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Written by Timothy Mark

Reflecting On The Kindness Of God

I’m excited to show you the new-to-me home that God has provided. It is a thirty foot 1988 Catalina sailboat! Think of it as a tiny house on the water. For about as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of living aboard a sailboat. A few weeks ago God orchestrated the purchase of the vessel for pennies on the dollar for what it is worth. The vessel is currently at a marina in St. Augustine, FL. Lord willing, I will bring the boat home the first two weeks of July. The plan is to motor the boat down the Intracoastal Waterway south to Port St. Lucie, then cut across the state on the Okeechobee Waterway, and finally head north from Fort Myers to home. Once home, I’ve arranged to keep the boat on a friend’s dock on the Intracoastal Waterway.

If you are interested in joining me on the boat for the trip home, let me know. I may need a first mate to help.

My plan is to keep my current home and put it into the short-term tourist rental market. This income will help supplement my ministry income. Sometimes God’s plans are different from mine, so these are just my thoughts at this time.

I am humbled by God’s kindness to me. I don’t understand his favor. Again and again he has provided for me beyond what I could ever think or imagine. I love him dearly, and I am excited about this new adventure. Will you celebrate with me God’s kindness?

Here are some pictures for you. Feel free to post your comments below.

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When We Hinder Jesus

The workers were installing tires on my car when it happened. My car was up on four hydraulic lifts outside the tire store. It was a hot day. I retreated to the office and the welcome relief of air conditioning. I sat in a chair next to the desk and played on my phone as a female clerk sat across the desk, also engrossed in her phone.

I wish I could tell you how the conversation began, but I don’t remember. I found out her name was Maria*. As we talked, she got up from her chair and walked over to the door, looking away and out a window to the parking lot. I do remember when she made a comment about something to do with Catholics and Protestants. Whenever someone makes a comment that is spiritual in nature, my radar goes on high alert. Most people don’t want to talk about spiritual things, so when she made the remark, I nudged the conversation in that direction to see if God were at work in her life or not. At some point, I thought maybe I was pushing things too far, and so I tried to change the subject. She immediately brought it back to the discussion about having a relationship with God. I leaned in.

She moved to my side of the desk and sat down on the top. She spoke of her mother’s illness and how she cared for her needs. What she said next haunts me still.

“My sister,” she said, “claims to be a Christian. She attends church regularly. She says she has a relationship with God. She says she talks to God like you are describing. But she won’t help me with our mother.” Tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. She didn’t bother to brush them off. “How can you claim you are a Christian but you won’t even take care of your own family?”

Inside I cringed.

“Maria,” I replied, “there are many people in this world who claim to be Christian. They attend church, they follow all the rules, they may even pray, but actually they are far from God. Please, I beg you, do not let those people keep you from experiencing all that God desires for you. It is not an accident I am here today. The reason I’m here probably has nothing to do with getting tires on my car. I believe God sent me to you today to tell you that he wants a relationship with you. Please do not let those who are not living right keep you from having an amazing relationship with God.”

I hurt for her. She had a legitimate complaint. I thought back to a passage in Matthew’s telling of the gospel. I was struck by the dialog between Jesus and Peter. Here is what Matthew wrote:

“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Matthew 16:21-23, ESV

If you are like me, the moment Jesus calls Peter “Satan,” my eyes get wide, and I get stuck on the thought, “Oh my word, he just called Peter ‘Satan’.” But if we are not careful, we miss the important truth that follows.

Jesus continues, “You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Jesus taught his disciples he would be killed and three days later rise from the dead. Although they did not understand it at the time, he was explaining the gospel to them. His purpose was to die on the cross to pay the penalty for man’s sin. Rising from the dead three days later he claimed dominion over death. It was a one-two punch. All so that God could be restored in relationship with the creation he loves. Clearly, Peter was confused. Peter’s mind was on setting up an earthly kingdom with Jesus as King. But Jesus’ mind was on his father’s heavenly kingdom.

The problem is we tend to think like Peter instead of like Jesus. By nature, my focus settles on the here and now. It’s human. It takes effort to keep my mind on the things of God, and not on the things of man. What I have never considered is the consequence of this failing to keep my mind on the things of God. According to this passage, when I am thinking about the things of this world instead of the things of God, I actually hinder Jesus.

Pause right here and think about this truth for a moment. We hinder Jesus. We actually hinder Jesus from having a relationship with the Marias of this world. Doesn’t that bother you? It greatly concerns me.

How do we hinder Jesus? When our thoughts are consumed with things of this world and not on God, we block Jesus from having a relationship with Maria.

Jesus came to reconcile us to God. Because we have sinned, we are separated from God. But God wanted a relationship with us so much, he sent Jesus, his son, to pay the penalty for our sins so he could have fellowship with us again. Jesus is the bridge between earth and heaven. When we live our lives as followers of Jesus, we show others the path to the bridge. In this way, God is reunited with the creation he loves.

We hinder Jesus from doing what he came to do when we set our minds on the things of earth instead of the things of God. We effectively block others from getting to the bridge. How do we do this? We hinder Jesus from reaching our neighbors when we do not love them the way we love ourselves. We hinder Jesus from reaching our co-workers when we love status and image more than we love our co-workers. We hinder Jesus from loving the poor when we stockpile our resources for future wants instead of using them to spread Jesus’ love to the poor and the downcast. We hinder Jesus when we invest our time into lesser things of this earth instead of investing in eternity.

Now you understand why Jesus calls Peter “Satan.” This is serious stuff.

How do we set our minds on the things of God and not on the things of man? How on earth do we do this? It sounds simple, but it is not easy.

Jesus said the greatest commandment was this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, ESV). Note the end of the command. See the phrase, “with all your mind.” The way we change is by changing our heart toward God. We confess we do not love him with all our mind. We ask God to forgive us for this. We apologize for hindering the work Jesus came to do. We ask God to help us to love him with all our heart, soul, and mind. Our minds become consumed with loving him with abandon. All we think about at work or at play is how we can love God more. As a result, the world clearly sees Jesus, and he is released through our lives to do what he came to do.

After our conversation, Maria and I exchanged email addresses. I told her I would pray for her regularly. I told her I was confident God was drawing her into a personal relationship with him. I encouraged her to pursue a real relationship with God, even if others are not. I will keep in touch to encourage her in her relationship with God.

As a side note, to show you how unusual this conversation was, I was three and a half hours from my home. Earlier that morning, I saw an ad on Craigslist for a set of used tires. Later I was traveling through the area, but the town was still a half an hour off the freeway. I decided to drive a little bit out of my way to buy the tires. I had never been to this town, and I will likely never return. Maria did not even speak English well, and my Spanish is limited. But clearly God was at work.

I also believe God orchestrated the conversation because he also wants a relationship with you and me. He is calling us to account through Maria. Will we listen? Will we turn our minds to the things of God, and away from the things of man? I hope we will.

For the sake of all the Marias in our world whom Jesus wants to know personally, I pray we would live in such a way that we would not hinder Jesus from doing what he came to do.

(*Not her real name. Her name was changed to protect her identity.)

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Be The Boy

I want to share with you my testimony of what God has done in my life over the past few weeks. My heart is full of joy over all I see God doing. But it was a difficult journey getting to this place. The route through which God brought me was completely unexpected, and is somewhat uncomfortable to share. But I feel it is important to share anyway. Allow me to explain.

In early April, I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in California. I was excited to meet with industry professionals and to learn more about the craft of writing. I brought with me a couple of book proposals and an expectation of an opportunity to take my writing to the next level. God has blessed me with a growing audience for ministry, and I see God blessing the writing aspect as the ministry grows. I figured my chances were good.

Arriving at the conference, I got the sinking feeling I was wrong. It was a bit overwhelming. I found I had a lot to learn about the writing and publishing process. I met other writers more gifted and farther along the journey than I, who were themselves still looking for a publisher, still waiting for the opportunity to see their work in print.

Quietly in my spirit God spoke to me. He used the speaker on Sunday morning during the Palm Sunday service to do this. In the message he shared the story of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the story, allow me to share John’s version of it. This is what he wrote:

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”

Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” (John 6:1-12, ESV)

This story is repeated in all four of the gospels, but only John includes the detail about the boy. Somehow the boy has five loaves of barley bread and two fish. This was far more than a mere sack lunch, but far less than what was needed to feed everyone. He had a generous supply, but it still required a miracle of God to satisfy the hunger of the massive crowd. Jesus takes the bread and fish and miraculously multiplies it to feed thousands until they are full! Herein lies the message the Holy Spirit spoke to me.

No matter what I do for God, it still requires a move of God to meet the needs of others. I bring him what I have, but it requires a miracle from God to multiply it. It was as if God said to me, “Tim, just be the boy and let me be God.” Be the boy. Be the one who gives to Jesus what little you have. Don’t try to scheme and figure out how to broaden your platform. Just give what you have to God. Expect God to multiply it in ways you cannot even imagine.

No one sitting in the grass that day anticipated the miracle Jesus was about to perform. But God knew! Don’t try to understand God’s ways. Just be the boy. Seek humility. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Don’t give room for spiritual pride. Miracles don’t happen through lives comingled with pride.

I sat in the conference center hall and pondered this word from God to me. Sunday night a different speaker referenced the same story. In fact, over the next few weeks, the story of the feeding of the five thousand was repeated by countless speakers. It was almost laughable. Each time it was as if the Holy Spirit nudged me with his elbow and with a wink said, “Be the boy!” Each time it was a confirmation to me as God reinforced this truth in my life.

Now this all reads well, and I am tempted to stop writing here. But as the Holy Spirit confirmed this idea of giving what I have to Jesus and allowing him to do with it as he pleases, he was also peeling away layer upon layer of spiritual pride from my heart. It was a difficult, humbling time.

Each layer of pride was so subtle that at first it was tough to notice it had wrapped its tendrils around my heart. Layer after layer of pride had built up, but not so much that it was easy to see. Pride sneaks in slowly making it difficult to detect. It is a cancer, and it takes a spiritual CAT scan to reveal the cavities where it lies hidden. Somewhere in my journey with Christ I had crossed a line from being amazed by all God is doing, to thinking I was going to do something amazing for God. But God doesn’t share his glory. He is quite capable of doing amazing things all by himself. He just wants me to be the boy.

I was saddened when I realized pride had taken root within me. Broken is a good way to describe it. Solemn. Still. Listening. For weeks this lingered.

At the end of the month, I attended the Exponential Conference in Orlando. Several speakers referenced the feeding of the five thousand, and each time I nodded in agreement with the Holy Spirit. By this point, I had already done business with God. With a new awareness of the work of God in my life, I returned home with a desire to go deeper in my relationship with God. I thought back to a time twenty years ago when God radically moved in my life.

It was January of 1997. The previous December I had finished the Bible Study “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby. The Holy Spirit initiated a profound work in my life, and I was consumed with a desire to know him more. I read through the entire Bible three times in the next year. I couldn’t put it down. It was the most astounding book I had ever read. If he could do a miracle in the Old Testament, then he could do the same for me. I didn’t care about watching TV. I didn’t care about anything but reading the Word. It was a profound season in my life.

My prayer now is for God to take me back to that place in my relationship with him, back to where I hungered to know him more. I have become complacent. I have become comfortable. Yes, I love him dearly. But what if the Holy Spirit stirred up a fresh, new hunger inside me? What would God do in and through my life if I had a growing passion burning within me? It is a question I expect God to answer in the coming days.

I’ve taken steps toward that place by turning off the TV. I’m not anti-TV. I’m just taking a break for a time to spend focused time in prayer and in the Word. It is a season of fasting and prayer for me. Already I am encouraged by a renewed sense of his presence and purpose. Where there was sorrow over my pride, I found joy in his presence. Thankfully, when we confess our sins, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

I share this and hope it will encourage you. I also covet your prayers during this season. For all of us, remember: Just be the boy. Guard against pride. Pray for God to take you to a new place in your relationship with him.

But by all means, just be the boy.

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A Wake-Up Call To Pray

This morning I woke up at 5:30. I had gotten about seven hours of sleep, and my body was ready to plow into the day. A stack of work in the office was gently calling my name. I planned an early morning bike ride, shower, and then a full day in the office.

But an odd thing happened that completely redirected my day. As I lay in bed enjoying the warmth of the covers, I thought about a church I attended when I lived in Tennessee. Frequently, during the midst of a service the pastor would call us to pray. If you were physically able, you would kneel in front of your chair in the auditorium and silently pray for a few minutes. A stillness would settle over the room. Finally my pastor would close in prayer. I remember those moments. There was no agenda. It wasn’t prayer for a specific item. It was merely a time to humble ourselves and pray.

I crawled out of bed and made a cup of coffee. The memory of those moments in Tennessee was still heavy on my mind. It occurred to me that I have drifted away from prioritizing this vital focus on prayer. The Holy Spirit was quietly calling me back to conversation with him. I realized that at some point I had become comfortable with the ministry I am guiding. I was comfortable in my life in general. I was comfortable. As a result, I was careless in prioritizing prayer.

It was still dark in the house. A single lamp cast a glow near my favorite chair. I sat with my cup of coffee and talked with the maker of the universe. I prayed for our country. I prayed about the direction we are heading. I prayed for my home church and for our leadership team. I prayed for my own life and ministry. I just sat and talked with God. As I talked with him, I thought about the time Jesus was coming down from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem.

It was his moment of exaltation. The crowds surged forward. Many threw their cloaks on the road, creating a carpet for the donkey he was riding. His disciples were overjoyed. They shouted “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” It was a celebration like the coronation of a king.

Suddenly, Jesus halted the donkey, and for a moment the procession came to a standstill. An uncomfortable stillness settled over the crowd. Jesus gazed toward the city of Jerusalem as if lost in another place and time. The disciples looked at one another, confused. Slowly Jesus closed his eyes, and a cry rose from somewhere deep within. Finally he could hold it no longer, and like a torrent breaching a dam, the tears overflowed and streamed down his cheeks. His body trembled as he wept.

Because he was seated on the donkey, he was head and shoulders above the crowd. Everyone saw the emotion. No one moved. No one shouted, “Hosanna in the highest!” No one said a word. Most looked away. The sight of a man weeping in public made them extremely uncomfortable. Finally through the tears, Jesus spoke.

“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Jesus paused, gaining his composure, and brushed his tear-streaked face with his hand. “For the days will come upon you,” he continued, “when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

At last the silent procession moved on into the city. But the celebration was crippled by the tears of the king.

(Adapted from Luke 19:36-44, ESV).

It is a haunting image: Jesus is weeping while others are celebrating. But Jesus saw something they didn’t. He was broken by the knowledge that the people did not understand the perilous state they were in. He predicts great devastation in the days to come. And he closes his statement with an unusual phrase. He says these trials are coming, “because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Now when he says, “the time of your visitation,” he is not referring to a time when they will have a visitor. The word used for visitation has the idea of a time of inspection. It is a time of investigation. It is as if he is saying that because they did not understand that God was searching out and inspecting their lives, calamity was coming as a result. The time for repentance had passed. Mercy was giving way to judgment. All these trials were coming because they did not understand that God was watching.

Which brings me to you and me. I wonder if we truly understand the days in which we live. We are comfortable. In North America we enjoy a standard of living that is exceptional in all the world. Within our church culture, we enjoy a sense of peace. But is reality hidden from our eyes?

Our country doesn’t seem to understand how desperate we are for God. Our churches in North America do not seem to understand how desperate they are for God. But what about me personally? Do I understand how desperate I am for God? If I did, wouldn’t that lead me to pray? If my eyes were opened to my condition, and I fully understood the consequences of that, wouldn’t that lead me to pray? Would it lead you to pray?

If we understood that God is watching us and testing us to see where our hearts really are, then we would also understand the importance of prayer. But because we do not understand our desperate condition, we also do not understand the value of prayer. Are the things that make for peace hidden from our eyes? Do we not know the time of our visitation?

Our churches are closing at an alarming rate, and still we do not pray. Our marriages are being decimated in record numbers, and still we do not pray. Our children are being lured away by the culture, and still we do not pray. Rightly did Jesus say, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

My friends, our comfort has blinded us to our need. I include myself as well. But something happened to me this morning. I saw more clearly the days in which I live. I saw more clearly my own life. And it led me to pray.

My wake-up call came at 5:30 in the morning. When will yours come?

This article was originally published in the April 2017 Newsletter.

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When Hope Seems Lost

The huge crowd pressed forward, surrounding Jesus and his disciples. Jarius pushed through the throng. He jostled his way to the front of the pack. As the leader of the synagogue, he knew better than to barge through, but the need was urgent. Death had come to the door of his home. At any moment, his daughter might breathe her last. In a final desperate act, he threw himself at the feet of Jesus.

With arms upraised, he pleaded with Jesus. “My little daughter is at the point of death,” he cried. “I beg you, come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”

Time stood still as Jarius waited for a reply. But Jesus barely looked down at the man. Without breaking stride, Jesus and the disciples continued on. In a moment, the wave of people swept past him as he knelt on the ground.

Jarius jumped to his feet and pushed forward in the throng, trying to make his way back to Jesus. If his request were denied, he would have no hope. He had just humbled himself before the Rabbi, and it seemed his request had been completely discounted. He reeled from the knowledge his cry was unanswered.

He had almost caught up when Jesus stopped and asked the crowd, “Who touched me?” Jarius was frustrated and confused. Seriously? I just begged you to save my dying daughter, and you ignored me? Yet in a crowd this size, someone touches you and you stop to find out who it was? It was inconceivable.

Jesus looked around to see who had touched him. For a moment Jarius thought Jesus might see him and respond to his request. But his hopes were crushed again. Jesus looked right through Jarius, and his gaze stopped on a woman who cowered behind him. Jarius watched in astonishment as the realization spread that his plea was unheeded.

Time stopped. Jarius could hardly breathe. His opportunity had come and gone. It was obvious Jesus had moved on. Now Jesus spoke with a woman. To think, a rabbi speaking with a woman! How could Jesus ignore the request of the leader of the synagogue, but give his full attention to an insignificant woman? There was a commotion in the crowd. The woman had needed to be healed. Somehow power had gone out of him when she touched the hem of his garment.

Jesus looked at her and said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

In an instant, she was healed! The crowd received what they came for. The rabbi had miraculously healed again! The news spread through the throng. They looked at one another as excitement leapt from face to face. While everyone else celebrated, Jarius stood motionless. His request had been denied, and yet the Rabbi had taken the time to heal someone else. A woman, no less. It made no sense.

He felt a tug on his sleeve, and he turned to see one of his household servants. The servant looked him in the eye, and for a moment neither said a word. Even before he spoke, Jarius knew. He could see it in his eyes. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

Jarius fought to maintain his composure. Finally, he could hold it no longer. Tears streamed down his dusty cheeks. His body shook. He struggled to silence his sobs.

An odd quiet settled on the crowd. Jarius looked up to find everyone looking at him. Jesus had turned to him as well. He looked down to avoid the stares. He was embarrassed. He smeared the tears from his face with the back of his hands. He tried to compose himself, but his daughter was dead. His efforts had failed. The only one who could help had entirely disregarded his pleas. He could not look Jesus in the face.

But Jesus looked directly at him. He had overheard the servant. He knew. He understood. He had seen Jarius humble himself before him. And though it appeared he had snubbed him, Jesus had another plan in process.

Jesus moved closer to speak to Jarius face to face. “Do not be afraid,” he said. “Only believe.”

What happened next would be retold for generations. For in the moments that followed, Jesus went to Jarius’ home and raised his daughter from the dead.

Adapted from Mark 5:22-43, ESV.

Jarius’ experience is an example for all of us. We pray. We ask God to intercede. We believe he will make a difference. We fall at his feet in our desperate moments and cry out to him. But it seems as if nothing happens. To make it worse, we see God at work around us, meeting needs in other people’s lives, while our needs go unmet. In these moments, what do you do? What will you do when your request goes unanswered?

I share Jarius’ story with you because it illustrates an important truth. In our moments when we feel our prayers are overlooked, Jesus comes to us with two simple commands: Do not be afraid. Only believe.

It speaks to the heart of one of the most difficult aspects of waiting on God: unanswered prayer. Volumes are written on this topic, but the bottom line is this: We don’t know why God chooses to answer some prayers while other requests seem to be disregarded. We do know the words Jesus spoke to Jarius thousands of years ago apply to us today. When hope seems lost, he comes to us in our frailty. He speaks to us in our moment of devastation. His words echo across generations. “Do not be afraid. Only believe.”

I take comfort knowing Jesus understands my humanity. He knows my fears, so he reminds me not to be afraid. He knows my faith falters, so he reminds me to believe in him. His understanding and kindness are a treasured gift. It is a gift he gives to you as well.

My friend, perhaps you have cried out to God only to feel your request has gone unnoticed. You see God at work around you, while your need lingers. Have hope. The end of our story has yet to be written. We do not know what the outcome will be. While we have no guarantee, we will see the resolution we long for, we do know God is in control. He is kind. He is good. As we wait on him, we choose faith over fear. We choose to believe, even when it seems hope is lost.

While we wait, remember: Sometimes God heals. Sometimes God raises from the dead.

Do not be afraid. Only believe.

This article was originally published in the March 2017 Newsletter.

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Waiting For A Change

What do you do when you are waiting for God to do a work in someone else’s life? Perhaps someone you love is making poor decisions. Maybe they have turned away from God, and the consequences are piling up. Possibly it is a wayward child or a wandering spouse. It may be a friend for whom you care deeply. You’ve offered counsel, but it was thrown back in your face. Even with the offense, you are still clinging to hope that they will change. But hope is fading. It is daunting to wait while you watch them struggle.

Wait anyway.

Tucked away in the Old Testament is a short little book called Lamentations. It is only four chapters long. You can read it in one setting. Most scholars believe the prophet Jeremiah is the writer of this text. He writes of Jerusalem, his beloved home. His brokenness over the state of the city bleeds throughout the book. The imagery is haunting. The city is in utter ruins. Piles of stone mark the spot where proud buildings once stood. There is no food. The people are starving. Children beg for crumbs. The children that perish are eaten by their own mothers. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

It is in this context that Jeremiah walks us through his beloved home, street by street, alley by alley. He describes in brutal detail the rubble that once was a beautiful, thriving city. Think of it as his version of Aleppo, the city currently destroyed in the civil war in Syria. Verse by verse he describes the devastation. Then, in the midst of his lament, a strange thing happens. He pauses, and we wait to hear what he will say. He gathers himself as if looking back to a familiar truth. A small glimmer of hope appears. A single shaft of light pierces the gloom. This is what he says:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lamentations 3:21-25, ESV).

Jeremiah loved Jerusalem. Surely he had cried out in prayer to God. Surely he had interceded for the people he loved. He had pleaded for them to repent, to turn back to God. But in their stubbornness, they had refused to change.

How Jeremiah must have hurt to stand by and watch, knowing that if there were no change judgment would be swift and thorough. Can you imagine how deeply he must have felt this? I can, and I think many of you reading this know this feeling as well. We cry out to God on behalf of those we love. We beg God to intercede. We speak loving truth to the wayward. We know that if there is no change, judgement will follow.

In my own life there are times when a situation I am facing seems to drag on and on with little change. I pray, “God, what do you want me to do?” He replies, “Wait.” To which I answer, “Really, God? Anything but that.” I imagine God chuckles. Frankly, I laugh at myself as well. For in that moment I see God at work in my life. And if the only work I see God doing is the work he is doing in me, then I am okay with that. I will wait on God. I will put my hope in him. Because he is good, and he is kind.

In the midst of the waiting, God is loving. God is merciful. Day after day he refreshes me with mercy equal to my need. I continue to hope in him. He is enough for me. He is good to those who wait for him to move, to those who seek him with abandon. I am reminded that I am not God. I am not, nor will I ever be, in control. I cannot fix others. Fixing others is the sole domain of the Holy Spirit. I cannot transform anyone. Unfortunately, I am action oriented. I want to get in there and fix it. I’m a guy. That’s what guys do. We fix things. It is part of who I am, and it can frustrate me when I am faced with the fact that I am helpless to change the ones I love.

What I can do is to bring that person to God. I remind myself that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. Morning by morning I bring that one to the feet of Jesus and cry out for him to do a work in their life. Even after Jerusalem had experienced the judgment of God, Jeremiah still held onto hope that there would be change. The same should be said for you and me.

As I wait on God, continuing to pray, I put my hope in him. That makes all the difference. I put my confidence in knowing that the words Jeremiah wrote still ring true today. Jeremiah’s hope came from reminding himself of the character of God. He washes himself with thoughts of God’s love. God’s love is steadfast and never ceases. He is always merciful. Every morning God gives me enough mercy and love for the day ahead. He is faithful. He is my portion. He is good to all who wait for him. Therefore I will hope in him.

My friend, what is the situation in your life that is weighing you down? Who is the one for whom you are praying? You’re exhausted from carrying this burden. You’ve come to the place where you realize there is nothing else you can do except to wait. Wait anyway. Don’t give up or give in. Pray. Have hope in God.

When someone you love is struggling, and there’s nothing left to do, try waiting for a change.

This article was originally published in the February 2017 Newsletter.

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The Two Gifts On Everyone’s List

When my family gathers together for the holidays, we are a theological kaleidoscope. Even though all of my family members are professing Christians, we are extremely theologically diverse. Among my siblings and their spouses, you will find an ordained pastor in a Bible Church who is also working on his ordination in the Evangelical Free Church. You’ll find a leader in an Independent, King-James-Version-Only Baptist church, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church who works for a Catholic Charity, and an ordained Southern Baptist minister who is in leadership in a non-denominational church. Yes, my friends, theology is one topic that is not served up at our holiday get-togethers!

Yet as diverse as we are, we really only desire two gifts from each other at our Christmas and holiday get-togethers. Grace and mercy. When these two gifts are freely given and received, we enjoy our relationship with one another. When we forget to give and receive these gifts, it can become very stressful. Yes, even in my family.

I mention this because I know that during this Christmas season many of you may struggle with holiday get-togethers. Perhaps your family is even more diverse than mine and may have the added challenge of members who do not claim to follow Christ. Hurtful words may be spoken. Destructive behaviors resurface. Old wounds are ripped opened. The Norman Rockwell version of Christmas dinner gets replaced with the one from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” It is not pretty. This is why grace and mercy are such treasured gifts.

John Piper, in his book “Future Grace,” says, “Common definitions of God’s grace and mercy go like this: grace is the goodness of God shown to people who don’t deserve it; mercy is the goodness of God shown to people who are in a miserable plight.”

Grace and mercy are intertwined. Both carry the idea of showing kindness when it is not deserved. In general, God gives us grace because we are sinners. God gives us mercy because of our miserable condition. But they are both given together. Because we are sinners, we are in a miserable condition. We need both grace and mercy from God, and he lavishly gives them to us.

But does God’s grace and mercy stop with you? Or does it flow out of you into the lives of those around you? We should never hoard grace and mercy. They are gifts that we should freely give as well. I should give grace and mercy out of the overflow of the grace and mercy God gives to me. Despite my sin and my miserable condition, God generously gives grace and mercy to me. When I am conscious of this, then I am able to show kindness to others who also are sinners and in a miserable condition. When I meet someone who seems to show little grace and mercy to others, I doubt if they understand the grace and mercy God has shown to them.

Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, wrote about the role of grace and mercy in his life. This is what he wrote:

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:12-14, ESV).

Notice how Paul is aware of his humanity. Read carefully how he describes the life he used to live. It is pretty rough. But then notice how he is aware of the grace and mercy that has been given to him. He continues:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV).

Why was he given this grace and mercy? So that he could be an example for you and me. It is also the reason that you are given grace and mercy by God – so that your life is an example to those around you. Giving the gifts of grace and mercy is also part of fulfilling the command to love your neighbor as yourself. How quick I am to give grace to myself when I have blown it. As a result, I need to quickly give grace to others when they blow it as well.

Does my family always do this well? Of course not! I can hear peals of laughter from my family as they read this. We are as normal as any family. But while we are incredibly diverse in some areas of theology, we have a common need of God’s grace and mercy in our lives. That is what binds us together. When we blow it, we turn our focus back to God in our need of his grace and mercy, and then give to others out of the overflow of what we have received from God. And so should you.

This year when you gather with family and friends to exchange gifts, remember that everyone is looking for the two gifts that matter the most. Grace and mercy. They are the perfect gifts for you to give and for anyone to receive. Will you receive them from God today? And will you give them to others as well?

This article was originally published in the December 2016 Newsletter.

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Giving Gratitude

I want to challenge you to try something with me. It is a habit I developed a few years ago. Now it is a part of my day to day life. I am blessed by it, but more importantly, others are blessed as a result. It is the habit of expressing gratitude. Now, it is one thing to be grateful. I should have an attitude of thankfulness when I consider how blessed I am. But it is another thing all-together to express that gratitude to others. This is what takes it to a whole new level.

This idea began a few years ago on a Sunday morning at my home church. We are a portable church. This means we do not have a permanent building to call home. We currently meet in a high school gym. Every weekend, around eight hundred people attend one of two services. Because we are a portable church, it takes a lot of volunteers to set it all up and to take it all down. Plus many serve as ushers, greeters, child care workers, teachers, security, and hospitality. On average it takes about eighty volunteers each week. It is remarkable.

Each week I make a point of greeting as many volunteers as possible and thanking them for their service. I want them to know how much I appreciate what they are doing. They have made a big commitment to serve, and I want them to know that I appreciate it. I wander the halls before the service starts and thank as many as possible. I look each one in the eye and say, “Thank you for your service. I appreciate it.”

When I first started doing this, I was taken aback by how they would respond. Usually the volunteer would look a bit surprised, smile, and then thank me for noticing. I could tell that it made a difference. They appreciated that they were appreciated.

After seeing how much the volunteers appreciated those words, I decided to try this expression of gratitude throughout the week with anyone who served me. I looked for those who were paid to serve me and tried a few words of appreciation. Again I would say, “Thank you for your service. I really appreciate it.” This is where it got really interesting. I was astonished by the way people responded. Most times, folks would stop what they were doing and look me right in the eye. After a slight pause they would say, “Thank you. That is so kind of you to say.” I remember a clerk at a department store whose eyes welled up with tears when I told her I appreciated that she was working so hard to take care of me. That is the power of a kind word.

So here’s how it works. I look for opportunities to share gratitude for service wherever I find it. Most commonly I use this with cashiers, bus boys, waiters, stock clerks who help me find an item I am looking for, automotive repairmen, postal clerks, my postman, and the man or woman on the phone with customer service. When I am traveling for a ministry event, I thank TSA workers, flight attendants, rental car clerks, hotel check-in staff, and on and on. Multitudes of people serve me on any given day. I want them all to know I appreciate them.

I do this because they are a blessing to me. I am humbled when others serve me. They are working hard. Many are on their feet for hours at a time. I appreciate that they are working so hard to take care of me. I do this because I love them, even if I do not know them. I see each one as someone who was created by God to have a relationship with him. If all I can do is share a snippet of God’s love with them, then that is what I am going to do. Out of the overflow of God’s love in my life, I love others as I love myself. I appreciate it when others show value to me. So, I give love to others by letting them know they have value to me.

One day I was checking out my groceries. The cashier was busy sliding items across the scanner, and he was quickly working through my pile. I spoke to him as he focused on the items with his head down. “Thank you for serving me today,” I said. “I appreciate it.” Suddenly he stopped. It was like his whole body was frozen in space. His eyes stared off into nowhere. The beeping of the register stopped. The conveyor belt stopped. For an awkward moment we both stood there in silence. Finally he turned his head and looked at me. “No one has ever thanked me before,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.” I’ll never forget the look on his face. He was completely stunned that his hard work was appreciated.

Paul wrote these words to the church in Colossae, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15, ESV). The word he uses for “thankful” carries with it the idea of being mindful of the kindness of others, of being grateful. Interestingly, it is the only time this word is used in Scripture. It comes from a root word that implies action, as in doing something, showing yourself grateful, to give forgiveness, to pardon, to give graciously and freely. It is giving to others the gift of your gratitude. It is literally giving thanks to others, not just for others.

I challenge you to express gratitude to those who serve you. Start with the clerk at the store when you are shopping. When you check out, look the cashier in the eye and say, “Thank you for your service. I appreciate it.” I promise you will be amazed at the response you get. You get bonus points if you take the time to look at their name tag and then address them by name. Huge bonus points. Then look for others who serve you, and do the same thing for them. Start a movement of gratitude.

Be mindful of the kindness of others. Generously give thanks to others. Be thankful. Learn this phrase and use it frequently: “Thank you for your service. I appreciate it.” Go on, give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how folks will respond, and you will fulfill the teaching of Paul at the same time.

At my home church, a funny thing happened. One day one of the volunteers walked up to me, shook my hand, and looked me in the eye. “Thank you for your service,” he said. “I appreciate it.” All I could do was smile.

Be thankful.

This article was originally published in the November 2016 Newsletter.

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Longing For Home

As I write this, I’m at my parent’s home in North Adams, Michigan. The town is a small farming community of about five hundred people in the southern part of the state. I was in the region for ministry, so I planned to spend a few extra days with my parents. They still live in the home where I grew up. It is an 1800’s, double-brick, two-story home with a sprawling front porch supported by grand white columns. The house is on Main Street, and yet we had a cornfield in our back yard. A vast amount of my youth was spent exploring the woods adjacent to our property.

When I was a child, my brother and sister and I split a paper route for the Jackson Citizen Patriot. My section of town was the closest to home since I was the youngest of the three. Seven days a week I climbed aboard my bicycle, slung a bag of newspapers over one shoulder, and rode the sidewalks to deliver the news to homes scattered across the eastern side of town.

Now, forty years later, a bit has changed. The sidewalks have crumbled a little more. A few of the homes have fallen into disrepair, and the local park down the street from my home now has a shelter built where a tall maple tree once shaded us as children. In all, much of the charm I remember from my childhood is still there, but there is also a sense that the community is slowly fading into the fog like Brigadoon.

I went for a walk to stretch my legs and retrace some of the route from my paper delivery days. As I walked, I thought about home. I thought about my childhood home and all it represents, both good and bad. I thought about the home in which I now live in Florida. Finally I settled onto a bench at the park down the street, and my mind turned to my real home, as in my final heavenly home.

I am looking forward to the day I finally get to go home. Not Florida. Not Michigan. Home. I am not discouraged or depressed. I am not on suicide watch. I am quite blessed actually. It is just that I want to be with the one I love the most. These earthly homes were never meant to satisfy. Even with all the material blessings I’ve enjoyed, on a clear starry night I still find myself looking into the heavens, longing to be with God.

Do you long to be home? Perhaps you understand how that feels.

I am reminded of the words Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. This is what he said: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ESV).

If you haven’t noticed by now, everything in this world is slowly decaying. Like the sidewalks on my paper route gradually returning to dust, everything we see is eventually going to dwindle away. It is the things we cannot see that really matter, because they are the things that are eternal.

Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3, ESV).

When we read those words, we tend to focus on what the place will be like, but the whole point of Jesus’ preparing a place is so that where he is, we can be also. It is about being with him. It is that place where we are finally restored in perfect relationship with him. The God who created us to be in relationship with him is preparing a place for us so that we can spend eternity with him.

Sadly, we’ve created a heaven that is all about us. We think we will have a nicer house in heaven, and we will be so wealthy we will use gold to pave the streets. Won’t it be grand! Just imagine! But it is a version of the health and wealth prosperity gospel couched in conservative Christian theology. In the end, it is humanism. Humanism is the belief that the end of all being is the happiness of man. The Christian version is that you can be saved so you can be happy after you die. But the gospel declares that the end of all being is the happiness of God. It is God who longs for restoration with his creation. He is the one who made a way through his Son so that he could be reconciled with us. He is the one preparing a place for you and me so that we can be with him, so that he can be happy. It is all about God.

My friend, the things that seem so important to you today will likely not matter after a thousand tomorrows. What is it that is weighing on you? Have you forgotten that this world is not really your home? Perhaps your challenge is only a reminder of what really matters – the things we cannot see.

When I eventually die, I think it would be nice to have “Finally Home” etched onto my headstone. But even that headstone will slowly crumble and return to dust. Of course, by then it won’t really matter.

I will finally be home.

This article was originally published in the October 2016 Newsletter.

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Hope In Our Failures

On her right, the soil was still freshly turned, heaped upon the graves of her two sons. To her left, the dirt on the grave of her husband had settled long ago. Now Naomi sat alone between the graves, crushed by the weight of loss she carried.

Her mind drifted to her life in Bethlehem long before they made the fateful decision to move to Moab. The drought was severe. They had nothing left. Their options were scarce. In desperation they packed up the few belonging they owned and moved the family to Moab. Moab, the land of idol worshipers and pagans. Moabites, the enemies of Israel. Who could have imagined the grief she would bear as a result of this fateful decision?

After they settled in Moab, her husband died. She was now a single mother in a foreign land trying to raise two sons. The seed of bitterness was planted. She could have moved home, but decided to stay. It was a decision she would long regret. The final insult was when both of her sons married Moabite woman. It was shameful, but at least she was far from home and from the ones who would judge her severely if they knew.

A hot breeze stirred the dust on the graves as she sat and pondered her fate. Though far from the accusing stares of those in Bethlehem, she still felt punished by an angry God. Surely God had seen all they had done. Surely God had turned against her for allowing her sons to marry Moabite women. It was all her fault. The depth of her shame was exceeded only by the bitterness that bloomed within her.

Somewhere far in the heavens above, God had already forgiven her. He saw the bitterness that consumed her, and his heart hurt for her. If only she knew the plans that God had already put into place. If only she realized how he would use her, for what she did not understand was that as a result of her time in Moab, nearly a thousand years later Jesus Christ would be born.

(Adapted from Ruth 1:1-13, ESV.)

Whenever I read the book of Ruth, it is easy to get caught up in the romantic, Cinderella story of Ruth. But the book begins with the tragic story of Naomi. Naomi’s story matters because it gives us hope. It demonstrates that even when we have blown it, God can still use us.

To be fair, when they decided to leave Bethlehem, Naomi was likely not the decision maker. She was obediently following her husband Elimelech. But after Elimelech died, she could have returned to Bethlehem and her people. For some reason, she chose to stay. In staying, she set up the next unfortunate event. Her sons married foreign wives. God never intended this, and it was against Jewish law.

Was she wrong to allow her sons to marry foreign wives? Yes. Was God’s grace sufficient to use her in spite of this? Yes again. Let me explain.

Whenever I read the Bible I am always asking two questions: “What can I learn about God?” and “What can I learn about man?” Let’s begin with the second aspect first, what we learn about ourselves. Like Naomi, we tend to get bitter when we face unbearable loss. It is human. It is human to feel like God is being cruel. “Why did this happen? If God is in control, why would he allow this to happen to me? It must be because of sin I have done. It is all my fault.” Unfortunately, when we focus on our sin instead of God’s grace, we can become bitter. And bitterness is a terrible master.

This week I was talking with a friend whose life is falling apart. He feels he is spiraling out of control. He is concerned that he has sinned so much that God will no longer forgive him. Do you ever feel like that? It is human if you do.

Please understand that when we sin, we can expect to be punished. God does so because he loves us and wants us to be in a right relationship with him. Discipline is one of the ways we can know that we are truly in relationship with him. Like a father disciplines his son, so God disciplines us as his children. But because he is a father to us, he never stops loving us, even when we have blown it. This is where many of us struggle. God is quick to forgive when we repent. He wraps his arms around us when we are hurting. He knows the mess we have made, and loves us anyway.

Once we realize our sin and repent, God is quick to forgive. But what is next? When we experience great hardship and loss as a result of our actions, what do we do then? We chose to hope that God can still use us in spite of our failures.

The good news is that God is always in control. This is what we learn about God from this passage. God is at work even when life is hard. He is always at work even in your difficult times. God is at work even when you have blown it. Even in your failures, God can still use you. Naomi is proof of that. God was at work when the famine hit Bethlehem. God was at work when they moved to Moab. God was at work when Naomi’s husband died. God was at work when she decided not to return home to Bethlehem and family. God was at work when she allowed her sons to marry Moabite women. God was at work when they lived in Moab for ten years. God was at work when her sons died. God was always at work.

He is still at work today. The difficulty is that we rarely get to know the end from the beginning. We are here for a very short time on this earth. The full story of God’s grace is being played out across centuries of time. Like Naomi, how can we possibly understand our place in that? We can’t. But when we remember that God is fully in control we can have hope. We can choose to believe that God can use all our failures, yes even our sin, for good.

Because Naomi made bad choices, a Moabite woman named Ruth marries her son. After the son dies, Ruth stays with Naomi and together they return to Bethlehem. Ruth eventually marries a man named Boaz. Together they have a son. Eventually they become the great-great-grandparents of a man named David, the greatest King Israel has ever had. By doing so, they also took their place in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah.

All in spite of a bad choice. That gives hope for the rest of us as well.

This article was originally published in the September 2016 Newsletter.

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