Can I Please Have Your Attention?

Today’s reading as part of our journey through the Bible this year is Exodus 10-12 and Ephesians 2.

Who do you most relate to in the story of the Israelites being enslaved in Egypt and their ultimate departure? Do you relate to Moses who did not think he was capable because of his past sin and lack of confidence in his ability to take on a significant leadership role? Do you relate to Aaron who played a key role in the communication with Pharoah on behalf of the Israelites but who maybe didn’t get the credit his brother Moses did? Or do you relate to the Israelites being enslaved for many years?

Most of us probably would not say we are most like Pharoah. However, we may be more like him than we would like to admit. After the 7th plague..yes 7th…Moses and Aaron went and delivered a message from God to Pharoah in Exodus 10:3 asking, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” He would either refuse to let the Israelites go like God instructed or he would say he would release them but later change his mind or refuse to let them all go along with their property…even after 7 plagues!

Do you feel like nothing is going your way? Do you like you just keep taking right hook after right hook? If so, I think it should really cause us to pause and reflect on if we are humbling ourselves before God and giving our problem(s) and life to Him. Is it possible that He’s just trying to get our attention?

We must ask ourselves…

  • Am I putting God first in my life?
  • Am I giving my problem(s) to Him in prayer?
  • Do I think my problems are too big for God?
  • Or do I think my problems are too small for God to care?
  • What is God trying to teach me through these challenges?
  • Could He be letting things happen in my life to draw me closer to Him?
  • Could He also be using my challenges for His bigger purpose and glory in ways I might not be aware of yet or even ever will be on this side of eternity?

Ultimately, what God wants is our heart. He wants our faith in Him. He wants us to trust and rely on Him. He wants us to put Him first and humble ourselves before Him so that we cannot brag about anything but Him and His provision and grace.

Ephesians 2:8-9 reads…

“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.”

You Matter

Today’s reading is Luke 1:26-56.

Last week in his “Mike Talks” (https://youtu.be/Rb7RZLu3Xbk), Pastor Mike Baker discusses these exact verses and how Mary found “favor” in the eyes of God as written in Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:30. The Greek word for “favor” is charis. The word charis can also be translated to mean grace. This tells us that just like you and me, Mary was not perfect. She needed a Savior as well, yet God still felt her worthy of a calling to do something for Him and His purpose.

God showed us all charis (grace) when He sent His Son Jesus to be born in a manger on Christmas and ultimately to die on the cross for our sins. Despite our sins and mistakes, just like Mary, He can and will use us for His purpose. What might His purpose for you be? It could be something as simple as being a Dad or Mom or spouse or it might be to be a special friend to someone or to share to Gospel with 1 person who will now get to spend eternity in Heaven because of you. You may not be a celebrity and your name may never have “CEO” by it, but whatever God’s purpose is for you…it is a big deal to God and His story. We should be humbled by His charis and that He would use each of us in that big way. He has entrusted someone or something to you that you may not even realize or think about or know until your last days on Earth.

Former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow recently discussed he originally thought God’s purpose for him was to be MVP meaning Most Valuable Player. However, he realized God’s actual plan for him was to help another type of MVP, meaning Most Vulnerable People. I love this quote by him..

“I believe each one of us has not only been saved from something, but that we have also been saved for something.”

Tim Tebow

This Christmas, I encourage all of us to remember and be grateful that God showed us His grace when He sent Jesus and as a result He has saved you for something. I would encourage you to reflect on what that might be and if you are not sure yet, trust in Him and have confidence that He will use you for His purpose because you matter and are part of His story.

Why Do ‘Bad’ Things Happen?

Today’s reading is Job 42.

Do you know the story of Job? Job was a wealthy man who loved God, and Satan told God it was only because God was protecting him from bad things. Satan said God had a “hedge” around Job (Job 1:10). Satan was convinced that if bad things happened to Job he would fold and curse God. So, God let Satan take Job’s property and children and strike him with leprosy as we read in Job 1 and Job 2. However, Job stayed strong in his faith, and while he questions why God is doing this, he does not curse God and lose his faith in God as Satan expected. In fact, he continues to put his hope in God.

When I was growing up and even until probably about 10 years ago, I would do something wrong and feel guilty about it and then when something bad happened within a few days or weeks later completely unrelated to the mistake I had made I wondered if it was because of what I had done wrong. Were things not going my way because of that unrelated mistake, and was this a punishment for what I had done? You may have also thought when something bad happened to someone “that’s justice” or “they had it coming to them” because of their past sins. In fact, Job’s so called ‘friends’ named Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar believed these things must have happened because of Job’s mistakes. However, God calls their thinking “folly” in Job 42:8 and says is Job 42:7 they “have not spoken of me what is right.

God tells us in Romans 8:1 there is “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I’ve said it before that God is not like a kid with a magnifying glass in the sun burning us who are the ants because we do something He’s not pleased with. We still may face earthly consequences for our actions or God may allow things to play out as a sort of discipline to ultimately draw us closer to Him which is His greatest desire, but we must know the heart of God and that it is not a punishment. This is hard to understand. Isaiah 55:8:9 tells us his ways and thoughts are not only not ours, but they are higher than ours. We won’t figure it out.  However, it is very important we understand Jesus already paid the price for our sins on the cross. In fact, in John 9 Jesus’ disciples ask Him if a blind man walking by is afflicted because of his or his parents’ sins. Jesus replies in John 9:3 by saying it is not because of either of their sins, and he is blind so that the works of God may be seen through Him. When so called bad things happen to good people, our first thought is likely not so God can be glorified through it and them. We know that in John 3:16 Jesus not only says those who believe in Him will have eternal life, but also in John 3:17 that He did not come to condemn the world.

God may let things play out in your life and the lives of others which in our eyes do not seem good like Job. He may even let Satan “win” for a while just like He did when He was crucified and died. For 3 days, Satan thought he was victorious and Jesus’ disciples did too..but then what happened? The Resurrection! We are still celebrating Easter over 2000 years later. As the saying goes, you can’t have a comeback without a setback. We read in Job 42 where God eventually blessed Job with even greater riches than he had prior to all his misfortunes. While I can’t promise you when something bad happens to you that you will see great things happen on this side of eternity, but what I can promise you is if you confess your sins and believe in Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter you will live with Him in Heaven after this life where there will be no pain or problems and everything will be perfect. Until then, we must keep trusting in Him and trusting despite our circumstances His love for us in unconditional and never failing. Let us remember why He came that first Christmas this December and always.

“..but God shows His love for us in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

Bread Alone?

Today’s reading is Genesis 28:1-22.

This past Friday we were eating spaghetti and our 4-year-old Hudson was complaining he wanted more garlic bread while we continued to tell him he could not have more until he finished his spaghetti he was not eating. As he carried on and continued to beg, in typical ‘bad dad joke’ fashion, I leaned over and said, “Hudson, man cannot live on bread alone.” This is of course in reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew 4:4 and also in the Old Testament Deuteronomy 8:3.

From our reading today we see God come to Jacob in a dream and give him the land He had promised his grandfather Abraham and also confirm that he would have many offspring spread upon the Earth to again fulfill his original promise to Abraham. In addition, God tells Jacob he will be with him wherever he goes (Genesis 28:15). In response, Jacob says he’s on holy ground where the Lord is which he did not know (Genesis 28:16). Finally, he says in Genesis 28:18-22 that since the Lord is with him and had provided food and clothing, he will build a house of the Lord here and give 1/10 of everything back to God.

I find it very interesting that Jacob’s thanksgiving is not really focused on the ground he received or the many offspring, but instead the most basic needs of food and clothing. When I went on a mission trip to New York City a few years ago, many of the homeless people we approached to witness actually witnessed to us by giving thanks and saying God had given them all they really need. I thought they had nothing, but they were satisfied having God. Instead of focusing on what they didn’t have, they were focused on the one thing they really need which they had…Him.

Embarrassingly, many of my thoughts lately have been focused on what more I want, rather than what I already have. It has been said that one cannot feel stress and anxiety at the same time they are in gratitude. I need to be even more thankful for what I already have. And most importantly I must focus on the fact that I cannot survive on “bread alone.” I always have all I really need which is the promise He’ll be with me wherever I go and His life given on the cross to save me.

Team Jesus: No Tryout Needed

Today’s reading is Philippians 3:1-21.

Over the last few years as our kids are getting older, I’ve found that July and August are 2 of my favorite months of the year because we have a break between Summer and Fall activities giving us a lot more family nights at home, as well as weekends. It is also one of my least favorite times of the year because it is when we do tryouts for the baseball and basketball teams I help coach. Trying to be fair to both those kids who played for you last season and to those who only get a few hours to show their skills to determine who should fill an open spot or possibly replace an existing player is really tough to say the least. Many kids and families are going to be disappointed. While facing challenges and disappointments are a part of life that all must learn to deal with at some point it just never feels good when you are partly responsible as a coach helping to make these decisions. It is impossible to make everyone happy. There is so much good that comes out of these teams with new kids and family relationships built, the spiritual development of the kids in our faith-based organization I am a part of, and the improvement on the court and field.  It is so fun to try to help them, make an impact, and see their growth and development. However, we also see a lot of the politics and ugly side come out during tryout time. Parents want to get their child on the best team they feel will win, get their child playing time, and even play a certain position. Is that wrong? Can you blame them with the time and money they are investing in these teams for their child? I know my wife and I want the best fit for our children. Coaches also try to recruit players off of other teams and don’t always handle the situations of how to part ways with a past player for a new player the most gracefully. It’s complicated. It’s tough. No judgement here. We are all human which means we make mistakes and don’t always handle things the best way.

You don’t have to look too far today to see anxiety, depression, and substance abuse are a huge problem today. We are both more connected to everyone on social media and yet more isolated because of it. We see everyone’s highlight-reel 24-7. I don’t know how many championships and MVPs I see posted on Sunday each week and dream vacations and kids’ and professional awards in between (I post them, too). This creates “fear of missing out” or commonly referred to as FOMO. Competition is good in pushing us to get the most out of our God-given talents, but we live in a society where comparison consumes our society. I really like the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Comparison is robbing us of the joy to appreciate the simple moments in life with our own family and our own kids and appreciating their specific God-given talents and abilities.

I love sports and believe they can be used to glorify God. However, what is more important….what our child’s batting average is and how many trophies they win or if they develop into a person who loves Jesus, loves their family, and uses to the maximum whatever gifts God has given them in life now and as an adult (which are likely outside of sports)? We also must realize that what we see on social media is not all that is going on in someone’s life. No one’s life is perfect. They have challenges going on they are not sharing which they are dealing with like sickness, pain, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, relationship, or financial issues. They have problems just like you may be facing . It’s like the family picture who everyone says looks so cute, but you remember the screaming and crying that took place 2 minutes before and after no one knows about. We need to stop thinking someone else’s highlight reel should be our everyday. We forget how blessed we are personally.

In these verses Paul gives us some great takeaways to apply. In Philippians 3:13-14. he tells us to forget what lies behind, the past and to move on to the ultimate goal to the prize of Jesus Christ. We’ve all made mistakes. He’s telling us to forget them. Paul talks about competition a lot and seems to love sports, but he’s telling us to reflect on if earthly trophies which will break and get thrown away are more important or our crown in Heaven from a relationship with Jesus which will last eternity? He tells us in the very first verse of Philippians 3:1 to rejoice in the Lord, not championships.

We all want more. We want our kids to be on the best team and go to the best school. We all want to go on the best vacations, have the best spouse, and have the best job. We all want to belong.  However, Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20..

But our citizenship is in Heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to himself.

There is no FOMO for the most important team we want us and all our children to be on for eternity. No tryout is needed. We don’t have to do any earthly thing to make the team. We are already on it not through our doing, but through His sacrifice and grace given on the cross.  We’ve already made it through faith when we believe and accept Jesus into our heart.

Have you accepted the invite to Team Jesus? Have your children? Are you and your family rejoicing in belonging to the most important team there is? I pray that all the kids and families who did or did not make teams this time of year can find peace and joy in this which is what is most important.

You’re In

Today’s Reading: Ephesians 3:1-21

It’s incredible to think back to how much of my life I have always just tried to fit in.  I wouldn’t be inaccurate in saying that most likely, in all aspects, I have just tried to appear like I have it all together.  As humans, we try our best to fit in; many of us will face this-worldly battle until there is no battle to fight on this side of the earth anymore. Thankfully we know that Jesus says, You’re already in.  We can stop the daily hustle, grind, and race that wakes you up by the alarm and keeps you going until you fall asleep.  I wish and pray that I have this down, but it would not be honest.  There are still times I try to fit in at my job, with my parenting, with friends, in our marriage, and in any other daily interaction that requires my presence.

Give yourself some grace.  Turn every moment of insecurity to Him.  We attempt and try to be the All-Star in all we do. We spend a lot of time trying to live by the rules people set for us. I have now seen days where I’m parenting and forcing the world’s expectations into them at a young age instead of just my love and His promise that takes care of every aspect of life.

None of the rules of life or the attempted All-Star parenting measures up to the power the love of Jesus has for us. If I can teach others and my family, I want to show them how to live in grace like Jesus and to walk in love like Jesus.  I need prayer to be their number one model. Will you pray for me?

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19

True Light, True Life

What is the darkest physical place you have every been? Two places that come to mind for me are inside of a cave while visiting Ruby Falls when they turned the lights off and the other being on the deck of a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean at night as a child. I can remember thinking while standing on the deck that if I fall off they will never find me! Of course, the ship we were on even had lights. I can remember thinking how dark it must have been for some of the first explorers at sea.

Right now, we have a lot of darkness in this world. Every day it seems there is word of another terrible shooting, leader or celebrity succumbing to the temptation of sin that is in news, or a political/social issue that’s causing division and bickering with the platform of social media making it more evident. The world is often a dark place. There are also many individually that are living in darkness with depression, anxiety, and just an unhappiness they are experiencing to which they possibly can’t even pinpoint the reason.

John 1:1-17 tells us that Jesus is the true source of light and thus life. Specifically, John 1:4-5 says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Revelation 21:23 tells us in Heaven there is no sun or moon needed because the glory of God brings light.

Why is God light? John 1:14 tells us His glory comes from his grace and truth. This glory provides the light as mentioned above in Revelation 21:23.  In this world, we have much of the opposite. We don’t have much grace. We have much more judgement and gossip about others not noticing our own sin. We also have sin and lies through not following the truth in the Bible and the way He wants us to live so we are a slave to sin bringing more unhappiness (John 8:34).

If you are reading this and struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, or just unhappiness, I would encourage you to think about how you can get more light in your life…more Jesus…through His Word, small group, prayer, and I even might encourage you to watch the series The Chosen. The series is not a substitute for the Bible, but it can inspire us to get in the Word more to help grow our relationship with Jesus through seeing the realness of who He was as both man and Son of God full of grace and truth who brought light and life to everyone. Many struggling with these challenges may need a doctor and/or counselor of which I would encourage a Christian counselor for the help needed to point us in the right direction back to Him.

It is easy for me to become self-absorbed… focused on my own problems, issues, and challenges. But ultimately when I die some day what I truly want is to know that I made an impact on others during my lifetime on this Earth. To try to keep me more focused on this, I recently changed my mission statement to “Impacting others by helping them live life to the fullest.” This was inspired by John 10:10 where Jesus says He came so that we may have life and live it abundantly.  This allows me to ask myself, am I helping those around me live life abundantly and to the fullest? Am I building others up so they can see they are a child of God who He made for a purpose and bigger things than they may see for themselves? Are they seeing the love of Jesus and His grace and truth come from my lips and in my actions? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions are not always yes and are no way too often.

Reading this mission statement and being in His Word helps get me re-focused and re-centered. I’ve heard it said when we interact with another human, we leave them after that conversation feeling a little better or a little worse. There are no net neutral interactions. Your mission statement should not be my mission statement, but I would encourage all of us to reflect on some of these questions and think about how we can bring more light, more life, and more Jesus through grace and truth to every interaction with another to leave them in a more positive place afterwards.

Equally Qualified

Today’s reading is Isaiah 56.

The prophet Isaiah foretells of Jesus’ coming and describes how God’s salvation would be for all people, not just those of Jewish descent. For this most of us reading this should be extremely thankful, as we may not come from a Jewish heritage. In Isaiah 56:8, God says He will “gather the outcasts of Israel.” In Isaiah 56:7, He says He will make His house of prayer one for “all peoples.” Earlier in Isaiah 56:6 and the beginning of Isaiah 56:7 He uses the pronoun “everyone” when describing those who keep His covenant. And even more exciting in a reference to eternal life in Heaven, He says He will bring these people to His “holy mountain.” These days we hear a lot about diversity and inclusion. It should be no surprise that God was ahead of what the rest of the world is just now latching on to. God’s love, grace, and opportunity for eternal life is for everyone. We are all equal and blameless in the eyes of the Lord when confess our sins and admit the only way we will be right with Him is through Jesus’ saving grace on the cross.

My challenge for us Christians today is to reflect on whether or not our thoughts are representing the reality that Jesus came for every human being we see and interact with. We commonly say to our kids, “Dislike the sin, love the sinner.” We can love someone who sins by a certain action we do not agree with, and my sin, albeit maybe different, is equally as bad in God’s eyes and separates me from God eternally without Jesus. This is a true statement and a good one to adhere to in my opinion. But in addition to that, what are my thoughts when I see someone who dresses in a way I would not? What are my thoughts when I see someone who’s hair is done in a way I would never dream of or has a tattoo or a piercing in a place I wouldn’t? Am I immediately judgmental thinking, why would anyone do that to themselves? Or, do I think like I should and see them as a child of God who is equally qualified for the same amount of God’s forgiveness and grace that I have been given through Jesus if they have also given their heart to him? What are my first thoughts?

Let us Christ followers move forward monitoring our thoughts and focusing on seeing each and every individual the way God does, as a child of His who He came to die for and who is loved and forgiven the same  through Jesus’ grace on the cross.

It is Finished.

Today’s reading is Hosea 11:12-12:14.

These verses remind us again how God feels about our sin. God is everything good and right. Sin is the exact opposite of Him and His nature. Hosea 12:1 and Hosea 12:8 discuss chasing things that don’t have eternal value but only earthly value. Often times when we receive worldly wealth we think we are invincible and don’t acknowledge that these things came from God. We think we don’t need Him. We become our own God and it’s all about us. God continued to provide for Israel, but yet Israel continued to turn their back forgetting what He had done for them. I do the same daily, and we can get a sense in here how God feels about that.

As you read verses like Hosea 12:14, it is concerning to think about the wrath of God and suffering for our sins. In his final breaths when He died on the cross, Jesus said in John 19:30, “It is finished.” The fact that He took the sin and punishment that should have mine is something that is hard to comprehend. God still hates sin the same as He always has. There are outcomes from our sin we have to deal with on this Earth. However, Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus took the punishment that should have been mine and yours for our sin. John 3:17 tells us that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world. The Old Testament, this chapter, and this book of Hosea tell us about the wrath of God and how He feels about our sin so we know how abhorrent it is to Him . However, the New Testament does not talk about suffering the wrath of God for our missteps and mistakes. Why? Because there was a new covenant established by Jesus’ blood. Jesus took the wrath and the pain that should have been on you and me on our behalf. I am extremely grateful to God for what He did through His Son Jesus which He didn’t have to so that “It is finished.”

Let Me Tell You About My Jesus…

Today’s reading is John 14:1-14.

Jesus said in these verses…

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

John 14:9

“I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who is in me.”

John 14:10

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on the account of the works themselves.”

John 14:11

Jesus made it clear people should know who He was and who He was from and who He represented by the life He lived and His actions. I wish the same could be said about my life consistently.

I’ve heard it said that rules without a relationship is harassment. Sadly, many non-believers think the Bible and Christianity is just about following a bunch of rules. Does that attract them to following Christ and becoming a Christian? Look at the verses and quotes above from Jesus. If each quote from Jesus above were said by each Christian, and they could answer them in a similar fashion to Jesus in that their love and positive works were displayed daily in their actions..how many more people would be attracted to learning about the Gospel and would ultimately say yes to believing in Jesus? How true is the popular hymn, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love?”

Our life should be lived in relationship with Jesus. Pastor and author Bill Hull says he wakes up each morning and asks, “Good morning Jesus..what are we going to do today?” How might asking ourselves that question change our actions and how we live our life which would attract non-believers? Imagine if we were in communication with Jesus all day and if He were our GPS for all actions and decisions. We should all reflect on this and ask the question…is Jesus guiding the big and small things in my day in life through communication with Him or do I just think about Him during specific prayer times, church, and small group/Bible study? I know more days than not I don’t think about or talk to Jesus throughout my day. He does not lead my thoughts, decisions, and actions throughout my day like He should.

Many other religions believe in multiple gods. They think Jesus is good guy and much like other gods. They don’t know the difference. Eventually they must know what Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the way, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” They must know there is only one way to eternal life through belief in Him. But holding up a sign on the street saying, “Repent, believe in Jesus, or you are going to Hell!” is not the way to do it. As we said earlier, rules without a relationship is harassment.

Let us reflect on how we can act and speak in a way that whoever has seen, heard, and known us also knows the Father and Jesus (John 14:9-11). Then, once we’ve established a relationship with others they will likely ask us more questions on why we act and speak the way we do or like the song says we can simply say..”Let me tell you about my Jesus…” Will we still mess up and make mistakes? Yes..we absolutely will and that sometimes opens an even bigger door to tell them about the free gift of His grace, His love, and His forgiveness which is also available to them.

Anne Wilson – My Jesus (Official Music Video) – YouTube