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!



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 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

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.

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

Breaking Bad (reports)

Today I’m thinking about the difference between a positive and a negative attitude, and how these attitudes can be a true measure of our faith.

Numbers 14; Psalm 50; Isaiah 3–4; Hebrews 11

Yesterday’s scripture reading included Numbers 13 where Moses sent several men to spy out the land of Canaan. The spies went as instructed, but depending on their point of view, their reports and responses differed.

First the favorable view and response that reflected faith in God. Caleb saw the goodness that God had been promising all along and was eager to continue toward that goodness in obedience.

27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” (Numbers 13:27, 30)

And then the bad report and response that demonstrated a lack of faith in God. Remember, God had been promising he would take them to this land, and that he would be with them; they just needed to trust him. Except here, they saw some adversity, ignored the goodness, ignored all that God had done thus far and chose to shrink in fear. This is blatant lack of trust in God’s very specific plan for them.

Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” (Numbers 13:31)

Isn’t it interesting that the same group of people witnessed the same events, but yet their individual responses varied so greatly? Remember, these are the same people who were slaves in Egypt, but were rescued by God through Moses and had been wandering through the desert en route to the promised land. God had been taking care of them, feeding them, guiding them, day and night, but again some adversity and they chose to check out.

When the congregation heard the bad report, they decided that it would have been better to go back to Egypt to become slaves, or better to have died in Egypt rather than be there in the desert. On the opposite side, those who put their trust in God responded in in an optimistic manner.

If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:8-9)

Numbers 14 reflects how serious God is with regard to how he wants us to trust him in all things. Those who chose not to trust him were severely punished, and those who did trust him were greatly rewarded.

But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. (Numbers 14:24)

After spending a lot of time considering Numbers 13-14, I started to see examples in the lives of others as well as my own where our faith is being tested (perhaps always tested) through a similar pattern; something like this:

  1. We’re on a certain path, unsure as to what is ahead.
  2. There are hardships and unknowns, and even some bad reports.
  3. There is also evidence of God’s faithfulness and goodness; a call to trust him.

In this pattern, we have free will and can choose to either listen to the bad reports, live in fear and give up, or we can be thankful for what we have and trust that God has always, and will always hold us in his hands.

The pattern played out for me recently. Our son Peyton had outdoor education this week. It was a two night trip for his entire fifth grade class to East Bay Camp in Hudson, Illinois. Several weeks ago in preparation for the retreat, the school asked dads to volunteer to stay in the cabins with the boys overnight. My first instinct was, I’m all in; I love being a dad, and I want to be there for my son.

Except I had heard a bad report about this volunteer mission and actually had people tell me not to go. It would probably be cold, rainy, and muddy. The kids would likely be all wound up or over-tired and misbehave, and would stay up too late. The accommodations would be miserable, dirty, and uncomfortable. I’d actually heard this from more than one person, so what was I to think?

Fortunately I trusted my God-given instincts and decided that no matter how bad the report was, the right thing to do was to volunteer – and it was amazing! I cannot imagine having missed out on this event. When Peyton looked me in the eyes and thanked me for being there, it made it all worthwhile and nearly brought me to tears. I got to observe my son and his peers having so much fun, there was a beautiful campfire, a night hike through the woods, s’mores, and giggling little kids having a total blast. Priceless moments that can never ever be replicated in this lifetime with that little boy. What if I missed that because of a bad report? Now I am actually in tears.

Lessons learned and questions to consider:

  1. We need to be careful with how we share our observations. If we see something potentially negative, how much should we share this information?
  2. Consider the source of the bad report. Did this person witness/experience the negative thing first hand?
  3. Even with a substantiated bad report, what are the opportunities that may be hidden within?

We were created by an Almighty God to live with purpose on this earth. My purpose is not laying around on the comfort of my couch, zoning out in front of the television to escape the realities of life. God created us so that we would please him and trust in him and his goodness, and from that we will be rewarded.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)