I Have Set Before You an Open Door

Text: Revelation 3:7-13

“Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” ­­­–Revelation 3:8

When I was a kid, a door was very useful. It could be used as a stealth covering to hide behind when I wanted to jump out and scare my sister. It could be used as a hanger for my dartboard, or a barricade to keep the rest of the world out when I needed refuge. I even broke a few doors in my day, most notably, the closet door at church that I crashed through playing ping-pong while trying to impress my future wife!

A door is a passage from one place to another. We are often the product of the doors we chose to walk through in the past. Doors have shaped the person we have become today. A door can represent a change or transition in one’s life—often the symbol of a new beginning. Choosing the right doors to walk through is a life-long constituent of our journey on this earth.

Oftentimes closed doors serve as a redirection for a greater purpose in life. God will close doors to bring us to the doors He intends to open for our benefit and the benefit of others.

To the believers in Philadelphia, God identifies himself as the “holy one” who “opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens” (Revelation 3:7). He tells them “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” Philadelphia was a gateway to the East. The church there had been planted with the deliberate intention that it might become a missionary city for the gospel to advance throughout Asia Minor. Jesus assured them He had opened the door for greater influence of His kingdom, and they must go through that door in faith.

An open door isn’t always comfortable. God didn’t say, “I have set before you a hammock.” An open door doesn’t always have clarity. God didn’t say, “I have set before you all the details.” He simply said, “I have set before you an open door.” An open door requires obedience, not having all the answers.

What doors might God be leading you to in 2018? Perhaps it is a door of new beginnings, of favorable promotion, or of some kind of exciting life transition. Maybe the door requires confronting some existing uncomfortable tension—such as reconciling a wounded relationship, dealing with issues of forgiveness, pride, anger, or contention. Maybe the door will necessitate a big leap of faith on your part, beckoning you to follow God into unchartered territory. An open door may bring opportunity as well as adversity (1 Corinthians 16:9). Are you prepared for that?

No matter the shape or context of the door, it’s important we remember that disobedience always leaves Jesus on the other side of the door. Jesus never says to go through a door because you are ready; He says, “Go, because I am with you.”

At the end of the day, we shouldn’t aspire open doors for mere personal happiness—we should aspire open doors to truly live a life that is pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6), and to be with Him in the place He calls us. His fellowship behind each and every door is what should drive this existence that we call life (Revelation 3:20).

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, to be with you is our deepest plea. To have your presence and your fellowship is what we long for most this New Year. Grant us the favor of walking through doors that help us draw nearer to you, that grow our faith, and enable us to bring glory to your kingdom by serving others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What word would you use to describe this past year?
  2. In what ways are you the product of doors you have walked through in the past?
  3. What doors of opportunity would you like to see open in the New Year?
  4. Where do you think God may stretch your faith this coming year?
  5. Is there an uncomfortable tension in your life the Holy Spirit is leading you to confront? What does obedience look like right now? Is there anything that needs to be confessed or owned in order to bring closure to an old chapter, and healthy transition into the new?

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A Christmas Devotional: He Came Into Our Messiness

Text: Luke 2:1-20

“They shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.’” —Matthew 1:23

A dirty, messy stable. It’s hardly the place I would’ve picked to have the Messiah born. Yet this was the nativity in which God chose to bring forth His incarnate Son on a mission to save the world—the unlikely nativity of a wooden manger surrounded by the smells of animal dung and soiled hay. It was a place of lowly estate, not very fitting for the birth of a king. And this is where an exhausted and very overwhelmed young pregnant woman, chosen by God, goes into labor.

Our nativity scenes are much more sanitized than that first one in Bethlehem. Ours are quite cleaned up, draped with fresh garland and glistening with untainted tinsel. Joseph and Mary look peculiarly calm and at ease, hardly worn and frazzled like they just gave birth to a baby in a cluttered barn. In doing our best to tidy up the Christmas nativity, we often miss the real point of that very first manger scene.

Christmas tells the story of a God who wasn’t afraid of our mess—one who dwells close to the lowly (Isaiah 57:15), the destitute (Psalm 72:12-13), and the weary (Matthew 11:28-30). This story, stripped down from all the glitter and gloss—the real story—gives us reason for hope.

The story of Christmas is that God is “with us” in all the chaos and mess of this human experience (Matthew 1:22-23). If God can make His abode in a noisy, smelly barn, then He can set up residence in my messy heart. He’s not intimidated by my brokenness. God entered the chaos. He came near. He brought calm to two very frightened new parents, who trusted God when they didn’t fully understand what He was up to.

God is always near. Even in loss, hardship, sickness, and suffering. Regardless of what you faced this year, you were never alone. Ever!

God is “with us” in the mess. That’s why it’s quite okay if Christmas isn’t perfect this year. It’s okay if your family photo doesn’t look like the cover of a magazine. It’s okay if the cat pulls the tree down. It’s okay if the cookies get a little burnt or the living room doesn’t have the perfect fragrance of cloves and cinnamon. This year let the wrapping paper stay on the floor a little longer. Don’t stress over the dirty dishes or the kitchen being a bit disorderly. Not that I’m advocating deliberate unkemptness or laziness, it’s just okay to loosen up from the need to make everything perfect.

Jesus isn’t asking us to clean up everything in our lives for him, he simply asks us to make room for him. He’s not all impressed with a decorated façade; he’s just looking for open hearts and open homes. Make room for the Savior. Make room for hope, forgiveness, love, reconciliation, repentance, and healing. Make room for new life and the expectancy of what God is bringing into your future.

Make room for the King.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, come into our mess. We invite you into our brokenness, the chaos, and the crowdedness of our lives. We make room for you in the endless clutter of trying to get it all right and perfect. Instead of trying to manage Christmas, help us to experience Christmas. Come, Lord Jesus, just as you did so many years ago in a smelly, messy Bethlehem stable. Grant us the privilege of hearing the cry of new life, seeing a star lighting our way, and receiving the hope that Immanuel has come—GOD WITH US. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Share a memorable gift-opening moment from your childhood.
  2. Have you ever had an embarrassing Christmas experience? Explain.
  3. Why is there so much pressure to make Christmas perfect?
  4. What is your personal takeaway from this Christmas devotion?
  5. How will you and your family practically make room for Jesus this Christmas?

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Advent Devotional: Make Ready for the King

Text: Psalm 24:1-10

“Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” Psalm 24:9

I remember when each of our three children was born; there were certain things that we had to do in order to make our home ready for a newborn. We had to examine the areas of our house and take necessary precautions of every little thing that wasn’t safe, sterile, or baby-friendly. The expectation of a new life prompted us to take such responsible actions.

The season of Advent, which comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” or “visit,” beckons us to make our hearts ready in expectation of what God is up to. Even when it seems that we are down to nothing, God is up to something!

Advent is a season of telling and re-telling the story of the incarnation—why Christ came into this world. Advent holds such deep significance in that our newborn King, though entirely divine, left His place in glory and wrapped himself in the form of humanity. He was fully God and fully man as he graced this earth. Because he was clothed in our likeness and walked the so-called “mile in our shoes,” we have a Savior who wholly understands our struggles and weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus went to the cross in our place and shed his sinless blood so that we could have redemption and experience new life (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 1:7, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 21).

Advent reminds us to prepare our hearts for what God is up to. In the midst of all our busy schedules and holiday festivities, we do well to pause for a moment and breathe in the presence of God.

The word selah is found 71 times in the Psalms. Many scholars believe it to be a musical notation signifying a pause for singers and instrumentalists. Perhaps they were pausing to carefully weigh the meaning of what they just read and to breathe a sigh of relief from heaven. In Psalm 24, the psalmist reminds us “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” then instructs us to prepare our hearts that the “King of glory” may come in.

This week, let us take time to pause, breathe in deeply, and anticipate that our King of glory is up to something beyond belief. May the anticipation of new life, new beginnings, and new possibilities give us hope unimaginable. May we remember our past and see God’s fingerprints in where we came from, and may we look to the future in anticipation of the Messiah’s promised return. Let us remember with joy and peace that everything in this world, and those who dwell therein, belong to Him.

Selah

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we long to be that generation that seeks your face. We pray for your peace in this broken world. Even in personal circumstances when it seems we are down to nothing, may we be reminded that you are always up to something. May we be comforted by your history of loving us, sustained by your daily presence, and energized at the prospect of the adventures that lie ahead. We long to see all of your promises unfold in our lives! Your Kingdom come, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What are some of your favorite Christmas songs and holiday traditions?
  2. When have you been in a season of great anticipation?
  3. What is necessary to make room for God’s peace in our lives?
  4. What does the promise of Psalm 24:1 conjure up for you?
  5. What will you do this week to make ready for the King of glory in your life?

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How You, THOR, and Bruce Banner Are Alike

Text: Matthew 6:25-34

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34

For my daughter’s birthday, we went to see the movie Thor: Ragnarok. As he fights for survival and races against time to prevent the villainous Hela from destroying the Asgardian civilization (to a roaring Led Zeppelin soundtrack), Thor crash-lands on Sakaar, a garbage planet surrounded by wormholes. Here he finds himself in a savage gladiatorial contest against his former ally, Hulk. He must not only fight for survival, but must convince others who are hostile toward him that they can be part of a more heroic cause, including his sinister-prone brother, Loki. This is no easy task.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Thor is trying to explain the current reality to Bruce Banner, who is dazed and confused (sticking with the Led Zeppelin undertone) about his existence. Banner’s response is that he feels as if he has been thrown into a world that is intentionally designed to keep him stressed out all the time.

Maybe you’ve felt this way. One thing we can all agree on is that the story of our lives is less like Mayberry, and more like Sakaar, a place where we’ve crash-landed and must fight for survival. In the words of Job, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Fortunately, God gives us a survival manual for such a place.

In Matthew 6, Jesus has some comforting words for those who feel they have crash-landed on a planet rife with stress and anxiety. “Do not be anxious about your life,” he says. Then he guides his disciples to look at how natural things on this planet survive, such as birds and flowers. He asks, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Jesus told his followers that the Gentiles are anxious, essentially because they are focused on the world rather than His kingdom. The antidote to these unnatural predispositions to stress is found in seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:32-33).

When we are dealing with a family crisis, financial hardship, health issues, conflict in the workplace, holiday stress, uncertainty about the future, or just feelings of being lost and alone, the pressure can be overwhelming. Yet Jesus invites us into a place of rest: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This place of rest is a refuge from the whirlwind of worry and panic.

God keeps those in perfect peace who fix their thoughts on Him (Isaiah 26:3). Wherever you may have crash-landed this week, remember that God offers a survival manual for those in distress. And in that manual He says “Fear not” (Matthew 10:31), and “take courage”—I have overcome this place (John 16:33).

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, sometimes the stress is overwhelming. In those times, help us to remember that there is nothing we will ever face that has the capacity to overwhelm you. May we find peace in knowing Jesus has overcome this world and in trusting in your faithfulness over every area of our lives. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. Who is the strongest Avenger? A great debate for the kids!
  2. Have you ever felt like Bruce Banner, overwhelmed by a world set on keeping you stressed out?
  3. Why is it so easy to get preoccupied with our own needs and struggle to find rest in God’s faithfulness?
  4. How is God described in Matthew 6:32 and how should that find significance in our daily lives?
  5. What has God promised to those who seek first His kingdom and His righteousness? How will that be fleshed out in your life this week?

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When I Don’t Feel Very ‘Christian’

Text: 1 John 5:1-13

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” —1 John 5:13 ESV

There is a peace that comes from knowing that our Christian faith runs much deeper than our shifting emotions—especially on our really bad days!

Billy Graham once lost his temper with another student in Bible college, and after that heated exchange, Graham went downstairs and questioned the authenticity of his relationship with God. “There is no way that I can be a Christian,” Graham vented due to the fact that he didn’t feel very “Christian” in that moment. As he wrestled with this, the Holy Spirit reminded young Graham that he wasn’t a Christian based on how good of a person he was or how spiritual or non-spiritual he felt; he was a Christian based on what Jesus had done for him on the cross—plus nothing. Then the Holy Spirit prompted him to go and make reconciliation with the person he had offended.

There are times we all need assurance that our relationship with God isn’t rooted in our erratic feelings, irregular temperaments, or how well we consistently behave with others. These are wobbly and unreliable human dispositions. We feel ugly sometimes. We feel dirty. Like the music artist who felt stuck somewhere between a failure and a fraud, shame can get the best of us—particularly in incidents when we’ve been noticeably un-Christlike. And though our walk with God should be characterized by the sanctification of growing in grace (2 Peter 3:18), maturing in bearing fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22), and conforming more to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29, Ephesians 4:24), we sometimes make a mess of things. It’s in these vulnerable times we need to be reminded that our position in Christ never shifts with the tides of human performance.

Dr. Billy Graham once said:

“I believe one of the oldest tricks of the devil is to make Christians doubt their salvation. When we doubt our salvation, we doubt God’s Word, and when we doubt God’s Word, we are powerless and ineffective tools for Christ.”

In times when you need assurance of your identity in Christ and your position in His family, remember that scripture declares that God cannot lie. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 NIV). In John’s first epistle, we are assured “that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11–13 ESV).

In Christ alone are we justified. This much-espoused theological word means: “pronounced or treated as righteous.” For the Christian, justification is completely the work of God, which not only forgives the believer’s sins but also imputes to him the righteousness of Jesus. Justification can never be earned by our good works, only received by faith (Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:8, Titus 3:5).

We didn’t deserve God’s gift of justification, yet it is mercifully offered to us. Jesus shed his blood on the cross and rose from the grave to reconcile us to God. On His merit alone do we find our identity and righteousness as a Christian—never in our vacillating emotions, performances, or religious deeds (2 Corinthians 5:21). Both the Old and New Testaments assure us, “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).

The doctrine of justification by faith alone will cause you to be more secure in your Christian identity, it will spur you on to serve God more faithfully, and it will move you to love others more graciously. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, I thank you that my justification doesn’t hinge upon my ability to be good enough. I thank you that my identity in Christ doesn’t change from day to day, or incident to incident—it is forever engraved in the completed works of Jesus Christ. His righteousness alone is what positions me in your family. Thank you for this unspeakable gift of grace, and this abiding assurance of salvation. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. In what ways can the complexity of human emotions interfere with God’s truth in your life?
  2. When have you ever felt stuck between a failure and a fraud?
  3. What lies have you at times allowed to interfere with your identity in Christ?
  4. Why is it sometimes easier to find our identity in things that we do, rather than in the finished work of Jesus?
  5. How does the doctrine of “justification by faith alone” cause us to grow in the grace of God? What will that look like in your life this week?

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The Art of Abandonment

Text: Psalm 22:1-31

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Earlier this year, we went to an art festival while visiting with family in south Florida. It was there that we came across the work of Walter Arnold, a self-taught fine art photographer. After picking up his first DSLR camera in 2006, Walter happened upon an old and deserted airplane graveyard. In the process of shooting the abandoned planes, he discovered his infectious passion for what he now calls “The Art of Abandonment.”

Walter’s vision draws him to capture unusual and artistic scenes in places that others often pass by. In his own statement:

“I strive to create nontraditional images and scenes in locations that most people will never have the pleasure to see. I travel the country to seek out historic, forgotten places, and preserve their history and memory through the art of photography. These abandoned buildings and locations speak volumes when you enter them, even in their abandoned and decaying state. Every room you look into tells a story and every artifact from a bygone era holds years of meaning and lost purpose. I enjoy searching for beauty in uncommon places and by doing so, help to preserve the memory and spirit that still shines ever so faintly in the dust and decay of these modern ruins.”

When I look at Walter Arnold’s inspiring work, I cannot help but to remember that God is the Master Artist at reclaiming the beauty of the abandoned and ruined.

I’ll never forget how God personally captured my deserted teenage heart while locked up in a cold and lonely juvenile detention center. After a childhood wrecked by abuse and abandonment, I had lost all hope until Christ restored purpose to my life (as told in my book 13-Foot Coffins). That redemptive experience led to the birth of Breakaway Outreach in 1995, the ministry my wife and I have spent our entire adult lives investing in—restoring dreams and shaping resilience in countless youth and children who often feel deserted in their pain. We’ve seen Christ bring beauty out of brokenness time and time again.

The art of abandonment is about bringing out a hidden beauty where others only see ruin, decay, or worthlessness.

Jesus practiced this art when he reached out to undesirables—unashamedly hanging out with sinners, dining with repugnant tax collectors, caring for unclean lepers, and restoring dignity to promiscuous women. He practiced this art by confronting the prejudices of his own disciples toward the loathed Samaritan race. He taught them to see the Samaritans through the lens of God’s love instead of their age-old bigotry. In Matthew 25, Jesus practices this art by speaking out on behalf of “the least of these”—the imprisoned, the sick, the poor, and the stranger (in the original Greek this meant “foreigner” or “alien”).

Jesus taught his followers to not overlook the hidden beauty of the abandoned. He was always the friend of the outcast, the deserted, and the forsaken—and he was often scandalized by the religious Pharisees of his day for being such a loyal friend. He saw beauty where others saw repulsiveness. His affinity with the undesirables made the Pharisees quite uncomfortable in their legalistic approach to religion. And Jesus didn’t seem to mind offending these zealots as he turned their holier-than-thou rules of engagement upside down.

At times we may feel abandoned and forsaken. David certainly felt this way in Psalm 22. His cry begins with the words that Jesus quoted on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” David felt like God was ignoring him. But for every plaintive cry that David articulates, he turns to an attribute of God that salvages him from dejection. He testifies that God is holy (v.3), trustworthy (vv.4-5), and near to rescue (vv.11,19,21). God is always much closer than we think.

Every piece of wreckage from the graveyard of your past will inevitably tell a picturesque story of His grace and redemption in your life. This is His “Art of Abandonment”—making something good come out of the ruins. God makes everything beautiful in its time.

Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for seeing something in me when there was nothing desirable to others. Thank you for taking a life wrecked by sin, shame, and desertion, and turning it into a story of your beauty, grace, and redemption. You will never abandon me nor leave me to myself—all of this because of your unfailing love. Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in endless praise. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. If your past was described as a graveyard, what would be buried there?
  2. In what ways have you seen God redeem some of the wreckage from your past?
  3. Why is it sometimes hard to accept that God will never leave us or forsake us? When have you felt forsaken?
  4. In what ways may God be leading you to rediscover beauty in forsaken places?
  5. In what ways this week can you practically flesh out Jesus’ love for the outcast, the unloved, or the deserted?

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What You and The Houston Astros Have In Common

Text: Psalm 31:1-24

“I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My future is in your hand.” — Psalm 31:14-15

The Houston Astros just won the World Series to claim the franchise’s first MLB championship in its 55 years, prompting some crazed fans to shell out big bucks for an old Sports Illustrated issue that predicted this would happen three years ago. The magazine featuring the story behind the prediction was published on June 30, 2014, but full copies of the magazine have sold on eBay auctions over the past few days for an average price of $280 each. One issue sold for $1,025!

In June 2014, the Astros were the laughing stock of the league after coming off of three consecutive seasons with 105 losses or more and sitting on a 36-48 record midway through the season. They had been so bad that they were putting up 0.0 local television ratings and were the byword of baseball jokes, when a guy named Ben Reiter wrote a story that boldly predicted the Astros would be the World Series champions in 2017. What’s more, the man SI featured on the cover of that magazine, rookie George Springer, went on to win the 2017 World Series MVP!

What did Ben Reiter see that others didn’t see three years ago?

Reiter didn’t just look at the present standings; he did an in-depth study of the entire organization as they prepared for the draft and considered how the front office was planning for the future. The way the Astros had seemingly woven old-fashioned scouting with modern metrics to develop young championship-caliber talent was written as “Baseball’s Great Experiment.” The Sports Illustrated cover captioned: An Unprecedented Look At How a Franchise Is Going Beyond Moneyball To Build the Game’s Next Big Thing.

The Astros didn’t become champions overnight. Something was working for them long before they arrived at this pinnacle: their front office was actively doing something favorable behind the scenes, though not immediately obvious on the field, which had them heading in the direction of future success.

Isaiah was a prophet who spoke of the God “who acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him” (Isaiah 64:4). As followers of Jesus, we have been drafted by the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), who also serves as the living Mediator in the front office of our lives (Hebrews 9:15). He is always working on our behalf (Philippians 2:13). Even though sometimes it feels like we are on a losing streak, and our ratings are low, God is making sure that everything works according to His purpose and our future good (Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 1:6).

Even in the most difficult seasons, the ownership in the front office of your life will never fail you. That front office promises you:

Like the Houston Astros, your front office has seen your future—and it is GOOD!

Therefore, in the confidence of the Psalmist, you can boldly declare: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My future is in your hand” (Psalm 31:14-15).

Think about that as you abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we thank you for actively working in our lives each day to bring about your glory and our good. We trust your plan even in times of disappointment. Because you are good and your steadfast love endures forever, our future is eternally bright. We look forward to that crown that will never fade. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When you read Psalm 31, what stands out most about God? About man?
  2. Is there a pain in this chapter with which you can identify?
  3. God promises strength to those who wait for Him. Why do you think God lets us go through seasons of waiting? What does waiting produce in us?
  4. From the bulleted list of promises above, which one resonates most with you at this moment? Why?
  5. In what ways can you remind yourself this week that the front office of your life is active in shaping something very good for your future?

*In case you were wondering who Ben Reiter predicts will win the 2020 World Series, it’s the New York Yankees.

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Embracing the Brevity and Transiency of Life

Text: Psalm 103:15-19

“Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” James 4:14 (NLT)

On the bookshelf in my office are several wooden carved ducks and sculptured birds that had been handcrafted from my great uncle, Henry Bird. “Uncle Dick,” as he was called, used to make these from his farm at the corner of Henry Bird RD and Gateway RD in Whittier, North Carolina, and then send them to family members spread out across the states. I used to love getting these when I was a young boy growing up in Maryland.

Uncle Dick passed away in 1990. His old farm was recently leveled and replaced by a newly built Pepsi distribution center. As I look at the before and after pictures of this location, I am reminded that everything in this world is transient.

One hundred years from now, the house you live in may no longer exist. The company you work for may no longer be in business. The church building you worship in and the school your child attends may have been replaced by something altogether different. Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” But the Psalmist reminds us of at least two other certainties—change, and the steadfast love of the Lord.

Psalm 103:15-19 says:

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

As seasons change and nature’s beauty flourishes and fades, so is the existence of our lives; we come and go, and the place we once held “knows it no more.” This verse has also been translated “its place remembers it no more” (NIV), “its place acknowledges it no longer” (NASB), and “one can no longer even spot the place where it once grew” (NET).

This may sound depressing to some, especially for those who are struggling feverishly to build their own empires and earthly legacies, but it doesn’t have to be a saddening reality. It is healthy to remember that our lives are a vapor (James 4:14), that our days are like a passing shadow (Psalm 144:4), and the things that we now see are transient (2 Corinthians 4:18).

God wants us to contrast this humbling reality with more joy-filled eternal certainties: The LORD has established his immovable throne in the heavens, from where his everlasting kingdom rules over all the earth. He promises his steadfast love from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him. For those who keep his covenant, God ensures a righteous covering over their children’s children. For those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, He has promised a future and perpetual habitation in heaven, far removed from all evil, pain, and injustice (Revelation 21:1-8). These things will never change!

Accepting the reality of our transient lives, along with God’s eternal truths, can help us to apply our hearts to wisdom in the daily grind of our fleeting days (Psalm 90:12). Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, it is a healthy notion to recognize our lives as transient. Your perfectly redemptive plan involves a glorious transition from this broken and fleeting world to a perpetual and incorruptible one. Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross—that we would be redeemed and adopted into this everlasting kingdom. In His name we pray, amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What kinds of feelings are evoked in you when you revisit places from your childhood or take a stroll down Memory Lane?
  2. What do you look forward to most about being in Heaven?
  3. What thoughts or impressions come to mind when you are reminded that your life is like a fleeting shadow, a temporary flower, or a momentary vapor?
  4. In what ways can coming to grips with our transient lives be healthy to how we live from day to day?
  5. How should the brevity of life affect how we invest our time, talents, and money for the kingdom of God?

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Falling Apart, or Falling Into Place?

Is Your World Falling Apart, or Falling Into Place?

Text: Acts 27:1-44

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Last week we had to say goodbye to our reliable little Ford Fiesta, which was totaled after Cindy was in an auto accident. When we retrace the details of that day, it’s quite amazing that she walked away from the accident scene without even a scratch. We look at the pictures of the crash and know without a shadow of doubt that she was held in the hand of God in those circumstances.

We know that she was in God’s grip during that anxious moment and we know that He will also hold us in the stressful process of replacing the vehicle. The lyrics of Casting Crown’s song Just Be Held keep saturating my thoughts like a constant rainfall:

Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held

Sometimes it does feel like our world is falling apart—whether it’s the loss of a car you depend on every day, a sudden financial crisis, an alarming health concern, a business venture that collapses, or having your home flooded by a hurricane. It can feel like we are going under.

It’s in times like these that God wants us to remember that He is on the throne, and maybe our world isn’t falling apart as much as it is falling into place. In these moments we can be held by the grip of grace with a trust that the Supreme Being is orchestrating Romans 8:28 promises in our lives.

In Acts 27, Paul is detained on a ship that is transporting prisoners to Rome, where the apostle must stand trial before Caesar. As the ship founders amidst a devastating storm, 276 anxious people aboard begin to fear the worst. This was before the use of the compass as a maritime navigational device, when sailors depended on the sun and stars for their bearings. However Luke the physician, an eyewitness to this dangerous peril, writes that when “neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (Acts 27:20).

Hope was lost!

Sometimes it feels like we have no compass, no sun or stars, and no visible path forward. Yet this is when God does some of His best work in our lives!

In a time when Paul could’ve easily become self-absorbed with his own dreadful circumstances, instead he is serving others and urging them to take heart. An angel tells him not to be afraid, and in a vivid display of leadership in crisis (note that even prison chains can’t restrain Paul from leading well), Paul encourages and strengthens the souls of people in distress. Even the ship’s captain and guards begin to listen to this faithful man of God, and when the soldiers plot to kill the prisoners (lest any should escape), God’s man is influential in saving their lives.

Eventually the ship runs aground on an island with no loss of life, only the loss of cargo. They had to abandon the cargo to get out safely. It’s been observed that the ship had to be broken for the people to survive. The vessel carrying them had to be sacrificed in order to save them. Sounds familiar, yeah? That’s precisely what Jesus did for us on the cross. He sacrificed his own life in order to save us.

This is life, beloved. We have to let go of “the rudder” on a daily basis and let God hold us. He has a plan for our lives and He knows the outcomes. He writes our stories from beginning to end. Our futures are a memory to him because He’s already there. What seems to be a total loss may simply be God’s process in bringing about a much bigger glory in our lives—always to His praise!

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we trust that where the compass fails, your arm of salvation flexes. Help us, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to see our trials and hardships less as disheartening circumstances, and more as a redirection of your divine purpose—a purpose that always has our future and your glory at heart. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. When was the last time you felt like your world was falling apart?
  2. How has adversity and hardship shaped your life?
  3. When have you seen God take an unfortunate situation and turn it into something good or influential for the gospel?
  4. In what ways did Paul’s hardships give him a platform to serve, influence, and lead others?
  5. Where do you lack a “compass” in your present circumstances? What would it look like for you to let go of the “rudder” and trust God?

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Peace in Troubled Times

Text: John 14:25-31

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (ESV)

In his book You’re a Winner, Charlie Brown!, Charles Schulz renders Charlie Brown and Linus looking very concerned. Violet asks, “What are you two standing here looking so worried about?” Charlie explains, “We’re afraid of the future!” She asks, “Are you worried about anything in particular?” Charlie says, “Oh, no, we’re worried about everything!” Linus adds, “Yes, our worrying is very broadminded!”

We live in a world that inundates us with much cause for alarm. A century ago, a tragedy could happen on the other side of the world and you might never hear about it. Yet in this hour, we have real-time access to atrocities as they unfold from every corner of the earth. Such inundation of calamities can leave our minds overtaxed with grief, our hearts gripping with fear, and our souls weighed down with despair.

Jesus knew these times would come. Nothing that makes the news headlines today has the capacity to rattle His throne—which is eternally unshakeable (Hebrews 12:28). He also knew that His followers would need an anchor for the soul in troubled times—a power greater than themselves to face the trials ahead. So He bolsters them with these words just hours before His arrest and crucifixion:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:26-27)

Peace is something that everyone wants but few seem to find.

“Peace” comes from the Hebrew “shalom,” which refers to a general well-being or contentedness that comes from God. Shalom isn’t the absence of trouble, it simply denotes wholeness or completeness.

Peace is one of the fundamental characteristics of the messianic kingdom anticipated in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament (see Numbers 6:26; Psalm 29:11; Isaiah 9:6-7; 52:7; 54:13; 57:19; Ezekiel 37:26; Haggai 2:9; Acts 10:36; Romans 1:7; 14:17).

We are afforded peace because Christ bore the penalty for our sins on the cross. Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1) and now have the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts (Romans 8:11). Consequently, a person can have peace in the troubles of life because “he who is in you is greater” than anything you face in this world (1 John 4:4). The prophet Isaiah decreed, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

Jesus wants us to know His peace. Robert Murray McCheyne said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”

Peace isn’t the absence of troubles, it’s God filling our hearts despite them. So when fearful or anxious thoughts come, remind yourself of Jesus’ words: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, the world is facing perilous times. There are troubles all around us. Yet Jesus promised that we would never be left to ourselves. Holy Spirit, show us how to guard our hearts in the face of alarm and distress. Grant us your shalom and help us to grow in the blessing and fullness of your peace. In Jesus’ name, amen..

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. What are some of the downsides to having the world at our fingertips 24/7?
  2. What issues in the world are most troubling to you right now?
  3. In what season have you experienced the most peace in your life? To what would you attribute that?
  4. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” What do you think is needed on our side for this to be our reality?
  5. What difference would it make in your life if you could hear Jesus praying for you in the next room? How should it affect you this week that He is praying for you?

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