Great American Heroes

Kyiv. Ukraine - October 3 2010: 42nd US President Bill Clinton during the "Battle for the Future" devoted to the fight against AIDS at St. Michael's Square in Kyiv

Joshua 11; Psalm 144; Jeremiah 5; Matthew 19

The historical context for today’s scripture in Jeremiah chapter 5 is Jeremiah’s prophesy about impending judgment to the tribe of Judah because of their sinful, idolatrous ways. God’s chosen people being disobedient to his ways is not a new storyline.  We have seen it over and over as we’ve journeyed through the first five books of the Old Testament these past six months.  But as I studied Jeremiah 5 this week, the words of verses 5:30-31 are heavy on my heart.

A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land:  The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.  But what will you do in the end (Jeremiah 5:30-31)?

Does the phrase “and my people love it this way” create a pit in your stomach like it does mine? Does prophesying lies, ruling by their own authority and LOVING IT sound exactly like 21st century America?

Remember in early 2015 when Brian Williams, trusted NBC news anchor, admitted he lied about being shot at in a helicopter over Iraq in order to boost his credibility and importance?

What about Lance Armstrong’s heroic story of winning seven consecutive Tour de France races after beating cancer, only to find out he had lied about using performance enhancing drugs? In 2012, after being stripped of his titles and receiving a lifetime ban from competing in all sports that follow the World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines, Armstrong FINALLY admitted that some of the allegations were true.

Both of these scandals ended with an element of justice, as the heroic figures were never really able to recover from their downfall. But this isn’t how things always turn out in 21st century America.  How quickly can you come up with American “heroes” that are flourishing in spite of their deceitful actions?  It isn’t too hard.  Does our country sound similar to the tribe of Judah in Jeremiah’s time?  Do we really LOVE it this way?

Kobe Bryant, star basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers, was accused of rape in 2003. While never convicted of the crime, he eventually admitted to adultery and lost his sponsors for a time.  But do you remember the media hype when he retired from the NBA this past season?  It was crazy.  Despite the Lakers finishing the season at the bottom of the Western Conference, Kobe Bryant was all over SportsCenter for days.  He was heralded as one of the best NBA players of all time.  The Staples Center went on to sell $1.2 million of Kobe gear, including a piece of the court he played his last game on for a whopping $179k, during that final night.  Does this sounds like Americans LOVE it this way?

In 1998 President Bill Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury due to an extra marital affair. For weeks, he denied the allegations, twisted words and attempted to marginalize his sinful actions.  In 1999 he became the first American President to be found not guilty after he had already been impeached.  In spite of this scandal, Bill Clinton is still regarded as one of America’s most loved presidents.  He is so popular that, today, he is earning an estimated $250,000 per speaking engagement.  Does this sounds like Americans LOVE it this way?

Please don’t mistake my message. As Christ followers, we are called to forgive. My focus here is not on forgiveness for sin, it is on a destructive cultural pattern.  Elevating celebrities/sports figures/politicians to iconic status, and worshipping them instead of the one true God, is so natural it rarely causes concern in 21st century America.  The Bible is clear – this behavior leads to destruction and separation from God.  Very scary.  As Christ followers, do we have the courage to be different?

God would you help us see the idols in our lives that take our focus off of you? Would you replace them with an irresistible desire for you and you alone?

ACTS

Joshua 10; Psalms 142–143; Jeremiah 4; Matthew 18

Several years ago I had the life-changing honor and privilege to participate in a study called Discipleship Essentials, written by Greg Ogden. One of the many takeaways from that study was on a model for prayer (keyword “model”, not a “mandate” as there are many ways to pray) using what is referred to as an acrostic to help teach us to pray. The model is ACTS; Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. ACTS invigorated my prayer life over the years and has served as a reminder to make confession a regular part of prayer as it is often very tempting to skip right to the “bless me” or “save me” part.

The ACTS pattern popped out at me today through Psalm 143. Here’s how I saw it and a good example for our own prayer lives.

Adoration: In verse one, David opens up by addressing God as Lord; his ruler, humbling himself before him and asking him to listen. I read this as “You are God and I am not”; it sets the record straight. David specifically expresses adoration through referencing God as faithful and righteous.

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
    give ear to my pleas for mercy!
    In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! (Psalm 143:1)

Confession: David is acknowledging that he is a sinner. We all are. No one living is righteous before him. It is very tempting to skip over this part of prayer because we all have sins and it hurts to confess, however God already knows our sins. Confession is telling God what he already knows. When I get to the confession part and nothing is immediately there to confess, I ask God to reveal my sins that I’ve forgotten or suppressed… and the floodgates open… talk about an answer to prayer…

Enter not into judgment with your servant,
   for no one living is righteous before you. (Psalm 143:2)

Thanksgiving: Reflecting on what God has done and expressing gratitude.

I remember the days of old;
  I meditate on all that you have done;
  I ponder the work of your hands. (Psalm 143:5)

Supplication: Asking God to meet your needs and the needs of others. In Psalm 143:7-12, David asks:

  1. For the Lord to answer him quickly.
  2. For God to not hide his face from him (or for God to be near and present).
  3. To hear of God’s steadfast love.
  4. For direction; the way he should go.
  5. For deliverance from his enemies; to be within God’s refuge.
  6. To be taught to do God’s will.
  7. To be led by the Spirit.
  8. For his life to be preserved for God’s glory.
  9. For his soul to be brought out of trouble (again, deliverance).

And finally David has faith that God will answer his prayer; that in His love he will cut off his enemies and destroy the adversaries of his soul. As we worship our God through prayer, we can trust he will take over; we should be faithful because he is faithful.

Productive Faith

5920447977_f84dff5a33_o_cropped_0Joshua 9; Psalms 140–141; Jeremiah 3; Matthew 17

If only my faith were the size of a mustard seed. Then, I could move mountains. Nothing would be impossible. That is what Jesus tells us today in Matthew 17:20. This is difficult to believe, at best. My struggle with it has me questioning what faith is. Sure, I am familiar with the definition that is provided in Hebrews 11:1. It says that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” While this is a good definition of faith, it doesn’t help me believe that I can move a mountain. In fact, I can barely move the dining room table!  What gives?

Don’t you think that this is what the disciples were dealing with? They tried and tried to drive the demon from the boy but were unable. Why not? Jesus doesn’t give them a practical answer, he simply says, “Because of your little faith.” (Matthew 17:20). The secret, he tells them, is to “have more faith.” So how is it that we get more faith?

It is helpful to look at a couple of people who have exhibited true faith. One man appears in Matthew 9. Jesus restores his sight after the man confesses his faith. Jesus affirms his faith saying, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29). Another story involves a woman begging for her daughter’s healing. She worshipped and pleaded with Jesus. Finally, he responds, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28). There is also the centurion. He understands authority and ascribes the same to Jesus. Jesus affirms him and says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 1:9). How is it that these people had such faith? What is the difference? The answer is found in the object of focus.

These examples reveal three traits of faith.  First, the blind man confesses his belief, second, the woman worships and third, the centurion acknowledges Jesus’ authority. While these are separate and distinct traits, they have one commonality.   Their focus is on Jesus. According to A.W. Tozer, “faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all.” This is clear in these three examples. When we worship, confess and concede authority to God, we cease to be important. God becomes all. Tozer continues, “Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus.” The result? The work we are trying to do gets done. Not on our own behalf or for our own satisfaction, but for God’s.

What have you been diligently working on that just isn’t working?  Do you have a persistent flaw that is keeping you from being the person you know God wants you to be?  Tozer says to, “Stop tinkering with your soul and look away to the perfect One.”

All A.W. Tozer quotes are taken from his excellent work The Pursuit of God.  Check out the FREE Kindle version!

Victory Plan

Today’s reading: Joshua 8; Psalm 139; Jeremiah 2; Matthew 16

July 6th, 2016

As I read Matthew 16: 21-28 I can not help but echo @BakerPastor’s sermon from this past Sunday. Victory is Christ changes everything! The sermon series; Victory, the sermon; Victory Plan. The key takeaway for me was a key question: Do I still love this world? It came by way of Pastor Baker referencing John 16:33. With this perspective of truth in mind he paraphrased a prayer that many may have prayed, “God let us stay in this place that hurts longer.” He prefaced it with a challenging rhetorical question, “Isn’t it weird to you? how much we want to stay in this world?”  

The key question above used the word still in it because in Christ’s victory, everything should be different. Before Christ I certainly loved this world. All my hope was of this world. I pursued its worthless promises and hurt more and more every time I realized them empty. Now though, through victory in Christ, my hope is restored and strengthened in truth, backed by the power of God’s word in His promises. Why then do I still struggle with trusting in this world (Romans 7:15)? God make us complete (James 1:4). God give us discernment to know truth from lies (Philippians 1:9-10). Empower us with Your Spirit LORD and light our paths (Psalm 199:105). Protect us from the evil one (Ephesians 6:12).

In Matthew chapter 16 just after Jesus established His identity with His disciples, He began to talk plainly with them about the victory plan. How He would suffer, be killed and raised in three days (Matthew 16:21). This was quite contrary to the the victory plan Peter (and presumably most of Jesus’s followers) had in mind. Their’s was one of the world. A great warrior king to overthrow the Roman empire, etc. Peter quickly begins to rebuke Christ upon hearing His non worldly victory plan. Christ then tells Satan in Peter to take his proper place, behind Him, as He gives clear instruction on how to live with an enlightened perspective in victory. He makes clear that the victory plan is above the world (Isaiah 55:8):

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. – Matthew 16:24–27

I often hear this scripture misused, in my estimation, due to a lack of context. I hear of a call to take up one’s cross, as if it were some sort of burden to bare. Instead consider it a release from the burden and bondage of this world and its downward spiral of empty promises (Galatians 5:1). Keep in mind that someone carrying a cross in this time was literally a dead man walking. Would they not be looking to things past this world? Christ tells us to live this way today. Run the race this way today. Where is your mind stayed today? What do you have your eye on? What are you hoping to accomplish today? … Do you love this world? 

God would you give us a single eye for Jesus’s Kingdom? Would You send Your Spirit to empower us to run this race to win and finish strong? God we ask this in Jesus Name. Thank you LORD. Praise Your Name! Amen.

 

Extra Credit.

If you missed it, consider reading this post: This way to happiness, trust me – Satan

Comforting Confidence

Happy Tuesday and Post 4th of July!

July 5, 2016

Let’s jump right into His Word.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

God is talking to Jeremiah in 1:5. God speaks with Jeremiah many times over many years.  Actually, He doesn’t only speak with people from the Bible, He speaks to us. How is He speaking to you today? Are you hearing what He is saying?

Is knowing God speaking to us reassuring and comforting in our everyday lives of controlled chaos? It should be. This is true when our human mind tends to make us feel like we are lacking purpose, adequacy, or direction.  But, God has a purpose through it all for you and me. Yet, there will be our tribulations and breathtaking events of awesomeness!  But similar to Jeremiah, Deuteronomy 31.8 says, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”  He is always there for you. God should be glorified. He is there for us in the middle of those important decisions  or when you think you are losing a little control of a situation God steps in and let’s you know He controls it all.

As I reflect on life before a relationship with God, I may have a response like Jeremiah did in verse 6 where he says,  “I do not know how to speak for I am only a youth.” To me, this youth represents not knowing God.  I focused only on myself and was hurtful to others in the process. This would include lacking in confidence or being boastful and only being about myself.  In our lives it also can mean being fearful and lacking courage to take that next step.  God doesn’t say, “Go; you are ready” he says, “Go; I’ll go with you”. Today, in all choices He is walking alongside you waiting for your call.

In my “youth” I was unhappy with many decisions I was making in my life. Most of the time trying to answer, prove, and do everything on my own making one mistake after another. This was the point where I was ready to “lose my life” like in John 12:25.

whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

I was about myself and stayed there for a long time until God purposefully put me around events in my life that allowed a life-changing attitude to surrender it all to Him. My excuses I would make started to change. “I don’t have enough money. ~ What am I doing with what I have? “; I’m not smart enough. ~How am I using God’s gifts?; I don’t have two parents. ~ Am I being an example for God? I don’t go to church. ~ What am I doing with my time?  The list can go on and on about excuses I could make to allow myself to have a “stay-theist” attitude or I can do it myself! I could just stay in my own dysfunctional world and not let anyone in or do what I had to in order to superficially make connections with others.  Yet all along God has known me and had a plan. He has this plan for you too. Each of us have a purpose, maybe you don’t know it yet? The details of our plan we don’t know and often can change in our lives but we know the root of what we need to do as a Christian. We are to love, obey, and serve God. In doing this our mission will become more clear.

Do not say I’m only a youth; for to all whom I send you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord. Jeremiah 1:8

Struggling with confidence, failures, and insecurity keeps you from doing many things and often making poor choices to compensate. Lacking in my faith because of my inadequate abilities outside of surviving skills, lack of experiences outside of an addiction dependent divorced household, and the tendency to make bad choices for the benefit of myself and no one else around me. This faith that God is with you allows your choices of serving to be about Jesus-Others-Yourself (JOY).

So what changed? Letting God into my life and surrendering to the relationship He planned for me. Not only as a last resort thing anymore. Dedicating waking hours with more consistent communication throughout my day. Being thankful and grateful for giving me one more day to impact His kingdom. I believe now that God is with us all the time and knowing this gives me the confidence to obey His call even if I’m unsure about the results.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

When God gives you a job to do, He will provide all that we need. By no means have we figured out what job He has planned for us, but the doors God opens will lead us to a place he has already prepared.  I pray for our desire to seek His guidance. Turn to Him prayerfully and ask am I doing this for me or for You Lord?

No, we don’t have it all figured out, we are human. We are tempted by sins that sometimes we follow through on and in turn ask for forgiveness. We divinely and prayerfully follow God’s plans other times. Either way, God transforms us by changing our hearts. Whether lacking in confidence or full of confidence or in-between does our decisions, actions, and whole heart trust and serve God?

“Behold I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pick up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

God gives you all you need in order to fulfill His plan for you. In reading, “The Places You’ll Go” by Ortberg I’m reminded of this glory. He goes before us and is with you throughout ALL you do. God doesn’t promise a trouble free or temptation free life but that He will be with us and we need to call on Him. He will walk with us through the storm and calm the seas.

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

Dear God,  You alone are the Creator of everything.  You have a perfect plan for all of us. You are the perfecter of my faith, and I thank you for the Grace when I didn’t believe or trust in the seemingly impossible dreams you had planned. Help me to have courage to place my faith in You in all things. To trust your strength when mine fails.  Thank you for allowing me to be part of your master plan. Stir in my heart a passion and gratefulness for all that you do in my life. Thank you for the comfort we have knowing you are always with us. Amen

Today’s ReadingJoshua 7; Psalms 137–138; Jeremiah 1; Matthew 15

Phantasma

Azure Window, Gozo Island, Malta

Today’s Readings: Joshua 6:6-27, Psalms 135-136, Isaiah 66, Matthew 14

The ancient greeks used the word phantasma to describe the experience of dream visions or spirit apparitions. It’s the word that’s used in Matthew 14, when he describes how the disciples felt when they were in the boat in the midst of a storm and saw Jesus walking on water. As I read Matthew 14 this week, I anticipated this very feeling. The story of the loaves and fishes didn’t surprise me. Of course, we’ve heard this one since we were young. Having been to several potlucks myself, I can imagine sitting amongst the crowd, awaiting my turn to eat and being awestruck that there was something left. After all five thousand people had eaten, he sent the disciples in the boat to the other side of the lake. He dismissed the crowd and went up onto the mountainside to pray.

“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he ad dismissed them, he went up ton a mountainside by himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:22-23)

 He went by himself to pray. Did you catch that? I took that short phrase as my first and most important lesson today. Seeking solitude was an important priority for Jesus. He made time away from his “celebrity moments” to be alone with the Father. Spending time with God to nurture our relationship with him is critical. Jesus shows us here that disciplining ourselves to spend time alone with Him will prepare us to manage life’s challenges.

We know what happens next! The disciples are halfway across the lake in the boat when the water starts to get a little rough:

“But the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them…” (Mattthew 14:24)

 Ever feel like the wind is against you, like you’re being beaten by the waves? Jesus sees that! He’s standing on the side of the mountain. We may feel alone in our boats. We may feel like we wish we hadn’t set out on that journey with a few of our best disciples and no leader on the ship! But the very best is yet to come:

“And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:25).

 In that moment Jesus revealed himself to his disciples. He revealed himself to us as his people. He wants very much to be there with us and for us when our boats are rocking in the wind. But the disciples responded with fear. They immediately said, “It’s a ghost!” I think I would have too. I don’t know that I find myself worthy of a walking on water moment. Certainly Peter and the other disciples didn’t either. In fact it looks like Peter gives Jesus a little test. He tells him,

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. He said, “Come” so Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt.” (Matthew 14:26-27)

 What looks like a test is really an act of faith, right? Peter is the only disciple willing to step off that boat and meet his Jesus. He started to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the menacing waves. Jesus reaches out and takes hold of him, right in that moment of his doubt. Jesus is not a phantasma, he’s not a ghost that comes in and out of our dreams. He’s not intermittent at all. He’s revealing himself to us every day. Walking on water isn’t just a thing that happened in 400 B.C. He’s leading us to him, but we must be willing to follow. I loved that there was a little message to me in Matthew 14 today. That short sentence that told us about Jesus going to the mountain to be alone with his Father. It’s a holiday weekend. We’re all focused on our potlucks, parties and fireworks. But JESUS is the real fireworks. There’s nothing phantasma about him. I hope you spend time today with family and friends but I also hope you take time to be with the Father. Reach out, take hold of him. He’s waiting to walk with you.

The Tornado Effect

Life is uncertain. Some would say it’s a gift from God. And the closer I got to God, the more often unusual things seemed to happen. These statistical anomalies were also happening with greater frequency in the lives of other believers I knew.

I have come to believe that the kingdom of God is a real thing. It exists in the heavens and also in our midst, hidden from those who don’t have the “eyes to see” or “ears to hear.”  Each day it was revealed, and for some it became a new reality. Others glimpsed it’s truth, discovered its power and felt it’s JOY, only to have it snatched away, as Jesus shared in the parable of the sower.

Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. -Matthew 13:18-21

About six weeks ago, we started having our twenty five year old home remodeled. Rooms were painted; new flooring put down; a new roof; and a new furnace and air conditioner. Despite the blessing of being able to repair and replace old failing systems and tired finishes, after a while, the process was starting to add stress to our lives. Furniture was piled up in a several rooms, making them unusable. The ones that were being worked on were also unusable, while dust settled everywhere, day in and day out. As the days turned into weeks, this chaos was increasingly hard to take. And while we knew this wasn’t a horrible problem, it was still frustrating. I needed the contractor to try to wrap things up, so Thursday morning I called.

“Jeff, I appreciate all the great work you guys have done, but we really need you to finish today if possible. Perhaps you don’t know what it’s like to have your house turned upside down!”

“I understand, but we’re probably not coming today. Did you hear about the tornado that touched down in Pontiac last night? Well it destroyed Danny’s home.”

It turns out that the trailer belonging to Jeff’s niece Rachel, and Danny (one of his assistants), was turned upside down (three times) and destroyed. Jeff and his other helper were going there today to help see what might be salvaged.”

“That’s crazy! Was anyone hurt?” I asked, not sure what to think.

He calmly shared the story, “Danny took his six year old son to get a blanket to put over Rachel, who was in the bathtub protecting their two year old, when tornado hit. They’re at the hospital now. Her pelvis is shattered and he broke or bruised a bunch of ribs and was cut up pretty bad. Fortunatly the kids are both fine, though a bit terrorized.”

“Wow” was all I could say. When I shared this story with my wife, she felt terrible too, not only for this young family, but because we had been impatient about the condition of our home. It had taken a near tragedy to re-gain a better perspective! And it was also in God’s grace, that Danny, as he lay in a field surrounded by the debris that was once his home, looking up at the stars in the heavens, saw his life in a new way.

“I haven’t been to church for a long time. I’m going now!” He told me the following Monday.

Amazingly, Danny and I shared transformation and gratitude in his tragedy, both in the grace of my God who was always calling, always teaching, and always present.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Danny and his family! Please grant us the strength and the power to put you above all other things in our lives. In the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

Joshua 5–6:5; Psalms 132–134; Isaiah 65; Matthew 13

A Servant Leader

Autumn landscape on the lake in the woods

Joshua 4; Psalms 129–131; Isaiah 64; Matthew 12

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;

My eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 131).

Last week, I watched a leadership video by Andy Stanley called Empty Your Cup.  In this video Stanley describes a leader’s duty to “pour into” the lives of those they lead.  He makes the statement that no leader, working alone, has everything their followers need to fill their cup.  A humbling reminder for those of us in leadership roles. He then goes on to tell leaders, “your responsibility isn’t to fill anybody’s cup, it’s to find ways to pour into the people around you what you do know, not because it’s all there is to know, but because it’s all you know.” He calls this emptying your cup.

Do you see the Empty Your Cup theory of leadership in Psalm 131?  A leader whose mission is to empty their cup for the betterment of those they lead describes a servant leader.  This leader is not arrogant nor does he/she carry an attitude of superiority.  Rather than occupying themselves with things too great and marvelous for them (Psalm 131:1), they find a way to teach others about what they know because it is all they know.

This theory leads me to a couple of key questions:

  • If all I can pour into others is what I know, how do I make sure I know the right things?
  • What is the secret to maintaining a servant’s approach to leadership?

I think Psalm 131 verses 2 and 3 provides some answers. Calming and quieting our souls before God (Psalm 131:2) gives him an opportunity to shape our hearts and minds/fill them with godly things. When our hearts and minds are filled with godly things, we can’t help but put our hope in the Lord (Psalm 131:3). This naturally helps us serve others rather than ourselves.

Growing up, my family vacationed every summer in the north woods of Minnesota on Long Lake. When I read the words “I have calmed and quieted my soul”, it takes me to this place.  Calming and quieting your soul before the Lord is an art.  In my experience, it isn’t something that comes naturally, but takes time and practice.  Perhaps that is why this verse takes me to Long Lake.  When I was a kid, we didn’t go to Long Lake for just a weekend or even a week at a time.  We went for 2 or 3 weeks every summer.

For each of us to calm and quiet our souls before the Lord, we need to get away from the business of schedules, from email, from 24 hour news media and so much more.  This definitely isn’t easy.  But if we are distracted by the craziness of life, how can we ever expect God to get through to us?  If we aren’t filled with godly things, how will we ever be prepared to pour goodness into the lives of others?

How do you calm and quiet your soul before God?

In the mid-1980’s, the choir at Eastview performed a musical titled Psalms Alive.  It was simply the words of 10 different Psalms (113, 84, 92, 143, 40, 23, 148, 86, 131, 19) set to music.  I remember sitting on Long Lake singing the song I Have Stilled and Quieted My Soul.  All these years later, the beauty of God’s creation, quiet surroundings and the soothing words of Psalm 131 still help me calm and quiet my soul before God.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxaQjEjYp40

Do you need rest?

Notifications of new emails and text messages rolling in and adding to the backlog of messages that demand a response, a calendar full of business and social events, supporting people who need me, keeping existing customers satisfied while exploring new opportunities to generate income, investing in the spiritual and professional lives of others, a heavy heart for those who are hurting, broken and lost, managing a household, seeking to maintain a healthy relationship with my God, my wife, and my family, and pursuing personal fitness goals. That was a brain dump of my life. Does yours sound similar?

I labor, I am heavy laden… I NEED REST!

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

How can Jesus give us rest? What does he mean by rest?

A recent burden in my life triggered the need for me to make a choice regarding where I’m going to put my trust, worry, and hope. The problem didn’t actually seem insurmountable for me to tackle myself, but I knew from experience that my way would likely lead to frustration, anxiety, and attempts at knocking on many closed doors before finding the open door – it would have worn me out. About a month ago I said to Amy, “we are going to trust God in this like never before; this problem is now his, not ours… let’s see what he does and look back on this day in awe.” The focus here is not on the end result; God is not a genie granting us everything we want. What I’ve encountered in this journey thus far is peace and rest. As soon as I start to worry, I think about His promises and greatness. Through this journey I’ve encountered:

  • Friends who don’t even know of this burden have offered assistance, from seemingly out of nowhere (although I KNOW where!)
  • Conversations with new acquaintances have given me peace and great insight.
  • Opportunities for me to share this burden and my story on trusting God with those who do not yet proclaim Jesus as their savior.
  • Inspiration from Bible Journal; specifically Jillian’s post on “The Big Ask”.
  • A greater closeness with God as I read scriptures and prayer.

Have I stumbled? Yes. There have been times when I’ve let myself worry and have attempted to take control because I was impatient. The result: stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and agitation.

I am writing all of this to you today before the “end result” with the hope that our readers can see that this life is not about immediate resolutions to problems. This is about the journey. I have no idea what God has in store, but I know that he is faithful, he is with us and he will never leave us. This leaves me humbled, thankful, and yes, it gives me rest.

Joshua 3; Psalms 126–128; Isaiah 63; Matthew 11

Is God On Your Side?

FB-purple-royalty-EJoshua 2; Psalms 123–125; Isaiah 62; Matthew 10

In the time of Rahab, Jericho’s news reports were filled with stories of the Israelites conquests. They started with wild tales about seas parting and the people walking across on dry land. As time passed, however, the number of stories raised greater suspicions.   Before long, there were reports of the Israelites destroying people. Not just regular people, they were defeating giants.  Amos describes them as mighty as oaks and as tall as cedars! How could it be?  The Israelites were puny!  Sihon had recently been sacked and the latest reports indicated that Og was utterly destroyed. How was it possible? “God is on their side,” was the only possible explanation. With Og gone, Jericho was the next likely target. Every resident feared the inevitable.

Rahab confirmed the danger as she answered the door.  She knew instantly that trouble was imminent. The men standing outside were not locals, they were Israelites. Clearly, Jericho was next. But, she was trapped. There is no way out. Nobody would save her. As a prostitute, Rahab was despised and scorned. Not even God would help her. He was on their side, not hers.

When the men asked for safe harbor, she contemplated the great risk in protecting them. Treason is punishable by death. Even so, she knew that Jericho was doomed. When the Israelites come, they will quickly and easily devastate the city. Nothing can stop them. God is on their side. Surely, Rahab considered how great it would be to have God on her side.

What is your story of God? Do you see great things that he has done? Is he on your side, or are you still oppressed, like Rahab? Did you notice how she turned it around? Rahab realizes that a better life is possible. One that does not live in fear and oppression, but one that is purposeful and filled with opportunities. She saw this living hope clearly in lives of the Israelites. What she saw was God. She confesses to the men, “the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. “ (Joshua 2:11). It’s that simple.

What happened to Rahab? Was her life changed? Was God on her side? Thankfully, the Bible provides the answer. Matthew 1:5 tells us that she gave birth to a boy named Boaz. Boaz son fathered Obed, who fathered Jesse, who sired King David. David, of course, is the predecessor to the King of King’s, Jesus.  Obviously, God honored Rahab’s confession.  He changed her from a slave to the world, facing certain death, and replaced oppression with life. Not just any life, but life worthy of a King’s lineage. Royalty. God was on her side!

There is no other force, no other power, no other name that can compare with the power of God.  Is God on your side?