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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas in Heaven

Well, Christmas Day 2015 is now behind us, but I was thinking the other day about my dad. He passed away a year and a half ago. I suppose it's pretty common to think about people you've lost at Christmastime, which since Christmas is a joyful, celebratory time, seems a bit paradoxical. But, it happens, and it was happening to me. I was wondering something that I'll bet a lot of people missing their loved ones at Christmas wonder: I wondered if they celebrate Christmas in Heaven?

I mean, obviously Jesus is as central a figure to people in Heaven as He is to us still on Earth. Maybe even more so in significant ways, since He is bodily present in Heaven! So, wouldn't they want to celebrate His incarnation as the Savior who got them to Heaven in the first place?

But to most accounts, time is not the same kind of thing there that it is here. I don't know if, to an occupant of Heaven, it even makes any difference at all whether or not it is December 25th on Earth. Certainly God created the cycle of seasons that make up the year, but Heaven isn't on Earth anyway. There are no seasons there, and certainly no specific dates. There's not even a nighttime! What use is a calendar when there are no day/night cycles, no seasons, and nobody even gets old anyway?

Then I thought about what constitutes "celebrating Christmas" - stripping away things like shopping (but keeping a giving heart in the mix), traditional Christmas stories like Rudolph and Frosty (but of course retaining the one with the manger and the baby), putting up decorations and lights. If you remove the cultural trappings, Christmas means celebrating the amazing miracle of the incarnation of Christ Jesus, and that brings with it the impulse to celebrate! To sing, to give, to love. To appreciate and enjoy those around you. To me, those are the things that really make up Christmas. If I miss seeing a Rankin-Bass special one year, Christmas does not truly lose anything - but if I miss the chance to love others by giving, I miss out on something important.

If those things are the central point of Christmas, then I would say in Heaven, they do celebrate Christmas. They celebrate it every single day! Every day, the risen Christ is a physical reminder to them that He came to Earth to save every human being He could. How joyful of a celebration is that?

And that's why I'm still blogging about Christmas this year, the week after December 25th. Because just because we're not in Heaven yet doesn't mean we can't celebrate Jesus' coming to save us any time we want! I know "Christmas all through the year" has become a bit of a cliché, but for Christians, it is absolutely true. We can celebrate the freedom brought to Earth by Jesus every single day. It's what makes us look to the world like something is different about us! Something is different. Jesus paid us a visit, and we can never be the same after that.

So take a moment today to celebrate Christmas with my dad. With your departed loved ones, too. And with me, and with everyone else that Jesus' coming to Earth has changed forever! Let today be Christmas to you, because Jesus has arrived in your heart!

Friday, December 25, 2015


When Santa Claus gets your letter, You know what he will say:
"Have you been good the way you should On ev'ry single day?"

When Santa gets your letter To ask for Christmas toys,
He'll take a look in his good book He keeps for girls and boys.

He'll stroke his beard, his eyes will glow, And at your name he'll peer;
It takes a little time, you know, To check back one whole year!

When Santa Claus gets your letter, I really do believe,
You'll head his list, you won't be missed, By Santa on Christmas Eve.

-"When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter" by Johnny Marks (recorded by Gene Autry)
I think it's interesting that every story we tell kids about Santa Claus says that Santa gives "bad kids" lumps of coal (or will bring them nothing at all!)... but no kid thinks that they've been bad enough for that. Every kid thinks that Santa loves them enough to overlook the bad things they have done. Nobody is bad enough to tick off Santa! Write him a letter! Tell him what you want - he'll get it right to you!
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. -Romans 3:23 NLT
In contrast, the letter God wrote to us (the Bible) tells us that nobody is good enough to meet God's standard. We're all "bad kids". We all deserve lumps of coal from God. Even worse, we all deserve to spend eternity in Hell!
Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. -Romans 3:24 NLT
The good news is that God sent Jesus into the world to satisfy God's justice - to pay the penalty for what we had done. To bail us out of Hell - better yet, to serve our sentence for us! That's the story of Christmas. It's the first part of God's plan to buy our pardon. To eliminate the eternal consequences of all our sins! What a great Christmas story!
Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so!
So why do we find it so easy to believe that Santa loves us enough to do something amazing for us, even though every one of us did something bad this past year... but no matter what we do, God can't possibly love us enough to forgive us for our sins? Why is Santa's love so easy to swallow, but God's is too hard to grasp?

I hope Santa left something cool for you this morning - I'm sure he did. And I also know that God gave us the most amazing, incredible, life-altering gift of all. Santa says: "You've done something bad, but you're still pretty good. I'll just ignore those bad things you did. Here's a gift!" God says: "There is no way you can be good enough to be able to receive what I have, but I love you so much that I'm going to wipe that slate clean and make it possible for you to receive from Me what you need!" Sure, Santa will overlook your flaws. God doesn't overlook your flaws. God has eradicated your sins through Jesus! Think about that today!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Money Talks

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. Matthew 13:22 (ESV) 
This morning when I read this scripture, I was struck by the word "deceitfulness". The verse mentions worrying, for sure, but it's not specifically worrying about money. The money is actually deceiving this person. What is the deception? The scripture passage doesn't really say in Matthew or Mark. The parallel passage in Luke gives a slightly different perspective:
And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. Luke 8:14 (ESV)
This version of the story makes it even clearer that there are "cares" or worries or stresses that can be a problem, but there is another category of "thorns" - riches and pleasures. It's not just bad things that can choke the Word; things that we normally see as "good" things can do so as well.

So how are we "deceived" by our own money? I think the biggest deception may be that we think more money can make us happy. We've all seen the now-famous Jim Carrey quote “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.” And I think everyone who is not as wealthy as Jim Carrey is (most of us!) will tend to have a "sopur grapes" reaction, something like "That's right, Jim! You found out that just because you're a zillionaire famous actor, you're miserable just like us regular folks!" But then we fall into the same trap: "Man, it's four days to payday. If I just had twenty bucks I could get that thing I just saw at the store..." or "...I could order pizza tonight and I wouldn't have to cook..." or "...I could go see a movie and relax..." and we think that whatever thing it is will make use feel happier. And it's true in one way: it might make us feel happier in the moment.

That's why it's so easy for our riches to lie to us.

Because after you eat the pizza, you're going to get heartburn. That thing from the store was actually not that well made, and it fell apart a week later. The movie turned out to be a stinker. Or maybe none of those things happened, but in this world, the luster eventually wears off on everything. There is only one thing that goes against that trend, and that is because it doesn't originate in this world. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that "Man's chief End is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." I've found in my life that there are always high points and low points, but when my focus is centered on the Lord, the high points are higher, and the low points are actually higher too. When you are wrapped up in Jesus, things are better than when you are wrapped up in anything else.

Your money is a liar. Also, the money you don't have is a liar. They both tell you they can make you happy, but they cannot. When you don't let those "thorns" choke out what the Word of God wants to speak into your heart, this is what happens:

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:15 (ESV)

Monday, October 26, 2015

HUGE Bible Sale at!

Christianbook is having a HUMONGOUS Bible sale between now an November 2! If you're in the market for a new Bible, or would like to stock up on Christmas presents or gifts for other occasions (say, for example, Epiphany!), you really owe it to yourself to hop over to the sale and take a look. There are study Bibles, storybook Bibles for kids, daily devotional Bibles, Bibles with cute covers, Bibles for teens and their moms, Bibles in Spanish, Bibles in all of the popular translations like the ESV, the NIV, and the NLT, with prices up to and exceeding 70% off! (Reportedly there is something priced at 94% off... can you find it?)

Click here to check it out for yourself!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Blessed, or Cursed?

In my previous post I mentioned that I had something to say about the context around Jeremiah 17:7 - in that post I only talked about the "blessed man", but there are some things about him that we didn't see because we didn't look at the verses about a very different person the chapter tells us about: the "cursed man"!

Jeremiah 17:7 is actually part of a larger snippet of Bible poetry that starts at verse 5 and ends at verse 8. Take a look:

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:5–8 (ESV)
This is what is known as poetic "parallelism". The first stanza and the second stanza contrast with each other: the former is about someone who is "cursed" and the latter is about someone who is "blessed". The reason you want to be able to recognize this is because sometimes one half of the parallel passage will contain useful information the other half does not.

For example:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.

We know a number of things about the "cursed man" from this:
  • He trusts in "man" (mankind) - so his focus is what human beings are able to accomplish.
  • He relies on his own "flesh" - his own ability - to get things done.
  • His heart turns away from the Lord.
We only are told two things about the "blessed man":
  • He trusts in the Lord (he acts in a way that reveals that he trusts the Lord).
  • He puts his trust in the Lord (his trust has a home with the Lord - it stays there).
But because these are contrasting parallel passages, we can infer several other things. The implications for the "blessed man" are that he also:
  • does not put his trust in what mankind can accomplish, but what God can accomplish.
  • does not rely on his own ability to get things done, but knows that God can do things he cannot.
  • His heart turns toward the Lord.
And, of course, the implication for the "cursed man" is that he does not in any way put his trust in the Lord.
Some other contrasts that we can infer using this method (inferred parts in italics):

The Cursed ManThe Blessed Man
Like a shrub in the desertLike a tree by water
Shall see no good comeShall see good come
Shall fear when tough times occurShall not fear when tough times occur ("heat comes")
Is afraid he may run out of what he needsIs always confident that he is well supplied (not fearful in "the year of drought")
Can only do so much before he comes to the end of his own strengthIs always able to do good ("Does not cease to bear fruit")
Lives in a parched, uninhabited "salt land" (nothing can grow in salted soil)Lives in a place of bountiful supply surrounded by friends

For the record, I'm no Bible scholar - I only know what I've picked up over the years from hearing and reading things written by people with a lot more Bible education than I. But I think it's good to be able to "read between the lines" and discover those extra tidbits that God has left for us to pick up on!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Win Logos & an iPad Mini!

Not to mention some great books by John Bevere! Enter now... here's the link! (But if you win and I don't I'll be very very sad so in that case you should definitely share!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Blessed is the Man

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord."
This is a picture of something I've seen every business day this year. It's the front of a mug my wife gave me at Epiphany, and every day I look at it and think about what Jeremiah 17:7 says. I started to notice, though, that on different days different parts stood out to me, and eventually I realized that this verse was unfolding into multiple meanings, like a flower opening up into full bloom over the course of many days. I wanted to share some of those thoughts - as you're reading, maybe something will unfold for you today!

There are a bunch of important ideas in this verse: "Blessed." "Trust." "Hope." Let's look at each of them, starting with "blessed." We all want to be "blessed," of course, but to different people that might mean different things. If your car breaks down, you might be "blessed" by a friend who is able and willing to fix it for you for free. If you run out of groceries the day before payday, you might be "blessed" by a friend who buys your lunch. Or, you might be "blessed" by someone giving you a compliment, telling you you did well on a job task or even mentioning that they like the sweater you're wearing.

Those are all excellent blessings, and I certainly think they are included in this verse (especially considering the context, which I want to look at later in another post). But I think the bigger picture, the real "blessing" of God, is much more all-encompassing. I think the blessing of God means that things will go well for you. Your life will be characterized by joy and peace, even when you hit a rough patch. God gave us a picture of what His blessing looks like back in Moses' day:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
(Numbers 6:22-26 ESV)

The words rendered "trust" and "hope" in the translation of Jeremiah 17:7 on my mug (New King James?) are related words in Hebrew - many translations actually translate them both "trust". The first one is a verb. But it's not the kind of verb like "run" or "ride" or "sing" that is something you specifically do - trusting this way can only be detected by other things you do. Your actions are affected because your attitude is one of trust in God.

The second word, "hope", is a noun. This word means confidence. You can act in trust, because you have confidence in God. It also means your security. Like living in a house with locked doors, you know that nothing can get to you without going through your God first.

But "hope" also can mean something else. It also means that your mind believes there is a chance that something good will happen. When a man on a raft in the middle of the ocean sees a ship sailing toward him, it gives him hope. When a worried wife of a soldier hears news that the war is over, it gives her hope. When a student looks at his transcript with a counselor and sees that graduation is only a few credits away, it gives him hope. Hope is something you believe, based on facts that you know. The fact it's talking about in this verse, the one which gives you hope, is God Himself. Based on that fact, you can have hope in every situation.

But the Bible tells us about one more important hope we have:
[We are] waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ...
(Titus 2:13 ESV)
Our greatest hope, the one to which all other hopes pale in comparison, is our hope of eternal life with Jesus when He returns. This is the hope that still stands when all other hopes fall... when the man on the raft is taking his dying breath without that ship ever showing up, when the wife receives visitors that no military wife ever wants to see at her doorstep, when that student unexpectedly has to quit school because of a family need - when those hopes are lost, this hope remains.

Did you notice that it does not say, "...whose hope is in the Lord?" It says that the person who is blessed is the person "...whose hope is the Lord." Jesus doesn't give you hope. Jesus is your hope. Jesus is your hope of a new better life when this one is over. Jesus is your hope of provision and comfort in this life. Jesus is your hope of joy and peace and contentment. He is your hope of all blessing. Choose to take action based on your confidence in Him. Just try it and see what happens!

(Oh, by the way... if you love the cup that inspired this post, you can get your own right here.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Peace, part 4 - Rest

from via Flickr - CC-BY
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." - Matthew 11:28 ESV
Months ago my pastor said something during a message that really kind of blew my mind. He was talking about this verse, and he mentioned that the language in the Greek implies that Jesus is taking a much more active role in this whole rest thing that "give you rest" implies in English.

In English when we say that we "give" something to someone, usually we mean that we offer it to them and they take it (or sometimes not, but usually). But in the Greek, this word ("anapauo") means: "to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labour in order to recover and collect his strength." It can also be used as an agricultural term, to "rest" the land to be planted at a later date. It seems to me like Jesus is not just saying He is going to give us the opportunity to rest - it sounds like if we come to Him, He will be the cause of our resting. He will positively "rest us"! The land you planted your crops on last year has no say in the matter of whether or not you rest it this year. You rest it, or you don't, and the land can't do a thing about it!

Do you dare walk up to Jesus and say, "Here I am, Jesus. Here are my heavy burdens. Rest me!" It seems like Jesus is calling on us to do just that. The trick to that, as the next couple of verses explain, is to give Him your burden, and then take on His burden, which is very light. Don't take your own burden back. Why would you want to? Leave it with Jesus, and who knows? You just might "find rest for your soul."

Miss the other three parts? Start over with Part 1!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Peace, part 3 - Think

brain power from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 Allan Ajifo, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Think about this:

The Bible tells us that what we think about affects the amount of peace we have.

I guess that's just logical... if I think about things that worry me all the time, I'll spend all my time being worried. But you know what? I've tried putting things out of my mind, and it's not as easy as just refusing to think about something. You can't "not think." I don't think it's possible.

So if you have to think about something, and you don't want to think about the thing that takes away your peace, what do you think about?
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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
-Philippians 4:8-9 ESV
The Word gives a whole list of things to think about... whatever is:
  • true (the reverse of false)
  • honorable (with good character, dignified)
  • just (righteous, without guilt, following God's laws)
  • pure (clean, faultless)
  • lovely (pleasing, acceptable)
  • commendable (like a good omen)
  • with excellence (virtuous, moral goodness)
  • worthy of praise (commendable)
But you know what? We don't really need a list. We know when we're thinking "good" thoughts - the kind that feel like spring breezes and warm sunshine - and "bad" thoughts - the ones that feel like spider webs and graveyards and despair. The point is, you can't simply boot those bad thoughts. You have to replace them with good thoughts. And if you can't think of anything good on your own, you can always go down this handy list and come up with something! We have to learn how to focus our minds in the right direction if we're going to avoid living in fear.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
-Romans 8:3-6 ESV (emphasis mine)
It seems that our minds have a setting we can set. We can set it to thinking about "the things of the flesh" - which means the things around us that reflect our own desires, especially out of control ones - or we can set it to thinking about the things of God. Remember, Philippians up there gives us a list of examples of those things if you need it! Tweak those settings. Think about the things of God, and the Bible says that your mind will be filled with life and peace.

Now continue on to Part 4!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Peace, part 2 - Guard

Royal Guard at Buckingham Palace from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Loren Javier, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 4:6-7 ESV
I blogged here about the mind-blowing peace described in verse 7 - but lately I've been thinking about something else in this passage. It describes that mind-blowing peace as a guard. God's peace is there for protection. Protection from what? From anxiety, says verse 6! If you're feeling anxious, if you're feeling fearful, for some reason peace isn't guarding your mind and your heart right.

In that case, you need to make an adjustment. That adjustment is taking your requests to God in prayer. Actually, it can involve two kinds of prayer, or maybe two intensities of prayer. "Supplication" just means that you're still making a request, but there's a little more desperation to it. Maybe your emotions are coming into it a little bit more. Maybe you're asking God for something that means an awful lot to you. It's getting personal; it's getting real. You're laying it on the line: "God, You're my last hope for this. Please help me!"

But you're not praying selfishly. You're bringing your need to God, but you're also bringing a heart filled with thankfulness. Somehow I think that's a key. What if God doesn't give you what you asked for? Even then, your heart is still filled with thankfulness, because you know God has something even better in store for you.

And maybe that's also how the peace of God can guard your heart and mind. You've presented your requests to a God that you know loves you, and you're filled with thankfulness, because you know that God either is going to fill that request, or do something even better. With that kind of certainty, who can stay anxious?

Now continue on to Part 3!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Peace, part 1 - epilogue

Opening of roadside tomb_0654 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 James Emery, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
A few days after I wrote this post, I was listening to John chapter 20 in audiobook form, and I heard this familiar story:
    Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, "They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!"
    Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home.
As many times as I've heard this, this part struck me as weird. They did what? A hysterical woman ran to find them and showed them evidence of the most amazing miracle in the history of the world, and they took a look and then just... went home?
    Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. "Dear woman, why are you crying?" the angels asked her.

     "Because they have taken away my Lord," she replied, "and I don't know where they have put him."

     She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. "Dear woman, why are you crying?" Jesus asked her. "Who are you looking for?"

     She thought he was the gardener. "Sir," she said, "if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him."

     "Mary!" Jesus said.
     She turned to him and cried out, "Rabboni!" (which is Hebrew for "Teacher").
     "Don't cling to me," Jesus said, "for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

     Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, "I have seen the Lord!" Then she gave them his message.
Peter and John ("the other disciple" was John) came to the tomb, understood what had happened, satisfied their minds, and went home. Mary, on the other hand, was so emotionally wrapped up in her love for Jesus that she stayed around... and was there long enough to experience Jesus.

Don't be satisfied to approach Jesus intellectually, Theologically, methodically. Take time to reach out to Jesus with your heart. When you do, He will show up.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Peace - part 1

This past January, I came to the end of my rope. I had spent the whole year trying very hard to accomplish something I felt was important, something I felt was God's will, and it just wasn't happening. I was stressing out, and I didn't know what to do about it. If you've been around this blog for a while, you probably know that I believe that what we call "stress" is actually just plain old fear - but knowing that didn't really help me this time. This particular stress was so bad that it was barely even trying masquerade as anything but fear anymore; a couple of times over the course of the year I had seriously thought it was going to erupt into a full-blown panic attack.

So, there I was, at the end of my rope, fresh out of ideas, and I knew that the only thing I had left was Jesus. That sounds very pious and comfy, but if it ever happens to you, you'll realize that it is NOT a fun place to be in. It can feel very scary.

I was not enjoying myself. I was not feeling confident. I was crying out to God... which also sounds very pious, except I wasn't being pious. I was being raw. I was being honest. I had discovered something about myself: I had grown up in a subculture of Christianity that proclaims God's grace, but still tends to apply certain rules to Christianity. Do this, and this, and this, or else you may stop God from blessing you. Approach God with proper reverence as your King while also approaching Him as your Father. And don't phrase your sentences a certain way, because if you do, you are displaying a lack of faith. Sometimes in my prayers, I bring those things with me, and I wind up sort of formulating a prayer instead of just being me talking to God. What I discovered was that what I had thought was faith and humility was actually insecurity and pride.

So this time, I wasn't following the Christiany rules. In fact, I was being very deliberate to avoid trying to follow the rules. I needed help, not to feel like I was doing things right. I was clearly not doing something right, was how I figured it, because the situation wasn't resolving! I made a decision that I had no reasons left to try to do anything right. I basically just took out my heart and showed it to God, without trying to dress the situation up at all. Look here, God. Look at this heart. This hurts. And I don't know what to do. I know you can help me... will You?

You, my friend and reader, are right now telling me that yes, God would help me. And that's exactly the point. I know the Word of God says He can and will. But I couldn't see it happening, and I had to bring my sadness and fear and discouragement to God, not my solid theology. My brain was fine; it was my heart that was having problems. So that's what I brought to Him.

And the strangest thing happened. I told God that I was going to leave the situation up to Him. I wasn't going to try to force things anymore - I would do what needed to be done, but I would let Him bring the right results to me in His time. And to my amazement... God gave me peace. Not an immediate solution: peace. Peace with no visible results to back it up. Peace with no logic to it at all. Mind-blowing peace. I was not stressed at all. I was not panicky. I was just filled with peace.

Fast forward to now. I wanted to tell that story here, and I want to share over the coming weeks some things I've been learning from the Word about peace. Of course, you can also check out what I've written in the past here about both Peace and Fear, but stay tuned for some new entries coming up. I hope you get something good out of them!

The situation I mentioned still hasn't completely resolved itself, by the way. In fact, I've had a couple of fearful moments since then, and I've had to deliberately return to this attitude of approaching God as someone who is helpless without Him, not someone who thinks he can pray the right prayer to get Him to spring into action. But when I do approach Him with humility - and, honestly, with faith, because if I know I can't do it and I don't even try, then that's putting all of my eggs in His basket - when I approach God that way, not only do I immediately begin to receive His peace, but sometimes amazing things start to happen before too long.

Maybe I'll share one of those stories soon!

Now continue on to Part 2!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Crossway Bibles giving away ESV Global Study Bible for free!

You read right... Crossway is giving access to their Global Study Bible away for free! (This is of course digital access only; don't expect them to mail you a physical book for nothing.) Crossway has been so generous over the years in providing digital access to incredible resources like this for minimal or no cost - take advantage of the opportunity to dig deeper into the Word!

The easiest way to jump into the ESV GSB: (click "Apps" then click "Global Study Bible Online"). You can also purchase access to a number of other study Bibles there, if you are so inclined!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Working Together

Walking boot from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 VisitSormland, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
In my family, we've been working on some things lately. I've been working on the details of a new mortgage for the new house we plan to move into next week. My wife has been working on getting boxes and getting things packed up for the move. My son is working on fundraising for a missions trip he's going on this summer (and, by the way, if you would like to make a tax-deductible gift toward that, let me know!) The other day I was thinking about the balance of our own effort and God's provision, and a couple of things came to me.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Did you notice that word "together"? Who is working together in this verse? Strangely enough, notice that strictly speaking, it is not God that is "working together"! The things are working together. Maybe that's splitting hairs a bit, because God is certainly behind the whole deal, but to the casual observer, it looks like things are just coming together for this person who is pursuing God's purpose. I think this verse also implies that the person who loves God is working toward a goal, and that the circumstances (some of which may be negative) are ultimately working together with the person to make things turn out all right.
The heart of man plans his way,
   but the LORD establishes his steps.
I think God expects us to think through problems. I think He expects us to make plans and put them into motion. When we do that, though, He ultimately is the one that makes things happen. He is the one that makes things work together for our Good. He is the one who establishes each step that we take.

Seek the Holy Spirit's guidance! Make wise plans! And then put them into action, knowing that even if something seems to go weird on you, God is guiding each step and making even that unforeseen situation work for your good. Then when all of those things come together and make something wonderful happen, don't forget to tell people about it! That's your chance to give God the glory!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Epiphany 2015

My 7-year-old daughter has been asking about "Three Kings Day" ever since Christmas. She's been really excited about it! She really loved what we gave her last year, and she was looking forward to getting something else this year. How great is that, when your kids are excited to receive something which will remind them about Jesus? I was excited too... this is one of my favorite times of the year, when I get to speak things over each member of my family by giving them a special token of was my wife and I see in them. If you haven't yet tried it yourself... you really should!

This year when I sat everybody down (I always insist on sitting on the floor next to the Christmas tree) I wanted to explain a few things about the Magi. First, I read the verses in Matthew that talk about them:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

(Matthew 2:1-2 ESV)
I told them that we don't really know exactly where these "wise men" came from, but some think that they may have come from the region of Babylon, and perhaps they came because they were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. I read them this:
Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.

(Daniel 9:25 ESV)
This is from a prophecy given to Daniel in Babylon. The "weeks" are actually weeks of years, not days. The angel was telling Daniel exactly when the Messiah was going to be born! A man of wisdom in ancient Babylon would certainly be familiar with the writings of Daniel, who was one of the wisest advisers any Babylonian king had ever had. Maybe they were looking at their watches and wondering when it was going to happen!

Then I read this:
I see him, but not now;
   I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
   and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
   and break down all the sons of Sheth.

(Numbers 24:17 ESV)
These were words given to a Gentile prophet named Balaam that talk about a future human person, but compare him to a "scepter" (meaning, he will be a king) and also a "star". This was widely considered a prophecy of the Messiah in those times. Assuming that these learned Gentiles knew about Daniel's prophecies and also about this one by Balaam, and assuming they had done the math and realized that Daniel's timing had elapsed, when they saw a "star" in the sky, of course they were going to go where it led them!

After explaining all of this, I told them that there are two things the Magi did that are what we want our Epiphany gifts to inspire us to.
  1. The Magi knew the Word of God. They didn't have all of it that we have now, but they knew the parts of it that they had. We want our family to know the Word.
  2. They searched for Jesus. They physically went looking for Him! We don't go anywhere physically now, of course, and Jesus has promised He is always with us. But we want our family to seek out ways to draw closer to Him.
With all of that out of the way, we went on to the gifts!

First, my daughter opened her gift. Last year we gave her a storybook, and she and I read through all of the stories several times in the months after we gave it to her. After going through it a couple of times we went on to other storybooks, but my wife (who tucks the kids in at night) told me that our little girl still keeps the book by her bed, and every night before she goes to sleep she reads one of the Bible verses. We decided to get her a book called Little Miss Grace Promise Book which has several Bible verses on each page, so she would never run out! We also bought her a bookmark to keep her place (the book has a ribbon bookmark built in, but we loved the one we found). She was so excited! She even took it to show her grandma later that night.

Next it was my son's turn. This year he entered high school, and not only is he taking his studies very seriously, but he is taking his music very seriously. He plays trumpet, and he is among the best in the school band, even as a freshman. My wife and I are both musicians also, and we know that one of the worst enemies any musician has is his own self-doubt. We gave him a little token, roughly the size of a quarter, that he can carry around with him. It says "No Doubt" on it, and has a Scripture on the back to remind him to never doubt God, and never doubt himself. (I don't have a link for the token, but here's a keyring with the same design.)

Later, after we had all opened our gifts, my son said "Why is it that the best gifts are always so tiny?" It may sound like irony to someone who doesn't know him, but he was being very serious. That little token apparently meant a lot to him!

Next, I gave my wife her gift. Like many women, she loves roses, and I gave her this mug, which just inside the rim where you can hardly help but see it when you take a sip has a Scripture that I hope she reads hundreds of times this year.

Finally, for the first time, this year I received a gift too! My wife had bought me the hugest coffee cup I have ever owned. It's a 20-oz mug, and it has a Scripture on the back of it (where you see it when you pick it up to drink). Because of things I've mentioned to her in recent weeks, she knew this particular verse would be meaningful to me. (If you stay with me in the coming weeks you will get to find out some of what she was thinking of when she bought it.)

(Next to a "normal-sized" cup for scale)

Edit: Looking at this cup every day actually did inspire me to think more about the Word of God. See what I wound up learning months later here and here!

After everyone had received their gifts, we went over to my mom's house - Three Kings Day is also the start of the season leading up to Lent, and where we are from (Louisiana) there is a special kind of cake called "Kings Cake" that you can serve at parties this time of year. She had some ready for us, and we had something ready for her: we had gotten her a little insulated cup with a picture of the kids on it and a little note they had written her. (I didn't take a picture of it.) We had another little mini-party at her house, and that was our celebration!

By the way - I know I always post pictures of our Epiphany gifts here, but that's not done in order to brag. I describe our gifts and post pictures here hoping to inspire you, reader, to take some time to really think about the people in your life and what word from God you would like to speak into their lives. To do this right you really have to put some effort into it, and find something that is both meaningful and useful. If it's not useful, they won't have it out as part of their lives for the next year, and if it isn't meaningful, then it's just more clutter around the house. But if you approach Epiphany gift-giving with thoughtfulness and love, maybe you'll have someone who is still, after a year, reading her storybook every night before bed. Maybe your one little purchase will make a huge difference when they need it. Maybe you can start the new year off with something genuinely special!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Count Down to Epiphany 2015

Saturday my wife and I went out and did our Epiphany shopping.

What is Epiphany, you may ask? (If you haven't been reading this blog for the past few years, that is.)

Epiphany is a traditional holiday also known as "Three Kings Day". It is celebrated in some churches as the day the Wise Men/Magi/Three Kings brought gifts to Jesus and Mary and Joseph. For the past few years in my family, we as parents have taken it as an opportunity to bless our children with some very small gift which we hope will help them grow closer to Christ in the coming year. You can read about what happened in previous years in these blog posts.

Anyway, I wanted to remind my readers that it is coming up this Tuesday. If you have people who are close to you, consider stopping by a Christian bookstore - or any store, really - and picking up a gift for someone. Don't give them something expensive. Give them something meaningful. And it doesn't have to be a Bible, either... be creative. Give it to them on Tuesday, and tell them you hope that whenever they run across it in 2015, it reminds them that God loves them and wants to be close to them, and you love them, too. And be sure and stop by later this week when I tell you about what my wife and I chose for our family!

By the way. You may have noticed that I've been... well, pretty quiet in this blog for the past while. In fact, it's been nearly a year since I've posted anything! To be honest, it was a rough, discouraging 2014 for me, and I've come to think that it was probably mostly my own fault. I'll probably share a little bit of that in the coming weeks. I've started to itch a little bit to share again here, so I hope you'll join me as I continue to pound out my thoughts about God that the Bible and spirituality and music and whatever else comes along that I think might be interesting. Why don't we have a great 2015 together!