Dry Bones



Ezekiel 37

In the last week or so we have been looking at several of the prophets that God used over 300-400 years to call out to Israel and Judah. He wanted relationship with them so badly and they continued generation after generation to turn their backs on Him by putting other god’s before Him and choosing to disobey Him. At the time of Ezekiel, Judah and thousands of others had been deported to Babylon when their king surrendered to the leadership of Babylon because they couldn’t fight them any longer. (God would have protected them and kept them safe as a country if they would have followed His plan, but they chose their selfish ways instead of His and landed themselves in exile in another country.) God used Ezekiel as a watchman to warn the people of Judah to turn to God as they were living in captivity. His message was that God expected personal obedience and worship from each of them no matter their circumstances.

As I have read through the prophets this time I have developed a deep sympathy for them in the work God assigned to them. They spent their lives preaching to people who were not interested in their message.  Their job was vitally important and necessary in God’s plan, but in the world I think they just appeared crazy. When I picture Ezekiel calling out to people on the streets, or meeting with groups to deliver God’s message, the picture that comes to my mind is the guy in a crowded city or on a college campus who is yelling out his message to a bunch of people who are maybe a bit afraid of him, or who are wondering if he is mentally stable, or at the very least feeling uncomfortable as they pass by.  How do you stay motivated to get up every day and stay at the work at hand when you are mocked, ignored, and pushed aside every time you speak? I hope that my perception of what it must have been like for Ezekiel is wrong, but after reading chapter 37 and seeing Ezekiel’s personal encounter with God, I’m pretty confident that Ezekiel’s job felt like a steep uphill climb, daily!

So three quarters of the book of Ezekiel is God’s message to Judah while in captivity. The entire book is filled with God’s words that Ezekiel speaks to the people of Judah over years of time, until chapter 37 hits. In this chapter Ezekiel reports the events of the vision God gives to him one day. The first verse, “The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones.” The bones were scattered out all over the ground and dried out completely. God asked Ezekiel if these bones can become living people again. Wisely, Ezekiel answers that God alone knows the answer to that question. So God has Ezekiel prophecy to the bones that He will put breath into them and make them live again. He will put flesh and muscle over them and cover them with skin and they will come to life. So Ezekiel obeys. As he speaks there is a rattling noise all across the valley and the bones gather themselves into complete skeletons and as he watched, muscle and flesh formed over the bodies but they still had no breath in them. So God again told Ezekiel to prophesy over the bodies. As he did, breath came into their bodies and they all came to life and stood to their feet. Then God told Ezekiel that the bones represent the people of Israel, old dry bones…all hope gone. God told Ezekiel to prophecy to the people anyway and tell them that He will open the graves of exile, cause them to rise again, and then He will bring them out of exile back to the land of Israel. When this happens they will know that He is the Lord and He has done what He said He would do.

God reached out to Ezekiel to encourage him and give him new urgency and motivation to share God’s message. Ezekiel had been sharing God’s word for years with no fruit, no change in the people, and no hope for change.  (Frankly, I would have given up!)  God knew that this message needed to land in some hearts so He could accomplish His plan for bringing Jesus to the earth in a family from the line of David. God needed Ezekiel to stay faithful in a steep uphill climb so that Israel and Judah could be reunited and He could live among His people again.

This morning, can you see encouragement from God anywhere in your life to stay at something that feels hard but needs to be done?

This Love

Zeph 3

Zephaniah was a prophet that God used to speak to Judah. At this time, the people of Judah worshiped God and all the other gods of the land. They kind of added the best parts of other gods to the worship of God so they could have what they thought was the best of both worlds. While it is tempting to mentally check out here because these people are not like me, (I would never add idols to my worship of God! …unless I am honest about my struggle of relying on myself instead of on God, or my desire to get what I want with money instead of allowing God to work or my pride in looking a certain way to others when my heart should be consumed with God) the truth is that I am a whole lot like them.  So the first three and a half chapters of this book tell of God’s warning to these people through Zephaniah of the destruction that is coming if they don’t change their ways and make Him their One true God.

Then in vs 9 of chapter 3, God changes his message to tell about the few people who do follow Him and what their lives look like. In reading through the prophets, I can’t remember very many times when God changes from trying to warn the wicked, to talking to the people who do follow him, so I feel like we need to pay attention to His message to these few people in Zeph 3.  In vs 12-13 he says, “ Those who are left will be the lowly and humble, for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will never tell lies or deceive one another. They will eat and sleep in safety, and no one will make them afraid.” Verse 17 is where I want to draw our attention this morning. It says, “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

This is God’s promise to those who obey Him. “The Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” This morning I am trying to absorb that the Creator of the universe knows me personally and loves me deeply. The One who stops the waves on the shore, the One who commands the morning to appear each day, the One who holds the storehouses of snow and hail, the One who lays out the path for the lightning, the One who directs the movement of the stars, the One who directs the sequence of the seasons, the One who’s wisdom makes the hawk soar, the One who placed the world on its foundation so it could never be moved, the One who rides on the wings of the clouds and uses the wind as His messengers…this is the One who is with me, the One who saved me, the One who takes delight in me with gladness and calms all my fears with His love. He rejoices over me with joyful songs. I don’t have words. I don’t deserve even a portion of this kind of fierce lavish love, personal care, or mighty pursuit, but the truth is, this is God. It is hard for me to grasp that One who holds the world in place knows me. I can’t fully comprehend the fact that the same God described in Job and Psalms (powerful, mighty, capable, creator, wise, worldwide scale) is the same God who’s words are written in Zeph, (delights in me, calms me, saves me, rejoices over me). But it is real and true, this kind of love does exist. It is completely humbling this morning to think  that we are the recipients of this love.

Is It Right For You To Be Angry About This?



Jonah 3 and 4

If you grew up in the church you have heard the story of Jonah quite a few times. The story I remember from Sunday School goes like this: God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh so he got on a boat going the other direction. The boat ran into a bad storm, Jonah knew he had disobeyed God and told the sailors of the boat it was his fault that the storm came up and that they should throw him over. So they did, Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and sat in its belly for three days and then the fish spat him back out on the shore. God again told Jonah to go to Nineveh and this time Jonah obeyed. The End. I honestly only ever remember hearing the first two chapters of Jonah taught. Maybe I didn’t pay attention in Sunday School well enough, but I think most of the time in Jonah’s story we kind of stop there. Jonah obeyed…  Jonah’s a hero, he learned his lesson and followed God. But after sitting with chapters 3 and 4 for a few days, I’m sad. Jonah’s story doesn’t have the happy ending for him that I thought it had for most of my life.

Chapter 3 opens with God telling Jonah (for the second time) to go to Nineveh and deliver His message to the people of the city. This time Jonah obeyed. I think it is clear that after spending time inside a fish that Jonah was more receptive to God’s plan. Jonah delivered God’s message and the people repented and changed their ways. When God saw that they put and end to their evil ways, He changed His mind and didn’t destroy the people. Jonah 4:1-4 says, ”This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it. “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” So Jonah walked out to the edge of town to watch and see what would happen. As he waited God arranged for a leafy plant to grow up beside him to protect him form the heat of the sun. The next day God arranged for a worm to eat the plant off at the stem, which killed it and left Jonah in the heat with no protection. Again Jonah got mad and said, “death is certainly better than living like this!” Then God said, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died? “Yes” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!” Vs 10-11 say, “ Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city? The End. What? Seriously? Where is obedient Jonah from the beginning of chapter 3?

Two times God asked Jonah if it is right for him to be angry about his situation. Why was Jonah so angry? I looked back in my Bible to chapter 1 and got some help understanding Jonah’s mindset from the notes below vs 3. In Jonah’s lifetime, Nineveh was a powerful and wicked city. Jonah had grown up hating and fearing these people because of what they did to others. In Nahum we get a better explanation what Jonah knew about the people of Nineveh. They were guilty of evil plots against God, exploitation of the helpless, cruelty in war and idolatry, prostitution, and witchcraft. Yikes, that is quite a list. Also Nineveh was a Gentile country and Jonah was a Jew. Humanly, I completely understand Jonah’s feelings. He was scared of these people and what they might do to him, and also, he wanted them to be punished for their wrongdoing instead of saved from their consequences. Jonah was angry because he was looking at the situation from his point of view, not God’s. Jonah saw people deserving death, period. God saw people that deserved death, but He wanted to save them because of His love.


1-I think Jonah forgot the truth that he didn’t deserve to be forgiven by God either. It is so easy to compare our sin with other people’s sins and talk ourselves into believing that we are more deserving of relationship with God than others. The truth is that no one is blameless. None of us are good enough to get to God on our own, we can’t. The only way to Him is by accepting His gift of payment for our sins by Jesus dying on the cross. The only part we play in this equation is sinning. It’s a pretty level playing field for ALL of us!

2-I think Jonah couldn’t get past concern for his own neck and looking like a fool in front of a lot of people. Don’t we all get tripped up here? We just can’t let ourselves truly trust God with our lives. We don’t want to be embarrassed, minimized, pained, looked over or left in the dust. We feel like if we don’t look out for ourselves, no one else will. We want the glory that God deserves.

3-I think Jonah was more in tune with his own interests than the spiritual needs of the people around him. Not to be dramatic here, but we are talking about eternal damnation, forever separated from God…no way out, no change in circumstances, no help, FOREVER!  If the people around us aren’t introduced to  truth and relationship with God here on earth, there isn’t another chance for them to change their minds. This life is all we have to decide to accept Christ’s gift and share the gift with everyone we can.

We don’t get to find out if Jonah softened his heart toward the people of Nineveh. We don’t know if he accepted God’s personal lesson for him through the plant. We don’t know if Jonah changed.

The Good The Bad and The Ugly

Psalm 139

Today as we read Psalm 139, I want to concentrate on verses 7-12. I think we all are very familiar with verses 13-15 as they are quoted and bannered often in our lives, so I want to look more closely at maybe a less familiar part of the chapter but to me an equally beautiful section.

Vs 7-12 “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night-but even in the darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.” 

As I read this I am overwhelmed by God’s beauty, comfort, safety, protection, might, omnipotence, omnipresence, power and if I am honest, maybe a little bit uncomfortable. When I am seeking God and listening for His voice in my life, these verses are so reassuring and comforting, I can’t think of many options that are more comforting. But when I get distracted, busy or on a mission to complete my to-do list, I find my mind less focused on Him and more focused on the task at hand. Let me give an example. As I write this post, my mind is consumed with God, His promises and what He might be trying to say to us, so this passage feels comforting. I can never get away from His presence, His hand will guide me, and His strength will support me, very beautiful and reassuring that He is always there with me.

 But what about when I am being less mindful of Him or worse, choosing to do something disobedient? Then I am very uncomfortable being honest about the fact that I can never get away from His presence or escape His Spirit. I think I like telling myself that God isn’t around when I mess up. I know that my sin grieves His spirit and damages our relationship until I get honest and ask for forgiveness from Him, but I don’t like the mental picture of Him being there watching as I sin. It seems so much more ugly when I picture Perfection, the one who suffered and gave His life so I could be washed clean, standing or sitting right there with me as I choose unkind words, an ungrateful heart, selfishness, anger with others, or so many more awful things I do that I’m too embarrassed to write down. The truth is, He is there. No matter what I am thinking or feeling, He is with me and seeing everything I choose, every thought I have, and every motivation for the choices I make. My sin is not hidden. I’ve known this truth since I was a child, but looking at these verses today makes me realize how easily I lie to myself about this truth. 

God’s presence is constant. The way I perceive His presence is based on my choices. 

Looking For the Right Heart

1 Sam 16

Today as we read 1 Sam 16, we get to see God’s choice for the next king of Israel after Saul. The tricky part is that Saul wasn’t dead yet. Saul had become rebellious and stubborn against God. He was more concerned with what others thought of him than he was with his relationship with God, so God took his kingdom away from him. If you look back in chapter 15, Samuel the priest was so grieved by Saul’s terrible choices that when God told Samuel He was going to replace Saul, Samuel “cried out to the Lord all night long”.  It says later in chapter 15 that “Samuel mourned constantly for Saul”.  Samuel was heartbroken because he loved the Lord and he loved Israel. He had been Israel’s spiritual leader since he was a boy. (And he was old and grey in chapter 12) The people weren’t happy because they wanted a king just like all the other countries had, and God had given them what they wanted in Saul. So when Saul was failing to follow God, it was crushing to Samuel. God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to meet with a man named Jesse to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the next king. 

I want to concentrate on verses 6-7 today. Samuel was obeying God. His only purpose for this trip was to do what God had asked him to do. His heart was right and his motives were right. He was in close relationship with God. Vs 6 “Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!”   Then Vs 7 “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Samuel thought he knew where God was headed with this one after he saw Eliab, tall, good looking, from the right family…it all added up in his mind because he was in town to anoint the next king. But God knew what heart He was looking for. He knew the characteristics He needed in the man who would be anointed king but not become king for fifteen years. God knew what those fifteen years would look like and He knew who’s spirit would be teachable, dedicated, loyal, devoted and reliant on Him throughout his life. God knew who He could build leadership skills in to become the leader God needed for His people. Samuel couldn’t see all of that by looking at a family of boys. 

Two points stand out to me in this story. First, when our hearts are right and our relationship with God is close, we still have to listen for His voice. I’ve been noticing something in the past few years as I have read the Bible and then on Sunday, our pastor said exactly what I had been noticing, God rarely does things the same way twice. We serve a mighty and creative God who has every atom in this universe (and beyond) at His disposal to accomplish whatever He decides to accomplish. He works however He decides He needs to in any situation to accomplish what ever He needs accomplished and I would say that a lot of the time we only see or understand a small portion of the effects of His work. Even when we think we know where God is headed in a circumstance or issue in our lives, we have to listen to his direction and leading because He very well might surprise us with something different than what we expected. 

Second, we make mistakes when we asses people on appearances instead of on character. We just can’t help ourselves, we see and we judge. Because we see people or circumstances with our eyes, we feel like we have the ability to judge. We forget that only God sees inside, we forget that only He knows what motivates a person’s actions or choices, we don’t know the truth about what another person’s heart looks like, only God knows. God is the only one who can judge. Appearance doesn’t reveal what people are really like. It doesn’t show their true value. 

Obey My Instructions

Lev 26

The final verse of this chapter says, “These are the decrees, regulations, and instructions that the Lord gave through Moses on Mount Sinai as evidence of the relationship between Himself and the Israelites”.  This entire chapter explains God’s punishment for disobedience. It is a harsh chapter. God uses strong explanations and very descriptive words to tell the Israelites what will happen to them if they choose to disobey Him. He says, “ If you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you.” Then the bulk of the chapter tells exactly what He plans to do if the people continue to turn away from Him. If you read through the list you know how heavy the consequences get for their choices. These are rough, life altering and sometimes life ending punishments…”those who hate you will rule over you”, I will punish you seven times over for your sins”, “your land will yield no crop”, I will send wild animals that will rob you of your children”, “your numbers will dwindle”, “I will send armies against you”, “I will leave your lifeless corpses piled on top of your lifeless idols”, this list is not close to exhaustive but I think you get the picture. 

All this harshness and punishment might make us question how our loving Father is capable of these decrees. I think we need to ask why. What is motivating Him to be so strong in His instructions? We have to be willing to see that for God there is so much more at stake here than just this group of Israelites obeying Him or not obeying Him. We need to realize that God is already at work completing his long-term plan. God knew His Savior of the world was coming through the Israelite people so they had to be preserved for Him to fulfill His promises. His lens for this chapter is so much bigger than what we see when we just read these verses. He was doing everything in His power, besides choosing for people, to preserve this group of people so not only the Israelites but all people through all of time could have a way to have relationship with Him. He was pursuing them (and us) with everything He had. He needed, at least a portion of these people to commit to His covenant to send Jesus to earth to pay the price for their and our sins.  So it was of ultimate importance that these people choose God. He wasn’t just being harsh or trying to get back at disobedient people. He was accomplishing His plan through people that He loved so deeply He was willing to give His Son’s life to save, and maybe grow and develop the Israelites along the way.

As I sit with this chapter today, I hear God say, this is how much I love you. This is how valuable you are to me. You are worth fighting to the death to keep, protect, and to preserve. I want relationship with you more than anything and I will go to extraordinary lengths to help you keep your covenant with me so we can maintain relationship.  

Sulfur From the Sky

Gen 19

Just a few days ago we were looking at the wickedness of all the people on earth and God’s decision to start over with mankind through Noah and his family. Today, about 10 chapters later we see two cities so wicked that God is moved to wipe them off the earth. When I first saw the topic of this chapter I was shocked that so soon after Noah, an entire people group was so far from God. I did a little research and found that there were actually about 400 years between Noah and Abraham, which helps me understand a bit better how these people ended up where they did. 

I would like to mention here that in my adult Bible reading years, this chapter is one of my least favorite chapters in the Old Testament. I hate reading about people abusing each other and sick depravity in people’s actions. When this chapter is plucked out of the context of Abraham’s life it seems so off the wall crazy that I wonder why it is included. I strongly suggest that you work your way back to at least Gen 18 to get some framework for this terrible set of events. 

Abraham has a long discussion with God to try to find out if God will be fair to people that might be following Him. So God keeps His word to Abraham and sends two angels to search Sodom and Gomorrah for any righteous people. Lot, who is Abrahams nephew meets the angels at the city gates (which lets us know that he was probably a prominent business man or a government official) and invites them to his home for a meal and a place to stay. (This is customary hospitality in this time period as there were no hotels or restaurants. Travelers relied on townspeople for food and rest when traveling.) Here is where the story gets terribly disturbing. The men of the town surround Lot’s house and demand Lots guests come outside so they can rape them. Lot goes outside to try to appease the crowd by offering the men his two daughters (gasp) but the crowd goes nuts and tries to kill Lot so God Has to intervene to save Lot’s life. God blinds the entire crowd, which shocks and scares the men so much that they give up on their rotten intentions and disperse. Back inside the house, the angels tell Lot to gather up the rest of his family and get out of town before God destroys the city. Lot doesn’t appear to grasp how dire this situation is because he drags his feet leaving and the angels have to grab his hand to hurry him out of the city. God tells him to run to the mountains for safety and instead of being grateful for God’s escape route, Lot asks God if he couldn’t please just go to a little village outside of town instead. God graciously agrees but tells the entire family not to look back as they flee for their lives. Then God “rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed the people and every bit of vegetation”…but Lot’s wife looked back and she turned into a pillar of salt.  Good Wednesday morning to you all! 

This is a very sick and demented group of people and in a few short verses I think we get a pretty good taste of why God decides to end the wickedness. There is so much that disturbs me in this passage, it’s hard to know where to start, but every time I read it I am dumbfounded as to why any dad’s solution to his guests (strangers) being harmed is to offer his daughters to “do with as you wish”. Really, this is the best he can come up with? I think Lot’s lame solution had more to do with saving his own neck than protecting his family or strangers. Lot had lived so long in a depraved community of people that his moral compass was broken and useless. I think he allowed his life to be shaped by his community instead living a Godly life and influencing those around him to God. I think he was reluctant to leave when God was trying to save his life because he didn’t want to give up all he’d worked for and accomplished in his town. I think I’m starting to understand why this chapter is included. The struggle to conform to your surroundings, and over time forsake God’s ways is a timeless and universal struggle. So I have to ask myself, am I willing to obey God, or do I choose the attractions of my culture? How much of my cultures ways am I willing to tolerate in my life? Am I consistently evaluating my choices with God’s principles? Let’s let this chapter motivate us to consider evaluating our choices today. Let’s take these next 12-14 hours and be mindful of every choice we can recognize and measure each against God’s principles. Let’s be honest and be willing to look for the truth in what motivates us to choose what we choose. 

Praise the Lord

Today’s reading is Psalm 146


Like Jon wrote earlier this week, I find myself thinking back over the past year and evaluating this Bible Journal year. It has been a gift that I am grateful for. It has pushed me and challenged me to look more closely at God’s word and to determine more of what God is trying to say to me. Deb mentioned yesterday, these final Psalms are perfect Christmas gifts. I agree!  Ps 146 is a beautiful way to sum up the truths we have discussed together this year.


  • Praise the Lord! No really, praise the Lord as long as I live, with every breath, to my dying day. Praise Him for who he is, what He has done, how He loves us, how He has saved us, because He loves us so much He wants to save us, because He desires to be with us, because He loves the ones I love more than I am able to, because He protects me and the ones I love, … we could make an entire journal devoted to documenting the praiseworthiness of God. We could write in it every day for years and years until we die and still not be able to list all of His worth. Yet this Being chooses us. He wants to share our lives with us. He wants to make a way for us to be with Him here on this earth and for eternity. Who are we to deserve this kind of lavish love and pursuing?
  • Don’t put your confidence in powerful people, there is no help for you there, but joyful are those whose hope is in the Lord your God. vs 6 “He keeps every promise forever.” Can we really even comprehend this promise? Can we really grasp that the Creator of the universe keeps every promise forever? Maybe we should look into starting another blog where each time we come across one of His promises in the Bible we document it and leave the running list open to meditate on, search through, seek encouragement from and lean on in hard times.
  • The Lord will reign forever. He will be your God throughout the generations. Praise the Lord! This my friends is hope for 2018 and every year after. With all of the “hard”, sin, and disaster swirling around us in this world right now I need to know that He will reign forever, that He will be my, and my kids, and grandkids, God throughout their lives and beyond. I need to know that He knows what is going on and that He is reigning when it feels like things are spinning out of control. God being my God throughout generations brings peace and hope in the turmoil that this world continues to hand me. Praise the Lord! “Praise the Lord” is a weak “thank you” for this kind of gift. I find myself frustrated by my lack of words to express my gratefulness for this kind of promise. I have to ask  the Holy Spirit to intercede for me, to put into words, or convey my heart to God when I can’t find the words to do it justice. When I think on this, I understand why David said over and over in the Psalms to shout for joy, praise Him with the cymbals, dance before Him. Our words are not enough to express our joy and gratefulness!

As we come to the end of another year and  take a few minutes to reflect on 2017, can we take the time, and maybe find a different way to “praise the Lord” this year to express our gratefulness for how He has loved us?   

Is Anything Worth More

Today’s reading is Mark 8 and Ps 132


This year we have spent quite a bit of time looking at the Gospels and the relationships between Jesus and His disciples. Mark 8 tells us two miracles that Jesus did and it shows us several conversations that Jesus had with His disciples. I’ve had the privilege of writing on both of those miracles and the discussion Jesus and Peter have in this chapter so today I want to concentrate on the last few verses of Mark 8.

Vs38” Calling the crowd to join His disciples, He said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your own soul?”

I think as Christians, we have heard this passage or portions of it, quoted so often we get a little callous to what Jesus was trying to convey to the crowd, His disciples and to us. When this was written, the people it was written to were under Roman rule and the phrase “take up your cross” was common knowledge to all. Everyone knew that death on a cross was the form of execution used by Roman soldiers for dangerous criminals and they knew that a prisoner had to carry his own cross to the place of execution to show submission to Rome’s power. So Jesus was saying to these people, take up your cross and follow Me, meaning, show submission to Me by choosing to follow Me instead of choosing to satisfying yourself. One of the commentaries I looked at said, “Jesus asks us for submission, not self-hatred; He asks us only to lose our self-centered determination to be in charge.” That makes the meaning hit home hard and fast for me. Lose my self-centered determination to be in charge. Isn’t this what we all want, control? Don’t we want to manage our own schedules, set our own priorities, value the people we choose to value, spend our money the way we want to and then fit Jesus into what is left of our life? “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus knows we need more convincing…more to think through and consider. “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” We are so human. It’s all we know. Life on earth is all we have experienced. It’s hard to be human and live for eternity. It requires trust, belief and real relationship with God. We humans have the hardest time grasping that life on earth is temporary. Stuff, position and power are worthless compared to our souls, eternal life with Him. Is anything worth more than your soul? When I am able to get my perspective right on this and give over my desire for control, stuff, position and power to follow God’s plan, God is so gracious. He gifts eternal life plus an abundant and joy filled life here on earth. He loves us so well that eternal life isn’t enough of a gift for Him to give. We matter so much to Him that He wants to help us change and become more like Him while we are on this earth. He gives us part of Himself, to live inside us to guide, teach, convict and grow each of us in His Spirit. So as we close today, I ask you to spend some more time with Jesus question. “Is anything worth more than your own soul?”

Anchor For Our Souls


Today’s reading is John 16 and Ps 118

John 16 is mostly comprised of Jesus telling His disciples about plans for the future, what they should expect and what they will experience, and what will happen to Himself. None of this is easy news for the disciples to hear or grasp. I sort of feel like after a short three years of time with Jesus, they might just be getting the hang of how to do ministry with Him. They might just be beginning to understand God’s power in themselves and the call to bring the good news to the rest of the world. They are just now figuring out their role in traveling with Jesus and teaching with Him. …and then Jesus sits down with them for a discussion and everything changes.

Jesus tells His disciples that they will be kicked out of the synagogues, people will be trying to kill them, they will be scattered, each one going his own way and worst of all Jesus is leaving them. They are so taken back by this news that they don’t even think to ask Him where He is going. They are shellshocked and can only deal with how this is affecting their lives. Then Jesus continues by saying that it is actually best for them if He goes away. How can this be? He IS the ministry, how can they continue to teach and convert people to faith in Him if He is not with them?

We know the end of the story. We know that God’s plan is that Jesus gives His life to pay for our sin so we can be made clean and new. We know that His perfect blood draining from His body is what pays the price to purchase us and make it possible for us to be in God’s presents. We know that we live with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit in us every day. These poor disciples have their entire world flopped upside-down in one conversation and they don’t seem real comfortable or confident in the new plans. They don’t understand. I can only guess that in their minds they are wondering why everything can’t just stay as is, and why they can’t continue Jesus ministry WITH Him. They can’t see God’s plan. We have a different vantage point to view this chapter, and boy are we grateful that God completed His plan and made a way for us to be with Him.

How often are we scared, sad or frustrated with our circumstances because they don’t make sense to us? We don’t understand why we are going through this pain or hardship. It doesn’t make sense that God would allow us to land where we have landed. Surely He hasn’t seen how this affects us? This seems harsh, but sometimes the stuff we face isn’t about us. Jesus was accomplishing He and His Father’s plan to save all of mankind. Even though He loves His friends dearly, and knows how hard these circumstances will be for them to live through, He still needs to finish the plan. So knowing the disciples’ fear, frustration and questions, Jesus says three things to them in this chapter to help them through this really hard time.

1, vs 12 “I want to tell you so much more, but you can’t bear it now.”  He knows how they feel. He sees their fear, and feels their frustration. He wants to help them through this with more information but He knows that more information is too much for them to take right now so He protects them from more than they can handle.

2, vs 22 “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy.” Again, He knows how they feel after this news, but He gives them hope. He tells them that it will get hard, but He will see them again and their joy will be great.

Finally 3, vs 33 “I have told you all of this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” Who can comfort us this way, with these powerful words? No one but God! Knowing that we will face hard things, He wants us to have His peace. He assures us that no matter how hard our lives are, eternity is with Him because He has overcome the world. Does this truth make our lives easier? Does it remove the sting of pain when life is hard? Does it take away our frustration when we feel we have been wronged? We still have to live through the pain, frustration and fear on earth but we have hope. Heb 6:18-19 tells us, “ We who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”