Helping Hand

For I hold you by your right hand— I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.
Isaiah 41:13 NLT

This morning, our family got up early and exercised with weights together for our first time. My daughter and wife cleaned out and organized the room yesterday so that we would be able to use it as an exercise room again. My wife helped encourage me out of bed this morning, and I encouraged my daughter awake. After we gathered in the basement workout room, I helped teach them proper technique for each exercise as we focus on our arms this morning. Today was a restart for another one of our old, good habits that had fallen out of practice. And we have been helping and encouraging each other in many ways to get back to having these good habits consistently a part of our lives.

As much as we are trying to help ourselves and each other, we fail each other at times. And sometimes circumstances occur where we aren’t physically nearby in order to be able to help each other. But God is with us. He holds our hands, and He is here to help us.

I think the most helpful part of the verse though, is the “Do not be afraid.” Our family just went through a season that was very difficult and where we saw many good habits torn down by circumstances. We saw people (both family and friends) that were by our side and a regular help and encouragement leave our daily lives because of so many different reasons. And our own attention and focus and time shifted to meet the wide array of challenges, needs and distractions so that we were no longer razor ficus in purpose and direction, but were seemingly pulled in many directions. I even saw my prayer, my worship, my time in The Word become affected as my focused shifted away. But you know what, God was still there with me. He wasn’t surprised by it, He wasn’t jealous and indignant about this season. He didn’t hold it over my head to demonstrate yet again why I don’t deserve Him. He is here to help me, not tear me down.

Yesterday, I got to eat dinner with my dad at Capri’s Italian while he was back in town. Since they now live in Myrtle Beach, I hadn’t gotten to spend time with him on Father’s Day, so I really just wanted some time together with him — just to spend time together, and to remind him how important he is to me. My parents help us so much, and we rarely get to help them. In fact, it is practically impossible for us to ever pay for a meal when we are with them. But dad had to go to the restroom during our dinner, and I quickly gave the waitress my card and paid for dinner while he was unaware in the restroom. After he came back and we finished eating, he pulled out his wallet and as I told him, “You don’t need that.” He smirked that familiar smirk and I’m sure the decades old and familiar back and forth of me trying to offer and him insisting to pay was warning up in his mind. But I had already taken care of it.

I wonder if our praise and worship is sort of like that to God? He doesn’t truly “need” anything from us. And anything we have to offer Him in return isn’t going to impact His worth or value. And He is the giver of his gifts. So even when we offer what little, relatively insignificant good gift we have to offer him — we are really just trying to emulate back to Him what we have seen Him do for us our whole lives.

Lord, thank you for your consistency, your faithfulness, your unending love and mercy towards us. Help our lives to be a loving worship full of the fruit that you so abundantly give to us freely and generously. Amen.

Christ In Me

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.
Galatians 2:20‭-‬21 NLT

Last night, I wrote about the Spiritual Principal that the story of the Widow’s Mite teaches us about — and how that applies to all things of the heart, not just money.  And today, we are talking about “keeping the law” versus “Christ lives in me”.

This concept of genuine faith and genuine worship of God is at the heart of our very being.

A quick related interjection: One of my favorite books of the Old Testament is the book of Amos. It is a prophetic book of warning about God’s judgement not only on the world but on God’s own chosen people. This book might shock many modern day “Buddy Jesus Christians” who would model God in the image of their own “feelings” on what “love” should look like. But even the new Testament teaches us about the concept that God’s word is a valuable plumbline (Matthew 7:24-27) to guide us in an annunciation and fruitful life — living by the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:17-26) — and that God will judge the church first (1 Peter 4:17). (NOTE: That is a lot to glue together, so I’ve just left the references for those who want to pull out their shovels and dig deeper, rather than quoting them here.)

“Christ in me” is different than:

  • Keeping the law as an obligatory heavy burden (condemnation)
  • Keeping the law in order to compare ourselves to others (self- righteousness)
  • Outwardly keeping the law in order to use it to judge and Lord over others (hypocrisy)
  • Trying but failing to keep the law so that we are remorseful and remain engaged in our religious activities to constantly be making amends or seeking contrition from a religious system (shame)
  • Presuming upon God’s grace and using the idea of “Buddy Jesus” as an excuse for continued wickedness (willfully sinning)

Something that we should realize is that there is no way for us to manipulate things and use God’s Word for our own selfish purposes. We are not smarter than Him so that we might twist His Word into a loophole that we might use against Him in court at judgement in order to justify ourselves. We are not justified by our own feelings, thoughts, or misunderstanding of His will — we can only be saved by the Blood of the Lamb and justified by grace through faith.

So, I must genuinely ask, “Has my old self been sacrificed? Does Christ truly live in me?” This is the all important question, my friends.

Heavenly Father, I believe in you, and I trust and believe in Jesus Christ who lived a sinless life, died a sinners death on the cross, was dead, buried in a tomb, and rose again to life, and sits on your right hand of authority, to judge between those who are alive in Christ or dead in sin. I believe that by myself, I am spiritually weak and sinful — but by the power of your Holy Spirit you are bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self- control in my life for the glory of God and for the revealing of the Children of God to be a light of hope in the midst of a dying world. Help us to have your Word written upon our hearts, to live out the spiritual principals that fulfill the law of Christ, and to be the body of Christ serving and loving one another. Amen.

“Less” Absolutely Can Be “More” (And Many Times IS)

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
Mark 12:41‭-‬44 NLT

This “Kingdom Principal” as demonstrated in this story contrasts the way of the world with God’s perfect “The Way”.

In the world’s way, the rich will make a great show and honor people who donate large sums to sort their organizations — because it is focused on the tangible money.

But in “The Kingdom of God” it is about spiritual principals and the manifestation of the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit. If a billionaire gives tens of thousands of dollars out of his surplus to a cause, it is not sacrificial — and might even be in order to gain a tax advantage or receive praise and honor from other people for his contributions. But a poor person giving their last few dollars may not look like much from the world’s perspective of finance and power — while it may be a powerful, spiritual demonstration of faith and genuine worship.

I love hearing very talented singers praise God. But they might be worshiping out of the surplus of their talent, just like the rich people in the scripture account do with their money. I can get more excited spiritually and in my heart when I hear someone “less talented” that is unashamed and unafraid in their genuine worship of God where they have clearly given it their all. Some of my favorite people to have join my worship collaborations on Smule are several singers who have Downs Syndrome, who the world might not value as “singers”. But I am so very humbled and encouraged by their genuine and fully surrendered worship.

There are so many areas of our lives that we could look at this way that aren’t just money and singing.

What do our lives look like in the light of these “Kingdom Principals” and not just when measured by the yardstick of morality, dogma, and human judgement?

What do our hearts truly look like in the light of heaven’s view on our “contributions”?

Thank you Lord that the point of this is not our shame, but our repentance and our sanctification. Help our eyes to see from an all important spiritual view of your Kingdom at work on earth even as it is in heaven. Amen.

Give It To Him

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
1 Peter 5:7 NLT

I met a man at breakfast this morning who mentioned that he was about to go home and read his Bible.

Excited to be sitting with him at the counter in our little neighborhood diner (and looking forward to some good conversation about The Word) — I asked what book of the Bible he was reading in currently. He said that he had already read through the New Testament four times this year. I thought that maybe he misheard me, so I asked again which book of the Bible he was currently reading.

He said that he had just started reading Revelation, so I mentioned that I really love the advice that is given to each of the seven churches — and he looked at me with a blank stare as if I was speaking a different language. But again, I wondered if maybe he just hasn’t heard me properly.

Then he said that he really loves the book of John, so I commented that is one of my favorite books too, because John speaks the gospel from the heart of things. He then replied that he “doesn’t like the parts where John was bragging”. So I asked if he meant the parts where John referred to himself as the disciple that Jesus loved. He confirmed that is what he meant and said “that was bragging because Jesus loved all the disciples equally and John shouldn’t think that He loved him and not the others”. I responded that it always seemed to me to be a reference from John not necessarily cutting down anyone else but simply genuinely praising God for how close and loved Jesus made him feel personally. I couldn’t really tell if he agreed or not on my perspective, but I was still excited to be talking about The Word with a fellow believer.

He then said that he really likes 1 Samuel, and I agreed that is such a good book also. I commented how I really loved how Samuel himself doesn’t show the huge character flaws that we see in most people in the Bible, and how he was consecrated from birth and served God very faithfully in the Biblical account (other than his children not following in his ways). I commented how I had lived the prodigal life until the gospel and the Lord’s mercy drew me back home to learn about things like salvation, sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit, and God’s Kingdom. I mentioned how I’d rather my daughter live a wise life serving God more like Samuel’s example rather than having to learn everything the hard way before realizing that God’s way is best.

And at this point, the man’s attitude completely shifted and it was like he went on the attack.

He started asking me what my denomination was in a very confrontational way. I simply replied, “I am a Christian seeking to walk in The Way.” To which he pressed me again on what denomination I was. I replied that I love and have friends and pastor friends in many different denominations and care for them all equally. He pressed me again, and I tried to explain to him that our family church that we attend is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, but that I also enjoy sometimes visiting friends’ churches that are Pentacostal, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.

But he didn’t seem to be listening and directly accused me of “forsaking the assembly”. Mind you, this man didn’t know me from Adam and was doing this in the middle of a crowded restaurant. I explained that we attend church as a family regularly on Sundays and celebrate the Lord’s Day each Sunday, and that I also like to be mindful of the Sabbath, from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown and the role it plays in God’s Word. I mentioned that I thought that denominations sometimes get in the way and mentioned what the Bible says about pure and undefiled religion being to provide for orphans and widows and to not be polluted by the world. To which this man says, “Well, I wouldn’t know about that, I only believe and follow the Bible.”

It was such an odd interaction considering that I was excited thinking that I’d found a Christian brother who loves the Lord and The Word. And I ran through the conversation in my head over and over as we drove home — but eventually I had to let it go. A similar thing happened with someone on social media recently, so I want to learn from these things and understand how I might handle them better in the future.

However, like today’s verse tells us, these types of things we just have to sometimes hand over to God.

Lord, I don’t always understand. Help me to trust you. Help me to be in your will and to demonstrate your love and to have no part in this things you hate. Amen.

Consistent not Common

The Lord is good. His mercy endures forever. His faithfulness endures throughout every generation.
Psalms 100:5 GW

Yesterday, we learned about our being persistent in our prayer.

And in discussing our persistence in prayer, we talked about how all good gifts come from God — and how His good gifts are in contrast to the things of this world that are perishing.

We learned that persistence in prayer is about receiving. Consistency is about abiding, keeping, staying. God demonstrates consistency for us in His goodness, mercy and faithfulness to us.

Another way to look at it is that persistence is striving for what we realized we wanted but did not yet have — and consistency is how we demonstrate that we still want it now that we have it. A child might be persistent about asking for a new “thing” but tire of it quickly and move onto something else. But if that enjoyment remains and they consistently use it and enjoy it year after year, it proves itself to be more valuable to them. In fact, the value may not be as conscious to them as they may still be chasing “new things”, but it’s consistent, abiding presence in their life every day demonstrates clearly to others its value.

I might ask myself, “What am I persistently seeking, and what do I carry consistently with me each day that others can see is most valuable to me?”

I have only been awake for an hour this morning, but there have already been thousands of blessings that I’ve encountered this morning:

  • I woke up healthy.
  • The sun rose.
  • The birds sang.
  • My wife woke up healthy.
  • My daughter woke up healthy.
  • Our dogs woke healthy.
  • The power, water and utilities were all on.
  • The hvac had kept the house confidante through the night.
  • Our house is still providing shelter.
  • Our toilets worked.
  • My body successfully relieved itself of yesterday’s waste to make room for today’s nutrients.
  • I have a good job that I enjoy and that challenges me.
  • Technology allowed me to restart a server (planned outside hours restart) early this morning from the confort of my bed in minutes.
  • I am loved by Almighty God the Father whose mercy provided me a way back into His arms through Jesus Christ the Son, and who provides me each day His abiding presence the the Holy Spirit.
  • My Bible App allowed me to consider, contemplate and study The Word this morning.
  • The WordPress App and connectivity across the globe allows me to share the gospel across every nation, tribe and tongue.

I got up this morning, and so many blessings were present like they are almost every morning. It might be easy to overlook them because they are “consistent” in my life, but my familiarity with these blessings doesn’t make them any less valuable or important. Even just one of these blessings not being present this morning would have impacted my day significantly.

My point is that it may take me stepping back and considering the consistency of God’s goodness that this morning’s verse mentions.

It not only reminds me of who He is, but it sets my heart and mind up in a healthy alignment in order to make contact with the day.

Yes, today will have its challenges, it’s trials, it’s temptations, and it’s struggle — but how much deeper and wider and full is the mercy and love and faithfulness of our God in blessing us every day? Amen.

Open Door Policy

For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Matthew 7:8 NLT

This section in Matthew is about prayer. It’s worth a quick read:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
Matthew 7:7‭-‬11 NLT

Now, admittedly when asking for things, sometimes we might be asking for stones (heavy burdens) or snakes (things dangerous to us) and not even realize that what we “WANT” is not what is actually “BEST” for us. There are times when the “good gift” is to NOT give my daughter what she thinks that she wants. This is usually when she has locked her eyes onto something and has blinders on about anything else.

When the “desires of the eyes”, “desires of the flesh”, or the “pride of life” have taken over our focus so strongly that we are asking for bad gifts — we must realize those aren’t good gifts from the Father.

1 John touches on this:

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.
1 John 2:16 NLT

So I might ask myself:

Am I craving and asking for this because I think that it will bring me physical pleasure?

Am I craving and asking for this because I see it and want it (like bait in a trap)?

Am I craving and asking for this because it will make me proud to have it and show off to others that I have it?

Asking for these things is not asking for something from the Almighty, Good, Good Father but is loving this world and the things it offers us at a painful cost and price.

So we might do well to understand that asking, seeking, and knocking for such things might be the same as the prodigal demanding that the door be open for him to leave with his inheritance — rather than us asking to “come in” to what is truly a gift and blessing.

What are we discontent about today? What are we not at peace about in our lives?

Have we asked God about it?

Have we sought to have wisdom revealed to us about the situation?

Have we been persistent — persistent, not just demanding (like a Karen who didn’t get their way)?

Lord, you know what we truly need before we even ask. Thank you for being a faithful and good Father who always gives good gifts. Help us to see farther than our eyes, our hands and our mouths — to recognize the many blessings and the true treasures that aren’t of this world. Thank you. Amen.

Above All Else

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.
Proverbs 4:23 NLT

Today’s verse comes from chapter 4 of the book of Proverbs. This chapter is “A Father’s Wise Advice”, so it seems quite fitting to be mentioned after having just celebrated Father’s Day this past weekend.

I want to focus this morning on the phrase “above all else”.

It seems that when giving or receiving advice that we should pay most attention to the phrase “above all else”. As long as it isn’t over used (there should really only be one “above all else” if used properly) it should be effective in highlighting THE most important thing, ONE most important thing, a SINGLE most important thing.

And here, we see what that is — our heart, that we should guard it “above all else”.

It is our heart that is either surrendered to God in trust and in gratitude and respect (and yes, even in “Godly fear” like we studied yesterday) — our that is hardened to only be led by our own feelings and desires. When surrendered, we can stand firm and walk straight ahead, because there is One Way along the narrow path that leads us through an abundant life of purpose. But when we are blown back and forth by temptations, circumstances, and our own personal feelings and desires, we will waste so much effort and lose so much progress.

I read recently that with runners, swimmers, and other athletes, that any energy spent moving outside the plane of their intended travel is completely wasted and steals from their capability (for example, arms flailing out to the sides while running instead of pulling efficiently back and forth in the direction of travel). In sports science for professional athletes, they will even take videos of the athletes in action in order to identify the motions that are counterproductive towards improving their progress. Athletes must be single minded with a singular purpose and put all effort in that direction in order to reach their full capabilities and continue to break their own personal best records.

And this is so true of our lives, my friends. We must guard our hearts because this is the engine that will drive our everything today.

Do we not fully believe and trust in God and the fatherly wisdom that He has provided in The Word? Then we should decide today fully whether or not we will run this rave, whether or not we will follow in The Way. Because we are heading somewhere with our choices, decisions, words, and actions today — and it will influence and impact more than just ourselves. It matters.

Lord, help us today to be mindful of the critical importance of guarding our hearts, of choosing to believe and trust you, because it determines not only our day, but the direction of our lives. In Jesus Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

My Father’s Day is Today

The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
Psalms 103:13 NLT

This past Sunday was Father’s Day and my wife, my daughter and I celebrated at home and at church together as a family. Since my parents have moved 4 hours away to the beach, and since both of my grand fathers have passed, and since my inlaws didn’t do the normal Saturday get together with all their kids and grands – it has been a bit different this year. There seems to be “a new normal” in much of our lives these days as we adjust to post-pandemic changes and losses of loved ones.

This is a sweet time with my daughter, as she grows into a pre-teen and still enjoys time with us — even as she starts paying more attention to the things that young people eventually are more interested in. It is wonderful that our relationship is so close and healthy that I can be tender and compassionate with her and that I don’t have to breach the peace in order to insure her attention. So I spend these years trying to lay the ground work about important topics that will come later in her life. We speak together now, so that hopefully I have to tell a little less later on. She has many lessons to learn in life and I tell her that I’ll still respect her whether she chooses the hard way of learning lessons on her own or the wise way of learning from our advice and God’s Word.

The Lord has taught me that being a good father is about the character and fruit that our children’s lives will produce in this world, and being engaged enough in their lives to apply the right nutrients to their soil. If she is flourishing, she may just need acknowledgement of her progress today and preparation for tomorrow as a daily treatment to basically check for weeds and enjoy her beautiful growth. If life’s circumstances are testing her — weeds, bugs, and sickness are starting to wear her down — encouragement, assistance, and commitment to work through it together is helpful. And in seasons where those things have hurt her growth, correction is necessary — even pruning things away from her life that are dangerous might be necessary. All of these things look very different, but when applied in the right timing they are all loving and helpful.

It is the same with the Lord’s love for us. If we have a healthy respect and fear of God, we can trust that His Word is not a burdensome set of rules to measure and judge ourselves and others — but is tender and compassionate and wise advise to help us live an abundant life, serve others well, and reveal God’s presence to an otherwise unaware world.

Our Father has made us in His image and has offered wisdom and love to lead us through today better prepared — if we will listen, if we will truly hear, if we will believe, if we will value His Word, and if we will follow in His Way.

And each of us will choose…

Thank you for being a great Father, Lord. Help us to be wise children and not so foolish as we have been in the past. And help us to share your wisdom not just in our words, but what we teach those around us in how we live. Let our lives be a living testimony that you are with us, and that it is you alive in us that proves The Way so that they too might walk with You. Amen.

May the Word of the Lord be your help.

There are many different ways to translate the greeting from Boaz to his workers from Ruth 2:4, but I really do like this from John Gill’s exposition of the Bible where he references the Targum as “May the Word of the Lord be your help.” Wikipedia explains that the point of a targum is that “A targum was an originally spoken translation of the Hebrew Bible that a professional translator would give in the common language of the listeners when that was not Hebrew.” For those of us who aren’t fluent in Hebrew and don’t understand the original language, context and customs — preachers, expositions, Bible translations into our common language, and targums are very helpful to help us understand. In fact, our very lives are meant to be targums in a way — bringing the Word of God that is foreign and not understandable to a lost person close enough and familiar enough to them through is that they might encounter the Lord.

It was then that Boaz came back from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered him, “The Lord bless you!”
Ruth 2:4 AMP

Boaz greeted his workers in a familiar way that brought God glory and allowed them to in return give God glory as well. And he didn’t just give God glory in his words, but also in how he lived.

Truly, there is no help better for us than the Word of God. That is the truth for this life and for the eternal. We can find no better help than the Living Word of God being with us and helping us and guiding us through our day. I pray we know this, we believe this, and we live this in such a tangible way that it compels a response from others that also glorifies God today. Amen!

His Presence

Scripture: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” Psalm 139:7

This morning, as I read my morning devotional, I wondered and contemplated God’s presence in my life and my own presence and influence in the lives around me.

I am changing jobs and we just officially notified the rest of my team yesterday of my resignation in a wonderfully complimentary email from my supervisor. And I’ll get to attend a celebration dinner next week where six of us will be recognized for work “above and beyond” on a recent project. And many coworkers have reached out to me personally with thanks and well wishes. Each one of these is special and valuable to me because of the relationship that it represents. We have been in each other’s presence daily, serving each other — and even loving each other and building community together.

God goes with me everywhere that I travel. He has been with me at this job, and He will be with me at the next. I am not always aware of His presence and His influence, because many times I get “busy”, many times I get “distracted”, many times I get “tempted”, and many times I honestly just get “complacent”.

And I can get this way about the people around me as well. Sometimes I can “isolate”, instead of “going out and making disciples of the nations”. Sometimes I can get tired of doing heavy lifting and complain that I need help, rather than “bearing my cross daily for the glory of God”. Sometimes I can grumble about what others are or aren’t doing or what things need to change, rather than “being the example and leading the way”.

Honestly, it is only by the power of Christ in me that I don’t consistently get this wrong and make a complete wreck of things. And the goal isn’t just to say, “Yes, I see that I’ve fallen short in this way — thank you Jesus for forgiveness.” Undoubtedly, that is the most important thing to believe and receive when it comes to my own salvation.

But what about others?

What about those around me who need that same salvation?

What about others who are in need of hope and encouragement?

What about their seeing and knowing Good and loving Him and being blessed by His presence?

It doesn’t have to be some big, huge, religious display — listen to them, be there for them, lift the heavy work gratefully to show them the way, encourage them that they can do even more than they see you doing now, reach out to those who you may have lost touch with that might be isolated, seek out those who are in need and could benefit from your presence in their lives. I’m saying these things to myself right now — but also to you my friends. We will have an impact today because of our presence — and our exit from the lives of others will also have an impact because of our presence.

There are two questions:

1) Will our presence be a blessing and our departure be a loss, or the opposite — and why is that?

2) Will our presence clearly demonstrate our faith and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit at work within us and cause others to give God glory, or the opposite — and why is that?

If our life is not generating the type of fruit that we would like it to, maybe we need to truly repent, truly surrender our lives to the Lord, truly trust Him, truly enter into His presence, and be healed, restored, and renewed. This isn’t some once upon a time thing, but is an ongoing, active relationship with the Almighty Living God, made possible by the Blood of the Lamb.

Do we need to enter into His presence today?

Yes we do.