From Our Pastors

Criticism, not a spiritual gift.

I have never met a creative critic.

Critics never have to build anything; they just demolish ideas and people. Tearing down is cheap labor. Demo work is faster than construction and trashing your bedroom is simpler than cleaning it. Courage is rarely found in the life of a critic.

Our English word “critic” comes from the Greek word “kritikos” which speaks of the action to separate. The work of a critic is to sit in judgment, speaking words that separate a person and their idea from everyone else in the room. The critic only exalts themselves by the process of lowering another.

President Theodore Roosevelt said this of the critic,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.

The Apostle Paul offers the solution to criticism when he wrote Ephesians 4:29, “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Corrupting talk means “rotten speech.” What a great description of critical words, rotten to the core speech. Finding a good word that “fits” both time and task is the job of every Christ follower. Let’s face it; critical words should never fit well in a Christ follower’s mouth.

When you are filled with the spirit of the living God you should be at least as kind as the Helpful Honda people in blue shirts. Right? Mark Twain once said, “he could live ninety days on a good compliment.” So grace someone with your words.  Help that person live well for the next ninety days.

Twenty-Nineteen

Fear and faith share one thing in common, both are looking to the future. This next trip around the sun in 2019 will you fear it or will you faith it?

Let me explain why faith is a better way to go.

Remember for a moment, the Israelites, as they walked into the promise land after wondering for forty years. Like them, you stand at the edge of a new land, and it is called 2019. I love, love, love what Joshua said to the people of God as they were about to enter the promised land. In Joshua 3:5 he said,

“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

This cry of Joshua was for a fierce faith, not fear. Faith, not because the people were so great or life in the promised land would be easy. The cry of faith came from the reality their God is great, and He would take every step with them.

The word Joshua uses for “wonders” is “pala.”  This Hebrew word is interesting as it carries the idea of “extraordinary work in the midst of extreme difficulty.” Read that one more time. This type of work is right in God’s sweet spot.  He holds a Ph.D. in extraordinary. This sweet spot of His is what births courage in the heart of man.

So courage up. Your God has 2019 by the tail.

Let his extraordinary faithfulness fuel your courage. Some of you remember the movie “We Bought a Zoo.” Such a good movie and the title explains the true story of this family; they bought a zoo. In the midst of real fear, Benjamin Mee played by Matt Damon has a great line in the movie,

“you know, sometimes all you need is twenty-seconds of insane courage.”

This is a good word for those who follow Jesus into this new year. All you need is twenty-seconds of insane courage at just the right moment. In those twenty-seconds of insane courage, Peter got out of the boat, David picked up the first stone, and Esther stepped into the palace. Now is your turn. Grab hold of your twenty-seconds.

God-size your dreams. 
Hunger holiness. 
Chase purpose. 
Leverage obedience.
Live loved. 
Burn ships.
Sharpen the razor edge of the Word. 
Exhale joy.

God is going to do wonders among you in 2019.

Joy at Christmas?

Have you ever thought about the fact God never commands a feeling? You never read in the Bible be happy, be nostalgic or be melancholy. A feeling is like a bus, a new one comes every ten minutes. Feelings just happen.

The very first Christmas feelings were going around like the common cold. The teenage mother of Jesus was an ocean of feelings along with her bewildered yet to be husband. Their parents?  Well as a parent, I am sure they had a few feelings of their own. Not the perfect Christmas story in their minds. Finally, there was the overbooked inn, pesky animals, and the itchy hay creating a really awkward Christmas photo.

So where does the joy fit?

In the midst of the crazy was a real raw joy. What was born on Christmas day was joy incarnate. You see, a friend of mine describes joy this way,

“Joy is choosing to believe that God is in control of every detail of your life.”

Joy is a “think thing” not a “feel thing.” The birth of Jesus is living proof that God is in control of every detail of the Universe. In the chaos of that time when there was more questions than answers God provided the savior of the world. Joy was now a choice.

Maybe your Christmas or your life right now is out of control. Now is the moment to let feelings feel and make a choice. Choose joy in the chaos. Joy is choosing to accept the “all things” in my life have crossed the sovereign desk of God. He is moving your life along with every molecule in the universe towards His excellent plan just as he did that first crazy Christmas. He was in control of every detail of life for Joseph, for Mary, and Jesus. And for you.

Choose joy!

“O LORD, our Lord”

Psalm 8 is an amazing Psalm.  Notice what David says in verse one,

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”

As we briefly look at this verse, the first thing to notice is the use of the words “LORD” and “Lord.”  These are two different words in Hebrew.  The first, in all caps, is the word YHWH.  It is the word that reveals that God is a personal Being.  In fact, it is the word God chose to reveal Himself to Moses in the burning bush and is translated Yahweh or Jehovah.

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Ex. 3:14-15)

The significance of this name YHWH is explained by Nelson Bible Dictionary, “’I am’ expresses the fact that He is the infinite and original personal God who is behind everything and to whom everything must finally be traced.'”  The “I AM” God is Yahweh!

David is praising God for being a personal God with whom he can have a relationship.  God is not some energy or mystical force.  His very name shows that He is a Person we can know.

The second name for God, “Lord” is the name “Adonai.”  It stresses that this personal God who is eternal, is also in sovereign control of all things.

In a sense then, David begins this Psalm by recalling that God is the eternal, personal God with whom he had a relationship and who was in control of all things. This is a great way to regain your perspective as you talk to God!

He concludes the verse by stating that God’s handiwork is shown in the heavens.  God is personal, sovereign and “majestic.”  This means that He inspires “awe or reverence in the beholder; (this reverence) can be related to size, strength, power, or authority” (Logos).  We should be in awe of God because the heavens declare his power, wisdom and greatness.

Father, this Psalm crafted by David, beautifully describes who you are.  I am so thankful that you are a personal God!  We can have a relationship with you!  Amazing!  In addition, you are the Sovereign One. You are in control of all things and your greatness is displayed in the heavens for all to see.  Creation declares your glory and perfection. My response to your demonstration of power should be awe.  Help me to live in constant awe of you and not take the demonstration of your power for granted.

Fearless or Fear Less?

We have all lived inside the enclosure created by fear. You may be caged right now.

Fear is one of the enemy’s most popular weapons that he uses against us. Fear can be packaged in worry, anxiety, or despair and can overwhelm us with a thick shadow of darkness, controlling our every move and decision.

Have you ever heard of the African impala? This majestic animal is like a tiger or bobcat, but the African impala can jump vertically to the height of over 10 feet. Yet these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot-high wall. You see, this animal will not jump if it cannot see where its feet will fall. They are caged not by a wall but by the fear of the unknown.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” So how do you trust God exactly? Are there concrete actions to trusting him? The answer is a resounding yes! Learning to distance yourself from fear involves the mind. The Bible tells us to put feet to our thinking when the Apostle writes in Philippians 4:8 to “think on these things.” Here are three concrete ways to help you put your trust in Him: control what you can, cast off what you can’t control, and concentrate on what counts.

First, you can only control your thoughts, words and deeds. What you say, how you think, and what you do can make a situation better or worse, so choose wisely. Second, you can’t control other people or their moods, or the weather, or traffic. That means we must be prepared to cast off the wild and wacky ups-and-downs of friends, family, and yes, even the weather. Finally, you must concentrate on what counts. Focus on what really matters in life, not the things that dissipate over the course of days, weeks and months. Get an eternal perspective. Take the battlefield of your mind and think on these things.

Trust the One that can see outside the enclosure.

The next move is yours.

The Sin in Cinnabon

I am pretty sure we get our word “sin” from the Greek word “cin-na-bon.”

Honestly, Cinnabon like sin is so tempting.  That puppy calls you by name no matter what part of the mall you’re in.  Choosing to eat one makes so much sense at the moment. Yet, moments after eating that 1500-caloric sugar bomb, you say to yourself, “why did I eat that?” Moment on the lips, a life time on the hips, just saying.

Just like the moment after choosing to sin, we say “why did I do that?”

Grandpa John, the last living apostle shoots straight with us. He declares that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.  Yes we saved by Christ yet we still sin. Sin is that darkness, that God, who is all light, can not tolerate.

The apostle John explains that you and I have a free-will choice regarding our personal sin, either cover or confess? The latter is the right choice because our all light, no darkness God is willing to forgive our sin.  I John 1:9 states,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

In case you missed it let me tell you, this is a fantastic offer.  Confess and be cleansed from the inside out.  Confession is so freeing, so refreshing, so releasing, that you would be nuts to keep hiding your sin.

Here is how confession really works. The word “confess” comes from the Greek word “homologeo.”  The word means “to say the same thing.”  In other words, confession is the act of saying the same thing that God has said about your sin.  To confess is to come to agreement with God. Call sin, sin. Yet with the great offer of forgiveness through Christ, we still hemorrhage excuses. Excuses like, it’s no big deal, it is a midlife crisis, it is a choice, it is a lifestyle, a disease, a disorder, or best yet, everyone is doing it.

Friend, stop the endless excuses. Sin is darkness.

Start the confession. Confess to God. Confess it to a friend. Snap the neck of that sin.  Humble yourself and come to agreement with the all light God.  Let him forgive, bury and wash you anew. Walk in fresh freedom.

And remember, next time you are free to say no to that “sin-na-bon.”

Think Right Live Right.

Your thoughts may not change your circumstances, but they do change you.

This point was evidenced in the life of Victor Frankl. Frankl’s life was reduced to almost nothing by the Holocaust. The Nazi regime took so much more than his freedom. They stripped his life bare, took all his possessions, and shaved his head. His parents, brother, and wife all died in concentration camps. Once an esteemed psychiatrist among his community, Frankl was now a slave in the notorious death camp, Auschwitz.

Frankl endured the daily grind of hard labor, digging a water main tunnel all alone. He faced starvation and daily abuse at the hands of Nazi guards. He could have seethed with hatred and self-pity, but instead, Frankl realized that the Nazis could never rob him of his attitude.

In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he wrote of his time in the camp,

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

The Nazi’s thought they took everything from Frankl, but there are some things that cannot be stolen. You see, Victor Frankl did not choose his circumstances, but he sure did choose his thinking. You have the same choice. Don’t let your circumstances rob you of your thoughts. Help is on the way.

Here is the helping hand of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8,

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

True – Are your current thoughts objectively, factually true?
Honorable – Are your current thoughts holding the highest view of others?
Right – Are you thinking about the things God declares are right?
Pure – Would you show your thoughts right now on a IMAX screen for all to see?
Lovely – Would “mom” be happy with your thinking right now?
Commendable – Are you thinking about how you could speak well of someone?
Excellent – Can you identify the one thought lately, which you need to pry out of your mind?
Praiseworthy – Is your thinking controlled by thankfulness?

So remember, change your thinking, change your life.

Is Dancing OK?

As a Pastor on occasion I get asked the question, “do you allow dancing at your church?”

Typically my response is we are absolutely against bad dancing that's for sure. The question they asked is not so much about behavior but really about line drawing. What do we consider worldliness and sin? In I John 2:15-17 the Apostle John defined worldliness when he wrote,

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires.”

You see worldliness is not “stuff” it is a “system” that takes over the loves of heart.

Desires of the flesh, the things that make me feel good.

Desires of the eyes, the things that make me look good.

Pride of life, my twisted desire to make sure you know just how good I am.

So how do you know if you are drifting into worldliness? The best way to check the heart is with honest heart questions. Here are a few core testing questions for you ask and answer before the Lord.

Distracted? Do you often daydream about the things that make you feel good, look good, or that show others how good you are?

Discontent? Is it easy for you to say “that’s enough I am satisfied?”

Defined? Is your identity and well being in things or positions?

Determined? Are you “obsessed” with getting more or moving ahead?

Deficit? Do you think about heaven every day?

Dictator? Are you the happiest when you are in control?

So how did you do? How is the old heart right now? The world is passing away so don’t spend your life chasing the things with an expiration date on them. Remember the words of the martyred missionary Jim Elliott, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep gaining that which he cannot lose.”

The next move is yours.

Friend? Are you sure?

As I was reading in Matthew 26, I was struck by the word Jesus chose to describe Judas when he betrayed him. It is a familiar story. Judas had agreed to give the authorities Jesus in exchange for money. When Judas and the mob approached Jesus, Jesus said,

Friend, do what you came to do.” (Mt 26:50)

Are you not puzzled that Jesus would use the word “friend” to describe Judas? How could He use such a word?

Unfortunately, in English, we only have one word to describe associates. The Greek is more specific. Jesus uses the word philos to represent his real friends. Notice the following example:

“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn 15:14-15)

Jesus did not use the word philos, “true friend” when he talked with Judas. He used another word, hetairos. What is the difference between these two words?

“The study of the word hetaíros causes us to conclude that it could not be used as synonym with phílos, a true friend who seeks the other’s good. Hetaíros is one who only projects his own interest. The inference, therefore, is that hetaíros means a selfish acquaintance, one who seeks his own interests above the interests of others. (Zodhiates)

So what does this word choice mean in the confrontation of Jesus and Judas? Zodhiates continues his insight by saying, “the Lord called him hetaíre, indicating that while Judas was giving Him a kiss pretending that he was a friend, all he was interested in was the thirty pieces of silver. Therefore, the meaning of the word is a person who attaches himself to another for what he can get out of him, a leech or a phony friend as we would say in our culture today, a selfish comrade.”

Isn’t the Bible amazing?! The word choice of Jesus to reveal the real intent of Judas would be condemning for him to hear. Jesus understood his motive for following Him. Yet, for our benefit, He allowed it to happen.

Father, may I be a true friend of yours. One who seeks to do your will for your benefit and not selfishly try to use my relationship with you for my selfish interests. Help me to live in constant fellowship with you.

Proof That Jesus is the Lamb of God

If someone asked you why you believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, what would you say?

Certainly, there are many ways to show that Jesus was no ordinary man.  This would include his miracles, his teaching, what others said about him, his ability to forgive sin, and his resurrection. All of these are appropriate, but something hit me today as I was reflecting on Matt. 27:12-14 which says,

“But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. ‘Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?’ Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no responseto any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.”

How does the silence of Jesus to the charges against him show he was the Lamb of God? Jesus is living out what was foretold in Isaiah 53:7 which says,

“He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.”

The silence of Jesus proves He was the Lamb of God who suffered for you and me according to Is. 53.  Spurgeon says it this way, “By his quiet he conclusively proved himself to be the true Lamb of God.” When you and I would have been screaming about injustice and defending ourselves in an attempt to protect our lives, Jesus was completely silent so that he could die to save our lives.

As Spurgeon goes on to say, “Never man spake like this man, and never man was silent like him.” His quiet strength in the midst of cruelty and injustice shows that he was the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 and the true Lamb of God who died for you and me to take away the sin of the world!’

Father, thank you again for your amazing grace. How you could allow your Son to suffer without complaint on my behalf is beyond my ability to comprehend. Thank you for your love, patience, compassion, and grace. Thank you for allowing Jesus to die for me as the true Lamb of God.

Following Jesus with you,

Reasons to Glorify God

We serve a good God.

His character, infinite abilities, and ever-growing list of accomplishments on our behalf provides ample opportunity for us to boast about his greatness.  The following list contains just a sampling of the many things God has done for his precious children.  I pray you will consider the list, meditate on some of the accompanying Scripture, and then go and purposefully talk with others about what our amazing Savior has done for you.  

 

Reasons to Glorify God We are...

Adopted by God - Galatians 4:4-5 Anointed by God - I John 2:27 Answered by God - Jeremiah 33:3 Accepted by God - Ephesians 1:6-7 Born Again by God - I Peter 1:3-5 Blessed by God - Psalm 1:1-3 Benefitted by God - Psalm 103 Bought by God - I Corinthians 6:20 Created by God - Colossians 1:16 Cared for by God - Nahum 1:17 Called by God - Romans 8:28 Counseled by God - Psalm 32:8 Completed by God - Philippians 1:6 Comforted by God - II Corinthians 1:3-4 Changed by God - Romans 8:29 Chosen by God - Ephesians 1:4-5 Defended by God - Psalm 18:2 Declared righteous by God - Romans 5:1 Delivered by God - Psalm 50:15 Directed by God - Proverbs 3:5-6 Encouraged by God - II Thessalonians 2:16-17 Enriched by God - II Peter 1:3 Exalted by God - Matthew 23:12 Forgiven by God - Colossians 2:13-14 Filled by God - Colossians 2:10 Favored by God - Psalm 84:11 Freed by God - John 8:36 Foreknown by God - Romans 8:29 Fed by God - Isaiah 55:2 Graced by God - Ephesians 2:8 Gifted by God - James 1:17 Guided by God - Psalm 32:8 Guarded by God - I Peter 1:5 Given wisdom by God - James 1:5 Glorified by God - Romans 8:30 Helped by God - Hebrews 13:6 Healed by God - Psalm 103:2-4 Heard by God - I John 5:14 Held by God - Philippians 3:12 Honored by God - Psalm 84:11 Indwelled by God - Romans 8:11 Interceded for by God - Romans 8:27 Instructed by God - Proverbs 8:33 Justified by God - Romans 3:24 Known by God - John 10:27-28 Loved by God - John 3:16 Led by God - Isaiah 57:18 Made alive by God - Ephesians 2:5 Made righteous by God - II Corinthians 5:21 Predestined by God - Ephesians 1:11 Planned by God - Jeremiah 1:5 Protected by God - John 10:27-28


Preserved by God - Psalm 138:7 Prospered by God - I Timothy 6:17 Powered by God - Isaiah 40:29 Provided for by God - Matthew 6:26 Pursued by God - Psalm 139 Purified by God - Psalm 51:1-2 Raised by God - Ephesians 2:6 Ransomed by God - I Peter 1:18 Redeemed by God - Galatians 3:13 Renewed by God - Isaiah 40:31 Rewarded by God - Hebrews 11:6 Reconciled by God - Colossians 1:22 Restored by God - Psalm 23:3 Saved by God - Psalm 107:13 Shielded by God - Psalm 84:11 Sheltered by God - Psalm 61:3 Strengthened by God - II Thessalonians 2:16-17 Sustained by God - Philippians 4:12-13 Supplied by God - Philippians 4:19 Sealed by God - Ephesians 1:13 Taught by God - Psalm 119:68 Thought of By God - Jeremiah 29:11 Used by God - Philippians 2:13 Uplifted by God - Isaiah 40:29-31 Upheld by God - Psalm 55:22

Psalm 115:1 - Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory for your steadfast love and truth’s sake.

How do you handle suffering?

Today I was impressed by something Winston Churchill reportedly said, “Nothing is more exciting in life than being shot at without result.”

I can only imagine the adrenaline rush of barely escaping death or severe injury as he described. As I thought about that statement though, it made me also wonder what happens when life hits us and we were not able to dodge the bullet of suffering?

In times like these, I think it is easy to feel isolated and alone as though no one else is having times of difficulty. How do we as Christians find hope to endure the dark valleys of life?

Notice what Jesus says in Rev. 2:9-10 NLT

I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”

What comforting words we have in “I know.” Jesus KNOWS! He is not a distant God, but one who is intimately aware of all that is going on in our lives.

Notice that Jesus also does not sugar coat the message for the believers in Smyrna who are enduring great suffering for their faith. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” He didn’t tell them that their suffering was over to them a false hope. Instead, he said, don’t be afraid when the suffering continues. In some ways, for them, the worst was yet to come.

Why can these believers continue in faithfulness in spite of their great anguish? Notice the last sentence, “If you remain faithful, even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”

The readers could be encouraged by the reminder that Jesus knows their suffering and the promise that faithful obedience even to death will not be forgotten, but rewarded!

This morning then, I was encouraged by the reminder that Jesus knows all that is going on my life today and every day. In addition, I need not fear when difficulties come or when they even get worse. I simply have to trust God, remain faithful, and follow him regardless of what happens.  I should do all of this as I am encouraged by his promises to reward such effort.

Father, thank you for shooting straight with us. We all will suffer, some more than others. You are not surprised by this. You do not tell us to ignore such things, but that we should accept them and remain faithful to you knowing that one day you will reward the life of endurance.

The Unavoidable

This past weekend I did one thing I hate doing but really needs to be done. I cleaned the outside grill! I knew that cleaning the grill was certain to include a greasy mess. It was unavoidable!

One unavoidable truth in scripture is that judgment is coming for everyone. No one can escape it. The passage that impressed me this morning with that truth reminded me that I need to be faithful regardless of whether others notice because God sees it all. God sees both my sin and my good deeds, even when others don’t.

In 1 Timothy 2:24-25 notice how Paul reminds Timothy of these truths,

“Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later. In the same way, the good deeds of some people are obvious. And the good deeds done in secret will someday come to light.” (NLT)

Those who think they will get away with unseen sin will be in for a surprise. The text tells us that man may not see our sins but God sees it all and he will hold everyone accountable. This reality should motivate us to be faithful and obedient.

For those who think their good deeds will never be noticed, need to see the encouragement here. Even though I may never be praised by man for my good works, God sees them. He does not miss a single one! The encouragement is that these works will one day be evident and rewarded. Instead of being discouraged by a lack of human recognition for such effort, we are to be encouraged knowing that nothing misses the observation of God. He will one day reward such faithfulness. It is unavoidable!

Notice how Barclay summarizes this section,

“This saying bids us leave things to God and be content. There are obvious sinners, whose sins are clearly leading to their disaster and their punishment; and there are secret sinners who, behind a front of unimpeachable rectitude, live a life that is in essence evil and ugly. What man cannot see, God does. ‘Man sees the deed, but God sees the intention.’ There is no escape from the ultimate confrontation with the God who sees and knows everything.

There are some whose good deeds are plain for all to see, and who have already won the praise and thanks and congratulations of men. There are some whose good deeds have never been noticed, never appreciated, never thanked, never praised, never valued as they ought to have been. They need not feel either disappointed or embittered. God knows the good deed also, and he will repay, for he is never in any man’s debt.

A. Duane Litfin adds, “All people are heading toward judgment, carrying with them either their sins or their good works. For some, their sins or good works go before them and are obvious to all observers. For others their sins or good works trail behind, hidden from view, becoming known only after the individual has passed.”

Father, help me to be convinced in my heart that certain judgment is coming for me. Not to determine if I am a believer, but for my faithfulness as a believer (2 Cor. 5:10). As a result of my convinced heart, help me to be faithful and fruitful whether of not others notice because you notice and will reward me.

Following Jesus with you,

Following Jesus: The Life Of A Disciple Now Available!

I am thrilled to announce that my first book is now available at Amazon!  Please check it out if you want to study important discipleship concepts for yourself, or if you want to lead others and help expand the Kingdom!  I hope it is something God can use for His glory!  The Spanish version will be available soon!

Here is the link if you would like to check it out 

Please email me at followingjesuswithyou@gmail.com if you have questions about the book or how to use it.  Let’s make disciples of Jesus together!

Jeff

My Summer Reading Plan

Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham

 

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta

Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture by John Piper

Giving It All Away…and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously by David Green

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Play the Man: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be by Mark Batterson

What So Enraged Ahithophel That He Betrayed David?

Have you heard fo the saying, “Blood is thicker than water”? This truism reminds us that relationships within the family and their loyalties are generally stronger than those outside the family.

I could not help but think of that saying when I was contemplating an event in the life of David. The situation I am referring to is when his son Absalom tried to overthrow his kingdom with the help of Ahithophel. Notice what it says in 2 Sam. 15:31,

“And it was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”

This coup attempt for David’s throne is compounded by the defection of Ahithophel. Ahithophel was the most esteemed advisor that David had. He is described as follows in 2 Sam. 16:23,

“Absalom followed Ahithophel’s advice, just as David had done. For every word Ahithophel spoke seemed as wise as though it had come directly from the mouth of God.

Why would David’s most trusted advisor leave him for Absalom? Ahithophel had been David’s right-hand man for years! This just does not seem to make sense! In fact, Ahithophel appears to be more than a casual conspirator because he wants to personally kill David. Notice what is says in the following passage,

“Now Ahithophel urged Absalom, ‘Let me choose 12,000 men to start out after David tonight. I will catch up with him while he is weary and discouraged. He and his troops will panic, and everyone will run away. Then I will kill only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride returns to her husband.’” (2 Sam. 17:1-3)

What is going on? What was driving Ahithophel to pursue this desperate course of action? We do not know much about Ahithophel, but we do find a major clue in 2 Sam. 23:34. There we learn that he had a son named Eliam.

This observation is very significant because of what we learn in 2 Sam. 11:3,

“He (David) sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, ‘She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’”

Do you see what I see? Ahithophel is the grandfather of Bathsheba! The daughter of his son had a tragic end to her marriage because of David. Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was killed through the conniving plan of David in his desperate attempt to hide the fact that he was the father of the child that Bathsheba was carrying.

When David had learned that the woman he wanted was married and the granddaughter of Ahithophel, his most trusted advisor, he should have come to his senses and abandoned his plans of taking advantage of her. Instead, he forced himself upon her in spite of this information. His decision to sin in this way had tragic consequences for him and many others.

As a result of these observations, it seems very possible that Ahithophel never got over this betrayal by David and he was waiting for his opportunity to get revenge because he had harmed his family. What a tragic story!

Father, thank you for helping us see that sin has disastrous consequences. David, controlled by passion, rationalized away obedience to pursue his selfish pleasure. You graciously let him know two facts 1) Bathsheba was married and 2) she was the granddaughter of his closest advisor.  This information should have stopped him cold in his tracks, but tragically it did not. Help me not to be deceived by sin and give me the ability to see my foolishness before I make mistakes like David.  Enable me to pursue simple obedience in following you.

God Cares Even When We Fail

Today I found great comfort in Psalm 56:8.  It says,

 

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

God was so aware of the details of David’s life that David describes it as God catching every one of his tears and putting them in a bottle. Every tear is recorded.  This is so encouraging, but it makes me wonder what David was experiencing to cause him such sorrow?

Sometimes in scripture, there is a connection between what we find written in the Psalms and a historical event. Psalm 56 is such a passage. This Psalm was written during the events of 1 Samual 21:10. When you read that passage, you find that this Psalm was written at the time David was fleeing from Saul and went to Gath and pretended to be mad before the king. How could David reach such a state that he felt the need to act like a crazy man to protect himself? This is a very hard question, but I think 1 Sam 21:12 helps us understand his motivation. Notice what it says,

“And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath.”

Why did David do what he did instead of displaying confidence that God would protect him? The answer is fear!

David Payne provides great insight about this when he says,

“Fear … was the cause of David’s deceit, both of Ahimelech and of Achish. Fear, like pride, is a destructive human trait, which can lead to a variety of wrongful actions. It is a basic human reaction to frightening circumstances, of course, but the Christian can overcome it by the depth of his trust in God, as many a Christian martyr has demonstrated.”

The Bible does not hide the imperfections of its characters. David was a man with flaws. He was not perfect and made mistakes. Even so, he was a man after God’s own heart. He had God as the number one allegiance of his heart even while being imperfect.  In this case, he allowed fear to cause him to make bad decisions.

Why then was David crying?  I’m sure that it was a combination of the need to flee for his life, being alone, missing his friends and family and missing the nearness of God. It also could be that he realized he had made some bad decisions and was sorrowful because of that as well.

Even so, God’s grace is clearly seen in how David reflected on his situation in Psalm 56. David still understood that God was intimately aware of everything he had done. He saw God as still being with him and being concerned about him in spite of his poor decisions and his difficult circumstances.  In fact, David saw God being so aware of his situation, it was as though God was there catching every tear that fell from his cheek!

Father, this example of David and your care for him even though he made mistakes, is so encouraging. I am often challenged by David’s courage and faith in you, but here, I am encouraged by his failure and your steadfast love in his life in spite of that. I know you love me when I make mistakes as well since I am your son. Help me to trust in you and courageously follow you, but also help me to remember that you care about me when I make mistakes.

Following Jesus with you,

When Tragedy Strikes

Unexpected tragedy will impact all of us at some time in life. Those challenges could be the health of loved ones, our own health, a loss of our job and the death of those we care about. Whatever it is, it is only a matter of time until we experience it.

As I was reading the book of Ruth, I was impressed with how she handled the loss of her husband. In that culture, she was very vulnerable as a widow. People could take advantage of her, and her future did not look promising after being married for around 10 years and now without a protector.

How would you respond in similar circumstances? How would I respond? Would we be incapacitated in grief and withdraw from others hoping God would somehow help us?

I think Ruth models a proper response to a tragedy. I am sure she had a season of intense grief at the loss of her husband, but then she got up and did something about her situation.

If you remember, she went and worked the fields of a distant relative. She worked hard, and all day to meet her needs and the needs of Naomi, her mother-in-law. Then, when the closest Redeemer did not come forward to provide for her and take her as his wife,, she did something about it. She engaged and took the initiative by going to Boaz, the owner of the field she was working because he was the next in line if the closest redeemer refused to do his duty before God and redeem Ruth.

Notice the results of her efforts,

“And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are ta worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, was the LORD lives, I will redeem you.” (Ru 3:11-13)

God worked through and honored her effort. She trusted in God, but then she took action. This is a great challenge to all of us. We need to be praying and believing in God, but we also need to be doing our part. The result is God will work to accomplish his will through our efforts.

Father, thank you again for this great reminder of the need for effort in our lives. I need to be completely dependent upon you, but I also have to step out in a direction so that you can lead me. May your will be done in me and through me as I seek to live for you.

Following Jesus with you,

 

CANCER, DEATH AND EASTER?

Last month I watched a family bury their 27-year-old son who had died of cancer. Many thoughts raced through my mind and the first was this is wrong on so many levels. For one, parents should not have to bury their kids. I was harshly reminded death is so unflexible, so selfish. It takes who it wants, when it wants and never asks for permission. This monster visits every zip code in America. Death rips apart the tightly woven fabric of our relationships. Death is that coat that never fits right, so it just hangs there in your closet. Death is an amputation.

 

Why then is the inevitability of mortality so unnatural, so utterly devastating?

The answer, humanity was never created to die.

You were created to live, to live forever. This created design is why death is a kick to the stomach that delivers a life-long ache of the soul. Death is not natural because it comes from an unplanned experience for humanity.

Dying for a human is like an 800-pound gorilla performing in the New York Ballet Company. Unnatural, painful to watch, and an image that can never be erased. Though not planned by God, the gorilla will dance for you and I.  The latest stats on Wikipedia are one out of one people die. This stat has never improved even with all the advances in medicine. If only a herb or supplement could cure and conquer death, then we could live forever. Well, technology will not overcome biology.

Studies say the average person thinks about death multiple times every day. Maybe we are spending too much time on the wrong question. What if the question was not how to live longer but what if we do live forever?

The oldest book in the Bible asks the question we all ask if I die will I live again? (Job 14:14) Be honest you have asked the same question. This is a worthy question because the medical profession has added a few years to our lives, but they can’t cure death. So I need a physician that can conquer this wretched beast.

A few years ago I read of a Muslim who became a Christ follower in Africa. Some of his friends asked him,‘Why have you become a Christian?’ He answered,

Well, it’s like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn’t know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive— which one would you ask which way to go? He asked the man who is alive, Jesus.

In John 11:25-26, Jesus responded to the life after death question when he said,

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? There is a great physician who has conquered death for all eternity. This Easter we celebrate not living a long life but those in Christ will live forever.

This Easter, do you believe this?

P.S. – Oh, the 27-year-old young man who we buried shared with me just ten days before he died that he indeed asked Christ to be his Lord and Savior. I am not sure what they do in Heaven for Easter but he is about to find out. And someday I will join him.

The Surprising Model

As parents, we are regularly encouraging our children to follow our example. We are the ones instructing and showing them how to live life. From walking and talking, to sports, and especially, in developing their relationship with God. Parents are always seeking to train their kids for all of life.

 

Have you ever had your children tell you that you were wrong or that they knew a better way to do something? These statements mean more as our kids mature, but I remember one time when our children were young they taught me something. We lived out in the country, and our dog was outside. When it was time to let him in the house, the smell on him was overwhelming! It turns out that he was sprayed by a skunk! Now, what do I do? How do I get that smell out? It was then that the kids told me they were watching a T.V show and it said to bathe the dog in tomato juice! I was desperate, so I tried it. To my surprise, it worked!

As I was reading Luke 18 today, I was pleasantly reminded that we can learn something vital from little children. Yes, adults can learn critical spiritual truth from little ones. In fact, Jesus says that very thing. In verse 17 he says,

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

I like what Lenski says about this statement. He notes,

“This statement is astonishing in every way. We should think as, alas, so many did and do think that a babe must receive the kingdom as an adult receives it, but absolutely the reverse is true. The child is the model, not the man.”

What a great picture Jesus gives us through children. Just like children are trusting, humble and dependent, so must we be when we respond to the offer of the gift of forgiveness and life!

Father, thank you for the great reminder of the need for humility, trust, and dependence in my relationship with you. That is necessary not just in my acceptance of forgiveness but in my daily relationship with you. Help me to walk today as a little child in complete trust in you and experience the security that brings me.

Following Jesus with you