Bless the Lord O My Soul – A look at Psalm 103 and 10,000 Reasons

BiblePsalmsI am a terrible gardener. When it comes to mowing the lawn, I will take care of the grass and do what I need to keep the yard looking nice. However, when it comes to flowerbeds and the like, I’m just not that great.

Those beds of bushes and pretty plants take an enormous amount of effort to keep looking nice. When we moved into our new house, the landscaping was not in great shape, and over the busy summer, they have gotten progressively worse. I really do want them to look good, and my wife does especially. It’s just been hard with being so busy.

Flowerbeds do not automatically look nice though. Weeds creep in, mulch dries out, and plants die. They need to be tended to – worked over – cultivated.

Our souls are the same way. The rigors of life can creep in, and we can neglect the care of our hearts. Just like unattended gardens, our souls can become overgrown and out of sorts.

Psalm 103 is a great picture of worship that is cultivation of the soul. The psalmist, perhaps David, is working on the garden of his heart, calling his own being to worship. He is not manufacturing anything artificial, but rather he is doing what he must to clear out the mess and see the beauty of the Lord again.

This Psalm has found its way into many songs, but one today has captivated the heart of Christians all over the world. “10,000 Reasons” is written by Matt Redman, one of the most prolific sacred song writers of our day. The inspiration for this song comes from Psalm 103. I want us to take a look at the Scripture, looking to gain a better understanding of this song and how we worship through it. Through our journey, we will also do a bit of gardening in our own souls, calling our hearts to worship.

Psalm 103
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
 and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
 and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity,
 who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit,
 who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good
 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
 his acts to the people of Israel.

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
 slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 He will not always chide,
 nor will he keep his anger forever.

10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
 nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
 so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
 so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
 so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
 he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
 and its place knows it no more.

17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,

18 to those who keep his covenant
 and remember to do his commandments.

19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
 and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
 you mighty ones who do his word,
    obeying the voice of his word!

21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
 his ministers, who do his will!

22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
 in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Verses 1-5 are written by the psalmist to his own soul. He is calling his own heart to worship the Lord, bringing blessing to the One who is the author of blessings. In these first few verses, the author brings to remembrance all that God has done in his own life. Forgiveness of sin, healing, redemption, faithful love, and true satisfaction have come from the Lord. These wonderful acts of God have brought life to this author, renewing his youth and making his soul soar like an eagle.

Nothing else compares to this – nothing else compares to the Lord. Too often this is forgotten in the midst of everything. The author takes the time to remember just how good God really is.

Verses 6-14 are pointed towards the qualities of the Lord that apply to all. For those that are oppressed, God cares for them and fights for them! He is not a god who wants to remain hidden or distant, but He has revealed Himself to the people of Israel. And we know, that Christ came to the world – came to us – to save us all! John 1:14 says that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus came to be the light in the darkness of the world.

The Lord is rich in love and slow to anger. Many of us have experienced those with quick tempers, even some in terrible ways. David saw Saul’s temper more than once. From God’s perspective, His own people turned their back on Him repeatedly, but He never dealt with them like He could have. Like a true loving Father, His anger and discipline always came to correct and bring people back to Him. God never gave up on His people, and He never will. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 truly represent the nature of God’s love.

Finally, in this section, the psalmist looks at just how big the Lord’s forgiveness really is. It cannot possibly be quantified. The picture of “as far as the east is from the west” is used as a way to measure the size of God’s redemption. There is no way to fathom it. When the Lord forgives sins, they are gone. Redemption is real and true. Even when we fall, He wants to pick us up. He knows we are not perfect, but He never gives up on us. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s not a spot clean – it’s the power wash.

The final section of the psalm, verses 15-22, demonstrate just how big God is and how He still loves us. Our lives are like grass that dries up and blows away. But still, God knows us and loves us.

And God is the complete opposite. He never fades. He is everlasting. His love is everlasting. He is the only true constant – the only good that will never end. Nothing will defeat Him. Even the most powerful kingdom pales in comparison to His.

With this picture, the psalmist calls on the whole of creation to worship God just like his soul. Angels, all His servants, and everything God has made will bless the Lord because of Who He is and what He has done.

And the psalmists voice joins the song of the universe, bringing his melody to the tune.

Psalm 103 is so beautiful, because it is a song that we still sing today. The truths that the author writes about are true for us today as well! God has done so much for us, and He is still doing so much! Everyday, all around us, the Lord is working in so many ways that we do not even see them all.

And our souls need that cultivation too. Have you ever been in a worship service and felt empty? Has there ever been a day when you woke up and wondered what was the point?

Like the flowerbeds in front of my house, our souls will be overgrown and out of shape without proper care. Psalm 103 shows us how to cultivate our hearts and bring our souls to worship.

10,000 Reasons is a song that is a great summary of the truth of Psalm 103.

The first verse deals with praising God with the coming of a new day, and that praise continuing throughout the day – no matter what may come. These lyrics call the soul to worship God through any circumstance:

The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning

It’s time to sing Your song again

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me

Let me be singing when the evening comes

Verse 2 focuses on the attributes of the goodness of God. “10,000 Reasons” is a number that really is not an exact quantity, but rather it is a picture of just the great number of reasons we have to worship God. Even if we were to sit down and write out each one, ten thousand would just be the beginning.

You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger

Your name is great and Your heart is kind

For all Your goodness I will keep on singing

Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

The third and final verse is a beautiful picture of looking back at life but also looking forward to the life yet to come. Praise for the Lord has only just begun, for everything our heart is longing for is just ahead. For ten thousand years we will be with God, and that is just the beginning. During that time, no sin or darkness will be between those who belong to the Lord.

And on that day when my strength is failing

The end draws near and my time has come

Still my soul will sing Your praise unending

Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Finally, the chorus is the call to cultivate our hearts to bring praise to God. For all these reasons, we bring a song to Him.

Bless the Lord O my soul

O my soul
, Worship His holy name

Sing like never before

O my soul, 
I’ll worship Your holy name

Today, lets take some time to cultivate our souls. For the next few minutes, we want to call our hearts to worship like the psalmist and Redman do.

Let’s listen through a couple of versions of 10,000 Reasons together. While it plays, let’s focus on three things:

  1. Remembrance: Write down some of the ways God has blessed you, either recently or throughout your life.
  2. 10,000 Reasons: Write down the goodness of God. What makes Him worthy to be worshipped?
  3. Bless the Lord: Write down a prayer of worship to the Lord. He always blesses us, and our worship to Him is a blessing to Him. Bless Him today. Commune with Him in worship.

May our worship cultivate our souls towards God. And may our worship lead our lives to live for Him. One final question for us to consider, is God calling you to something? As you spend time calling your heart to worship, let the Holy Spirit speak as well. What is He saying to you?

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Run and Remember: Do you remember your first love? // Rev. 2:1-7, Acts 19:1-10, Eph. 1:15-16

IMG_6434Just the other day, I was rearranging some of the items on my bookshelf in my office to make room for other books and such. I’ve got this thing about my office/room/whatever needing to be clean before I can really get work done. Anyone else out there crazy like that? No? Just me?

Anyway, I’ve got this plaque from an award I received my senior year of college, and one of the major aspects of it was service to the community, both present and future. The school paper covered my acceptance speech for the award and entitled the article, “All about serving others.”

Looking back, that’s what I wanted my life to be all about growing up. My goal was to make a difference in others’ lives and be a servant to them, like Christ is to us. But when I saw that article, I had to ask myself, “Is that still true? Am I still that person, or did he ‘grow up?’”

Life has a way of doing that – getting in the way and making us forget some of the things that really set our hearts ablaze, our first loves. Marriages, causes, walking with the Lord, and so many other things can “fade” as time goes by. Our passion wanes for them. It’s not something we mean to happen, but it does.

Have you ever felt this way? Do you remember your first love and what that was like? There really is nothing that can explain what that is like.

Do you remember when you first gave your heart and life to Jesus? Are you the same person or different? What happened to cause us to be different? What do we do?

The answer to the question really is run and remember. Run to Jesus and remember all that He has done for and through us. Run with Him like we once did! Run and remember!

The Bible has incredible truth for us in this area. The church of Ephesus gives us a great example of forgetting our first love.

How it all started – Acts 19:1-10
Paul brought the truth, the Gospel, of Jesus to the people of Ephesus. He spent time discipling just a handful of people that turned that city and the world upside down. They had a knowledge of God, but it wasn’t complete. Paul told them about what Jesus had done for them. Over the next two years, they grew closer and closer to the Lord, and they took the Gospel out!

Things were going well…Ephesians 1:15-23
Paul writes a letter some time after leaving the people of Ephesus to encourage them and let them know of his prayers for them. They were a strong church in a city with many beliefs and ways of life. Some traditions even hold that the entire city was won for the Gospel at one point in time! It was a major stop in the comings and goings of the world, which led to the Gospel going out into most if not all of Asia.

The fire faded…Revelation 2:1-7
Around 30 years later, this short letter to the church in Ephesus is written. On the outside, things look fairly good. They are still standing up for what is right, working hard, and have not abandoned their faith. But Jesus tells them, you have left your first love. Does this sound familiar? Maybe our churches today? Maybe you and me? I think this message is so relevant to so many of us, especially if we have been in church or a Christ-follower for quite a long time. We can do the right things with an empty heart.

Where do we go from here?
What does Christ tell the Ephesians to do? Repent – run from where are and run back to Christ. Remember what He has done for us, and remember what we used to do for him!

I’ve said this before, but maybe It means that we need to spend less time “trying to be good” and more time with the One who is good. Trying to live a Christian life but never spending time with the Lord is like being married, fulfilling the functions of that marriage, but never spending any time with your spouse.

What would it look like if we ran and remembered? What would our lives be like if we remembered Christ as our first love?

One of the biggest issues with couples that experience a drought in love is usually a lack of quality time with one another. They are encouraged to go on dates and spend real time with one another. When was the last time you spent quality time with Jesus? When was the last time He had your heart and full attention?

I don’t know where you are right now, but I’m hoping that the Spirit has been showing you where your heart really is. What do you need to do to run and remember? Maybe you have forgotten your first love, but Jesus has never forgotten nor forsaken you. Let Him take you in His arms. Fall in love with Him all over again!

To go back to the start, in my own life, I feel like serving others was something that maybe I have been doing, but not with the passion and purpose that I used to have. That’s been my prayer these past few weeks – God, give me the passion again to serve and help others to make a difference in their lives for Your great name.

What is your favourite Psalm?

BiblePsalmsI have been asked these question in the just past few days, and I wanted to ask it of you as well.

What is your favourite Psalm? Why? How has it brought you closer to the Lord?

Talking about our favourite Psalms is like talking about the songs we love too. They all affect us differently. So please, let me know about yours!

I’ll post thoughts on my favourite, Psalm 33, later on. I’m actually teaching through it tonight (along with Colossians 1:15-23 & Romans 8:28) tonight with some college students.

I want to hear from you! Leave a comment below!

Grace and peace,

Doug

In a world full of lies, we need to speak the truth into other’s lives.

Story of Barnabas: Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-28; 11:19-26; 13:15-16; 16:1-5IMG_3391

Have you ever had someone who believed you and really encouraged you? Doesn’t it just make all the difference in the world? Over the past week, I’ve had some conversations with some folks in our church who have a heart for encouraging and praying for young families who are just starting out.

Then, in Church Planting Apprenticeship class on Monday, we talked about Barnabas, and how his life of encouragement was an incredible way of discipling others. And then today! A friend of mine posted a video on Twitter called “Street Compliments” that just blew me away. You can watch it here:

So it seems apparent to me that God is really trying to show me something about encouragement and building one another up. And don’t we all need it? This world is full of lies that are given to us. Facebook, TV, magazines, people we know, and so many other places fill our heads with lies.

And in a world full of lies, we need to hear and speak the truth in lives.

In Acts, the life of Barnabas paints a clear picture of how living this way can change lives. Acts 4:36-37 shows us that encouragement is selfless! Barnabas’ real name was Joseph! The apostles saw what kind of man he was, an encourager, and nicknamed him Barnabas, which means, “Son of Encouragement!”

He was a selfless, generous man, which is what encouraging is all about: giving and investing into others (vs. 37). When we don’t encourage others, we are generally focused on ourselves – we are selfish. Even if we don’t think we are overtly selfish people, keeping the truth to ourselves is being selfish! Barnabas was generous and selfless with more resources than just words. His whole life reflected encouragement.

Encouragement is speaking the truth, even when it is difficult (Acts 9:26-28). Paul (or Saul) was not at all popular with the apostles, because he had been ferocious in trying to hunt them down! Even though Christ changed His life, these men were still wary.

Barnabas was able to see the potential in Paul and see the truth in His life. Christ had really changed him. That was the Holy Spirit working in Barnabas’ life to see what Paul could be. It’s hard for us to have that vision sometimes, but when we live life by the Holy Spirit, He speaks to us the truth to give to others. We live that kind of life through time in the Word and prayer. THAT is where our real truth comes from! Sometimes the truth is tough to speak.
In this part of Acts, Barnabas had Saul who had a rough past. But other times, the truth means confronting the past, or even the present. Paul did this with Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). Peter was living in the wrong, and Paul gave him a hard truth. The way Paul did it is not the model for us always to do that, but it shows all of us that we must speak the truth, even when it is difficult.

Encouragement is also contagious (Acts 11:19-26; 13:15-16; 16:1-5). In Acts 11, Barnabas’ encouragement of believers led to even more disciples being made! He then takes Paul with him and they begin to minister together.

In Acts 13, Paul, who Barnabas had taken under his wing, steps out into the lead and begins sharing the word of the Lord!

In Acts 16, even though Paul and Barnabas are not together anymore, Timothy joins Paul and the cycle begins again!

When we encourage others, we cannot think in a linear progression. Encouragement and discipleship are EXPONENTIAL!

You know what I think is amazing about the life of Barnabas? It’s simple. He didn’t have discipleship books or classes. He shared the truth of God and invested in a few others, and that changed the world!

Encouragement is not fleeting or meaningless. Real, truthful encouragement changes lives.

And don’t sell yourself short either. You may think that you don’t know enough to disciple someone or be that Barnabas to someone else, but you can! We call can! In fact, that’s our calling from the Lord – to make disciples!

I hope this encourages you as it has encouraged me. My heart is full of joy when I think of those in our church who want to be like Barnabas to other believers. Because without Barnabas, what would have become of Paul?

If I can encourage you, or help you in being that person for others, I would love to! And what are some ways that you have been encouraged? Who is God calling you to encourage? the right heart.

Valentine’s Day: Is Your Relationship Real? // Deuteronomy 30:11-20

love-2Valentine’s Day: the celebration of the life of St. Valentine or the commercialization of affection in the world today? Whatever you might think, it’s on the calendar and it is nigh. And if you’re like me, you oft contemplated how silly it is to conjure up a day just to make you have to go out and buy a special something for that special something. Or maybe you’re like me and February 14 each year was the day you lamented the lack of homemade cookies from the pretty girls in your class at school. Wait, that wasn’t me…yeah…anyway.

Let us just move past the origins of the day and who the real St. Valentine was just for a moment and consider what February 14 really means. Yes, it’s a payday for retailers. Yes, it’s a stinging wound for those sans-valentine. But I think we lose grasp of the opportunity a day like Valentine’s Day provides – a chance to show that the relationships in our lives are real.

Do gifts in heart-shaped gift bags define a relationship? No. Well, at least, not on their own. Even though love is the heart of a real relationship, there must be evidence of that love. Maybe it’s a gift. Maybe it’s a genuine act of kindness. Maybe it’s heart-shaped pancakes with powdered sugar. Just saying.

Today, our post-modern approach to Christ and being a Christian can often push back against duty and commitment, which drove the Church in the last generation. Many of us today look back and see what we think are people committed to the Church but not committed to Christ personally. The danger of this is thinking that it’s ALL about love, a feeling. However, how we live shows how we love.

As I have said before, the Old Testament contains many laws and rules that we think defined righteousness. But throughout the book of Deuteronomy, we see that love ALWAYS came first, but what came next was how that love was supposed to be lived out. How the people of Israel lived was their relationship with God.

Deuteronomy 30:16, “For I am commanding you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the LORD your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.”

That entire chapter of Deuteronomy is worth your time right now to read. It even speaks of God’s faithfulness and love to His people when they don’t keep up their end of the relationship. Things may get really difficult, almost hopeless, but God will never leave them – and He will never leave us.

But how we do show God our relationship with Him is real? Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Not that we are earning God’s love, but we are demonstrating our love for Him.

On the eve of another Valentine’s Day, may you consider the reality of the relationships you have. They do not have to be romantic relationships necessarily, as I think Valentine’s Day has led us to see love in the context of.

Are you relationships real? With Jesus? With the ones you love? Show it!

Valentine’s Day may be over-commercialized and falsely romanticized. Those at Hallmark may not actually mean all those things they put in their cards that make you cry (if you work for Hallmark and are reading this, and you really do care, I’m just making an example and will still buy your cards).

Even if all that is true, that does not give us an excuse to “buck the system” and rebel against our relationships. May Valentines Day can serve as a reminder to make your relationships real.

What are ways that you show love to God with your life? What are ways you show love to those you have relationships with? And what are ways that you like to be shown love? Please comment below! I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Christ Makes Things New // 2 Corinthians 5:17

2013. Somehow we survived the “end of the world” and other crazy things, but now, it is a new year. Isn’t new great?

This is a pic of my grandpa's 1944 Farmall tractor he completely restored from a pile of rust to look brand new.

This is a pic of my grandpa’s 1944 Farmall tractor he completely restored from a pile of rust to look brand new.

The New Year has always been somewhat interesting to grasp, especially when it seems to fall in the middle of everything we are involved in our lives. School starts in the Fall, many fiscal years begin in mid-Summer, but yet, our calendar begins on January 1.

Here in America, “new” is a concept that we understand but don’t always fully appreciate. We have a very “throw-away” based society where if something is overused or completed, we get rid of it. Also, we have so much freedom and opportunity with work and beliefs, that we can start a “new” career whenever we want.

So, for many of us, a “new beginning” may not be as incredible as it is to some.

Over the past 10 years, I have been very blessed to serve and do mission work in East Asia in a communist country. Several times I have traveled over there, but the first time the missionary I worked with taught our team what “new life” and “new beginnings” meant to these people.

For them, communism traps economically, spiritually, and geographically for the most part. Some younger students may travel to a university, but generally where you are and what you do stays the same. Not everyone is a communist. In fact, one has to be a part of the communist party to have higher paid jobs and power, but it restricts your lifestyle even more. IMG_1438

So, when our conversations would turn to Jesus, we would talk about John chapter 3 and the conversation Nicodemus about being “born again.” We would also show them 2 Corinthians 5:17,

17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The idea of a life with Jesus being brand new with a new beginning was simply astounding. It wasn’t a rescue from the life that surrounded them, but it was a life with hope, purpose, and love.

For me, I had never really appreciated that idea until then. There are many days when I even forget it. Jesus has made me brand new. He hasn’t just cleaned up the old me – He paid the price with His life and purchased me with His blood.

Whatever your past year or years has been like, or wherever you are right now, do you long for a new beginning? Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you try you just can’t get things right?

Give your heart and life to Jesus. Let him make you brand new. Baptism is an incredible symbol of this. Before Christ, our lives are above the water, then we are submerged and we die to our old life, then we are raised out of the water to walk in new life with Him. IMG_2654

Doesn’t that sound amazing and refreshing? Even if you are already a Christ follower, today you can make that commitment and resolution to walk in the new life Christ has given you.

Life with Christ is full of new hope, purpose, and love. Walk with Him this year and the many to come!

ps…Do you have a story of new life in Christ? Leave a comment below!

pps…I would also like to hear some of your favourite new things: like new car smell, new clothes, etc. Leave a comment below!

A New Year’s Resolution You Can Keep: Be Who You Say You Are

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 – 4″Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

James 2:14-17 – 14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 3:13 – 13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

When I was in the 7th grade, there was a girl I liked. Being the 7th grade Casanova I was, I asked a friend to ask her out for me. Smooth right? I know. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go in 7th though?

This is side by side picture one of my friends sent me on Twitter, saying how much I looked like Martin Freeman, who plays the Bilbo the Hobbit. Or maybe I'm really him?

This is side by side picture one of my friends sent me on Twitter, saying how much I looked like Martin Freeman, who plays the Bilbo the Hobbit. Or maybe I’m really him?

Well, surprisingly, she said yes, and we were “a couple.” However, after about a week, we called it off (more she than me). We talked on the phone once maybe, but we never went out or did couple-like things. I mean, come on, we were in 7th grade! Still, there was no point in being boyfriend and girlfriend in title only. I’m also going to say she had something against gingers, but that could just be my bitterness talking.

How silly would it be to say “I’m married,” or “we’re dating,” but never do anything to demonstrate it? What if I said I was a pro basketball player but never played any games or put on the uniform? What if you needed emergency surgery, I stepped in and said, “Hello, I’m the Doctor,” and you asked me how many surgeries I had performed to which I answered, “absolutely none”? What would your reaction be?

The principle is the same for any relationship. Imagine if you got married to someone, but you never talked, never spent time together, or never did anything that showed people you were a married couple. What kind of marriage would that be? Husband and wife would be mere titles without any significance.

Our relationship to God is quite similar. So many of us will claim the title “Christian,” and yet our lives do not demonstrate a walk with Christ. Quite simply, many of us are not who we say we are. I have been there before – I really think we all have. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In the verses above, we see a cross-section of the Bible that goes from the Old Testament to the New. Deuteronomy 6: the “greatest commandment” as Jesus put it in the Gospels, and also known as the shema to Jews, tells us to love God with everything we are – our heart and soul and might. This is quite interesting considering where this idea is found. These words appear in different forms all throughout the book of Deuteronomy, interwoven between instructions God gives His people to live by.

The Old Testament is often considered nothing but rules and regulations, and many consider that to the “old way of life” before Jesus came. But it was never about just doing this or not doing that in order to be a good Yahweh worshipper. A relationship with God back then was just the same as it is now – in the heart. HOWEVER, all those instructions surrounding those incredible words of “love the Lord your God,” are how we demonstrate that relationship with God. It’s how a life with God is lived out!

How we live for The Lord is an external sign of the internal relationship with Him in our hearts.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, writes words that have long been studied by the Church. He says that faith without works is dead – a Christian that does not really follow Christ is a Christian in title only! And as he continues on in chapter three, you should be able to tell who is and isn’t a Christian by how one lives his life!

In other words: be who you say you are.

Does what we do save us and make us right with God? No. God has always been interested in our faith from our heart first, but what makes that faith real?

A real faith is one where God makes a difference in every aspect of your life – from how you talk to your parents, kids, or wife to how you act at school to what kind of business person you are. Christ followers are not trying to just be seen, but a real faith can’t help but be the “light to the world,” shining through the darkness.

As the New Year approaches, you may be considering making some sort of resolution. This year, make one that really counts. Be who you say you are. If you follow Christ, then make that relationship with God real by how you life with and for Him.

What Made David So Special? // 1 Sam. 13:14, 16:7, Acts 13:22

Lately I’ve been asking myself this question, what made David so special? He is described as a “man after God’s own heart,” and yet there were so many things David did wrong. He committed adultery, murder, lied, and even battled some pride issues. He even writes in Psalm 51 that “surely I was sinful since birth” and asked for a new heart to be created in him by God.IMG_4481

So how was he a man after God’s own heart? Despite all his faults, God never left him, and David was always a huge figure in the history of Israel. The answer lies in what really set David apart from so many others.

When it came to the Greatest Commandment, David nailed it. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 has written the “Greatest Commandment” which is also quoted by Christ in the Gospels, “4″Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

If you look through the history of all the Kings of Israel, David clearly sets himself apart by his worship. He truly loves the Lord with everything. He never worships a foreign god, consults a medium, or tries to be God. He had no other gods before him.

There are only a few other kings that come along – Asa, Hezekiah, Josiah, and a few others – that display this some type of attitude and behavior, but David is the shining example of it. And what set the other kings apart was their actions concerning the worship of other gods in the land. Asa was even described in 2 Chronicles 14 & 15 as serving the Lord “wholeheartedly.” He had an amazing prayer in 2 Chr. 14:11,

“Then Asa cried out to the LORD his God: ‘LORD, there is no one besides You to help the mighty and those without strength. Help us, LORD our God, for we depend on You, and in Your name we have come against this large army. Yahweh, You are our God. Do not let a mere mortal hinder You.’”

So what’s the point of all this? What amazes me about David is the dynamic of his relationship with God. In spite of his moral shortcomings, God never leaves Him. Times got tough and David even underwent discipline, but God never left Him. What David did was a lower priority to the condition of his heart.

God looks at the heart first. He does not ignore what people do or don’t do, but those things come second. Notice what Isaiah 29:13 says, “And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” God is not upset with what His people are doing; He cannot stand the difference between their hearts and lives.

What does this mean for us today: What or who is number one in your heart? What drives your life?

We are not going to be perfect. We are going to mess up, and God knows that. God knew David would mess up, and boy did he! But he still sought the Lord first, and that is what drove his life. When David did mess up, he turned back to the Lord and not something else to make things right.

Our hearts need to be our number one concern before we try to “live better.” God wants us to live for Him, but He wants our hearts first.

That is what made David so special: God had his heart. That is why he was a man “after God’s own heart.”

Who has your heart?

The Real Heart of a King – The Real Heart of a Leader // Deuteronomy 17:14-20

I read a great book not long ago entitled Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership, written by a man named John Dickson. It was a leadership book with the main idea that the greatest leaders are those who are humble and servants. Those are the types of leaders we look up to and admire. In the past few days a photo has been going around the internet of a NYC police officer kneeling down to give a homeless man some boots for his naked feet.

NYC Police Officer giving a pair of boots he bought for a homeless man with no shoes.

Conversely, we tend to think negatively of those who are arrogant and full of themselves. Celebrities, athletes, and other leaders who lack humility are the ones that we tend to not be a fan of. When he left Cleveland to go to Miami, Lebron James experienced quite of bit of backlash when he held a press conference and had a one-hour special just to announce his move. Brett Favre could have been a legend in Green Bay and football but tarnished his legacy when he chose to not gracefully bow out of the game, along with some moral issues that came later. Political leaders like John Edwards who misused money to meet own needs or men like Castro who live in wealth while his country is in poverty are vilified.

However, long ago the world was different from today in this respect. Ancient leaders were qualified by their status, wealth, and displayed greatness. The Caesars of Rome put up giant statues of themselves and put their faces on the currency.

What is interesting about this time is how God defined the type of leader He wanted to see for His people. In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is laying out how life is to be lived in His Kingdom for His people. The main theme of the whole book is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength – with one’s everything! But in chapter 17, God describes the type of leader in His Kingdom; He gives the description of a king:

14″When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” 15you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You shall never return that way again.” 17And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

18″And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.19And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

A king by the Lord’s standards is a man who does not build himself up by an army, wealth, or wives – He is a man who follows and depends on the Lord. He is also a man who is not above His people but serves His people. The king is not above the law but embodies and enacts the law. He is a true servant, humble leader.

If you read forward from this point, you will not find any kings of Israel that really fit this description. Even David, a man after God’s own heart, falls short of many of these standards. Josiah is a bright spot in the kings that follow, but still none seem to come even close to this…until the real King arrives.

Then Jesus Christ came into the world in a manger, in a barn, in a small, unimportant town. Wise men and shepherds bow down before Him in the midst of animals, hay, and the smells. He grows up poor, lives without a home, and has 12 men that follow Him.

Jesus says things like, “The greatest of these will be your servant,” and “greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends.” But He also says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

And there it is. Jesus is the King that Israel has always needed, but never really wanted. Even the disciples, after Jesus had died and risen from the grave, were asking when Jesus was going to restore the kingdom. No one could quite get it then, but soon they surely did. Jesus displayed what a true king was like – what a true leader should be, 1400 years (or so) in the making.

John Dickson writes in his book about how Jesus totally revolutionized our view of leaders. It was only after Christ that humility was a quality desired in leaders. He was the one who changed it all! Now we really can’t stand those that don’t follow His example. Even most people who do not believe in Jesus feel this way!

But it all started back in Deuteronomy 17, and it tells us so much about God. With Him, it’s not about status, accomplishments, or all the things we think make people great. Greatness comes from a heart that loves God with everything and a heart that loves to serve people.

May we all, especially those of us that lead, have the heart of a true leader, the heart of a true king.

The Nose Knows // 2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Grilled PB&Js – Absolutely Delicious

The olfactory senses are absolutely brilliant. Our minds connect to so many things through the senses, but a certain fragrance can bring up so much imagery in the mind.

Not long ago, we had a small cabinet built and painted to put over the washing machine. The first several days it was there, I could smell that fresh paint smell. That exact smell took me back to when my family moved into the house I grew up in many years ago. As soon as we moved in we painted most of the walls in the house, and it had that same smell for days. Specific memories and impressions came to my mind the instant I smelled that paint.

Counselors and other therapists will often not wear cologne or perfume because of this same concept. However, their reason is to avoid bringing up certain memories. Someone who had been abused, for instance, can be taken back to the horrible time when it all happened by smelling a similar fragrance. Those who work with rape victims are never supposed to wear any kind of cologne or even lotion that smells.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians about the “fragrance of Christ.” The apostle was writing about the previous confrontation that we can read about in 1 Corinthians 5, and by the end of chapter 2 in this letter, he takes a different direction.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 “14 But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. And who is competent for this?”

As Christians live their lives out, we leave an aroma of Christ to the world. People see and experience Christ through us, whether we know it or not. And just like the olfactory senses in our noses, the aroma of Christ can have a powerful effect on others.

For some we are going to be a sweet smelling, life-giving fragrance that people are longing for. Paul’s imagery is most likely centered on incense, a powerful thing in the ancient world. And our goal should be to bring that “smell” that helps to bring people to a positive image of Christ.

Some folks won’t like how we smell at all. One reason is some people just don’t like the smell of good things, or the fragrance of God. To these people we can’t really do anything at all. God must work on their hearts. Still, we can be a stench in other ways that we can control. We can be “burnt toast” Christians that cause people to wrinkle their noses and not have anything to do with Christ or the church.

Paul asks a great question though, and it may be one that you are asking too: “Who is competent for this?” In other words, “Who can possibly achieve this kind of life?” Being a pleasing aroma is often difficult. We sweat. We stink. And sometimes, we just don’t care about how we smell. Sin does that to us.

Our only hope is to let the Holy Spirit guide us and make us the fragrance of God. The transforming power of His leadership is what makes us smell sweet. Doing it on our own may produce some results, but ultimately we will fall short. Have you ever had that one friend who put on way TOO much cologne? Or maybe you knew someone who felt like deodorant was a conspiracy and no one really needed to wear it? That’s how we get when we try to do it ourselves.

Today, just pray that you would be a sweet smell to the world. May we lead people to Christ in a way that their minds are eternally etched with the aroma of life.