Countdown to Liftoff – Day 35

“Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” John 20:28-29

After all his pretentious bluster about needing proof,
it seems Thomas didn’t need to put his finger in the nail holes
or his hand in Jesus’ side after all.

Jesus Himself was enough.

Instead of poking around in Jesus’ scars,
Thomas dropped to his knees in worship.

He didn’t miss out on any more visits after that.
Thomas was there at the ascension
and at the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost.

Tradition tells us that Thomas went on to be a missionary in India
where he established a church,
but was executed for his faith.
It is said he was stabbed in the side with a spear.

He never lived down his “doubting” label, which is unfortunate
since all the other disciples also doubted the women’s reports of having seen the risen Jesus.
There’s no doubt that Thomas was a strong believer
and God used him in mighty ways.

We have something those first disciples didn’t have.
A special blessing is given to those of us
who believe Jesus rose from the grave,
even though we’ve never laid eyes on Him.

For Thomas, seeing was believing.
For us, believing is seeing.

Open the eyes of our heart, Lord.

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 36

“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.'” John 20:26-27

It was the 8th day after the resurrection, and the disciples were still holed up, hiding out behind locked doors. There must have been a lot of fear to keep 11 men inside a house for a week. (Can you imagine how it smelled in there?) Maybe they actually were in danger — the chief priests had paid off the soldiers to report that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb (Matt. 28:13).

FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) isn’t just a 21st century phenomenon. Thomas must have had a bad case of it, because he was with the other disciples this time around.

Jesus poofed in again, and He was looking for one in particular. He addressed the very statement Thomas made a week earlier: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Jesus offered proof followed by a command.

Stop it.
Stop doubting.
Start believing.

At some point, we need to quit messing around with looking for loopholes and testing for evidence. So let’s stop it. Let’s stop critiquing God’s Word and digging for error and raising our arrogant eyebrows with our defiant arms crossed. Let’s start putting some faith in something other than our own self-sufficiency.

Instead of doubting our beliefs and believing our doubts,
let’s start doubting our doubts and believing our beliefs.

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Countdown to Liftoff – Day 37

“Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he declared, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.'” John 20:24

It’s too bad Thomas missed out on Jesus’ appearance to the other disciples.
Where was he, anyway?
Was he emotionally spent?
Did he need some alone time?
Was he out picking up lunch for the other ten?
Checking up on his twin brother?

Imagine the disappointment, to learn the resurrected, glorified Jesus had stopped in and you missed it. We don’t know what took Thomas away, but we do know he came back. He was a hard nut to crack, though — eye-witness reports from ten of his closest friends wasn’t enough for him. “Doubting” Thomas was really more like “Defiant Skeptical Unbelieving” Thomas.

Because he stayed away
from his community of believers and fellowship with them,
he missed an encounter with the Risen Lord,
which fed his doubt
and made him demanding,
setting his own conditions
for belief.
Sound familiar?

Countdown to Liftoff – Day 38

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” John 20:19-20.

Have you ever been to a funeral and burial of a loved one and then three days later see that person walking around? Yeah, me neither. It must have been a little unsettling for the already jittery disciples to have Jesus poof into the room. Yet, the Master couldn’t stay away from His friends. He couldn’t even wait for them to open the door.

What was the first thing Jesus showed them? His wounds. Obviously, they were healed but the scars remained. Why? Wouldn’t you think a freshly resurrected body would be perfected, free from flaws? Ah, but it was perfect. Someday we will look on those same marks and give glory to God for what those beautiful scars purchased for us.

In the same way, our scars, whether they are physical or emotional, will not be marks of shame, but a testimony of God’s mercy and grace.

Our resurrected Savior has the power
to break into our locked up fears,
speak peace into our hearts,
and transform pain into glory.
Be overjoyed at this good news!

Surprise!

Easter is the ultimate surprise party.

You know how it is when you’re throwing a secret party for someone. You spread the word but keep it on the down-low. Then the day comes when everyone gathers and quietly hides behind closed doors. Finally, the guest of honor arrives and when he walks in the room, everyone jumps up and yells, “Surprise!”

That’s what this Easter was like for me. I’ve been hiding out during Lent, being very quiet and shushing my friends in the room while exchanging knowing smiles. We knew it was coming. We knew He was on His way. Yet, the anticipation thrilled us to the bone. We could hardly contain our excitement or suppress our giggles.

In an earth-shaking twist, the Guest of Honor was the One who yelled, “Surprise!” and we all gathered around Him on Easter morning, rejoicing. “Hallelujah! Jesus! You’re alive!”

We’ve just spent the past 40 days of Lent preparing for this party. Why spend over a month getting ready for a celebration that lasts one hour? I think we should whoop it up for as many days as we reflected in the quiet.

The period of time between Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension is called “Eastertide”. In other words, Easter isn’t over! This party is just getting started! Acts 1:3 says, “He appeared to them over a period of forty days.” Jesus kept showing up, surprising people over and over. Let’s show up, too, and allow Him to astonish us time and time again.

You’re invited to spend the next 40 days celebrating the Risen Savior! Join me for “Countdown to Liftoff: An Eastertide Party”. I’ll offer short daily reflections leading up to Jesus’ ascension to the throne.

Today is Day 39.
And counting.

The Hungry Song

Out of the recesses of the basement storage room, deep down in a box labeled “Old Music”, I found a little treasure. “The Hungry Song” was a light-hearted attempt at songwriting way back in 1999. The lyrics are silly and I share them only to give you a smile as you head into another quarantine weekend. I’ll be back on Monday for another week of Aleph-Bet.

The Hungry Song

Verse 1
I get hungry for some Fritos or a Little Debbie’s treat.
I start craving mashed potatoes with a juicy piece of meat.
But there’s a place in my heart food will never satisfy;
I need to open up the Word and give some soul food a try.

Chorus
Oh, make me hunger for You, Lord.
Give me an appetite for Your Word.
I will come to Your table where such goodness abounds.
And I can eat and eat and eat and never ever gain a pound.

Verse 2
I like donuts filled with custard, I like hotdogs with baked beans.
I like Oreos and Cheetos, I like caramel on ice cream.
But there’s a place in my heart food will never satisfy;
I need to open up the Word and give some soul food a try.

Chorus
Oh, make me hunger for You, Lord.
Give me an appetite for Your Word.
I will come to Your table where such goodness abounds.
And I can eat and eat and eat and never ever gain a pound.

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“I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” ~ Jesus
John 4:32

D is for Deep

deep

Deep and wide, deep and wide,
there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.
Deep and wide, deep and wide,
there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

I sang this chorus with my kindergarten Sunday school friends as we sat on little red chairs in the basement of the Methodist church. Mrs. B pounded on the piano with exuberance and we did the hand motions to “deep” and “wide”. The boys in the back row made sure their “wide” motions were wide enough to smack each other. It got really exciting when the words were replaced with “mmm”.

“Mmm and mmm, mmm and mmm, there’s a mmm flowing mmm and mmm.”
It was hilarious when someone forgot to say “mmm” and blurted out “deep” instead.

I couldn’t figure out what M&Ms had to do with Jesus.

As a six year old, I had no idea what this little chorus was about. Mrs. B probably explained that it was a picture of God’s love, unmeasurable and bubbling up eternally. I was probably giggling and whispering with Sharon and Carol and didn’t hear her. Fifty plus years later, I’m still trying to understand how long, how wide, how deep and how high God’s love really is — and to experience it for myself. How can we wrap our minds around something that is so great that we will never see the end of it or fully know it?

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Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea. –Job 11:7-9

One of my favorite scenes in the gospels is in Luke 5, when Jesus asked to borrow Peter’s boat so He could sit in it and preach to the crowd. When the sermon was over, Jesus told Peter, “Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) Peter explained that they had been fishing all night and had come up empty.

Plus, everybody knows fish don’t bite in the middle of the day.
Plus, they had just cleaned all the nets.
Plus, professional fishermen didn’t need advise from a carpenter/preacher.
It was time to call it a day and head home.

“But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Peter was becoming a disciple and he didn’t even know it.
“They caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.”
Peter walked away from his biggest catch to follow Jesus.

Obedience is rarely convenient.
Jesus often asks us to do things that don’t make sense.
He calls us into deeper waters.
It’s hard work, but it results in great blessing.
That’s where the fountains flow.

May our roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.
May we also venture out into the deep waters of faithful obedience.

My favorite word in the Bible that starts with “D” is DEEP.

Next: Exclamation!

Long Song Study, part A

It’s Bible Study Day!
Since we can’t gather together in person right now,
let’s meet up here!

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Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, longer than some entire books of the Bible. Perhaps its length is meant to tip us off to a little secret: learning to walk with God in faith and obedience is not learned in a day. It takes a lifetime. So take God up on His gift of grace, and give yourself some, too.

This study will be more like a slow marathon than a speedy sprint. For those of us non-runners, it will be more like a stroll than a power walk. We’re going to stop and smell some rose-scented words as we saunter through the first eight verses.

Ready? Open up your Bible to Psalm 119. Let’s go!

Verse 1
“Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.”

How does this magnificent psalm begin? With a blessing! It sounds a lot like the first words Jesus spoke in His first public sermon: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” The main idea is that there is great blessing in walking in the ways of the Lord.  All of the 175 verses that follow support that one key thought.
Notice it’s a walk, not a run, but also not a sit. We walk, which means there is steady progress, a quiet advance, a persistent continuance. No fast forward, no hurried quick-fix, no checklist with instant results. Also, no lazy bones, no couch potato procrastinating, no waiting for maturity to magically appear.

Verse 2
“Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,”

Another blessing! This time it’s for keeping and seeking. “We must first get a thing before we can keep it. And in order to keep it well, we must get a firm grip on it.” (Spurgeon) So, we are to grab ahold of the scriptures and not let go. Keep His Word. But seek Him with all your heart. The Hebrew understanding of “heart” includes the emotions, the will, and the intellect. All of it.

Verse 3
“who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!”

It’s not enough to refrain from doing wrong things. We are to pursue the right things! By seeking, we find out what His ways are, so that we can walk like Him.

Verse 4
“You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.”

At this point, the focus shifts from talking about God, to talking directly to God. And he never stops. The rest of the psalm is a prayer with praise and testimony sprinkled in.
Now we learn how the Word is to be kept: with diligence. The Hebrew word used here means “vehemently”, which is defined as zealously, ardently, strongly emotional, and intensely passionate. Is that how you feel about God’s Word?

Verse 5
“Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!”

No wonder, then, that he immediately begins to confess his lack of zeal. He wishes he was farther along when it came to knowing and obeying God’s laws. That’s actually a good place to start, though. When we recognize all our best intentions and lofty goals often fall short, we are in a good position to ask God to provide a consistent desire for and love for the Word.

Verse 6
“Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.”

He doesn’t want to stand before God someday and have nothing to show for his life and be exposed as a fraud, as one who professed the name of God but did not fully live for Him. That would be embarrassing. How can we avoid that situation? Fix our eyes on God’s Word and let it do its work in us. Shame rises up when we compare ourselves to each other. Walking with God is not a competition so don’t worry about lagging behind or being out in front. Just keep walking with your eyes on Jesus.

Verse 7
“I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.”

Prayer leads to praise. We may have a long way to go, but we can give Him praise as we continue growing and learning. The more we learn about the Lord, the more we will want to praise Him.

Verse 8
“I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!”

A resolution is made: I will do this! He commits to keeping all the commandments. Whew! That’s impressive, but we all know willpower only takes us so far. Aware that he probably won’t measure up to such perfection, he appeals to God’s mercy. “Don’t give up on me!” And, of course, He never gives up on us. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)

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What do we know for sure from this passage?

  • There is a way that leads to a life of blessing.
  • We can choose to walk in that way, or not.
  • There are things we can do to stay on track: seek Him, keep His commands, fix our eyes on Him.
  • Walking with God is a lifelong process with some successes and some failures.
  • He walks with us and never gives up on us.

Please share your thoughts, insights, comments and questions! This is intended to be a conversation, not a monologue!

For the Flock, Day 15

Today we will wrap up this series on the 23rd Psalm.
I hope it has been a blessing to you!
There’s a little treat for you at the end of today’s post.

Psalm-23

Final thoughts:

David talked to himself a lot in the Psalms.
(Why so downcast, oh my soul? Put your hope in God. Ps. 42:11)

David talked about God a lot in the Psalms.
(As for God, his way is perfect. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. Ps. 18:30)

David talked to his people a lot in the Psalms.
(Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous. Sing to him a new song. Ps. 33:1,3)

But mostly, David talked to God in the Psalms.
(To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. Show me your ways. Ps. 25:1,4)

All of these methods are good, even all at once. David often wove in and out of talking to himself and God, talking about God, and preaching to the people, all in one psalm.

The beloved 23rd Psalm is one example. David started by talking about God, and then couldn’t help but talk directly to God. That’s a good lesson for us, too. We should never leave the study of God without going to the throne of God. The walk of faith is about formation, not information.

So, let’s pray.

Dear God, how could I ask for anything more when I’ve got such a great Shepherd? You take me places where I can rest and be fed, where I can quench my thirst in peace and safety. You take all the frenzied parts of me and put me back together. During these scary, dark days, when death seems near, I know You are walking right beside me so those sinister shadows can’t hurt me — it’s not so scary after all. Your guidance and yes, even Your discipline make me feel secure and comfortable. You put on a spread for me, right in front of my adversaries. You pour the oil of blessing on my head — it fills me to the brim and spills over. Without a doubt in my mind I know I will see your love and goodness at every turn. I plan to move into Your house, God, and stay forever and ever.

Let’s close this series of posts by listening to the 23rd Psalm
as David would have read it.

 

 

For the Flock, Day 14

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6

There’s no place like home.

There’s nothing like coming down highway 80 between Montfort and Livingston.
I can see cornfields on both sides of the road stretching out to the horizon.
I cross the railroad tracks and see the farm buildings in the distance.
I approach the stand of cottonwood trees that line the yard.
I hear the sound of the gravel driveway under the tires.

I half expect to see my mom in the kitchen window, doing dishes.
Or my dad pulling the gate to the barnyard closed and walking up toward the house.

Of course, I don’t live there anymore
and my parents have been gone for many years.
The railroad track has been removed
and some of the cottonwood trees have fallen.
But I can go there in my mind.
Home.

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There’s no place like Home.

There is nothing like the place that is being prepared for me.
I will see astounding beauty stretching into all eternity.
I will cross over the river and catch sight of a glittering city.
I will approach the parade line of welcoming saints.
I will hear the sound of my Savior’s voice saying, “Well done.”

Then, I fully expect to see Mom and Dad and Grandpa and Boppy and Grandpa and Grandma and all those who are joyfully going about the business of heaven.

Of course, I don’t know half of what is waiting for me there.
More than I can imagine.
But I can go there in my mind.
Home.

David knew it was true.
One day, he would dwell in the house of his Lord forever.
That was the best way for David to end his psalm.
It’s the best way for us to close every day.

home

This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. ~Jim Reeves

*Coming next: Day 15 — a final thought on Psalm 23!