Thank you

Dear Lord,

Thank you for meaningful work and the opportunity to reflect your grace; for keeping my family safe; for the opportunities I’ve been given; for the strength you’ve given me through the difficult times; and for my family.

In Jesus name,

Matt

Thanks

Dear Lord,

1. Thank you for a back that doesn’t hurt right now.
2. Thank you for freedom earned by those who have served, and still.serve, our country in the military.
3. Thank you for a church that preaches the truth and makes us feel welcome and home.
4. Thank you for my family and what they’ve taught me.
5. Thank you for taking care of the end game so that when this life is over, we will be with you.

Matt

Thanks

Dear Lord Jesus,

1. Thank you for defining reality, sin, death, love, and guilt.
2. Thank you for remaining perfect, while reconciling us to you through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
3. Thank you for meaningful work and for the path you’ve given to me. You’ve carried me and never left me.
4. Thank you for being tired so that I seek you. Thank you for always taking me back.
5. Thank you for your word, the trustworthy sayings and pure grace it contains.

Love,

Matt

Long Time, No Write

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. I’ve decided to challenge myself and my readers. I will post 5 things that I thank God for, my prayers, on this site once a week. If you feel so moved, post your “thanks” in the comments. Let’s do this together. I’ll need the encouragement of your  comments to do this, so please join me.

1. I am thankful for the new job opportunities I have. I thank you Jesus for giving me the opportunity to grow and expand.

2. I thank you for the family I have, my supportive wife, daughter, mom, dad, brother, and sister. There are no words for what they mean to me, and I realize the evil you’ve kept from me through them.

3. I thank you for the struggling in life. I appreciate that you’ve given me neither poverty, nor riches.

4. Thank you for my friends whom I consider to be my betters. Thank you for the wise counsel they give me when I need it.

5. Thank you for the thorns in me, around me, and under my fingernails. Without them I would get proud and lose hope in you, in heaven, in something better and real. Renew the joy of your salvation in me.

Thank you Lord for this idea and please move others to join me in this. To your glory.

Psalm 34

Psalm 34

Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.

1[a] I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.

Lord, when David drooled on his beard and faked insanity, you had mercy on him. He knew that better things were in store for him in this life and the next and he put his trust in you. You used this experience to humble the king; you humble your servants today in similar ways.

2 My soul will boast in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

Always the teacher, David used this experience to share his hear with those who suffer. The “afflicted” are to listen and rejoice. “Boast in the Lord,” David tells us. When he was going from bad to worse, he reflected, and his soul remained constantly on the Lord. Teach us to listen and hear your word, which makes our souls rejoice. My soul pants for you like a deer pants for water. Even during the times when I drool or face struggles, I’ll boast in the Lord and his salvation.

3 Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.

Fellowship is a doctrine that has become much more clear to me these days. You know this Lord, before I have even written it, that it has. Abimilech’s abound today as before, but we remain focused on you. We testify to your truth, though you don’t need our testimony to establish your truth, you give us opportunities to exalt you with fellow believers. Teach me and whoever reads this to know how best to speak the truth in love. Thank you for Christians who exalt your name with me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.

Anxiety plagues me sometimes. Fears overwhelm me even when there is nothing but whispers to spark their existence. Guard our hearts and minds, Lord. The battle is spiritual and over our hearts and souls.

Take the entire book of Job. I know, Lord, that Job was a real man who faced severe trials. But we can look at the conversations as internal conversations that we all have. When things don’t go the way we had planned, we focus on the things that we’ve done wrong. We accuse ourselves in our minds, then we focus on our own righteousness. When things don’t get better we even go so far as to declare ourselves worthy – even at the expense of your righteousness. This is the human condition, and this is the way a Christian’s mind works. Our consciences now accuses, now defend us.

But thank you JESUS! for delivering us from all of our fears. The biggest fear we face apart from you is the fear of being inadequate and separated from you. That’s the fear that ignites our consciences to defend and accuse us. But you are greater than our hearts. Even when our hearts condemn us, you forgive and cleanse us from our anxiety and fear. Thank you for establishing God’s kingdom on earth for the sake of your saints – me and all who believe that Jesus came in the flesh!

5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.

Is this right, king David. You have just been a drooling wreck of a disheveled exile and now you say you are radiant. God calls things that aren’t as though they are. That’s the central component of the one true faith in Jesus our Savior. By looking to him, we are found clean and shameless. But we don’t look that way.

Take the book of Revelation for example. John, the disciple Jesus loved, was imprisoned and lonely. He was probably dirty and smelled in his prison cell. And Jesus appeared. He came to John and walked between the “lampstands” tending to his church on earth. What IRONY! The resurrected Jesus in all his splendor coming to a prisoner on a lonely island. Jesus didn’t focus on John’s fifth or smell, but on himself. Thank you Jesus for focusing on what you have done and what we have received.

The greater irony in this story than the King of Kings coming to a lonely prisoner and showing him visions of eternity is the fact that this whole world is sick, sinful, dirty, and wretched. Naked and lonely. Terribly troubled. Yet, they do not turn and repent, buy expensive clothes and food without money. Instead, they refuse to be clean. That’s the only power they have, and this world exercises it. But to prisoners like John, like you, like me, we see how dark we are – and we are illuminated by the cross and the Gospel.

6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.

From bad to worse. We Christians are in a perpetual cycle of trouble to difficulty. The Apostle Paul boasted of his trials and troubles. We can’t avoid them. We spend time in our minds with Job and his friends. Yet, we poor people call on the Lord. AND HE HEARS US! He listens to those who are in trouble. Jesus said in this life we will have trouble. But he doesn’t tell us to try harder. He doesn’t give us a prescription to be better. He doesn’t help us become LIONS of men, but he helps us the only way we can be helped – by assuring us that he has overcome the world. And, he did it by his humiliation and death on the cross. While we were still SINNERS! That is the definition of love. God is love.

7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

The Old Testament reference for Jesus is often the “angel of the Lord”. God accepts us ONLY through faith. And, he makes it so necessary. We can’t see the angel of the Lord today. Things sure don’t LOOK like the angel of the Lord is with us. King David might have still had the drool on his beard when he wrote this. In all reality, he probably didn’t FEEL like the Lord had encamped around him. But he did. The Lord is still with those of us who aren’t lions of men.

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

So come to his table, dear reader and dear soul within me. Bury your head in the arms of the man who faced horrors beyond description for you. He’s alive. Jesus has risen and his pierced arms and pierced feet are strong enough to shelter you from REAL or REALLY apparent fears. There is nothing on earth of value, nothing in heaven worth having, apart from this good Lord who welcomes the weak, the burdened, the hard-pressed.

9 Fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.

And, you won’t give up ANYTHING. Nothing of value at least. When we turn, and turn back after we’ve turned away (and repeat), God is always ready to give us EVERYTHING. He doesn’t withhold grace from us, but gives it freely to those who turn from their sins and come to him. When you can’t find the way out of your box, and this happens to me more often than not, Jesus wipes the spit off our faces, the tears, and the hurt, and holds us in his arms till we can get back up again.

10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

I have struggled with comparing myself with “lions” my entire life. I always focus on being a better man, a better person, a better wage earner (whatever, you pick it, I’ve wanted it). I compare myself with those who are successful in this world, and I go from learning from them, straight to jealousy. Zero to sixty in one second flat! The worst part about it is that I’ve done it so often that I can hardly recognize it until it’s time to refocus and turn back. And, again, I run back to the arms of a Savior who wants nothing more than for me to realize that this is all according to his plan.

11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

So, we learn from Jesus through our tough times. If you read this blog, you may get the idea that I am a very sullen and hard-pressed man. But, I don’t know if that is quite the case. What I am is a Christian who realizes that the difficult times in his life are the whetstones that make him a stronger Christian. If we are honest with ourselves, and we take God at his word, then you’d have to say that the easy times in your life really didn’t make that much of an impact on who you are as a person. God uses struggles to sharpen his servants, to refocus his saints, to build character and keep his children safe from the destiny that comes to all those who reject him. Keep me close, dear Lord. Keep me close.

12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,

And, teach me. Teach me that these difficulties are not permanent. Teach me that you’ve got better plans in store for me than even the good that may come in this life. Teach me patience and build in me endurance to press on for that which you have already earned for me on the cross.

13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking lies.

Jesus keep me from using my mouth to injure, harm or hurt those who hurt me. Give me patience and endurance to continue to focus on you.

14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

Because peace and love are what remains when it’s all over. If we grasp after it now, we join in fellowship with the universal church and leave behind paths that would lead us to pierce ourselves with further grief. Keep our eyes on the prize.

15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their cry;

Thank you, Lord.

16 the face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

Thank you for advocating for me Lord. You do a better job of it than I do.

17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.

Thank you again, Lord for hearing me. Thank you for listening to our cries.

18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Thank you, Lord.

19 A righteous man may have many troubles,
but the LORD delivers him from them all;

To prove your love for us, you let us struggle and face trouble. Then you deliver us. THANK YOU, LORD!

20 he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.

You allude to Jesus in this verse, Lord, whose bones were kept in tact. His body was beaten and he was killed, and by his wounds we are healed.

21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.

Thank you for reminding us of this Lord. When we see those who do evil things prosper, this calms our hearts.

22 The LORD redeems his servants;
no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.

To God be the GLORY!

Footnotes:

  1. Psalm 34:1 This psalm is an acrostic poem, the verses of which begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Same, familiar trouble

Dear Lord, hear my soul. Dear soul focus on your Lord. The same Lord who rescued Israel from Pharoah with wonders and miracles. The same Lord who hid Moses in a crag in a mountain and proclaimed your name. The Lord, gracious and compassionate.

I come for mercy and compassion. The same struggles and trouble has reached me. You prepared me for these and determined before eternity that I would face these trials. You tell me that we must face many troubles in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

These are tests in preparation for eternity. And my struggles pail in comparison with being sawed in two, flogged, disowned, crucified, shipwrecked, stoned or beaten. You have sent unkind words and heartless actions to test me. When I fail, as the result of testing shows weakness, you burn away my impurity as I take shelter in your words. The tests of men prove strength and mastery. Testing from God shows weakness and depravity. The results of performing well on the tests of men are success, promotions, and recognition. The results of testing from you proves sin utterly sinful, horrifying, and evil and leads us to hell. Your tests confirm your holiness, holy.

Dear Lord, for your sake remember the prayer Jesus prayed for us before he was crucified. Remember that he told us you would never leave us as orphans. Remember me in grace. Remember me in mercy and not as I am. Test me and see that I have failed each and everyone of your tests. Test me again and see that I am no longer judged as a failure, but righteous because of what you accomplished for me in Jesus. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for all who believe.

So, send me tests. Let me rise to them in Christ, but catch me when I fail. Teach me through these compassion for those you’ve determined to be the proctors of these tests. Help me to avoid being surprised at their reappearance in shifting forms. Collect me for you when this is over. You, my dear Lord and Savior, are all about the end game. Please bring those who you’ve chosen before the creation of time to it’s culmination. What a day that will be.

My soul rejoices in these thoughts because I know they are true and trustworthy because they are based on the clear, full Word of God. My bible. Your words.

In brief

Dear soul,

This is going to be a short letter from my heart and mind. The longer we live as Christians the more we learn of the grace and love of God in Jesus. We also share in sufferings, many and personal.

Dear soul, we know we can’t see the future; we are hard pressed, but we are confident because the Lord we serve is the same God that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hoped and believed in. “I am” to them has become “Jesus” to us.

God’s word is for the weak, my soul, the evil, and the troubled. While we can expect the struggles we might have on this earth, Israel shared a different perspective for you, my soul. Israel looked back when he recounted to Pharaoh his time on earth. He said, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers” (Genesis 47:9).

Looking back as an older soul, or looking ahead for those who are younger, we can be confident that our time on earth will be full of trouble, injustice, and hard times. Israel worked for a dubious boss, fled his family, and was led to believe that his favorite son was murdered for years. He was acquainted with difficulty. But he was also familiar with blessing when he was reunited with his son Joseph, and when his life was spared during a seven year famine.

Dear soul, your life as long as you live will be full of blessings and include seasons of good times. Israel, a grandfather of the faith, a man who was the father of the Savior, the person whom God renamed, recalled the truth of what life on earth consists of even for believers. Israel was the father of God’s cherished people; even so, he was not spared hard times and difficulty.

My soul and yours, believe the words of the Holy Spirit. He inspired Moses to illustrate clearly how difficulties are different for the believer: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” even after their bodies were dead and buried. He didn’t write “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Jesus explained the depth of the implications of this passage. God is not the God of the “dead” but of the living “because all are alive to him.” Christians will never die, though they do physically and temporarily, because God has made them alive through faith and baptism. Remember your baptism, my soul, which “now saves you”.

Dear soul within me and dear soul of the reader, bear with whatever suffering you have now, knowing that it will pass. Some day we will reign in perfection with Christ in heaven. Now we face personal and personalized difficulty. If you aren’t suffering now, strengthen your brothers and sisters who are. Go near, my soul, to the “I am” who gives rest to weary, burdened souls by his blood, death and resurrection. Remember that even death cannot separate us from God to whom all are alive.

Don’t believe in yourself

Funny, but that title is the complete OPPOSITE of what you have been taught your entire life. Everyone: parents, teachers, friends, pop culture, and the world tell us all to “believe in ourselves” – and that’s it. That’s the end; and that’s the goal. That’s the key to unlocking all of our hopes and dreams, the way to find contentment and achieve what we work hard to get.

The Bible doesn’t teach that nonsense, though. God told Abraham: “‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you'” (Genesis 22:2). Talk about not being able to believe in yourself. Abraham must have been crushed. The God who promised him that he would have a son in his whole age that would be the Savior of the world now told him to kill off his chances. Abraham had the opportunity to trust in himself. Did he? The Scriptures say he didn’t.

“Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.'” (Genesis 22:3-5). He didn’t rely on himself. He did what was right and good. He followed God’s command and his faith was “credited to him as righteousness” in this test from God.

What do we do? When things don’t go well, don’t we typically say that we can handle it? Don’t we work hard to solve the problem? Don’t we “believe in ourselves”. Then when God comes and tells us to “sacrifice our son” or “give up your friend” or “lose your job” “or be diagnosed with cancer”. What do we do? Do we run to follow God when he sends these trials? Or do we run to ourselves, emptied of our self-worth.

When that doesn’t work: we fill in our self with alcohol, drugs, addictions, lusts, and evil. Our difficulty may be masked, but the root of the pain remains.

Back to God: in another passage when God tells Abraham that he would be a father in his very old age, the Bible says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now, he tells him to kill that son, who God promised would be the ancestor of the Savior. Abraham did it… almost.

“Then he [Abraham] reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven,
‘Abraham! Abraham!’
‘Here I am,’ he replied.
‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,”’he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.'” (Genesis 22: 10-12)

God tested Abraham so that he would not rely on himself, but on the God who makes and fulfills promises. God promised to send the Savior, so Abraham trusted that even if God asked him to kill his own son, God would have the power to fulfill his promise.

When our road gets tough, don’t focus on YOU and don’t turn to the THINGS that lead you to sin so that you can mask the pain. God selected Isaac, the “son of the promise” to be the father of many nations, the human ancestor of the Savior. This son was dead in Abraham’s eyes, but God gave him back to his father so that he could fulfill the promises that he made and bring salvation to the world. Even when things look their bleakest, God uses our experiences for his glory. He did for Abraham; he does for Abraham’s descendants who follow the same Christ in faith.

Shortest chapter in the Bible. I think.

I’m really not sure if this is the shortest passage in the Bible or not, but it sure is terse. Jeremiah’s personal scribe was named Baruch. In Jeremiah chapter 45, the prophet shares God’s thoughts with his scribe:

When Baruch son of Neriah wrote on a scroll the words Jeremiah the prophet dictated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, Jeremiah said this to Baruch:  “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch:  You said, ‘Woe to me! The LORD has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ But the LORD has told me to say to you, ‘This is what the LORD says: I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the earth. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the LORD, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’”

This is a very interesting passage. I’ve found that the book of Jeremiah is not written chronologically; I don’t know if there is an order to it or not, or if it is simply a compilation of God’s word to Jeremiah that Baruch wrote down for our sakes.

I wonder what kind of Christian Baruch was. He certainly served Jeremiah wholeheartedly; secretly, however, he must have pitied himself. He must have looked around at his situation in life and been discouraged. Maybe he thought something like, “if only I were born during the times of King David, or King Solomon, then I would have had the opportunity to really excel. I would have really served God!”

If only Jesus was sent into the world during different “times”… to better men that served God better! Jesus called the generation of men into which he was born “sinful and adulterous.” Can we imagine? If God didn’t send Jesus when the “time had fully come,” he would still be alive today. He would be king on earth! Peter brought up the same idea to him, when he told Jesus not to go be killed. Jesus told him to “get behind me, Satan.”

But he is still alive. God used the “times” to put our Savior to death in order to accomplish the salvation of the world. This was no small thing; and God unbridled evil, and evil men, to accomplish the forgiveness of sins through the pre-ordained murder of his innocent Son. That was pure evil that God turned into the “wounds” by which we are “healed.”

Baruch was never able to serve the Lord the way that he had chosen because the evil that existed at his time changed the lay of the land to such an extent that he often feared for his life because he served God. He bore a cross that led him to deny himself. He lost his life and his dreams and delusions of grandeur, but God promised him that he would save his life.

Baruch was never guaranteed an easy life, nor was he coddled. God told him the truth. The world is under judgment, wrath, and exile. Can’t you hear God saying to Baruch: “Don’t seek your own glory, but realize that you have me. I am with you and will save your life.”

Baruch lived, perhaps, to write these wonderful words of God as spoken through Jeremiah:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)

Where has God limited your capabilities? Have you had your heart broken or your dreams shattered? Will you become a great man or woman in the future because of your talents and abilities? Or have you lost a part of your drive and your will?

Baruch did. He would never become what he wanted to be. He had to bear that cross. But, because of what Jesus would accomplish centuries later, Baruch would live forever in faith. He was a lowly scribe who would be enslaved with Jeremiah and brought to Egypt. Yet, he played a part in the salvation story, which is the only story that will last forever. Though he wanted tinsel, God promised his soul gold. Pure gold. Even though he is “worn out” and “groans” under the oppression that he witnesses, his life would be spared and he would serve the Lord forever in heaven.

We bear our crosses the same as Baruch bore his; because God promised to “spare” our lives and give us eternal life through faith in Jesus, we can let those “delusions of grandeur” in a “sinful and adulterous generation” fall to the wayside.

The Great Misunderstanding

Have you ever been misunderstood? Have you ever spent time watching people repeatedly miscalculate your worth? Your ethics? Your beliefs?

Praise God. I have found this to be a significant character builder. You have understanding of what God feels like when we disregard his commands. The very words that were meant to bring life bring death because of sin. God is misunderstood as we misjudge him. This is a great misfortune for men.

The Lord who created heaven and earth hides himself. He allowed Moses to see his back as he passed by; God came to Elijiah in a whisper of wind; the disciples saw a transfigured Christ. They also misunderstood a marred and broken Jesus on the cross. They scattered because they did not understand the purpose.

When Christ knocks on our souls’ door and because of the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit through the words of the all-inspired Bible we open the door, he wears us as masks of grace. When we act as Christians, we are offered a cross. The Apostle Paul spoke of a “thorn in his flesh”. This “messenger of Satan” was sent to him so that he would rely on Jesus power and grace, which is “made perfect in weakness.” We’re unsure what the thorn in the Apostle’s flesh was. What we’re sure of is that it wasn’t the only obstacle that he faced. He was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, abused, maligned, mistreated, and overlooked. He was misunderstood.

Jesus was crucified to pay for the sins of the whole world. Because Jesus had lived perfectly, actively fulfilling all of God’s requirements in our place, died, and rose to justify us, Paul had the opportunity and authority, along with the other Apostles, to be instruments of God’s grace. Many of the Apostles wrote the books of the New Testament. They passed along to us the words that teach our souls about Christ. How he was misunderstood and what that led to for us: salvation for our souls.

This is why Jesus could preach the words of the Beatitudes to those Christians with “ears that can hear”. He could do it because the misunderstanding about who Jesus was led to the forgiveness of the sins for those who believe.

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12)

I have lived with misunderstanding in my life. It pains me to watch others misunderstand me; I’m sure this is a common feature in the lives of men. But trusting in our Savior, who was crucified because sinful men did not understand him, we can be confident that we are “blessed” even if this is the small, but sharp and painful, “thorn” in our flesh.