Praise = Peace

Gratitude, meditation, spiritual practice… trending ideas and buzz words that are all rooted in the Word, and not at all new concepts in the early church or with Christ followers today. So what exactly does the Bible say about gratitude, and how do we apply it today?

A frequently quoted scripture can be found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, where he encourages them to be anxious for nothing, but in everything give thanks. Paul tells them this is because God is at hand (Philippians 4:5). Meaning, because the Lord is working on our behalf, because He is near to us, we do not have to worry. Instead, through prayer and thanksgiving we approach God with our needs, and His peace will fill our minds.

What a powerful encouragement! Because God is working, our act of thanksgiving not only glorifies the Father, but it covers us in peace! The act of gratitude comes back and blesses US!

As we’ve spent the past few months journeying through the Psalms, have you noticed the theme of David’s heart of gratitude? So much praise and worship for who God is, what He has done, and what He will do in the future. Our Psalm today (Chapter 86) carries this same message, and I’m drawn specifically to verse 12.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

With my whole heart. What would that look like in my life? Do I surrender my whole heart, my entire being, when I practice gratitude? Am I able to fully devote my praise to the Lord? Or is my thanksgiving a half-hearted routine muttering of niceties? Have my thank you’s become mannerly and procedural, lacking zeal and true joy? Are they genuine or are the obligatory at times? Does the splendor of His creation or the undeserved grace I experience ever get old? 

Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts, details her experience and learning of gratitude in the small and everyday, and the joy it brings. She shares that through the expression of gratitude for the life we already have, we come to know how wildly loved we are by God. This is part of the joy process that brings overwhelming peace.

I believe the Bible gives us formulas like this to unlock the fullness that God has for us. David shows us all through the Psalms how he was afraid, he was pleading for shelter, seeking forgiveness, and at the same time, he would break out in song and prayers of gratitude. David knew that when he wanted peace, he gave God praise.

Here’s something we can be grateful for – a God that instructs us! Not only is He the source of overwhelming peace and joy – He tells us how to get it! A heart wholly grateful for who He is and what He has done.

Lord, thank you for the steps to experience your peace. You are an amazing provider! I ask you to help me surrender any parts of my heart that aren’t fully praising you. Show me the little corners I might be holding back or allowing to be distracted, or want to control. You alone can bring full joy and peace! Amen

 

 

Adoration and Thanksgiving

Today’s reading is Psalm 30.

Sometime in the last few years I was reminded of the acronym A.C.T.S. when it comes to prayer.

A –  Adoration

C –   Confession

T –   Thanksgiving

S –   Supplication

While I’ll admit my prayers should probably be more conversational with God, I do think this has really helped my prayer life by reminding me the things I should be talking with God about. All of us probably have a tendency to focus on 1 or 2 of these areas in prayer more than the others, and if I had to guess I would say it would probably be confession and supplication. Those are both really good things to talk with God about. We must recognize and confess that we are a sinner asking for forgiveness, and God tells us to ask for what we want in the Bible (Matthew 7:7-11). I think often times we are good about asking God about what we want for others but feel guilty asking God for what we want ourselves. However, God wants us to do so when we ask with the right intention. He wants our whole heart, and He knows He has it when we ask Him for what we want so there should be no guilt in that. With thanksgiving coming after confession in this format, it also reminds me to thank Him daily for His grace on the cross as I thank Him for other blessings.

Adoration is not a part of my prayers and conversation with God that comes as natural to me. However, this helps remind me daily that He is Alpha, Omega, Almighty, and Creator. What do all these names indicate? They indicate that He is in control….in a world that seems out of control. This has been extremely helpful..especially in the last year. I can imagine that during times like the Civil War, The Great Depression, World War I and World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War with protests people probably thought things couldn’t get any crazier and worse right?  Many likely even thought this was the end of our world and Jesus was coming….or maybe the end of the US as we know it at least. One could argue it’s worse now than then and that our country’s division and direction is also worse than it’s ever been. Is it? Maybe. But one thing is for certain, due to the internet and social media and a phone with both in our hands most all of time, we are constantly bombarded with negative information making it seem like the world can’t get any worse. Expectancy Theory says that which we focus on expands. It consumes our thoughts. As a result, the negative news we are exposed to 24/7 will cause us to focus and think even more about those negative things and even other bad things. Never has it been more important remind ourselves consistently that God is in control…He’s Alpha, Omega, Almighty, Creator, and whatever other of the many names God has that remind us of this. I believe that starting our prayers with this changes our conversation with God and our recognition of His provision and role in our lives and in the other parts of our prayer life.

As I read Psalm 30, what really jumped out to me was David’s adoration and thanksgiving to God. Remember Expectancy Theory…if we focus on adoration and thanksgiving to God in our prayer life…our positive thoughts that He is in control and gratitude for all He does will consume our mind and this peace will permeate through our lives changing the way we live drawing others to Jesus as well.

You have turned for me my 

mourning into dancing;

you have loosed my sackcloth

and clothed me with gladness,

that my glory may sing your

praise and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give

thanks to you forever!

Psalm 30:11-12

Finding Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Today’s reading on Thanksgiving is John 21.

Is it easy or difficult to have a grateful heart this Thanksgiving? For most reading this 2020 has been very challenging and for many downright heartbreaking. For others, it may have actually been a year of many blessings strangely enough. Whichever group you are in, or maybe neither or a combination of both, I pray this Thanksgiving we call find contentment and joy in the blessings we do have.

Our reading today gives us 4 examples of God providing exactly what was needed when it was needed..even if those involved didn’t realize it before or even after.

  1. The disciples went out to fish at night sometime in the days or weeks after Jesus crucifixion and Resurrection. They fished all night and hadn’t caught anything. Was catching fish needed for their next day’s meal because they were out of food or to sell for money because they had no more? What stress were they under? We don’t know for sure, but we do know they were likely feeling frustrated from catching nothing when Jesus showed up at just the right time before daybreak and told them from the shore to throw down their nets on the right side (John 21:6). When they listened and obeyed, they caught so many fish their nets tore….153 to be exact (John 21:11).
  2. While eating breakfast with Peter, Jesus asked Peter 3 different times if he loved Jesus. Peter affirmed he did all 3 times. What’s the significance of this? Three is the same number of times Peter denied he knew Jesus after His arrest. Jesus knew the significance of Peter saying he loved him the same number of times as he previously denied him. He knew 3 times would likely be needed to make Peter feel he was fully forgiven and redeemed…even though belief in Jesus was all that is needed to be forgiven.
  3. Jesus then told Peter the way he would die which was to be crucified upside down in John 21:18-19. You may be asking yourself how Peter being martyred was exactly what was needed. Well, we are also told in these verses this was necessary to glorify God. Through it God has some plan. What we want and what we think is needed is not actually what’s always needed for God’s glory. However, that’s why He made each one of us…for His glory..even if we don’t always like how He does it. This is hard…but we must figure out how to trust fully trust in this and His love for us no matter what.
  4. We learn in John 21:22-23 from Jesus that John would not be martyred. Most historians agree that John was the only disciple that was not killed due to his belief in Jesus. While Peter and the other disciples may have been thinking while facing death for their belief how horrible it was or how unlucky they were, John may have been sitting on the island of Patmos where He was exiled for his belief wishing he died and was in Heaven. Or maybe he was wondering if He was not worthy enough to be killed for his faith like the other disciples. It’s all about perspective. Whatever you are going through…there is likely someone that would absolutely love to be you or have your life right now as hard to believe as that may seem. Whatever you are going through…it’s necessary for God’s glory. We now know John’s long life and exile to Patmos was necessary to write the book of Revelation to complete the Bible and tell about God’s ultimate restoration of brining Heaven and Earth together some day when there will be no more pain, crying, or sin (Revelation 21:4).

We see through these 4 examples in John 21 how what happened and what was given was exactly what was needed at the right time for God’s glory. Whatever you are going through right now which might be really tough, I’m sorry. I pray you know Jesus faced pain, sorrow, and rejection in his life too…and ultimately suffered and died for you for the forgiveness of your sins. I pray you can find contentment and gratitude in your circumstances and through His grace this Thanksgiving…perhaps even joy.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Dwelling Place

What is your morning routine? How do you start your day? Do you work out? Read the newspaper (yes some still do)? Check social media? Pray? Morning Devotional?

Now that my physical health is back, my weekday routine typically involves working out. It also involves reading Bible Journal to get in the Word, prayer, and writing down at least 3 things I’m grateful for that morning. I also write down my 2-3 most important work activities for the day so that I prioritize them over things that seem urgent.

Today’s word to describe God is “dwelling place” and our verse to go with it is Psalm 90:1.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.”

Later, Psalm 90:14 reads..

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad in all our days.

The last verse of the chapter, Psalm 90:17, says…

“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

My weekday morning routine help establish the Lord as my dwelling place to start my day. He speaks to me through His Word and prayer, and I give him thanks for His blessings through my gratitude list. I started this last piece of after hearing some years back you can’t feel stress and gratitude at the same time. Generally speaking, no matter how busy my day will be and even if I’m running late, my anxiety level is pretty low on weekday mornings. However, anxiety tends to go up as the day goes further along, and I forget to dwell in the Lord through talking to Him in prayer. I forget about what I’m grateful for despite the problems which arise. I forget to ask him again in the fire to “establish the work of my hands.” He no longer is my “dwelling place”…my “dwelling place” is now the troubles the day has brought.

Ironically, some of the days I seem to be worried the most about getting my to do list done or am short tempered are the weekends. Some of the days I tend to be the most anxious about what the future may bring are when I’m on vacation..yes…vacation..which is supposed to be the time to re-charge! Why? I get away from my morning routine on the weekends and vacation which make the Lord my dwelling place. Just yesterday the discussion came up, bringing some stress and anxiety, about when we may change houses and if our kids will change schools. We must remember to pray for wisdom and guidance on these decisions and remember that regardless of the physical location of where we live or where our kids go to school, He is our true dwelling place. Instead of worrying about these things, we should be grateful that we even have a home and a school which many in other countries, and even our own country for that matter, don’t have.

Let us pray..

Lord, please help us to remember that you have been, and will always be, our true dwelling place in all generations. Help us remember this throughout each day in the little decisions and in the big ones which affect our long-term plans. We know that when we truly dwell in you and you dwell in our hearts and minds, you will establish the work of our hands and we will rejoice and be glad in our days!

Grateful

Our reading is Numbers 11.

Today, we learn about how God was not pleased with some of the Israelites striking them with a plague when they complained about only having manna to eat and no meat. We know from Romans 8:1 that now, “There is no condemnation for those are in Christ Jesus.” However, we see here He does not like ungrateful words and an ungrateful heart and prior to Jesus paying the price for our sins, and He took action against some of them for this.

First, the Israelites complained back in Exodus 16:3 that they had no food to eat and would starve in the desert and would rather be back in slavery after wanting to be freed for years. Now, after God provided them with manna from the sky to eat daily (Exodus 16:4), they have the audacity to complain that they had meat when they were in Egypt and would rather be back in slavery (Numbers 11:4-6 and Numbers 11:18). Really?!

It is easy to be quick to judge the Israelites lack of gratitude, until we take a closer look at our own heart and thoughts. How quickly do we forget about an answered prayer and go on to the next thing or even worse get a prayer answered and say things were better before like the Israelites. We want a change in career..now we’re not happy with our boss and want a new career..or even back to the old one. We pray to have a house to call our own and to stop renting…now we want a bigger house. We are lonely and pray for a relationship or marriage…now we are contemplating a divorce thinking our current marriage can’t be fixed. We pray to have children of our own…now life is just crazy and we never have time for ourselves. We pray for healing from a medical issue…now we complain about the medical bills. I can easily hang my head in guilt over many similar items in my own life.

God makes it very clear that it is absolutely alright to ask God for what you want as Jesus clearly tells us this in Matthew 7:7-11. In fact, He wants us to pour out our hearts to Him and trust and come to Him for what we seek. However, we have to search our heart to find our motivation…is it for His glory or our own? Paul states in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Jesus also teaches and models for us in Luke 22:42 that it is fine to ask God for what you want as He asks for the burden of the cross to be removed from Him, but He also teaches and models how we should ultimately want God the Father’s will to be done and not our own.

So, how do we improve and soften our heart to have an attitude of gratitude? One thing I’ve found very helpful is to start a journal or notebook to write down each morning 3 things you are thankful for that day. No matter how bad things are we can ultimately find things to be grateful for. I’ve heard it said that it’s impossible to be stressed and be thankful at the same time. Maybe there is also a song or something else which puts your heart and mind in a gracious state? At the end of this post is one that does this for me, Grateful by Elevation Worship.

Ultimately, we go to the living Word in Bible for the best way to do this which we are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 which says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” No matter our situation, we all can be thankful that He gave His life on the cross for us and conquered the grave and through admission of our sins and belief in Him we can do the same and spend eternity in Heaven with no pain and problems regardless of what hardships we face today in this short life on Earth.

THIS

Today’s reading is Luke 17 and Psalm 65.

Luke 17 contains messages around temptation to sin, increasing faith, unworthy servants, and the coming of the Kingdom of God, but we will focus our time on the story of Jesus helping 10 lepers from Luke 17:11-19.

In this story, Jesus heals 10 lepers when they yell and ask for help from a distance, but only 1 comes back to thank and praise him. At first read, it’s easy to be judgmental, and think “how could they not come back and say thanks!?” It’s also easy to condemn members of the crowd yelling “Crucify Him!” when he’s on trial with Pilot.  After reflection, I realize when I take Jesus name in vain it’s just the same as someone yelling these words. When I don’t thank Him for answered prayers or completely forget about it a few days later, am I any different than the 9 lepers who didn’t come back to show their gratitude? It’s so easy to quickly forget about the answered prayer for a negative test for cancer, a successful surgery, a new job, retention of your job amidst downsizing, a new home, or a significant other you’ve been asking God for. How quickly do we forget these things!  I’m guilty of forgetting these things within days, hours, and even minutes! What about the answered prayers we don’t even realize occurred? For example, we pray for safety and then get really upset when spill coffee on the way to work and have to go back home in anger to change clothes causing us to be late to our first meeting. We had no idea this situation kept us from getting into a car accident.

Our leadership team, thanks to my brother in Christ Josh Waite’s idea, starts our weekly meetings by “going B.I.G.” That stands for “Begin In Gratitude.” We reflect and tell everyone one thing we are thankful for. When you focus on what you are thankful to God for, the stress and problems are minimalized. I’ve heard it said you can’t feel stress and anxiety at the same time. When we focus on and thank God for what we have and what He’s given us, we don’t get stressed and mad about what we don’t have.

Some might ask how they are supposed to be thankful when they just lost their job or a loved one? Well…it’s hard. But, maybe this will help you find your true calling or give you an opportunity to move closer to, or spend more time with, family. How about giving praise that you had that loved one in your life for the amount of time you did or even at all for that matter? When you praise God when things are good and when they don’t seem to be good, it changes your whole perspective and happiness. You see the world through an entirely different lens. Psalm 65 highlights offering praises as well.

As we go into next week, let’s go “B.I.G!” Let’s remember, thank, and praise Him for the big answered prayers we asked for, for the ones we don’t realize were answered, and for the things we didn’t even request. He gave it all to us. Most importantly, let’s thank him for sending his Son Jesus to take the punishment that should have been ours on the cross. For that, we should always and forever be thankful to Him for the opportunity He gave us to become one with Him and have eternal life! He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Thank God for all I missed because it lead me here to This…”

Have you tasted that the Lord is good?

This week I witnessed a man recording a video of the beautiful green hills and the Bahía de Banderas (Spanish for “Bay of Flags”) in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It is a gorgeous area and we’ve been staring at it all week. As the man was recording, he said “it would be hard to not believe in God after seeing this view; this is God’s backyard, right here”. The funny thing was about 15 seconds after he said this, the same audio statement played loudly through a portable Bluetooth speaker near the pool for all to hear (I think this was accidental). I was pretty sure right then that his statement would make its way into my next Bible Journal post.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Over the last few days I’ve thought about the “God’s backyard” phrase a lot. Amy and I ended up meeting the man who made this statement (Chris) and most of his group which consists of eighteen of Chris’ family members; all of whom are exceptional, kind, and fun humans.

I’m thankful for people who see God’s beauty and attribute it to him; to me this is a reflection of one who tastes that the Lord is good. When we speak of his beauty and goodness, it is glorifying to him, and that puts us in line with our creator who made us to glorify him, and to point others to him. With this theme as well as this week being Thanksgiving in the United States, I’ve spent a few minutes thinking through my own current “thankful for” list…

pv-sunriseSunrises, sunsets, kids giggling, sight, the sound of water making its way through rocks, changes in seasons, changes in temperature, the smell of the air that signifies rain is coming, light breezes, the multitude of creatures that roam this earth in so many ways; flight, crawling, galloping, swimming, prancing, sprinting, steadily pacing. The fact that Earth is a perfect distance from the sun, our air has the right amount of oxygen. Our bodies consume food and water as sustaining energy. Coffee, pizza, tacos, rare beef, spices and recipes from around the world. India Pale Ales, carbonated water, crunchy potato chips, avocados, and salsa. Bicycles, good running shoes, flip flops, polarized sunglasses. Parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, teachers, and the warm feeling that goes with the word “family”, whether through genetic or the various human relationships. Those who have sacrificed their lives for our country as well as those who have given their lives to further the gospel; we’re all recipients of this in some way.

Live music, worship music, sermons that cut to the heart, pastors who recognize and act dutifully on their calling. People who are humble, generous, kind, and loving. People who give with no expectation of anything in return. People who listen well. Small families, big families, small churches, big churches, small cities, big cities. Intimacy, marriage, my wife, our children, relationships, communion, rest. For the man who returned Preston’s lost iPod.

preston-ice-creamFor the joy that ice cream and treats bring to children; for the ability to watch them enjoy such things. For the truth filters that we’re given; for the truth we receive from God Almighty. Thankful that somehow in my wandering I realized God’s ways are good, that he cannot tolerate sin, that he sent his son Jesus to atone for our sin. For the cleansing water of baptism. For the Bible as a complete work of divine literature as a guide for our daily lives. For the Holy Spirit who speaks to us and gives us words.

I’m Jon Harris and I have tasted that the Lord is GOOD!

1 Chronicles 21; 1 Peter 2; Jonah 4; Luke 9

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