christian song came on the radio (and it is a song we know and love). The driver started singing and the boys and I looked at each other with smiles and surprise. And for the first time in our lives, Peyton and I started singing out loud in a taxi, not caring whatsoever how bad we sounded. It was pure joy (and yes, I got a little misty). That was the kind of rest and rejuvenation God had in mind for my soul!

Father God, thank you for your word, for your timing, for revealing yourself in miraculous ways, for the rest that can only come from you. Thank you for listening and responding to our prayers. I repent of worry which is a symptom of a lack of trust in you. May our hearts seek rest in you who are eternal instead of the temporary things of this world. Amen.

Psalm 145 – Praise!

This week we learned of the passing of our friend and honorary family member, Isabel Burns. Our long-time readers may know her as “Scottish Granny“.

The draft of this post led with a phrase about “mourning the loss” but after writing those words I realized they weren’t really true. We are not mourning, we are celebrating the joy we experienced in knowing her. Isabel had been bedridden for the last few years with limited capacity to communicate. It was her time to go home to her maker; to be relieved of the pain and suffering she had endured for a very long time.

Let us all turn our mourning to praising God today for all that he has done. For the friends and family members he has given us; those we have lost and those with us. God’s timing is perfect, he makes no mistakes, everything he does is out of love for us so that we can do good things according to his plans.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10)

Today’s reading is Psalm 145, a song of praise, written by King David. Perfectly fitting for us to take a moment to praise our creator. What really hit me were the many attributes to describe God. The one TRUE God is:

  • God and King (v1)
  • Eternal (v2)
  • Worthy, great (v3)
  • Mighty, powerful (v4)
  • Splendorous, miracle provider (v5)
  • Doer (of deeds); not idle (v6)
  • Good, righteous (v7)
  • Merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, his love unfailing (v8)
  • Good (to everyone), compassionate/merciful (v9)
  • Thanked and praised (v10)
  • His kingdom is glorious; he is powerful (v11)
  • His deeds are mighty; he reigns (v12)
  • He rules forever, keeps promises, gracious (v13)
  • Helper, uplifting (v14)
  • Giver, sustainer, provider (v15-16)
  • Righteous, kind (v17)
  • Near, available (v18)
  • Giver, listens, responds, rescuer (v19)
  • Protector, destroyer (of the wicked) (v20)

Just think, even on our very best day, in our very best moment, we may display only a few of those attributes. God was, is, and always will be every one of those and more. He is worthy of all praise, and as David closes out the song, may our response be the same.

I will praise the Lord,
and may everyone on earth bless his holy name
forever and ever. (Psalm 145:21)

Mountain Dew

Over ten years ago when my parents took our boys to the zoo, they did what all grandparents love to do. They say yes to things that the parents might say no to. That thing was to allow our little Peyton (~age 5 at the time) to drink Mountain Dew (which he immediately fell in love with, and still today begs for this drink whenever there’s a chance).

While Amy and I might have delayed this “yes”, we weren’t upset, and secretly I was a little proud as Mountain Dew also holds a special place in my heart. That strange green color, the unique citrus taste, memories of 50 cent Big Gulps at 7-11 in Mount Pleasant, Michigan (fire up Chips!) and Dew with my Taco Bell feasts.

Dew from Mount Hermon

Today’s reading is Psalm 133 which consists of only three verses so I sent the verses to my boys and asked them for their thoughts. They read it and had no thoughts (as can be expected from most teenage boys). Some days later while driving to school I asked the boys to read the verses out loud, so they started:

How wonderful and pleasant it is
  when brothers live together in harmony! (Psalm 133:1)

Laughter erupted as though we had all heard it for the first time and reflected on some of the arguing that occurred only moments prior! God’s word, out loud, supernatural. We had some conversation about what happens when we treat each other according to God’s ways and also what happens when we don’t live in harmony, going against God’s will. What a blessing. Why don’t we do this more often?

Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon
    that falls on the mountains of Zion.
And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing,
    even life everlasting. (Psalm 133:3)

As we wrapped up with verse three, I said this verse reminds me of being so thirsty and finally getting a cold drink of water. Peyton of course then said “dad, its Mountain Dew!” (dew from Mount Hermon). Yes son, I guess you’re right!

Arriving home about 15 minutes later I told Amy about the conversation and while we laughed we also talked about the God-ordained moments that point us to further belief.

Then about ten minutes later she went through her Timehop photos (where it shows your photo memories over the years) and this picture came up. Five years ago to this very day. Haven’t seen this photo in a year. Didn’t plan to talk about Mountain Dew in the car. Didn’t plan to read the Bible in the car. Didn’t know what I was going to write about for this post. Didn’t choose today’s scripture.

The takeaway is a deepened faith in our God who loved us first, who seeks a relationship with us, who went to the most extreme length to save us if we choose to follow him through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as God knew over ten years ago at the zoo that this photo would come up, and the scriptures aligned, I’d be writing this to you today – He knows your future, he has a plan, and it is good.

He’s in every story of all of our lives and as we open our eyes and hearts seek him, we find him. Thank you God.

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

Going Out and Coming In (Psalm 121)

Where are you going today? Chances are, unless you’re injured/ill (in this case may the God bless you and keep you) you’ll be going somewhere with plans to return. May God bless you and keep you in your journeys.

Have you heard the song “The Blessing” by Kari Jobe? She sings “He is with you in the morning and the evening and your coming and your going”. Our family listens to and sings this song over and over (don’t ask for a recording, we’re not so vocally gifted). I still can’t get over the little tears that well up when I hang onto every lyric (especially the live version or when we sing during worship at church). The song really impacts me because I sense the Holy Spirit and have come to believe every word as truth; the song itself is a blessing!

I brought up the song because of the following verse in today’s reading of Psalm 121:

The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121:8)

Instead of “keep”, other translations use the word “guard” (MSG) or “keeps watch” (NLT). Do you sense his presence in your coming and going out? Do you sense his presence keeping watch over you right now? I pray as I write, for God to bless you dear reader. Pause and reflect that even this moment was planned as you read this post; I pray also that you are seeking His face, His will, His forgiveness, and you are actively receiving his love.

Think about it, the God of the universe, the creator of Heaven and Earth, is with us wherever we go. It is so hard to grasp that he could be with billions of people all at the same time, no matter where we are. As you walk out the door, interact with others, wait for the traffic signal to change, wait for the medical appointment, stand in grocery store checkout line, the walk through the park, bringing the kids to school, travel to other cities and everything else we are able to do – God is with you.

In your going out and coming in today, pause again and say a little prayer of gratitude; acknowledge Him for his presence and praise him for his never-ending love for you! This same God with you is the one who sent his only son Jesus to live in human flesh, to die on a cross, and to live again – all to reach us, to save us from our sins.

“the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:25-26 ESV)

Ahhh-men… Ahhh-men, ahhh-men….

Contrasts

This week I had the opportunity to travel to the United States for the first time in 1.5 years. It is hard to believe it has been so long since being in my home country, the land that I love.

The trip has been marked by several contrasts:

  • Truly enjoying the wide American roads that could fit two of my tiny Italian cars side by side in a single lane.
  • The USA is not at all like what the media makes it appear to be.
  • In Italy everyone is wearing masks outside the home, in the USA, different.
  • I’m reminded of the USA “down home” culture where people strike up conversations in an elevator, extremely friendly convenience store clerks call me “sugar” and genuinely ask “how’s your day going so far?”.
  • Dining in restaurants open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (until late) in the US; something we’ve not experienced in Italy for I can’t remember how long.
  • People share and talk about their faith in the US. In Italy they view this as very private, even the believers we’ve met struggle.

From a Christian faith perspective we face the contrasts when we wrestle with inner desires and the things that are acceptable in today’s culture vs. how Jesus tells us how to live. The culture promotes hating our enemies and getting revenge. As Christ followers, we are called to live according to God’s will, no matter what the culture says or does.

In Psalm 109 (specifically verses 6-15) David asks God for some serious smack-down on his enemies with great specifics! Such as for someone evil to oppose his enemy, for the enemy to be found guilty and die, for the enemy’s children to be homeless beggars and adverse impacts to happen upon generations. Check it out, David is not messing around!

Keep in mind that David leaves it to God to take action. David was a mighty warrior and King, but he sought to follow God and submit to His will. David certainly could have crushed his enemies and may even have been justified to do so (just like us). In the end, David asks these things for God’s glory. It is like the submission and right living when we abide by the words of Jesus:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  (Matthew 5:43-44)

Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for them so that we may become the people God made us to be. As we love our enemies we point to a loving God who first loved us even though we as sinners were enemies to God, yet saved through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.

If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.  (Matthew 5:47)

Who are your enemies (people who have wronged you) and are you showing them the mercy and love God shows you time and time again? I repent as I’m guilty, yet thankful for a God of second chances and a new day to forgive and be forgiven.

Eternity in our hearts

What are the life experiences that you just can’t seem to get enough of? One of mine is making lists about experiences I can’t get enough of!

  • The symphony of birds singing as a new day dawns.
  • The birth of spring as flowers we’ve seen hundreds of times seem to become new again.
  • Laughing so hard that it hurts.
  • Observing people showing kindness to others who need it, didn’t earn nor even deserve it.
  • That “first smell” when walking into a home where there is something amazing being cooked…. lasagna, cookies, roast beef, French toast or anything with cinnamon and/or butter, and on and on…
  • The joy that comes from giving. While giving involves sacrifice, there’s something inside the soul that sparks; remarkable and indescribable. We just know it is good.
  • Being warmly welcomed whether by known friends/family and even more so in situations where we enter with some hesitation or fear. We want to be accepted and loved.
  • Engaging in a live worship service, deeply sensing the presence of the Holy Spirit. Singing and hearing praises with the reminder that this is a glimpse of eternity.

The reason the aforementioned subject of “experiences” came to mind is related to today’s reading (Psalm 97). One of my initial thoughts on the psalm is that it seemed like a lot of other psalms so what’s new to write about? While the chapter may be original, the theme is not. Then it hit me that God put eternity into our hearts and the psalms of praise give us a glimpse into our future with Him, praising Him! We will praise him for eternity and that will never get old!

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Whether the psalm is new to us or we’ve read it a hundred times, it isn’t about the song, it is about the object of the song and our relationship with our creator. Verse one starts out saying that the Lord reigns… NOTHING else reigns above him, he is above all things! And he is the giver who allows us to experience the joy of spring, laughter, a new day, love, filling our senses with goodness, all for HIS glory.

Where’s Jesus?

Light shines on the godly,
    and joy on those whose hearts are right. (Psalm 97:11)

As we go about our day today let us look differently at what might seem mundane. God is in it all. All good things point to Him. This day has been given to us as a gift. May others see today the “light of the world” (Jesus) in us; through our love, generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, sacrifices, words, and our self control.

Psalm 85: Celebrate! He will restore us again.

After a brief dance with freedom, the region where we live in Italy went back to stricter measures from “yellow zone to orange zone” mid-February 2021. This resulted in closing restaurants for dining-in at any time, imposing curfews, and restricting movement.

Then mid-March like a change in the wind, the entire country suddenly changed to a “red zone” (and as of the publishing of this post it has changed to red and orange). Most of our readers are Americans so you might have a hard time believing this, but the following restrictions are true, without embellishment. I’m not creative enough to make this up. There’s no “got ya!” at the end of this list.

For now, a red zone in Italy means:

  1. You are not allowed to visit or meet relatives or friends.
  2. You may only leave your home for proven work, education or health reasons, or for matters of necessity. If you leave your home and are stopped by the police for a check, you must be able to justify your reasons using the self-declaration form and show a form of ID. Breaking these rules can result in being fined between $475 – $3,500 (€400 – €3,000), criminal charges, and even imprisonment.
  3. You may take a walk close to your home, but must keep a physical distance of at least one meter and you must wear a face mask.
  4. Shops are closed (apart from those deemed essential such as grocery stores, newspapers and pharmacies). Gyms and beauty parlors are closed.
  5. Restaurants may only sell takeout until 10:00 PM. No dining inside whatsoever.
  6. Secondary schools/universities are closed for in-person learning.

And that’s just a summary… It feels oppressive, a loss of freedom. People are lonely and frustrated. Rules changed quickly. Everyone knows there is a pandemic and the reasons being given for the measures, however it is still painful, confusing and oftentimes mysterious.

Full disclosure: We recently left Italy legally for a temporary taste of freedom in a different country and it is a night and day comparison. Leaving the restrictions has brought a new and refreshing perspective, even for just a short time.

Today’s reading is Psalm 85 and reminds me of our journey and the other stories going on in most of our lives:

  1. Verses 1-3 talk about what God did in the past: Blessings and forgiveness. Most of us long for the “old days” when life seemed much easier.
  2. Verses 4-7 acknowledge God’s anger as a result of our sin. We ask God to do again what he did in the past so that we can rejoice: Restoration, revival, salvation. Don’t stop praying and don’t stop asking.
  3. Verses 8-9 reflect repentance; hearts that do not want to return to sin. These verses also reflect anticipation; waiting patiently and trusting faithfully he will respond.
  4. Verses 10-13 are a celebration of God and his response, putting God in his rightful place, giving him all the glory.

10 Unfailing love and truth have met together.
    Righteousness and peace have kissed!
11 Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
12 Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. (Psalm 85:10-12)

What’s the point? What’s the answer to our problems in a world that seems unfair? Jesus. While we didn’t create this pandemic nor have most of us committed horrific crimes against humanity, we’re all guilty of sin that separates us from God. Jesus is the restorer. He’s the truth. His love is unfailing. God’s anger is no more upon us if we choose repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. We celebrate today his victory over death. We celebrate that no matter what happens here on this broken planet, He will restore us again, and we will be with him for eternity.

Psalm 73 & a great interview.

Have you ever been in one of those job interviews where the tone is dull, energy is low, mood is somber, stress is in the air, and it seems like the interviewer’s main goal is to find out how horrible you are? Or worse, have you been this type of interviewer? If your answer is “no” to both, then good for you.

My perception is that type of interview was a technique from the pre-2000s and Hopefully most organizations do not interview like this anymore. Unfortunately that was that type of environment I’ve experienced as a candidate in the 1990s and thought that was how it was supposed to be.

Excuses are lies. – Jocko Willink

I’m surely guilty of perpetuating the tradition. It would be easy to blame the environment I learned from, but “excuses are lies”. I’m to blame. I’m a selfish human and no matter how hard I try, if I’m at the center, everything is off.

Then something changed.

Praise God for His mercy and wisdom (and perhaps His sense of humor) because today a major part of my job is assessing potential employees, consultants, vendor partners, etc. In the past two years I’ve interviewed approximately 200 candidates and this process has become one of the greatest joys in my career.

The difference: From an inward “me first” focus to outward, “Jesus and others” focus. Setting an environment where people feel relaxed, valued, respected and dare I say, loved. Ultimately, the leadership model in the organization where I work is that of a servant: Leaders do not exist to be served, they exist to serve.

even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

In a recent interview, a candidate said “I am thankful to God” and from this moment I felt the joy of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. As the gentleman spoke, I prayed silently and briefly for the right words; for God’s will to be done. We both shared some faith statements and I explained our servant leadership model, paraphrasing Matthew 20:28. Jesus was in the conversation and what a difference it made.

Today’s chapter is Psalm 73 and throughout most of the chapter the Psalmist talks about how the wicked prosper; even appearing jealous of the wicked. Then in the end the author acknowledges his own sin and turns bitterness into joy and praise. That’s the pattern in nearly every story of my life and probably yours as well.

Whatever your current challenge, illness, battle, argument, jealousy, take a step back and consider the pattern. We sin. We are guilty. If we choose to repent, we draw nearer to God and the joy is indescribable.

It is good to be near God.