“When people ask me what book of the Bible they should read first, I direct them here, to John’s Gospel.”
I have several of what I call my “foundational verses” of Scripture. This is one of them.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 1:1 NASB
This verse says so much. Of course, “The Word” is Jesus, and the writer of this verse, indeed the book of the Bible that this verse opens, is the Apostle John, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples and an eye witness to everything Jesus said and did.
John packs a great deal of important information into this verse, and from here he builds his Gospel. Here we learn two important things: Jesus is eternal and Jesus is God. Indeed, Jesus is present in Genesis 1:1, He is present in Revelation 22:21, and He is present on every page, in every chapter and in every verse of Scripture in between. Many today view Jesus as just one of many pathways to get to God. I know many Christians who claim this to be true. But, according to Scripture, it’s not. I will have more to say on this in a later post.
When people ask me what book of the Bible they should read first, I direct them here, to John’s Gospel. John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us very clearly who Jesus is, why He came to walk among us, and what He did in our behalf.
Today, I am embarking on a project I’ve wanted to take on for a long time. I am going to write a devotional book that will guide the reader through John’s Gospel with the purpose being to illuminate the Person, character and and position of Jesus. I pray that God will guide my writing. I have a pastor friend who will offer guidance and editing as well. My hope and prayer is that God will use this to edify believers while also helping reap the harvest of nonbelievers for Christ. This will take a while, but with God’s help I will get it done.
Who is the greatest teacher you have ever encountered? Think about that for a moment. It could be anybody – a teacher in elementary, junior high, or high school. Perhaps it is a college professor or a mentor at work. Maybe the first person that comes to mind is a pastor or Sunday School teacher. I can think of people in each of those categories that have had a profound impact on my life, and I am grateful to each of them.
“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”
Luke 24:27 NASB
This account recorded for us in Luke tells about an incredible teaching encounter. On the afternoon of Jesus’ resurrection, two of His followers were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they walked, they were discussing the events of the weekend. A man sidles up alongside them and begins to walk with them. Luke tells us that the man is Jesus Himself, and that the men were kept from recognizing Him. Jesus asks what they are talking about. Somewhat incredulously, they asked, in essence, “from under which rock have you just crawled?” They were surprised that the man seemed completely unaware of the events that had transpired – the conviction and execution of an innocent man, “a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people…” (Luke 24:19). Jesus, still not recognized by the two disciples opened up the Scriptures to them as He connected the dots between the Old Testament scriptures – all that they had at that time – and the events of the recent days. It was later that evening, as the man broke bread and offered it to them that their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus – alive and sitting with them!
“They said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us as He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?'”
Luke 24:32 NASB
Can you imagine what was going through these disciples’ minds once they realized what had just happened? After what had been for them a weekend filled with sadness and confusion, Jesus Himself opened their eyes to the fullness of God’s plan of salvation. Jesus Himself taught them from the Scriptures all that God had revealed through His Word about what was going to happen. Jesus showed these men how everything God revealed and promised in the Old Testament had just been fulfilled through Jesus Himself! Jesus opened these mens’ eyes and changed their sadness and confusion into joy and thanksgiving. Luke tells us that Jesus vanished from their sight when they recognized Him and that they immediately walked back to Jerusalem to share what had happened with the rest of the disciples. Indeed, this was news worth sharing!
Did you know that the entire Bible – every word, every verse, every chapter and every book – is about Jesus? Have you ever read the Bible – all of it? Many Christians today believe that the Old Testament no longer has relevance. Indeed, many Christian churches today rarely, if ever, read, teach and preach from the Old Testament. And that is a shame. Having read the Bible in its entirety twice and being part way through my third time through a one-year Bible reading plan, I can tell you with complete certainty that there are dots to be connected. There are times when I read the Old Testament and my heart burns within me as I begin to see and understand the connections between Old and New Testaments. Prophecies written and prophecies fulfilled. Promises made and promises kept. Assurances offered and assurances given. Salvation foretold and salvation granted. All of this through Jesus Christ.
I hope this has peaked your interest in digging further into God’s Word. My One-Year Bible Reading plan was arranged by Pastor Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton in London and it is available on the You Version Bible App. Of course, your local Christian book store also offers a plethora of Bible reading plans from which to choose. What are you waiting for? Dig into the treasure of God’s Word. I promise, you will be blessed.
“I am encouraged that God chooses to work through imperfect, sinful people. He chose to work through David. My hope and prayer is that God will choose to work through me, too.”
“What were you thinking??”
Have you ever asked that question of yourself or someone else? You know, when you say or do something that, in hindsight, you realize was totally wrong or stupid or harmful… I can think of many times in my life when I sit in the quiet of the morning, thinking about something I said or did the day before or even sometime way in my past, shaking my head and asking my self, “What were you thinking??”
“Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassionblot out my transgressions.”
Psalm 51:1 NASB
The story of King David and Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11) is one of the Old Testament accounts that intrigues me the most. In summary, King David looks out the window of his palace and sees the beautiful Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop. Although Bathsheba is married, David summons her to the palace and has sex with her. Bathsheba becomes pregnant as a result, so to cover up what he had done, David sends for her husband, Uriah, from battle and suggests that he take a break and lay with his wife. Uriah refuses to do so, citing his loyalty to his fellow soldiers whom he had left behind in battle. So, David sends Uriah back into battle with a note the commander that Uriah be placed front-and-center on the battle line and, of course Uriah is killed – just as David had planned. After Uriah’s death, David takes Bathsheba as his wife.
“What were you thinking??”
The Bible tells us that God sent the prophet Nathaniel to confront David with this horrible sin (see 2 Samuel 12). He uses a parable to do so, and when David declares that the guilty man portrayed in the parable should die, Nathan announces, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). David, upon realizing his guilt before God, offers the confession recorded for us in Psalm 51.
You may be asking, “Why is the account of David and Bathsheba one of your favorites?” Here are two points to consider:
David, even in spite of this horrible sin, is one of the great men of God. This story reminds me that God does great things through imperfect people; imperfect people like me and you. David, as a human, was unqualified to serve God, as am I. But God chooses to qualify the unqualified. He worked amazing things through David and, if He chooses, He can work amazing things through me and through you, too.
Do you think David knew the character of God? I do. Note the three adjectives that David cites as he asks God to forgive his sins. God is gracious (merciful, compassionate); God shows lovingkindness (tender and benevolent); God demonstrates compassion (sympathetic consciousness of another’s distress with a desire to alleviate it)(i). Remember, this is the Old Testament. This is before Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins. Aside from faith in the God he knew to be gracious, kind and compassionate, David had no grounds to ask for forgiveness. But he asked. And God forgave. Not only did He forgive, but He kept His promise to David as evidenced by the birth of Solomon by Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:24-25). And, as promised, David was in the lineage of Jesus, Himself (Matthew 1:6).
I find it both beautiful and comforting that God chooses to forgive us, even when we commit horrible, wicked sins. That He chooses to show mercy and grace when we fail and when we confess our failures. He did so in Old Testament times and He does so now, in these New Testament times, through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Indeed, Jesus seals the deal. Through faith in Him we are assured that we will spend eternity with Him in a place called Heaven.
I am encouraged that God chooses to work through imperfect, sinful people. He chose to work through David. My hope and prayer is that God will choose to work through me, too. Of course, I’m no King David. But I do have a passion to share the Gospel. That is why I post here and on Instagram @workisministry. That is why I started the My Morning Walk channel on YouTube. I put the content out there and I trust God to use it to inspire, encourage, motivate and draw others to faith in Jesus, or to not use it according to His good and perfect will. I don’t have to know; I trust Him.
“In the grand scheme of things, my getting lost in London was not that big a deal. Getting lost in life, however, is a very big deal with potentially eternal consequences.”
On business in London, I decided to visit Buckingham Palace during a free afternoon. I took a taxi to the palace, and after exploring the area, I decided I would walk back to my downtown hotel. That is quite a distance, but I enjoy walking and I needed the exercise. Confident in my sense of direction, I headed off. It wasn’t long before I found myself in a residential neighborhood, and as I turned corner after corner trying to find my way out, I began to feel unsafe. I realized that my wandering was not leading me to my destination; in fact, it may have been leading me to a place I didn’t need to be. Fortunately, I had a city map in my pocket. It took me awhile to figure out where on the map I was, as the direction I had gone was the complete opposite of the direction I thought I had gone. Thanks to that map, I was able to navigate out of the neighborhood to a subway station and safely back to my hotel.
In the grand scheme of things, my getting lost in London was not that big a deal. Getting lost in life, however, is a very big deal with potentially eternal consequences.
Sin separates us from God. We read in the third chapter of Genesis about the very first sin, Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, and its consequence. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. They were banished from the very presence of God. Indeed, sin separates people from God. And the Bible tells us that unrepented sin separates people from God forever. Without rescue, our eternity under sin is apart from God in a place called Hell.
In today’s modern society, there is a notion that “truth” is relative, that every person is free to define truth for himself or herself on whatever basis the individual believes to be most desirable. Many practices and lifestyles that are sinful in God’s eyes are encouraged and celebrated today – even in many Christian churches. This is not, however, unique to our modern times. The Apostle Paul wrote about this very phenomenon in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans (see Romans 1).
Today’s passage tells us that we all have gone astray. Although God has laid out a clear path for us to follow, we fail to do so. We either forget or ignore God’s Word or, worse yet, in some cases we decide for whatever reason that God’s Law somehow does not apply to us. Some say that times have changed and the rules of human behavior must change with the times. But that is not what God says.
When sheep go astray, they need a shepherd to find them and bring them home. When humans wander off of God’s path, we need a Shepherd to find us and bring us Home. And that is exactly what Jesus did for us through His death and resurrection.
Notice that today’s passage comes from the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. Isaiah 53 comes after Isaiah lays out the human condition in sin, apart from God. And, more than 700 years before Jesus was born, God tells us through this great prophet that He has a plan for our rescue. God’s plan of rescue through Jesus is foreshadowed and prophesied throughout the Old Testament. Indeed, pastor Nickey Gumbel of HTB Church in London often reminds the readers of his daily devotional that the Old Testament must be read and understood from a New Testament perspective – The Old Testament, just like the New Testament, is all about Jesus. It is all about man’s sinful condition apart from God and God’s plan of rescue through His Son.
What does this mean for me today, April 22, 2020? Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-24 NASB
That sounds a lot like the prophet Isaiah, does it not? Although I stray from God’s paths often – many multiple times each day – I know that my eternity is secured through the blood of Jesus. And, with that knowledge, I don’t have to wallow in my sin. I don’t have to worry about sin’s eternal consequence because Jesus, the great Shepherd, found me and bore sin’s consequence in my behalf. And in yours. And, so, in the words of the great Nat King Cole, I can “pick myself up, take a deep breath, dust myself off, and start all over again…” That, my friends, is freedom in Christ.
Soli DEO Gloria!
Image credits: Me in front of Buckingham Palace: Selfie. Bible verse image credit YouVersion Bible App.
Indeed, I miss going to church. Having said that, I am thankful to God for the technology that allows church to come to me.
This is week six, I believe, of church online. Six weeks of not being able to gather with our respective church families to lift our voices in praise and worship. I know I’m not the only one who misses being in church, but I also understand and support the need to stay home and keep ourselves and one another safe. I am reminded this morning of this passage from the book of Hebrews:
“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
There are a myriad of passages in Scripture that discuss the importance of God’s people gathering together. The focal point of Israel’s relationship with God was the tabernacle – the place where God was present among them and where the people went to be in His presence. The psalms talk about gathering together to offer worship and praise in the presence of God. Jesus, and the apostles after Him, preached and taught people assembled in homes and in the local temples. We read about thousands who gathered to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His miraculous feeding of over 5,000 with just a few loaves and fishes. And, in Acts chapter two, the apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit as they were gathered together soon after Jesus’ resurrection. Indeed, Scripture is abundantly clear on the importance of God’s people assembling for worship, prayer, preaching, teaching, and edification in the Word of God.
Here, the writer of Hebrews emphasizes the importance of gathering together for the purpose of encouraging one another. Not just pastors and teachers encouraging the flock, but all of us reaching out to one another, shaking hands, embracing, offering words of comfort and encouragement to one another. The well-known phrase, “Don’t go it alone” comes to mind. As we assemble to offer worship and praise to God, we also serve as ministers to one another in a “strength in numbers” kind of way. The world is replete with people and things that seek to draw our attention away from God. As we assemble in church, we are reminded that there is a vast community of believers of which we are a part. This walk with God is not a solo effort; we are all in this together. Assembling regularly serves to strengthen our faith and prepare us to go into the world and live lives that honor the Lord.
Indeed, I miss going to church. Having said that, I am thankful to God for the technology that allows church to come to me. The last few Sundays, I have virtually visited several churches around the world via their online worship services. Many are pastored by dear friends with whom I attended college. This technology, truly, is a gift from God and I celebrate it. And I will continue to celebrate it until the day, hopefully soon, that I can once again walk through the doors of Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston and worship once again in the presence of my church family.
What strange times these are. I believe that these current days are likely the most significant days from an historical perspective that I will experience in my lifetime. Because of Coronavirus, record numbers of people all around the world are out of work due to orders to stay at home. They are understandably worried about their future, as many will not have a workplace to return to. The death toll from the virus continues to rise. Many are fearful for their lives or the lives of loved ones. Many are questioning their self-worth. We hear voices of authority offering differing opinions and conflicting guidance as to what we do next. The message from the media is often convoluted by political agenda. Indeed, there is a lot of noise out there. To Whom do we turn in times such as these?
“He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against His land and people. The Lord has spoken!“
Yes, these are difficult times. But, thanks be to God, I know without a doubt that we will come through this. God tells us just that in His Word. Look at the promises in this verse from the prophet Isaiah.
He will swallow up death forever – Death is real. We will all face death, whether by COVID-19 or other cause, each of will face it. Just this past Sunday we celebrated Easter. The promise of Easter is that all who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will not die, but will live eternally with God in Heaven. This prophecy – He will swallow up death forever – has already been fulfilled! Do you believe that? I do. For the one who trusts the Lord Jesus, death is not the end. It is simply the passage from life here on earth to life in heaven. If you don’t believe this, seek me out. I would be honored to discuss it with you.
He will wipe away all tears – Sadness can be an overwhelming emotion. It is natural to feel sad when life hands us an unexpected circumstance. Loss of work, loss of sense of purpose, loss of a loved one all trigger sadness. Fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of tomorrow can also trigger sadness. These are normal and natural reactions to life’s circumstances, and nothing to be ashamed of. God says, “‘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.'” (Jeremiah 29:11) God spoke this promise to Israel upon their exile to Babylon. Facing unexpected and daunting circumstances, God reminds them as He reminds us today that He has our backs. We can trust Him for that, as God always keeps His promises. Always.
He will remove all insults and mockery... – The executive I wrote about yesterday once told me during a rather heated discussion that I lack sense of urgency. He told me that my approach to the problem at hand was hurting our company and he was baffled at my lack of concern about what had transpired. He said this in a conference room full of people, including some of my team members, my boss, and other executives. As I listened to him rant, I understood in the moment that a rant is exactly what that was. This was his way of addressing a problem. And, while his words stung as the untruths hit me, I could see past them – not only because I knew they were not accurate – but because I knew that God knew they were inaccurate. Many of us, when we were young, learned this phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.” While not from Scripture, I believe it to be true. People will unduly criticize and mock us in various ways under various circumstances. It’s OK. God has my back.
How do I know this to be true? How do I know that God will keep these promises? It’s right here. God, who spoke these words, is sovereign. The Sovereign Lord will achieve these things. Dictionary.com’s definition of sovereign includes, “having supreme rank, power, or authority.” The Bible tells us that God created the heavens and the earth (see Genesis chapter 1). It tells us that Jesus is the Son of God, the Author of Life and Creator of all that exists (see John chapter 1). From here comes the surety that these promises of God are true, they are eternal, and they will be fulfilled.
Lastly, we are told, “The Lord has spoken!” Friends, that’s it. That is the final word. The Sovereign Lord has told us what He will do, and His Word is the supreme and final authority in each of these circumstances – death, sadness, fear, mockery and insult. I tell people often, these are difficult times but I can see past them. I can see past them because I know without a doubt that God has this under control. God never tells us that we will have no difficulties in life; rather, He tells us that He will see us through life’s difficult times. That, through faith in Him, we will be fine. We will get through this.
About a year ago, an executive retired from my company and I celebrated his retirement. I didn’t celebrate in a congratulatory way; I celebrated the fact that he was gone and I would no longer have to deal with his haughty tone, his harsh criticism, or his abrupt demeanor. Don’t get me wrong, he was talented in his area of expertise and I respected that. But he could be a total jerk at times. He and I often clashed and I have to confess that I was happy to see him ride off into the sunset. I’m so thankful that I’m not like him…
Luke tells us in verse 9 that Jesus told this parable to a group of people who trusted themselves and deemed themselves righteous. The Pharisee stood in the temple, looked over at a tax collector who stood with his head bowed, and swelled with pride as he prayed this prayer. The tax collector, on the other hand, says this:
“God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”
I think if each of us honestly looks inward, we can identify times in which our attitude towards another was like that of the Pharisee. Times when we look upon another person, another child of the Father, and feel thankful that we are not like him or her. This self-righteous attitude is borne of pride and it dishonors the One who created us all. When I think back on the evening I hoisted a glass of champagne and toasted Bjorn’s departure I feel ashamed. Indeed, I was the Pharisee. (Yes, I changed the executive’s name).
(Jesus said), “I tell you, this man (tax collector) went to his house justified rather than the other (Pharisee); for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.“
Each of us is human, and as such, imperfect. I am imperfect. I wonder sometimes if there are people who feel about me the way I felt about Bjorn. Who have I cut down, dishonored, or hurt? As I read my Bible each morning, I ask God to show me through His Word what a God-honoring life looks like. What attitude does the person who seeks to honor God with his or her life take towards those who can be difficult to deal with at times? How can I be dialed in to my own attitude so that, when the Pharisee in me wants to emerge, I discern it and squelch it?
Merriam-Webster defines “humble” as not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive. Jesus tells us here that the one who humbles himself will be “exalted”. The humble, according to Jesus, will be elevated in rank, power, or character as defined by Merriam-Webster. Many business owners and executives that I know and admire consistently approach their work with an attitude of humility. I look up to them and I respect them. Indeed, approaching life, even at work, with an attitude of humility pleases and honors God. Indeed, the one who humbles himself or herself is exalted in the eyes of God. That is huge.
A mentor early in my career offered some good advice that I try to follow to this day. He said to take note of the traits that I admire in coworkers and executives and seek to emulate them in my dealings with others in my daily work. Humility is one of the traits I admire the most. I am convinced of these things: Servant leadership is borne of humility. Mentoring others is borne of humility. Offering praise for a job well done is borne of humility. Deferring to those in authority, even when they may be difficult to deal with, is borne of humility. Humble. This is the man – the husband, father, employee, coworker, and boss – that I aspire to be.
Yesterday morning I emailed my work team under the subject line, “WFH Week 5” and I stopped in my tracks. Week 5!? We are going into our fifth week of working from home?? Good grief, where has the time gone? It seems it was just yesterday that my wife and I were enjoying Ramon Ayala’s performance at Rodeo Houston (it was March 8), and now, all of a sudden, here we are. Week 5.
I enjoy reading on social media about the various ways people are spending their time as they do their part to flatten the curve. Seems that crafts, puzzles, games and conversation are making a comeback. And that’s good.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.
Here is something else to consider as we shelter in place: how about starting a Bible reading plan? These are strange and stressful times. Many around the world are out of work or furloughed. The COVID-19 death toll continues to rise and the economic fallout will be felt for years. People are worried. People are scared. People are angry. Fact is, we are living through a most challenging time, with many long-term ramifications. Scripture offers abundant hope, comfort and reassurance as it conveys God’s revelation of Himself to His creation. I begin every day with my Bible reading plan. And when I miss it, I miss it.
The You Version Bible App offers a plethora of reading plans of various lengths and topics from which to choose. It is also the source of the Scripture images I share here. I am currently working through Pastor Nicky Gumbel’s Bible-In-One-Year reading plan for the second time. God truly does speak to us through His Word.
Indeed, taste and see that the Lord is good. I double-dog dare you.
I did a lot of soul-searching this weekend. It really began Saturday morning as I read my church’s suggested Scripture reading for Day 40 of Lent (James 5:13-18).
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you may be healed.
Confess. You see, I’ve always sort of wondered what to do with Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Years past, I would pretty much go about my normal routine. But these aren’t “normal” times, are they? As I read from James’ epistle, I felt that I needed to do something different from past years. So I embarked on a journey beginning with a 5 1/2 mile walk during which I listened to my favorite podcast pastor Alistair Begg. After his sermon, that word kept nagging on my mind. Confess.
I spent the second half of my walk talking with God. I felt closer to Him than I have for quite some time. I offered up various confessions and felt this tremendous sense of reassurance. As I approached home, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to take some time along to *finally* design my 2020 Vision Board in my Christian Planner. How’s that for procrastination? Now, I’m not much of an artist. But this came very quickly, and I am pleased with the result.
Here it is. My roadmap. This represents all that is most important to me. With Christ at the center, I will do a better job of nurturing the three important components to living a happy, fulfilling, God-pleasing life:
Something to do;
Something to love;
Something to hope for.
I am grateful to Pastor Larry Coulter for sharing this wisdom at my brother-in-law’s funeral service this past December. His passing came as a shock, and we all miss him terribly. Larry reminded us that these three fundamental needs are necessary for us to live out our lives here on earth as we await the great reunion that will take place in Heaven one day.
Easter morning I woke up – wide awake – at 4:25 AM. I couldn’t wait to worship with a few congregations online. I worshipped with Holy Trinity Brompton in London, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Greenfield, Iowa and Word of Life Fellowship in Cibolo, TX before joining my home church’s online service here in Houston. My wife and I watched “The Passion of the Christ”. As strange as this Easter was, unable to gather in person but able to gather online, it was exactly what I needed. I just love it when God anticipates and meets my needs!
So – Easter was yesterday and today is Monday. What next? Well, here you have it. Knowing that I can rest assured in my salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection, I am free to pursue my hopes and dreams – hopes and dreams that I will consistently seek to align with God’s Word, His perfect will, and His perfect ways.