Good morning! My family and I have been on vacation for the past week and we are soaking up the last bits of Summer 2021. We have been swimming, going to the beach, eating out, watching the Olympics, and spending time with extended family. Late night ice cream runs have become a routine and the conversations on those trips have been sweet. Our kids are at the age where we truly enjoy their company and I have laid in bed many nights thanking God for His provision. As we head back home in a few days we will face the year head on and I anticipate things being busier than ever. I have enjoyed being home with them this summer and I am thinking a lot about what this year holds. My prayers are many and I look forward to seeing how God answers them. Most of the time God, in all His glory and wisdom, changes my thoughts about situations instead of changing the actual situation. Which is always humbling. I know He will show up, but there is always the internal struggle of how, when, and unfortunately “if” He will. Are my concerns and requests really worthy of the creator of the Universe?
In Mark 9:14-32 Jesus heals a boy with an evil spirit. The boy’s father brought him to Jesus because the boy had been tormented by an evil spirit from childhood. The disciples tried to drive out the spirit but they were unsuccessful. In Mark 9:22 the father comes to Jesus and says, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us. ‘If you can?’, said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes’. Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” And Jesus delivered the boy from the evil spirit.
Why couldn’t the disciples cast out the evil spirit on their own? They had cast out other demons in the past without any problem. Jesus told them in Mark 9:29 that “this kind of spirit can only come out by prayer.” This was a reminder to the disciples that their power over demonic spirits was from Jesus and not something they could do on their own. It required prayer and submission to Jesus.
While my children are not suffering from the same issues as the boy in the chapter of Mark, I relate to the child’s father so much. “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Since faith is never perfect, belief and unbelief are often mixed. We are always having to choose to trust and believe that Jesus is who He says He is and that His plans are perfect. And He can help our doubts and unbelief if we ask. Even if things fall apart and do not go the way I want, I still believe that God is in charge. And by prayer I am able to fuel my faith and receive His power to carry on in His name. I do believe in the God who walks alongside us and continues to draw us close to Him in all circumstances. He never promised life would be easy and carefree, but His promise of life everlasting with Him is our ultimate victory. This year will have its mountain top moments and its valleys and I look forward to seeing God work in all the moments.
Today’s reading is Matthew 23. This chapter is Jesus last address to the Pharisees. He had responded to all of their questions and he took this opportunity to expose their corruption, hypocrisy, and rebellion against God to the disciples and the multitudes. In the beginning of the chapter Jesus did give the Pharisees credit for knowing the scriptures but that is the only positive thing he had to say about them. Beyond accepting their knowledge of the scriptures, Jesus advised the people not to follow their example in anything. The Pharisees were more concerned about their outward appearance and keeping the law then loving those around them. They followed the letter of the law while ignoring its true intent. All the while, they hated Jesus because He challenged their proud attitudes and dishonorable motives. He didn’t follow all of their rules and traditions. He was not what they were expecting. They tried many times to get Jesus to stumble with their questions but it was futile. Jesus was the only one that could truly stand up to them and their hypocrisy.
The Pharisees needed a savior but they rejected Him. They were so stuck in their way of thinking and their position that they didn’t see Jesus for who He was (and is). Even though they knew the scriptures and all the prophecy they still rejected Him and ultimately had him crucified. Jesus knew this would happen and it was his opportunity to share with the multitudes that there was a problem. The Pharisees were not the ones to follow because they were sinful and missing the point all together. The point was that Jesus was the Messiah and was in their presence!
There are still “Pharisees” among us today. People that are so tied to the rules and traditions that they forget to care for the heart of those in their midst. Sometimes, I am that person. I can be hypocritical, judgmental, overly concerned about outward appearances, and a blind guide to those around me. I am sinful. We are all sinful. The good news is that Jesus knows this about each of us. He came into the world to save us from our sin and not to condemn us. And He doesn’t want us to stay in our sin. He accepts and loves us as sinners, but wants us to change to be more like Him as we mature in a relationship with Him. He is the ultimate change maker. The Pharisees in the Bible were already long gone but there is hope for us!
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.
In reading Matthew 8 there are many accounts of Jesus. He starts by cleansing a leper, then honors the faith of the centurion, heals many, calms the storm, and casts out demons. He met the needs of the people and made a lasting impression on them and those who witnessed His miracles. Word spread quickly about this man who could do miracles and cast out demons.
While all the accounts are so good, I love the account of Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8:23-27. The Sea of Galilee is not your typical body of water. It is a small body of water but it is 150 feet deep and surrounded by hills. The winds can whip up in a matter of minutes and suddenly your life is in danger. Storms pop up out of nowhere. The disciples didn’t leave land knowing the weather was going to be bad. They were fishermen and were very aware of the potential danger. I’m sure they had heard stories about fisherman before them that got caught in the storms on the Sea of Galilee and didn’t make it out alive. When this storm hit they experienced real human fear. They felt helpless in the midst of the harsh winds and treacherous waves. And Jesus had the audacity to sleep while they were fighting for their lives! The disciples were frantic and woke him up saying “save us Lord, we are perishing!”. Instead of hopping up and immediately calming the sea and the wind, Jesus allowed the storm to teach them about faith. He asks “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”. He was exposing their natural response to fear in order to teach them where to put their faith in times of fear. Jesus was challenging the disciples to look at life differently – through the lens of Jesus being present. They hadn’t experienced what it was like to look beyond their current situation and trust Him. Jesus was with them and after reminding them of His presence he proceeded to calm the storm and they were amazed!
While the disciples experienced an actual storm, our personal storms can be anything that cause our heart to stop and our adrenaline to pump. It can be finances, relationships, kids, health, work, driving on the freeway. Any one of these things can elicit a fear response in us. There are a lot of things to be fearful of in the world today. Jesus is saying that we don’t have to be fearful about the things happening around us because we have Him. God shows his power through these tests of faith by calming the storm so our eyes might be open to see that we are covered by the grace and the wisdom of God. He is working. Our human eyes cannot see the whole story.
This was a great reminder for me today as I have a few things that elicit a fear response in my life. It seems so cliche and “Christianese” to say “just have faith and everything will be OK”! But it isn’t cliche to know Jesus and really trust Him with your future and moments of fear. While the situation may not change, he has the power to calm our racing hearts and settle our minds. It may appear that He is sleeping as we experience our moments of fear, but we can cry out to Him as the disciples did saying, “save me Lord, I am perishing” and He will calm the storm. The more we practice trusting Him the more we will see Him.
Proverbs 3:5 Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.
Psalm 143:3 “My enemy has chased me. He has knocked me to the ground. He forces me to live in darkness like those in the grave. I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear”.
The word enemy is used frequently in the Psalms. David cries out to God for deliverance from his enemies many times including todays reading of Psalm 143. The idea of having an “enemy” is a difficult one for me. I don’t have anyone that I would call my enemy. I am a peacemaker and try to avoid conflict as much as possible, probably to a fault. Even if I disagree with someone I can usually see their point of view and empathize with their situation. I often skim over these verses. How can I relate to a man being pursued by his enemies?
As it turns out, I do have enemies. My enemies present as pride, selfishness, laziness, fear, worry, envy…..I could go on and on. These are the things that keep me from enjoying the bounty that God has provided. If left unattended these “enemies” take hold and choke out all the good things that God has in store. Just the other night I woke up obsessing over the coming school year. We have 3 kids that will be in different sports and activities, my husband and I work full time, our oldest is a senior and I don’t want to miss any opportunity to support him this year, who is going to do the laundry and the cleaning? Can the bathroom go a few months without being cleaned? Is it ok to forego grocery shopping and just eat out all year? Can we go back to last year when we were all locked up in our homes with nothing to do? Needless to say I didn’t sleep that night and struggled the next day with fatigue and felt like I lost an entire day. Those middle of the night worries are the enemies that chase me, knock me to the ground, and force me to live in darkness. I let all that happen in a matter of hours. I didn’t recognize my spiraling thoughts as distractions until it was too late. And my worries are for normal things, not the unexpected like illness or the death of a loved one. God is present for all struggles – big and little. The challenge for us is to continue to turn to Him in all things and trust His plans, not our own.
Psalm 143 is a perfect Psalm to pray against the enemy. When we are consumed by our own thoughts and feeling lost there is still hope! On our own we cannot escape the grip of the enemy, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). First, remember His works – 143:5, then reach out to Him in prayer – 143:6, trust Him – 143:8, and finally seek to do His will – 143:10. (thank you turbo notes!) When we take the first steps of action towards God, He will meet us. It doesn’t ensure a trouble free ride, but we can rest in the assurance that He goes before us and has plans beyond our own and peace beyond understanding (Phil 4:7). Practicing this in the everyday will strengthen us to do the same when the unexpected happens.
James 4:7 “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
Tomorrow, next week, and next year will happen whether I worry about it or not. As I choose to trust God for the upcoming year I look forward to His peace and watching His plans unfold.
Psalm 131:1-3 Lord, I have given up my pride and turned away from arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mothers arms, so my heart is quiet within me. Israel, trust in the Lord now and forever. GNT
Psalm 131 is a psalm of humility. It is the end of “me, me, me” and finding a place of quiet contentment in God’s presence. This is where God wants each of us and this is where true peace and contentment occur. God wants to reveal Himself in us and through us so all would come to know Him. Unfortunately we are prone to take a lot of the credit for ourselves or even worse, not even acknowledge God in the things we are doing. We are too prideful and think we can do it all on our own.
An attitude of pride results in an anxious soul which keeps us from feeling the contentment and peace promised to us through Jesus. Pride comes in so many forms. Adam and Eve were the first to sin. They fell for the temptation that they could be like God and they stopped trusting in the things God told them. they wanted to do things their own way. Sinful pride is refusing to recognize God’s sovereign role in every aspect of our lives. It’s the difference between “look what I did and how well I did it” and “look what God did through an imperfect person like me”. Striving for more and better in this world has no end and it will leave us exhausted and anxious, always looking for the next project or accomplishment. But when we give up our pride and acknowledge God’s hand in our lives and His work in us, we feel contentment and peace. He is in charge! We don’t need to strive or work for God’s peace. We need to confess our pride to Him and then trust that He has a plan and is working it to completion everyday.
James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Located in the middle of the Bible is Psalm 119. It is the longest Psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible. It is written as an Acrostic poem and it is broken down into 22 sections. Each section starts with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet and each verse in the section starts with the same letter. Of course this is more noticeable in the original Hebrew writing, but it is significant because this structure made it easier for people to memorize and pass along to others.
Each verse in Psalm 119 could stand on its own. Matthew Henry, who was a Bible commentator in the 18th century, grew up meditating on a verse per day from Psalm 119. His father taught him to do this and told him, “That will bring you to be in love with all the rest of the scriptures”. Perhaps this is why Matthew Henry went on to write Bible commentaries. We become very close to what we meditate on every day.
I thought of this while I read through all 176 verses of Psalm 119. Almost every verse mentions God’s Word. The author refers to the word as precepts, commands, principles, laws, commandments, ways, truths, and decrees. He is constantly redirecting all things back to God and His truth. There are verses of praise, anguish, despair, trial, and blessing. And after each proclamation of these human feelings there is a reminder that God’s word is the firm foundation that we stand on in the midst of struggle and praise. It is the answer to all things if we will recognize it and ask God for help.
Psalm 119:25-32 “I lie in the dust, completely discouraged; revive me by your word. I told you my plans, and you answered. Now teach me your principles. Help me understand the meaning of your commandments, and I will meditate on your wonderful miracles. I weep with grief, encourage me by your word. Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your law. I have chosen to be faithful; I have determined to live by your laws. I cling to your decrees. Lord, don’t let me be put to shame! If you will help me, I will run to follow your commands.”
Do you hear yourself in any of the above verses? There is hope when we take all of our cares to Him and look for His guidance and not our own. There have been many opportunities to draw close to Jesus over the past year. It has made all the difference in my life. I pray the same for you!
What is your story? Who were you before Jesus?
Were you a wanderer without purpose? A prisoner to sin or addiction? Were you distressed? Have you been tossed in the storms of life? Psalm 107:2 says, “Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has saved you from your enemies.”
I have been a prisoner to my worry for a long time. It was something that was so natural for me that I didn’t even know I was doing it. I would wake up with a racing heart and anxious mind that would take me through the day and then have the audacity to keep me awake at night. And the cycle would continue day after day. It was like a snowball that kept getting bigger and bigger. Peace eluded me and I thought something must be wrong with me! And the thought that I was flawed kept me from rejoicing in the truth that I am loved by God, my creator. I was distressed. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Give all your cares and worries to God, for He cares about what happens to you. Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the devil, your great ememy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour. Take a firm stand against him, and be strong in your faith.” I believed the lie that I was flawed, unworthy, and unable to overcome my thoughts. I am still a work in progress, but I am aware now that God did not create me to worry about all of the what ifs and to succumb to the feelings of “not good enough”. That is the roaring lion creeping up behind me. When this happens, I cry out to the Lord and He helps me in my distress. It is not always a sweet prayer. Most often it is me, on my knees, crying out for help to see myself as God sees me. To have faith that He will rescue me, ultimately into eternity with Him. I am redeemed! Not because I have the power to redeem myself, but because there is power when I cry out to the Lord in my distress. And he never tires of my cries. I am loved and significant because of God. I am redeemed! And in Him, I find peace. There are days that I am really good at remembering this and then there are other days that the lion is closer than I want it to be. But my redeemer is always a prayer or a cry away and able to rescue me in my distress!
Psalm 107 is a chapter about thankfulness to God for delivering us from our distress. Verses 6,13,19,and 28 repeat “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he rescued (saved) them from their distress”. The more we suffer and have to rely on God the bigger our understanding of Him becomes. He saves us from wandering, from being a prisoner to ourselves and the world, from our distress, and from the storms of life. All of our stories are different. Your story could lead someone closer to Jesus.
Psalm 107:2 Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
It’s easy to harden our hearts towards God when we don’t see Him working in our lives like we expect. I remember praying for my youngest and making request after request for him to start talking, meeting milestones, and for us to find the right help. The more I asked, the more I focused on the problem. The problem almost became an idol as I was researching, reading blogs, and always looking for the answer. I spent most of my time asking why and blaming myself. Looking back I see how Satan can cause the difficulties in our life to be distractions from an opportunity to worship God in the midst of our struggle. The prayers made for help were not sinful. They were really important to help me express what I needed, but they didn’t result in peace or rest. We find peace and rest in difficult situations when we spend time focusing on who God is and the value it has in our lives. When our hearts are hardened, there is no peace. The beauty of worshipping God, the creator of the Universe, is that it has nothing to do with us or our circumstances and everything to do with Him. We have the opportunity to set our troubles aside, knowing that we have exhausted all of the questions, and focus on Him.
Psalm 95 is an invitation to worship God. Set aside the struggles and concerns of today and spend time worshipping. Hold your requests and fill your heart and mind with the truth of all that God is and has done. Psalm 95:3-7 “For the Lord is a great God, the great King above all gods. He owns the depths of the earth and even the mightiest mountains are his. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land too. The Lord is our maker for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the sheep under his care.”
We can have peace in the midst of our struggles because we know the Prince of Peace. Come let us worship the king!
Psalm 83:1 “O God, don’t sit idly by, silent and inactive!”.
Psalm 83 is the last Psalm of Asaph and a prayer for God to rescue his people, the Israelites. The first verse alerts us to the urgency of the situation. There are times when we are waiting for God to move and in all of our humanity we wonder and start to worry……”O God, don’t sit idly by, silent and inactive!”. What is He doing? Does He really care about us? Will he allow the enemy to take over and win? Is there a plan? When will it happen? When will we see His victory?
The enemies were all around Israel. They prayed that God would bring them through as He had so many times before. The evidence of His power was shown to them through defeats of the Midianites and many others. What moments can you recall throughout your life where God rescued you? Do you believe God will continue to fight for you as He has in the past?
The Israelites are God’s chosen people. He has continued to take care of them to this day. While this prayer was meant for the protection of the Israelites it is pertinent in our lives today. As believers in Jesus we are also chosen. I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and is the blueprint for our lives. As I watch things unfold in our world today I catch myself relating to the cry, “O God, don’t sit idly by, silent and inactive”. I am concerned about the future if it continues on its current trajectory. But I also know that God has done many miraculous things already and He will continue to do so. I have faith that He is not “sitting idly by, silent and inactive”. He is Lord over all. Our prayer should be that all would come to know the power and love of our savior Jesus.
Psalm 83:13-18 O my God, blow them away like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind! As a fire roars through a forest and as a flame sets mountains ablaze, chase them with your fierce storms; terrify them with your tempest. Utterly disgrace them until they submit to your name, O Lord. Let them be ashamed and terrified forever. Make them failures in everything they do, until they learn that you alone are called the Lord, that you alone are the Most High, supreme over all the earth.
Psalm 71 “Forsake me not when my strength is spent.”
I spent the summer of 1997 as a camp counselor. I was a nursing student and I stumbled across a camp for kids with disabilities that needed cabin counselors. Summer camp was a big part of growing up for me and I needed something to do for a summer so I said yes. I had no idea how exhausting and impactful it would be. Each week we welcomed kids with similar abilities. Campers included those with diabetes, sickle cell anemia, Spina Bifida, Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, cancer and more. These kids were given the opportunity to camp with campers like themselves and they were provided whatever they needed to make it in a cabin in the woods for a week. I recall hiking with electric wheelchairs, feeding kids smores, swimming, helping with showers, brushing teeth, and learning so much. Some of the campers required one to one care for their basic daily needs. Night time seemed to be just as busy as the daytime with trips to the bathroom for those who needed help or those that needed an extra hug. This was the first time in my life that I was taking care of someone other than myself and sacrificing my needs for another. Their needs were great and I didn’t sleep much. I don’t think I showered much either. The exhaustion I felt at the end of a week was comparable to the feeling of being a parent. I only realized this when I became a parent and recognized the same foggy haze of sleeplessness brought on by putting someone else’s needs above my own. The exhaustion was worth it, but I recall praying for strength…. A lot! And I can say, without a doubt, that God carried me through. I look back on that experience through the eyes of a parent now and I know how important that week was to the parents behind the camper. It was a gift that I didn’t even know I was giving.
I was naive and ignorant going into that summer, but God was present and carried me through. It wasn’t a camp for kids with disabilities. It was a camp for kids made in the image of God. They were delightful and funny and I am so honored to have been a part of their camp experience. Little do they know how much they impacted me.
Psalm 71:3 Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
I love that we can continually come to God with our needs. He is available day and night and is never exhausted by our requests.