Why I Believe – Part 2: Chet Bandy

Today’s reading is Psalm 18 which David wrote when God rescued him from the hand of his enemies and Saul.

I will primarily focus on Psalm 18:27-30.

For you save a humble people,

but the haughty eyes you bring down.

For it is you who light my lamp;

the Lord my God lightens my darkness.

For by you I can run against a troop,

and by my God I can leap over

a wall.

This God- His way is perfect,

the word of the Lord proves

true;

He is a shield for all those who

take refuge in Him.

 

The night before beginning to write this our family watched the new Disney movie Safety about a Clemson football player who cared for his little brother while his Mom was in rehab so he would not have to go into foster care. As I saw some of the scenes of football practice it reminded me how much I loved football and even the practice..the intensity, the hits, and the sounds of the pads popping. I mentioned in my last post which I’ll call Part I of “Why I Believe” that I had never had a rock bottom moment so to speak that caused me to believe when I didn’t previously. However, that does not mean that I have not had challenges that seemed very great at the time with some making me wonder how I would get through them.

Growing up in the small town of Auburn, IL, high school football is huge. At a young age I asked the coach to be ball boy and my dreams began to be the star quarterback someday. I always picked the teams and played quarterback on the playground and also played quarterback from youth football all the way until my junior year when I had the opportunity to realize my dream to be the starting varsity quarterback. I had not only worked my whole life up until that point for this, but also put in extra work the last year to try beat out my competition in a quarterback controversy if there is such a thing in small town high school football. This dream came crashing down quickly when about a week into practice a broke my elbow throwing a football. Yes…you heard that right..I snapped a growth plate in my elbow just throwing which is unheard of. I had done the same thing to my other elbow the year before and came back later this year only to break a growth plate in my shoulder. If your counting along with me…that’s 3 bones in 2 seasons spending most of my sophomore and junior year first semesters in a cast, and I’m sure you can imagine the “jokes” from high school classmates about my frailty. This also doesn’t do much for a high school boy’s confidence when he’s trying to get a date! The doctor said this was due to weak growth plates and since I was still growing I decided not to play football my senior year. It was crushing. These were the guys I had grown up with and lead as quarterback since the 6th grade.

I played a lot of golf working on the course in the summers, so I thought I would play that in the Fall instead. After the first few days of golf practice, it just didn’t feel right. Fall meant football to me, and I missed being with my football teammates and coaches. Thankfully, Coach Bates let me be a part of the team and chart plays, along with work with the quarterbacks. It was humbling to not be able to put the pads and work with position I always envisioned playing my senior year. We went on that year to complete the first undefeated regular season for our town in 39 years. I can remember taking pictures after winning that 9th and final regular season game and being sad I didn’t have a uniform on like my teammates (I’ll never forget Coach Mark Dudley telling me to get in and making me feel included), but I was also able to find joy by still being a part of it in some way.  I was also happy for my teammates and the 2 quarterbacks who split time that year and remain good friends still.

This may seem like a silly story as you are reading this and you may be thinking..is playing high school football and being the quarterback that big of a deal? You may be going through some very serious “real world” stuff right now. Well for me, it was a big deal at the time. And the challenges you may be going through right now are probably a big deal to you while others may feel blessed to be in your situation. We need to be empathetic and understanding to whatever our kids, neighbors, friends, and loved ones are going through. The main reason I’m sharing this story is because I believe this experience and even the ridicule from high school classmates prepared me for challenges later. The same way I found joy in being a part of the team in some way can relate to the way we can find joy in our relationship with Jesus, even when circumstances don’t turn out like we expected. The subliminal lack of confidence I had at times later in life likely due this and the teasing from classmates allowed God to put others in my life later to build me up and help me realize these events and people affected me more than I realized, but they didn’t define my life and they didn’t mean that life would always turn out this way in future areas. God had big things planned for me in other ways. I wouldn’t trade being high school quarterback for the “victories” He has given me in making me a husband and father of three.

You may read Psalm 18 and be thinking…I’m a good person and may consider myself righteous compared to others like David speaks of, but He hasn’t made me “king” or helped me reach my vision for what I thought my life would look like. It’s easy for David to praise God because he made him king. But, did David know He would be king when he wrote this Psalm or was this before? Maybe God will make you “king” at some point in the area you want or in a different way or areas. Or maybe you are already “king” compared to the alternate path your life could have gone which God rescued you from, but you don’t even know about it. I’m confident God has rescued us from “Saul’s” and our enemy the Devil and made us “king” in ways we don’t even realize.

Regardless of how our life on this Earth goes, if we make God our rock, our fortress, our strength, our deliverer, our refuge, and our shield,  and we humble ourselves as Psalm 18 speaks of by trusting in Jesus and asking for forgiveness for our mistakes….He will in fact make us righteous and blameless in Heaven someday. In fact, we already are in His eyes today.  I believe in God because we have a God who didn’t have to do what He did.  The Creator of the Universe came to Earth as a human and poured himself out and suffered the pains of losing a loved one, temptation of the Devil, facing rejection and being deserted by friends, and ultimately the pain of a Roman flogging and crucifixion that we can’t even imagine. He did this not only to forgive our sins, but lived and suffered in such a way so that we would know He gets us and understands our pain because He lived it and faced the same and then some. This is why I believe. Thank you, Jesus.

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

David

At first, when I saw I would be writing about David I had to laugh. What were the chances? God always has ways to make you laugh and to draw you closer to Him. It also could have been planned out by BJ as he set our readings up? Either way, I get to share the story of David.  Now before I looked at the readings for today I figured it was going to consist of some OT that looked at his courage as a young man or king. There was also the chance we looked back at the time where David was involved in some terrible sins. When my eyes read across the page revealed the readings for today are Psalms 3-8, Psalms 32, and Romans 4:6-8.  Did you know that out of the 150 Psalms seventy-three psalms are associated with David?  In Hebrew, the Book of Psalms is tehillim which means “praises”. The Book of Psalms can also be seen as a hymnbook. 

So what hymns or praises would David be singing about? Let me start by going to part of the Romans verses that were the bookend for today’s readings.  

Romans 4:6-8 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them”.

David had felt tremendous guilt for some of the terrible sins he had committed.  And yet he had experienced amazing joy in the forgiveness. We all have sinned. I truly feel like I grew up making many wrong decisions that selfishly were based on my own desires. Even today these desires to do it my way or by my terms can cause this pain. David reminds us all that you don’t need to hold on to this guilt. That when we quit denying our guilt and recognize our sin, admit to it and ask God for forgiveness, we can let go and trust that God that He will and has covered our sins.  I know, easier said than done. Maybe you contemplate the severity of the sin or who it may have involved. Just remember God sent his son for us, even when we were sinners. Jesus already paid the price. We just have to take them all to Him and trust.

1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive, and to cleanse us. 

This statement is a reason to sings songs of praise. Now goa head and read through Psalms 3-8, and 32.  In these Psalms, you will be reminded of how we need to trust in God for protection and peace. That when we have this confidence we can call on Him anytime and he will listen and provide the comfort we need.  God will defend you, He will deliver you in times of trouble and rescue you when you need it. I David, just like David, need rescue. Forgiveness brings true joy. Walk away from the pain of guilt into the arms of our Father who provides comfort and relief from the mistakes of our past.  

 

Psalm 32:1 Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Psalm 32:10 Many are the woes of the wicked,  but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. 11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!

 

Have a blessed day Biblejournal family. 

 

David 

Till I Found You…Grief Into Joy

Today’s reading is John 16 where the night before He was crucified Jesus foretells of his death and the sadness it will bring followed by the joy that will come when they see Him again through His resurrection.

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

John 16:22

Merriam-Webster defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”

As I read this, I thought to myself, do I have joy? Where am I seeking joy? Often we seek joy in the next promotion, the next sale, the new house, the new car, our net worth, or earthly relationships..only to find these things bring temporary pleasure. This brief pleasure is always fleeting..sometimes within minutes or hours, but always within days or years. None of them last forever. Even the best of marriages end with one spouse passing before the other and even if we are lucky to have an ending like The Notebook and pass at the same time…our life on this earth still ends. It doesn’t last forever. No marriage can bring everlasting joy.

Let’s break down how a relationship with Jesus provides true joy by Merriam-Webster’s definition…

When we know Him, we know our “well-being” is forever being take care of. Romans 8:31-32 says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not graciously give us all things?”

When we know Him, we know we are a “success.” Despite our past sins, relational, professional, or financial failures, we know that we are a “success” because of Him. In Romans 8:38, the Apostle Paul says, “No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” He also talks about winning the prize or the race in other writings.

When we know Him, we know we have “good fortune.” Can anything give us more “good fortune” than knowing every single one of our past sins and future mistakes are forgiven? Psalm 103:10-12 says, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” If that’s not good fortune, I don’t know what is!

When we know Him, we “possess what one desires.” What do we all desire? In my humble opinion, it is the forgiveness we just discussed, as well as a loving relationship that lasts forever through eternal life. The only way we get it is through one with Him. God began to let us know how He would do this all the way back in Isaiah 25:8 which says, “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” God reminds us of this amazing promise again at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21:4 which reads, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

What do you believe is the greatest love song of all time? Well, I believe the greatest love song of all time has to be about the only love that can bring us true joy which cannot be taken from us because it lasts forever. Check out “Till I Found You” by Phil Wickham.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ewhz3pCk9vM

Eternal Perspective

Today’s reading is Job 38.

Yesterday, we read Job 1-2, so we know Job was a man who had it all so to speak…personal wealth/possessions, family, and health. Then, it was all taken from him. Like mine, your Bible may have headings for the chapters of the book of Job that follow. Just a quick skim of these can show you the many emotions and feelings of Job through troubling times which are likely some of the same we have during trials.

In March of 2018, Coach Tony Bennett and his Virginia Cavaliers basketball team became the first #1 seed to ever lose to a #16 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Some would be right in saying this disgrace is not worse than divorce, poor health, or financial troubles, but no doubt this disgrace was bad and in the public spotlight. It seemed like every year it would come up that a #1 had never lost to a #16 with many experts saying it would never happen. Not only did Virginia lose, they lost badly. While Coach Bennett’s teams had done well in recent years, many had already questioned him and his coaching strategy which is different than the norm in college basketball with hard-nosed defense and a slow style of play that many call boring to watch. Many also questioned his coaching style which showed little fire and emotion on the outside in that game, as it does in every game. What would critics say now, and how would Coach Bennett react to the loss? Well, not only did he give credit to the other team for their play in his interview outside of the locker room immediately following the game, but he admitted they simply “got their butts whooped.” Then, he followed up by saying, “I’m trying to tell the guys in there..this is life. It can’t define you. Enjoy the good times and you gotta be able to take the bad times.”

Although he didn’t state it on the outside to the public, I would imagine Tony Bennett had his Job-like moments privately to himself, if not verbally to family or those closest to him. He likely wondered what God’s plan was in all of this and why God let it happen to Him, a faithful Christ follower who likely also plays by the rules when many coaches in college basketball don’t. He may have even wondered if his critics of his slow down coaching strategy and calm demeanor were right. Could he really get the job done? If Tony Bennett thought these things, we do not know what the Holy Spirit may have said to him. However, we do in fact, know what God said to Job here in Job 38. God reminded Job that he in fact was sovereign and in charge. In Job 38:4-6 He states, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements-surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?” God continues to speak to Job with this message and in Job 38:12 says, “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?” If we read on to Job 42, Job ultimately confesses and repents, and God rewards Job for that confession and repentance by giving him twice as much as before (Job 42:10-12).

Ultimately, Job did not think that God knew the physical and emotional pain and public disgrace he was going through. Thankfully, we know that now through Jesus, God experienced every type of pain we have. Knowing of His upcoming scourging and crucifixion, He experienced emotional stress so great that when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane He sweated drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He experienced relational distress and abandonment of those He thought were friends when one of His 12 closest friends, Judas, betrayed Him leading to His death (Luke 22:48), not to mention another one of his 12 closest friends Peter denying He knew Him not once but 3 times (Luke 22:54-62). He even had family relational turmoil and abandonment with His brothers telling Him to leave and not believing Him (John 7:3-5). He experienced public disgrace and embarrassment when the soldiers mocked Him (Luke 22:63-65), and the crowds yelled “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” requesting the release of a murderer in Barabbas instead of Him (Luke 23:18-21). Wait…even Jesus experienced the unfairness of bad things happening to good people and good things happening to bad people!? And of course, He experienced the physical pain of the scourging (John 19:1) and then being nailed to the cross (John 19:18). How blessed are we that during trouble times we can have peace knowing that we can talk to and pray to God who felt what we are feeling?

Just a year later here in 2019, after being down in the first round to a #16 seed again by 14, Coach Tony Bennet’s team won the national championship! Coach Bennett said he played the song Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells for his team before the game. He said, “It just means that you’re never alone in the hills or in the valleys. And we faced those from last year to this year. But the credit goes to those young men, and I can’t wait to celebrate with my wife and my kids and my parents. And I do want thank my Lord and Savior.” He also said, “I think there was a bigger plan going on here. I wasn’t needed but I was used in it, and I hope that it’s message for some people that there can be hope and joy in resiliency and I’m thankful for what happened.” I’m sure he wasn’t thankful last year after the loss, but now the bigger picture and plan can be seen.

When we take an eternal perspective on the hills and in the valleys, it changes everything. As we reflect on Maundy Thursday today, Good Friday tomorrow, and Easter Sunday, let us not forget that our story is part of God’s story. He took the absolute worst event in the history of mankind, the only truly innocent person to ever walk the earth being tortured and killed, and turned it into the greatest event in the history of the mankind…brining us together into oneness with Him through the forgiveness of sins which gives us eternal life.

Coach Tony Bennett quoted to his team last year after their terrible loss Psalm 30:5 which says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Joy truly does come with His resurrection on Easter morning. It not only means that we can face whatever trials this life brings, but most importantly, it means He conquered death, and now so can we.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iDuZv_5MQk

The Truth

Today’s reading is John 8.

Jesus says in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Even Christians, often have trouble acknowledging the Devil’s presence in our lives and in the world. However, the Bible does not. In fact, the Devil or Satan is mentioned 90 times in the Bible. Jesus calls him the “father of lies” here which makes complete sense due the fact that the first sin started with his lie in Genesis 3:5 when he told Adam and Eve they would be like God if they ate the fruit. This is the first lie that Satan still tells us today…you are God.

This may seem silly, but when you take a step back it’s not too difficult to see in our own life and in the world today by what is found to be socially acceptable. Primarily it rears its ugly head when God tells us to do whatever “feels good” and that others should be able to do the same. We trade temporary satisfaction for joy and peace which God knows will come from following Him and restraining from what He calls a sin in the BIble. The “father of lies” also then furthers this lie by others telling us (which we then believe to be true ourselves) that we are judging others when we call what God calls a sin a sin and “that is not the Christian thing to do.” When we call a sin a sin and at the same time acknowledge that we ourselves are sinners as well needing forgiveness and that one sin is not worse than another sin (except for blaspheming the Holy Spirit) and all sin separates us from God, that is not judging..it’s speaking the truth.

The 2nd lie Satan tells us is God does not love you. Even when we acknowledge God exists and know that He sent His Son to die on the cross for us, this lie can subtly bind us from experiencing joy and most importantly keep us from truly being at peace through complete understanding God’s love . Up until the last few years, I found myself wondering at times if something didn’t go my way if it was because of a entirely unrelated sin I committed recently. While sin does have consequences in our lives and God often doesn’t stop the consequences, God does not make bad things happen to you because of something you did. Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:31 then says, “…If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us, will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” God is not against us. He does not punish us for sins. He says here in John 8:11, “Neither do I condemn you.” He does also then say,” …go and from now on sin no more.” He came with both grace and truth.

Jesus says in John 8:12…”I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in the darkness, but have the light of life.” We all seek truth. That is what the world is looking for…truth. We find truth in the Word. John 1 refers to Him as the Word, and here in John 8:31 He says, “….If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Acting on how we we “feel” and the world telling us its ok for others to do the same will not set us free. This is what the “father of lies” tells us. But, Jesus tells us in John 8:34, “..Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Sin (which is what God tells us is sin in the Bible..not the world) does not set us free as Satan tells us…it imprisons us. Jesus says again in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free in deed.” Read the Word. Run to His loving arms and be free. There you will find what we all need to have peace and joy…you will find truth and love.

 

Greatly Distressed

Matthew 17

A couple of weeks ago, I began asking people if it were a full moon outside.  It was my sarcastic way of downplaying the distress in my life.  To be distressed, according to google, is to experience anxiety, sorrow or pain.  But, distress is more than that.  In fact, Marriam-Webster (by the way in our world that is all things Google, we lose some richness from our lives – use other sources for information occasionally) adds that distress is a state of danger or desperate need.  Distress, in my life, shows up when the things that I put my hope in, the things that I trust my future with, don’t perform the way that I expect them to.  The disciples experienced this too.

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. Matthew 17:22-23

Do you see it?  At this point, the disciples had given up their entire lives for Jesus.  Their careers, family life, money, everything.  The only comfort and security they know is Jesus.  What does he do?  He tells them that he is going away.  Worse than that, he is going to die.    They knew that they found the very best thing to live for and now it is going away.  It could never be replaced.  No relationship, no job, no wealth could give them hope.  The result?  Distress – agony, anguish, tribulation, excruciation, torment and torture.

As I consider the disciples’ lost hope, I see that distress reveals much about our own lives.  Chiefly, distress in our lives exposes the object of our affection. Some of us, put our hope in people, maybe a spouse.  Many choose the organization that we work for.   When these let us down, or they change course, our future looks different than what we originally chose.  We find distress.  Do not, for a second, think that distress is a bad thing.  I think Jesus allowed, even wanted his disciples to experience it.  Why?  Because it caused them to reevaluate.  It caused them to clarify why they were following him and was it worth continuing.

History shows that the disciples continued to choose Jesus, despite their distress and the uncertainty of his future.  In him, they found life, abundantly.  That abundant life continued even after his death.  Today, we get that same benefit.  In fact, he promises that he will be with us “even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).  Because of that eternal promise, we never have to experience distress.   When we do, our hope is in the wrong place.

 

He Wants Us

2 Samuel 19 and Psalm 51 – Resurrection Eve

Have you ever wondered when the deniers, doubters, crucifiers, and liars had their moment of realization of who Jesus was and their role in His death? Was it immediate, like Peter when the rooster crowed the third time? Or did it take longer, after Jesus had been taken from the cross and put in the tomb? Or was it not until days later, when word got around that Jesus was alive, and Thomas even put his hand into his side.  Did they respond like David does, in his Psalms about his own sins? Had I been there, would I have realized it immediately, or would it have taken me awhile to understand? What would have been my response to knowing I put Jesus on the cross?

From an early age I learned about Jesus and have never doubted who He was or what He did for me.  As I got older, my heart to please God was challenged by my selfishness and temptations to sin. In high school especially, I was stuck on this hamster wheel of wanting to “be good” and do the right thing, but time and time again would fall into cycles of sin and rebellion. I would go through a period of mourning, praying, and vow to not fall into that junk again. I would “be good” for awhile and then it would start over. I was so frustrated with myself and lack of self control. Everything seemed so easy and made so much sense sitting in church on Sundays and at youth group on Wednesday nights.  But by Friday night – it all flew out the window.

I made a decision when I was 16 to try to get off that hamster wheel for good, and I wanted a REAL CHANGE. While I had always believed in Jesus, I needed to do something different and drastic in my life so that I could be more consistent in my choices to follow Jesus. I believed. I could talk the talk. I needed to WALK the WALK – even on the weekends.  I joined a conservative faith community that was rich in tradition and strong in holy habits.  The fellowship of the close-knit group was unmatched. The believers there invested time and energy in helping me understand God’s Word. I learned so much in this season of life and thank God for putting people into my path to draw me to Him.

One of the biggest things I learned is that even with all of the holy habits, fellowship, and accountability, I still sinned.  As much as I wanted to ‘be good’, I couldn’t. I wasn’t. And it took my early adult years to figure out that God doesn’t want me to ‘be good’. He wants me forgiven. This is why He brought us Jesus. In my youth I found myself categorizing sin and thought mine was the worst – if I could just stop those major sins, then I would be acceptable in God’s eyes. It took a lot of years to really believe that ALL sin is unrighteousness in God’s eyes. While sins may have greater or lesser consequences on earth – the sin itself is all the same: separation from God, no matter how big or small.

During this time of growth, the elder of our church, a kind and sweet man named Ervin, would point me back to Psalms 51. Over and over again, I would counsel with him, pour my heart out, trying to figure out why I would still from time to time fall back into those old sinful ways and make bad decisions.  He was so patient with me, and would read this scripture with me.  Even though it was twenty years ago, I can clearly recall our conversations.  He would encourage me to go home and pray the prayers that David did, a man who loved God so much and would still find himself in a mess of sin. And just like David, I would weap and mourn over my sins and ask God for forgiveness.  My quest to “be good” was a fruitless journey – and through prayers like Psalm 51, I found that a broken heart for my sin drew me closer to Him more than my checklist of ‘being good’ ever did.  As C.S. Lewis said: God doesn’t want something from us, He simply wants US.

Today, on Holy Saturday, the time between Jesus’ death on the cross, and His victory over the grave tomorrow, I can’t help but put myself there and walk through the range of emotions.

It is our sins against God that crucified Jesus that Friday vs. 4 and David calls his own sin what it is – evil.

Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;

I wonder how quickly we would have realized this and sought forgiveness and change. Would it have been the very next day, on Saturday?  Would we have prayed vs. 10?

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

And then to wake up Sunday morning and learn that HE IS ALIVE! Would we really believe? Would we spend the rest of our days living in the JOY that salvation brings (vs. 10)?

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

How would our lives be different if we lived everyday with the utmost JOY for Jesus conquering the grave and the utmost JOY for our salvation?

Standing on the Promises

2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 39

With a gapped tooth grin from ear to ear, I handed my mom an egg carton jewelry box on Mother’s Day, over thirty years ago.  It was a soft yellow styrofoam carton, that was covered with paint, paper shapes and flower pipe cleaners.  It was BEAUTIFUL! I had worked so diligently on her special gift, and she proudly displayed it on her dresser and put all of her treasures in it… I was so proud to give her something so beautiful that she could see and use every day.

David, he sure loved His God. In a similar way, we read in 2 Samuel 7, how he wanted to build something special for the Lord to dwell. It sure made sense to me – David’s living in a beautiful cedar home, and he wanted something even better for God. We know God cares about details, order, reverence, and respect, and this seemed right in line.  But God’s ways are always above our ways, and while I believe David’s heart was in the right place, the Lord used it as an opportunity to reveal his future plans and make a covenant with him.  Instead of David building a house for the Lord, the Lord outlines the eternal house (kingdom) that He will build through David and his heirs.

God later refers to this in Psalms 89:3 as:

“I have made a covenant

with my chosen one.”

God promises to raise up David’s offspring, establish their kingdom forever, and they will build a house for the Lord’s name. This promise, the foretelling of Jesus, is an early picture of God’s future plans for the Messiah.

God makes this covenant, with full knowledge of the future. He knows what David’s choices will be in the years to come.  From times of obedience, to times of sin, God’s perfect ability to bring discipline and steadfast love is unmatched on this earth.

The second half of this chapter is David’s bewildered response to God’s promise to Him. He has been forgiven, protected, guided, changed, and God just told him He will do even MORE than that for David and his offspring! The soft heart of David, full of humility and love for the Lord, is one I want to emulate more consistently.

Thinking back to times when my heart was softest and focused on closeness with God, several instances come to mind:

  • the ‘first love” feelings of Jesus overwhelmed me when I first became a Christian
  • seasons of deep repentance, forgiveness, and gratitude
  • God answered prayers with my newborn daughter’s spina bifida and surgeries
  • discovering a new truth or lesson in the Word

I can go back to those moments and feelings that nothing else in the world mattered – God was with me and would be with me in the future, and I was firmly standing on that promise.

When I stumble across an old journal entry or something written down during those time, it is so faith affirming to see God’s work in my life. The book of Psalms often reads like David’s own journal entries of God’s promises, God’s deliverances, God’s protection. David loved proclaiming what God has done and will do in his life. He believed it, and he stood firm on those truths.

Are you standing firm in the promise God has given you? A promise of a life with him forever, filled with love and joy, where there will be no more tears and death. He is the perfect promise keeper.  When the world around you fails, His promises never fail.

Psalm 145

Our reading for today is Psalm 145, and after reading it through, it is simply perfect for the day after Christmas. Psalm 145 is a psalm of praise, written by David to his Lord:

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.

On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.

They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!

They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.

The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.

You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.

The Lord preserves all who love him, but the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever. (Psalm 145)

In this psalm, David lists several reasons why God is worthy of our praise: He is great. His greatness is unsearchable. He does mighty and wondrous works. He is abundantly good. He is righteous. He is gracious and merciful. He is slow to anger. His love is steadfast (I love this one! – It reminds me of the picture of an anchor). He is good to all. He has mercy on us. He is powerful. His kingdom is everlasting. He is faithful and kind. He upholds the fallen. He is a provider. He satisfies our deepest desires. He is near. He saves. He preserves all who love him. That’s quite a list, right?!

David’s response to all of who God is is simply this: praise. David will meditate on God’s works, and in response, David will declare God’s greatness and sing aloud of His righteousness. David says that he will extol God, and that he will bless Him and praise His name forever. David praises God for the work He has done in David’s life, and for who He is.

Perhaps this is a good time, as we near the end of 2017, to take some time to write out your praises to God. Consider what He has done for you this year, and praise Him for the times of blessing and the times of stretching and growing. Consider His attributes, the aspects of His character, and praise Him for those. And consider that when we praise Him, we link arms with those around the world who are doing the exact same thing. We join in that chorus of praise. Merry Christmas!