The Greatest Artist

Numbers 24; Psalms 66–67; Isaiah 14; 1 Peter 2

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—
so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.
-Psalm 67:1-2

One crisp fall day, when I was much younger, my freind Pete and I walked into the gallery inside the art museum where Pete declared, “look it’s a Picasso! That’s so cool.”

It was neat to finally see some of the masterpieces that we had studied in our sixth grade Art Appreciation class.

“Hey” I said, “let’s go see the post-impressionist’s collection, I’ve heard it’s amazing.”  I almost had an out-of-body experience when we saw what was perhaps Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous painting, ‘The Starry Night’ — painted from the window of his insane aslyum. The colors and shapes were incredible; yellows and blues that expressed an ethereal kinetic energy — the painting seemed to actually be moving.”

It was so beautiful I felt it in my soul, and the desperation and hope of the artist; a tormented being, struggling with bipolar disorder, searching for the grace of God.

Seeing “The Starry Night” and other original art masterpieces for the first time was a special moment, but my appreciation wasn’t complete without knowing something about the artists. I wanted to understand their stories. Who were these artists, what were their lives about? A masterpiece without a master was just another great painting.

I think the desire to understand the artist behind the art is human nature, like the desire to elevate heroes and champions. I wondered; where had this need originated? Was this some biological adaptation, or was it a seed that had been planted in our soul?

As a small boy, I loved and appreciated art, especially the artists. My mother and even some of her freinds were artists. These were all wonderfully interesting people that I wanted to emulate. So as a young man I became something of an artist myself; even building my identity upon how people responded what my gift enabled me to create. Years later I finally understood that while it was glorious to revel in the gifts that had been bestowed upon me, my greatest joy was found in worshipping the source of all gifts — it was God, the giver!

God was the source of every good thing. But for some reason, in times of need or apathy, instead of turning toward God first, I would often turn to the things that God had created in order to find joy. Each time I did, eventually I wound up disappointed. Temporary happiness, it turned out, was no substitute for eternal joy.

God was, and is, and will always be the greatest artist. His art is the creation and everything in it. Remarkably, we too are creative — being made in God’s image. In this way we were made for fellowship with God, and incredible as this sounds, we have a lot in common with the greatest source of power in all existence! Everything in God’s creation was made to reflect God’s glory. The splendor of the natural world, the smile of a child, acts of human kindness or creativity, and even our ingenuity; these are all wonderful expressions of God. Yet none of these amazing and wonderful things are actually God.

Humans are God’s finest work, and we are designed for fellowship with God, and to point to, and Glorify God. We are meant to worship the Creator, not the creation — and especially not ourselves!

God wants to be known by us so that we might become complete. By knowing God we discover that we are able to have an actual relationship with the creator of heaven and earth. This is a dynamic relationship. Supernatural as this relationship may be, remarkably, it also occurs on a personal human level. It is a relationship that involves the deepest love possible — God’s love for us. This love is expressed in the person of Jesus the Christ; as God who became a man and died willingly to connect us back to Himself; and as our Heavenly Father who allows us to become his children through our faith, by his grace, as we receive His Holy Spirit. We come to experience God as three persons in one godhead — the mysterious Trinity, which reflects the eternal, the personal, and the spiritual nature of God. He is the source of endless and complete joy which is available to us all.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. -John 1:12

We were born to be great people by humbling ourselves before God, honoring and praising God and seeking God’s perfect will over our own. This is the process of the relationship we are called to have. But in order to have this relationship we must first believe God exists. This requires faith.

In my relationship with God over the years, one of the hardest parts has been to overcome my pride. It is so hard to let go of two notions: 1. that I am the most important person in my life; and 2. that I am a good person. This is not to say I should be down on myself, but the reality is, I am a sinner, and the concept of my sinful nature has been hard for me to accept. Yet it is this constant imperfection and lack of purity and holiness that separates me from God, but for His grace.

Even things that seem good can be sinful. For example, when we worship the creation and not the Creator; or when in the pride of our achievement we take the place of God in our own lives, perhaps unknowingly we put ourselves above God. In this we fall short of receiving the full blessings that God intended for us. God always has a better plan!

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! -1 John:3-1

Despite our constant intentional and unintentional sin, God still provides for us. But it is only by our faith that we are able to be restored into righteous fellowship. Despite our sinful nature, God clears a path, leading us past our sin and directly to Him. There is a catch however; we must believe to receive His blessings and His gifts that are intended to allow us to grow His kingdom and to glorify His name.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  –Hebrews 11:6

By the grace of God, by our faith in His mercy, through the sacrificial blood of Jesus, we are forgiven of all sins and our reconciliation to a holy and perfect God is made possible. By faith we trust God and in that trust we are able to fellowship with God. In this fellowship we subordinate our will to God’s perfect will and receive God’s Holy Spirit who dwells within us; and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are changed. As we overcome our sinful nature and participate in the expansion of God’s kingdom, a spiritual reality of amazing proportion and consequence becomes our reality.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. -1 Peter 2:9-10

In the final analysis of our lives, we will confess the name of Jesus and the magnificence of God. We can do this now and enjoy an abundant life of peace and joy despite our circumstances; or we can wait and find out how our trajectory, for all eternity, is determined by what or who we choose to put our trust in. We have free will. It is our choice.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -Philippians 2:9-11

Mr. Ed?

Donkey funny is a cute baby donkey sticking his nose in the camera to see what the heck is going on. ** Note: Shallow depth of field

Numbers 23; Psalms 64–65; Isaiah 13; 1 Peter 1

In Numbers 22 yesterday, we were introduced to the Moabite King named Balak.  He was afraid.  Knowing what the Israelites had just finished doing to the Amorites, King Balak and his people were distressed as they looked out and saw thousands of Israelites camped on the plains of Moab.  As any good leader would do, Balak took action.  He sent for Balaam, a “diviner” with an impressive track record, to help him take care of the situation.  “Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Numbers 22:6).

I find it interesting that Balaam is not a prophet of God. He is a diviner or sorcerer.  However, God still steps in and provides Balaam instruction.  God tells him not to go with the Moabite princes and not to curse the Israelites because they were God’s chosen people.  Balaam desperately wanted the riches and honor King Balak had promised him.  So he persisted with God, hoping to change God’s mind.  Surprisingly, God compromised and let Balaam go. And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you” (Numbers 22:20).  So far so good, Balaam was getting what he wanted (or at least he thought so)!  Here is where it started to get crazy…

Balaam set out on a donkey, but God sent angels to block the way. Balaam was frustrated and beat the donkey because it wasn’t going where he wanted it to go.  THEN, God opened the donkey’s mouth and he started talking to Balaam!  (What, a talking donkey?  This sounds like a bad television show.)  After the donkey made Balaam feel bad for the beating, God opened Balaam’s eyes to see an angel of God standing in the donkey’s way.  Balaam fell on his face.  While he offered to change direction / to turn back and not go to meet King Balak, the angel affirmed God’s earlier instruction, “And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word I tell you (Numbers 22:35).  So far so good, Balaam is still getting what he wants!

When we get to Numbers 23, Balaam has King Balak set up alters and offer sacrifices to God. But the outcome was not a curse on the Israelites like King Balak requested.  Rather, having to speak the words God instructed, Balaam blessed the people of Israel.  Four times King Balak requested a curse and received a blessing in return.  By the end of Numbers 24, Balaam and Balak part ways.

This story is hard to follow. I’ll admit, a talking donkey is kind of weird and somewhat entertaining, but what is God teaching us with this story?  Remember – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  A few key lessons to consider:

  • God is sovereign – The plans of influential and powerful men, like King Balak, will not prosper without the Lord’s permission. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand, (Proverbs 19:21).
  • God uses a variety of means to accomplish his purpose – In Numbers 22-24, God used both a pagan sorcerer and a talking donkey to accomplish his plan. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”, (Isaiah 55:8-9).
  • Outward appearances aren’t enough – Balaam gave the impression he was God’s prophet; he had King Balak build alters and offer sacrifices to God; he spoke God’s words of blessing on the Israelites. But make no mistake about it, he was clearly in it for himself. Later in Numbers, we will see Balaam wreak more havoc on the Israelites. Unfortunately he never truly put his faith in God.  For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

This last key lesson is where I think the rubber meets the road for many of us.  Remember, God’s plan for salvation requires us to take action. …if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved, (Romans 10:9-10). It isn’t enough to be a good person, to go to Church, to say the right things, to “hang out” with God and to sound godly.  God requires more. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8-11).

God requires our hearts.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).

Lessons From Mom

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (James 5:12)

Numbers 22; Psalms 62–63; Isaiah 11–12; James 5

James 5:12 has a long history in my life. It was perhaps the first verse of the Bible that my mom shared with me in my adult years during a time I was willing to listen.

With James being the half brother of Jesus, he must have heard Jesus preaching the word over and over, observed Jesus perfection and closeness to God the Father, and witnessed Jesus perform numerous miracles. Growing up in a Godly home, observing the Sabbath, obeying the laws of Moses, and having Jesus Christ as a sibling would surely equate to immediate conversion to becoming a Christ follower right? Nope.

For not even his brothers believed in him. (John 7:5)

As Jillian mentioned in an earlier post, James became an ambassador for Christ only after the resurrection. All signs pointed to Jesus as the Christ through the entire life of James but his eyes weren’t opened and his heart just didn’t believe right away.

I compare this to those of us who grew up in a home where there was christian teaching and regular church attendance, but we don’t come to a true faith in Jesus until later in life. This post isn’t about all of the reasons why it took me so long; it is about the fact that there were many seeds planted over the years by someone who cared, and at least not all of those seeds were lost. I’m so thankful that while I may not have fully believed, I knew there was some deep down truth to be sought.

Thanks mom for never giving up on me, and more importantly for being a christian leader, teacher, and humble servant. This post was written on Mother’s Day 2016 and is dedicated to you.

My mom taught me many valuable life lessons, some that she probably doesn’t realize she taught me and some that I don’t realize came from her.

Here are just a few of the things that stand out that I learned from my mom. Of course this is not a comprehensive list, nor are they written in any order of importance, but just the first main themes that came to mind:

  1. She’d remind me, “tell the truth Jon…” More important than this being a rule to be obeyed, she taught me why it is so important. That when lying, it is nearly impossible to regain someone’s trust. Fortunately my loving, caring mom taught me this at a young age so that I didn’t have to learn it the hard way.
  2. She was relentless in teaching me the proper usage of “to, too, and two” and “their, they’re, there”, etc. Please don’t blame her for any of my grammatical mistakes or shortcomings; those are all on me. You might say, “seriously, number two on the list is spelling and grammar?” Well, the most important lesson learned wasn’t actually the subject matter. The most valuable lesson in this was that she instilled in me a desire for precision and accuracy. Much of the success in my ability to generate income for my family goes back to this. I’ve made a living over the last twenty years assessing the preciseness and accuracy of computer software systems, seeking to identify small nuances and patterns that can result in major problems.
  3. She has been a visible example of a Christ follower and prayer warrior for most of her life. Having this influence in the home where I grew up set the foundation for my life in eternity with our creator. For any moms out there reading this wondering if your children will ever turn it around and follow Jesus, I have two things to say. Don’t stop praying, and don’t give up.
  4. My mom didn’t teach me how to cook as much as she taught me something more important. She taught me why I should cook, and she taught me the art of cooking rather than the science. Why cook? To serve others, to create something new, to collaborate with someone, and to talk and bond in the process. As for the art: My mom has this amazing ability to throw a bunch of seemingly random ingredients together and make a meal taste amazing. She taught me to experiment with food, and while I possess a giant stack of cookbooks and subscribe to cooking related magazines, I rarely follow the recipes. My wife loves it when I play “test kitchen” in our home, and I love it too.
  5. Love one another. When my sisters and I didn’t get along, my mom didn’t go the punishment route. She insisted that we treat each other with love and kindness; she rightfully mandated that we “get along”. In other words, “figure it out”, there is a solution, but you have to work together. It means compromise, compassion, patience, and love. This mandate has greatly shaped my parenting skills. Our boys realize that human relationships can be hard, but we that they cannot give up on each other. I pray that this is a principle that transforms their own marriages and children for generations to come.

Thanks mom!

Unplanned

RMNP-BearLake-DSC07881

Numbers 21; Psalms 60–61; Isaiah 10:5–34; James 4

This last week, I had the privilege of taking my son to the Rocky Mountains. It was a short trip, justIMG_0037 three days, so I wanted to make the most of it. I had two goals. First, I wanted to spend a lot of time with him, and second, I wanted to spend some time planning for the rest of 2016.  If I am completely honest, one major purpose in spending a lot of time with Freddy is to examine how he is faring. I mean, we only have six, or so, years before he sets off for college! As a good father, I need to evaluate his planning and dreaming skills. Additionally, I want to influence what is in his head.

Among my few to-dos while I am on the road is this entry for BibleJournal.net. While reading James 4, early Monday morning, the Holy Spirit thumped my heart. In part, he reminded me that we are “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) I couldn’t shake it. The Spirit instructed me, in that moment, that the reason we came to the Rocky Mountains was not to make great plans for the next several years (James 4:13). No, the purpose became clear as we approached Rocky Mountain National Park. Being absolutely captivated by its beauty, I understood that we were here to enjoy and celebrate breathtaking beauty. And that is exactly what we did. We did not sit piously and passively.  IMG_0022How could we? The majesty of His creation blasted its way deep into our hearts. In reply, we stomped and shouted throughout his handiwork. We left giant footprints as our voices echoed throughout the valley. We sang stupid songs, threw snowballs and filled the air with laughter. We saw our breath in the cold mountain air and hollered over the thunderous roar of waterfalls.  We pondered big questions like “why did God make it all,” and “why did he make it so complex?” We settled on really simple answers like “because He can,” and “so that we will never get bored.”  We stood motionless and silent, marveling at how He did it.  We worshipped!

After a long trip home, I find that I have planned nothing. Ironically, my celebration of His creation, left me with a bigger dream than I could have imagined. I want to enjoy God more.  If the Lord wills me a tomorrow, my prayer is to see his beauty everyday, right here, right now, in the place that I live. Father, show me what to look for and where to look.

I found God this week. He was with us.  He is with us. Will we be with Him?

How to control your tongue

Today’s reading: Numbers 20; Psalms 58–59; Isaiah 9:8–10:4; James 3

May 11th, 2016

At some point a Christian begins to understand what he thinks, says and does are important to his Father and LORD. At this point that same Christian realizes how wretched he is and how great God’s mercy is.

When Jesus showed up everything changed for the Israelites. The word had become flesh and their judgement was now staring them in the face, no longer to be hidden behind the false teachings of the pharisees. His sermon on the mount made clear that no one was getting away with appearances anymore. The pharisees with all their rites and rituals, were false. Following them, striving to be like them and seeking their approval, righteous in the eyes of man, was a lie. God knows your heart and Jesus came to make this clear by showing us all; what you think matters.

Our thoughts are a battleground. We have victory in Christ to the degree that we have a single eye for Him. To the degree we pursue Him and Him alone, shunning the false promises of this world and placing His promises in our constant focus. This is a result of a true belief and understanding of God’s word and it allows us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. I have come to believe that taming a tongue starts with taking thoughts captive.

From today’s reading James teaches us a lesson in this area. He starts by warning us of the power of the tongue. How it controls the course of our lives. Know this truth:

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. – James 3:4–7

James takes particular interest in rebuking the reader of how we use our tongue with our fellows.

Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. – James 3:9–10

James then puts rounds out this lesson by shining light on the truth of the difference between heavenly wisdom and world wisdom of the devil:

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. – James 3:13–18

If we are to believe the Word as truth, the question then becomes; where is your tongue taking you?

taming the tongue

God may our heart’s desire and trust in You and You alone and may our tongues always lead us in Your ways. May worldly wisdom be kept far from us along with envy and strife. May Your wisdom fill our hearts pure, peaceable, gentle, easily intreated, full of mercy, good fruits, impartial, and whole in truth. May we make peace with all.

In God We Trust

Today’s Reading: Numbers 19; Psalms 56–57; Isaiah 8–9:7; James 2

May 10, 2016

Who can you trust? Many people put their trust in a variety of things or people. People trust in diets, oils, knowledge, jobs, money, and organizations or individuals. People often trust in others and are upset and angry when they get let down. I want to share that this initial pain and suffering we go through isn’t the “end all be all” or a reason you can talk bad about a person, but a reminder where our trust needs to be. Our life is too short and fleeting for us to become angry at someone for breaking our trust causing a period of time where you reject that person.  (I’ve selfishly made this mistake many times in my life including with my family.)

Psalm 56:4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. what can flesh do to me? – Amen

My prayer is that in our fleeting lives we are putting all our trust in God in all things. Understanding that by His grace and love we are here.  The more trust you put in God with your life, the less afraid you will be.  Share this faith with your family, children, and others. What an amazing and priceless gift to say I give it  All to Him. Even in our deepest fear, pain, and sorrow, God cares! God understands. Like Jill referenced yesterday the testing of our faith (trust) produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-4) He knows everything about us including the number of hairs on our head and the plans he has for us. (Matthew 10:30 & Jeremiah 29:11)

There is a rare but serious condition in which an infant or child doesn’t establish a healthy attachment with parents or caregivers.  This condition is called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). This disorder may develop if a child’s basic needs of love and care are not met. This disorder reminds me of a life without God. The symptoms are withdrawal, fear, sadness, or irritability that is not readily explained. Sounds familiar. The treatment includes positive child and caregiver interactions as well as a stable and nurturing environment. To me, the treatment is God.

Psalm 56:11 In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?

God is here! He is with us and he goes before us. For some he is just waiting for you to put all your trust in him. I know I still selfishly try to do things on my own and God reminds me that in all we do we should trust in Him.

  • So what keeps you up at night?
  • When do you replace your faith in God with worry?
  • How do you live so others plainly see your trust in God? 

Dear God,

Thank You for everything You do for us. Reminding us that it’s not about me, but You. Give us the courage and heart to be willing to surrender all aspects of our life to You. The true joy in our life comes when we surrender it all to you.

Here is a song to start off your day.  Eye of the Storm

While listening look over some of these verses on trust.trust

John 3:18

Matthew 6:34

Psalms 125:1

Psalms 9:10

Consider it Pure Joy

Today’s Readings: Numbers 17-18, Psalm 55, Isaiah 7 and James 1

James!!!! Oh friends, it’s Monday and I’m so joyous because today we are starting the writings of James. For once I know a whole lot about this particular scripture and I’m so excited to share it with you. Let’s begin at the beginning:

 “And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ”Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:53-55)

 There you have it. James was the brother or more accurately the half brother of Jesus, the one and only. Doesn’t that change your perspective a bit? More research shows us that at first James wasn’t a believer. In fact, he didn’t become an “ambassador for Christ” until after the resurrection. In Acts 1:14 and then in 1 Corinthians 15:7 we learn that Jesus appeared to James and then his twelve apostles shortly after the resurrection. This appearance convinced James that Jesus was indeed the Christ, he later went on to lead the Jerusalem church. The book was probably written around 48-52 A.D. James died somewhere between 62-66 A.D. James’ letter was written to address the broad audience of Jewish Christians living in or around Palestine. These early believers did not have the support of established Christian churches, James wrote to them as a leader, to encourage them in their faith during difficult times. He opens with this:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

 I first studied the book of James from the NIV translation which begins with: “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds….” I LOVE that sentence. I say it to myself all the time. When my infant is just screaming in the back seat on the way somewhere, or when work stress is just crashing down on me. Notice that James does not say, “consider it pure joy IF you face trials” it’s “whenever you face trials!” When I think about the point of view of our author today, it puts these words into even more perspective. Imagine growing up as the younger brother of Jesus. As Jesus grew, the gospel of Luke describes his evolution into a young man filled with wisdom and gaining the favor of God and fellow man. How did his lowly younger brother feel then? Is it possible that he spent some of his young adulthood jealous of Jesus? Did part of him want to deny Jesus’ perfection? Do I ever deny God’s plan despite knowing that it is right and perfect for me simply because I want to exert my child-like will?

It’s not until after the resurrection that Jesus appears to James. We can infer from the scriptures that they are alone. (1 Corinthians 15:4-7). It is then that the transformation occurs. James, who had a history of persecuting Christians is now a Christ follower. James becomes a fearless leader of the Jerusalem Church, a witness to what later cannot be seen or heard for the people living as Christians among the Gentiles. I love this story because it reflects my own. Before I really knew anything about Christianity, I was a Gentile living among Christ followers. People that quoted scripture and met in little groups at home studying the word of God seemed strange and somehow naïve to me. Now, here I sit surrounded by 3 different bibles and book on James at my desk. I’m no modern day James, but what I am is someone that can tell my “turn around” story. It was me that was so naïve, in fact the truth is; I didn’t experience Christ until I let go of my jealousy of the Christian’s around me. Of course I didn’t know I was jealous. I only know now that the silent persecution I waged was really just a mask covering my inmost desire to be part of that chosen group. If only I had realized sooner that you don’t have to be asked to become a Christ follower, there is no audition.

Finally we arrive at the part that I find most comforting. James gives the best advice if we can just see past ourselves and take it: Count it all joy when you meet trials. In other words, we are going to have had times, James is encouraging us to use them as learning opportunities. He goes on to say that these trials will test our faith and produce steadfastness. The NIV uses the word perseverance in the place of steadfastness. Isn’t that encouraging? Imagine for a moment that you are in a large room with other Christians when suddenly all the lights go out. Then imagine that James is there with you. Instead of turning on the light, he hands you a flashlight so that you can find the switch and turn it on yourself. That’s the purpose of this message. James is giving us a flashlight so that we can bathe our trials in the light of Jesus’ promise. Our daily struggles aren’t just for the purpose of frustrating us, they are to strengthen us so that one day we will be “perfect and complete lacking in nothing.” James ends this first section with these words:

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be first fruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-18)

 Of his own will he gave us little flashlights so that we could shine a light on the truth. How many of us are carrying these flashlights in our pockets, never bringing them out and flipping the switch. I consider it pure joy that He gave me enough trials that I had no choice but to find my light. He is after all the Father of lights. I hope you’ll consider turning yours on today.

Need For Speed

Numbers 16; Psalms 52–54; Isaiah 6; Hebrews 13

The idea of authority is a double edge sword. We like believing there is justice in the world, some ultimate authority establishing order; but we also want to live lives of our choosing — making our own rules.

I just returned from spending most of this week in Las Vegas at a convention for the Manufactured Housing Industry (MHI). This event is really a big annual reunion for a diverse community of friends, fellow investors, home manufacturers, brokers and other service providers for an industry that provides affordable housing for approximately twenty million Americans. At an event sponsored by my incredible brokerage team, we offered clients an opportunity to drive ten of the most expensive sports cars in the world on a racing track with a personal professional driving coach; Ferarri’s, Lamborghini’s and others, you get the idea. This was sort of a drivers education for car racing. The driving coaches shared the rules of the track, the laws of physics and just in case we lost our minds, they had a brake pedal on the floor of the passenger side. We were instructed in the art of racing, when to go fast, how to go faster and how to negotiate curves at the highest possible speeds. Trust me when I say that I payed very close attention to my professional driving coach!

After five laps I was at the food truck talking with a friend about wealth and privilege. I asked him a question that popped into my head. “If you could design the perfect life for yourself — would it really be perfect?” He wasn’t sure he knew the answer. I believe we all desire the “perfect life”. The desire to find perfection is written on our hearts. But how do we find it? what are the rules, and who makes them?

If we make our own rules, aren’t we missing the opportunity to follow something better? Where do we find the rules for driving the best cars on the fast track of our lives?

I knew that in the absence of the belief in a personal God (one that’s still involved in the world He created) people often gravitate to the ideas like karma. But somehow karmic “authority” seems too vague for me even though I liked the concept. In theory, following this simple principle might even make life a little easier. If we believe that by being generally good, the universe will generally be good back to us, then we can then operate with a general, perhaps even self justified, sense of what the rules are. In this model, justice becomes more vague. The notion that someone is in charge, or that there are specific rules to follow, is more specific, more personal and more challenging. “Who said so?” and “why should I?” were my typical responses.

At times we accept the authority of science. We don’t seem to have much of a problem discovering and responding to the laws of nature as we understand them. You can choose to ignore gravity if you want, but the consequences always turn out the same.

Authority is also accepted when we want to learn a critical skill from someone who knows. If I want to learn to drive fast and safe, the importance of good instruction and understanding the rules is easy to grasp. So if we can respect the laws of physics; and advanced drivers education can be embraced by confidant adults, is it so hard to imagine that the creator of the universe might have laws for us to follow? Is it hard to grasp the possibility that there is a divine authority on how to live our lives? Might there be a more elevated definition of what it means to prosper, higher than those that the world offers us or that we can invent for ourselves?

God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. -Psalm 53:2

As I have come to have a personal relationship with God, I have come to understand the power and authority of God and how important it is in guiding my life. But the crazy thing is this; it was by experiencing God’s incredible love, through His amazing grace, that I was able to discover His awesome power and authority. God is the fairest of judges and the ultimate authority over heaven and earth. He does not condemn His children by grace. He loves and empowers and encourages and directs our steps along paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He has made a way for all of us to return to Him, to return to our rightful place, to fulfill our destiny. God offers redemption to all. And through Jesus Christ  by grace we are given the power to live extraordinary lives, by receiving God’s Holy Spirit. Faith in God offers us lives in the spiritual fast lane. Lives of adventure and challenge and of the greater fulfillment than we could ever imagine. Will we listen and learn?

Ladies and gentlemen it’s time to start your spiritual engines! Amen.

Prayer of Repentance

a man with the sunset behind him kneeling by a cross. ** Note: Visible grain at 100%, best at smaller sizes

Numbers 15; Psalm 51; Isaiah 5; Hebrews 12

As my children grow older and wiser (or maybe just more crafty), I find it entertaining to sit in the front seat of the car and listen to them reason things out in the back. These conversations often lead to some of the best teachable moments, opportunities to help them connect the dots and gain a deeper understanding of why things work the way they do.  One of our recurring lessons is about how the economy works.  As you would expect, the conversation almost always begins or ends with the statement, “nothing in life is really free” or “if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is (too good to be true)”.

We serve an incredibly gracious God. His goodness knows no end.  His faithfulness has been proven through generations.  This sounds too good to be true, is it?  Let’s review God’s plan for salvation:

  • God’s invitation is open to all – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
  • We all need it – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
  • We can’t earn it – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
  • Jesus paid the price for us – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
  • Here’s the hook…it requires us to take actionIf we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).

Following Jesus requires us to change, to repent and to turn from our sinful ways. Our reading in Psalm 51 today walks us through how King David repented of his sins to gain forgiveness.  David was Israel’s greatest King, he was known as a man after God’s own heart.  But he, like us, was sinful and needed to take action to make himself right with God.

The backdrop for Psalm 51 is the story of King David and Bathsheba (II Samuel 11). If you aren’t familiar with the story, here are the basic facts – from the palace rooftop, King David lustfully looked upon Bathsheba, a neighbor woman, bathing.  Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was away at war.   King David, after having sinful relations with her, learned Bathsheba was pregnant.  He set up a plot to cover up the sinful relationship.  The plan involved bringing Uriah home from war and having him reunite with his wife, in order to keep King David’s paternal relationship with Bathsheba’s baby a secret.  However, when Uriah refused the privilege of sleeping at home with his wife during his leave, King David had to take his plot to the next level.  He sent orders to have Uriah moved to the front line, where Uriah was soon killed in battle.

In II Samuel 12, God sent the Prophet Nathan to King David. Through Nathan’s conversation, King David became acutely aware of his sin and God’s displeasure with it.  He was filled with remorse.  This brings us to Psalm 51, a deeply moving picture of King David’s repentance and restoration.

Studying Matthew Henry’s text commentary this week helped me break Psalm 51 down into the five main themes of King David’s prayer. Notice each of these themes start with a verb.  Again, an action King David took to make himself right with God:

  • Confessed his sin (verses 3-6)
  • Prayed for God to pardon his sin (verses 1, 2, 7, 9)
  • Prayed for peace of conscience (verses 8 and 12)
  • Prayed for grace to sin no more (verses 10, 11, 14)
  • Promised to do good for others and for the glory of God (verses 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19)

When I was in high school youth group, we used to sing an old Keith Green song – Create in Me a Clean Heart. The lyrics were simply the words of Psalm 51:10-12.  More than 25 years later, I sometimes find myself singing this prayer to God, asking for him to walk by my side, help me rid my heart of selfish desires and yield to his ways over mine.

http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/k/keith_green/create_in_me_a_clean_heart.html

Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me

Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me

Cast me not away from Thy presence, oh Lord

Take not Thy holy spirit from me

Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation

And renew a right spirit within me