A Year of Providential Care and Encouragement for the Future.

A Year of Providential Care and Encouragement for the Future.

Typically the week between Christmas and New Year’s is quiet for me, and this year was no exception. This year I drank richly in the presence of all my family being together. In the last few days of the year, I usually begin to organize my receipts and records to compile on my schedule C for taxes and quietly take stock of the previous 12 months.

In this process, I will slowly read through my prayer journal from the last year and see prayers answered in amazing ways and lessons taught by God’s grace. Some I’m still chewing on. This year, I was able to recount a few truly miraculous answers from God’s loving providence. The landscape included such graces as the right medical provider coming on the scene at just the right time and family medical bills being forgiven.

Other touches from Heaven reminded me of God’s faithfulness and thus His calling us to rest in Him.  As I reflected on these provisions this past week, I was reminded of God meeting the Hebrew’s daily needs in the history of Exodus as they wandered and waited upon Him in the wilderness.

Along with the events and answered prayers I recorded, it was interesting to review the scriptural passages that I had meditated on over the year. Some of these came to mind in prayer, daily life, or my yearly systematic reading of His word. Altogether, my quietness this past week reminded me of God’s faithfulness.

Below I’ve recorded a number of the verses that found their way into my prayer journal for 2022. Some of them were in application to something I was praying about at the time. Some caught me off guard and were out of nowhere. Some were not for me but an application for others, the church, and society. They are a reminder of God’s providence, Christ’s love, and the Spirit’s guidance. As we bring 2022 to a conclusion, they might be of encouragement to you as we move into 2023.

 

What about you? What are some lessons from the past year for you?

 

Some of the texts from my 2022 Prayer Journal.

1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Titus 1:8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, and who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.

Philippians 4:6-8 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

Psalm 31:14-15 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.

Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

Psalm 90:17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.

Isaiah 54:2 Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.

Psalm 18:19 He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Isaiah 54:4  Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

Psalm 131 My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. 3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

Psalms 107:1-3 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, 3 those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.

Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ezekiel 11:19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

1 Chronicles 22:13 Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.

Revelation 2:17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.

Psalm 68:28 Summon your power, God; show us your strength, our God, as you have done before.

 

Did any of these speak to you?  Are there Biblical passages that ministered to you this past year?

 

 

When God Broke Through!

When God Broke Through!

I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with the virgin birth as is recorded in the Bible. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a home with a Biblical worldview and have always had some experience with church and reverence for the Bible. I know others are skeptical, though. Sometimes the doubt of the virgin birth is slow and casual. For others, there is a harsh and blatant rejection. “It’s impossible and a stupid idea,” they say. Something akin to Greek mythology. For me, it’s simple. If there is a God, and most people believe in God in a general sense, then why would the Incarnation be an impossibility? I mean, God can do anything.

But I wonder if the wrong question is being asked. It’s not so much about the how as the why. Is the virgin birth of Jesus through Mary necessary? That depends on who we are and who God is. Often doubt of the Virgin birth is not as much about the physical but the spiritual. To accept the Virgin birth is to admit one’s need for the Incarnation.

The Incarnation is a theological term, taken from Latin, simply referring to God taking on flesh. The Incarnation is then a greater miracle than the virgin birth. The apostle John refers to this miraculous conception by noting, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Because the man, Jesus, was not the product of natural conception, he was not marred by the sinful nature passed on from Joseph all the way back to Adam. Jesus went on to live a perfect life which none of us has done. This brings power to his death, burial, and resurrection 33 years later. Because Jesus was and is divine, he was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because he rose from the dead on the third day, he proved his power and divinity. The resurrection of Jesus also confirmed that his sacrifice was sufficient for our sins.

Maybe that’s the real reason people reject virgin birth. To accept it leads to the conclusion that we need the Incarnation; we need God’s forgiveness. Admitting that need means we are not as good as we think we are. We have sinned against a Holy God, and it is only through the grace of His Son, Jesus, born of a virgin, that we can find peace through his sacrifice.

Christmas is many things. Ultimately it is a reminder of the power of the Incarnation. It is a reminder that God, because of his immense love, took on flesh to dwell among us and save us.

The warm Christmas plays and children’s toys are always a good thing. But the real power comes in the reality of God breaking into humanity to save me and all who would come to Him.

That is Christmas, and that is the most excellent news of all.

 

Why You Must Read A Bible Today!

Why You Must Read A Bible Today!

Honestly, his casual comment annoyed me. I’d expect that sort of quip from an angry atheist or, at best, an honest skeptic who was open to investigation. As we talked about God, the Christian life, and the Church, the man who had just come into my office for some advice blurted out, “The Bible has been translated so many times that you can’t know what God said.” This man is highly educated and trained as an engineer who understands the principle of research before drawing conclusions. But this man is not an atheist.  He is a proclaimed Christian, and thus something was off here.

I started to engage him about his statement but quickly assessed that his mind was made up and was not open to other options than the one where he had comfortably arrived. So, I just left him in his quiet rant, knowing I could do no more. But if we’re intellectually honest, we must offer the same rigorous study of Biblical evidence as we do for every other area of exploration. The claims are either true or not. We cannot simply chuck them away with flippancy and still call ourselves serious thinkers.

But the issue is more than the integrity of the Bible; it is also the purpose of the Bible. The eternal transformation, wisdom, and life application for today are in the Bible. For years I have taught about the integrity of the Bible and how it applies to life. But yet, many Christians who intellectually would say they trust the Bible do not read it, or at least with any regularity. In thus neglecting the Bible, they miss out on God’s wisdom. I’ve observed that many questions that people often bring to me are ones they could have answered themselves if they had just systematically read their Bibles. Instead, their Bible sits quitely until it’s needed to prove or disprove a point they’ve already arrived at. In living this way, they miss out.

But the Bible is trustworthy and is practical for today and eternity. Therefore we should be in a regular rhythm of reading and meditating on the Bible. Greater still, we must read it. While there are more, here are six quick reasons why.

Textual Integrity. As I have taught numerous times and written about in the blog, there are solid, scholarly reasons to trust the Bible. In fact, there is more evidence for the veracity of the Bible than any other ancient literature. So we can know that it is reliable. One such post is here.

Availability of the Bible. In short, we CAN read it. I still remember the morning James walked into my dorm room years ago and yelled at me because I had laid my Bible on the floor next to my bed when I went to sleep the previous night. It’s no big deal, I thought. But then it was clear. James came from Southeast Asia, where finding a Bible is rare. Think of all the places on the globe today, like China, Saudi Arabia, or Cuba, where it is almost impossible to find a Bible. You will be imprisoned in some of these places if found with one. So I wonder if we take our Bibles for granted.

Obligation to the Past. We owe it to those who gave all that we might have the text in our native tongue. The New Testament was written in koine Greek, and the Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew with a few portions in Aramaic. Serious translations are taken from the original languages and not the latest translation. The connection here is that over the ages, many highly intelligent scholars took the time to find the oldest manuscripts possible, do the hard work, and translate the ancient sacred text into the world’s mother tongues. Early translators often did this at their own risk, as the authorities wanted to control who had a Bible. One illustration is William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for his work in 1536. I wonder if we’ve taken our Bibles for granted in considering the costs others paid that we might have the text in our language.

Answers for the Questions. We will find answers to give to those who ask. I’ve often heard Christians speak of fearing to share their faith because they may be unable to answer the questions. I get that, and quite honestly, we will never have it all figured out. However, the more time we spend in the Bible, the more we will be able to retain the Bible and give its blessings to others with questions.

Divine Connection. We will come to know God more. It’s like any other relationship. The more we spend time with people, the more we know them. The most significant way to spend time with God is to read His Word.

Life Application and Spiritual Formation. Reading the Bible will change us. The author of Hebrews, writing under divine inspiration, noted that “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Maybe the last one is why this man chooses not to put much stock in the Bible. Yes, while the Bible will lead us to God, comfort, and guide us, it will also convict us of sin. In those moments when our spirit and conscience are convicted, we have two options or responses. One is to bow under the conviction, acknowledge and repent of our sin, and follow Christ anew. The other option is to try to eradicate the conviction. Thus, if the Bible convicts us, the easiest option is to attack the credibility of the Bible, and then one can continue to live in rebellion, having thought to secure control and lordship of their life.

Maybe that was the issue for the highly educated man who entered my office looking for advice. The problem wasn’t so much his not knowing the credibility of the Bible but rather his unwillingness to humble himself under the Bible. What about you? If you have a Bible, have you examined the evidence for the sacred text, and are you reading it regularly? What have been some transformative times in your life in connection to the Bible?

 

 

Powering the New Year with the Old Book.

Powering the New Year with the Old Book.

One New Year’s challenge that I always look forward to is reading through the Bible beginning January first. Honestly, I don’t always get the whole text read in a year. Sometimes interruptions get in the way.   On other occasions, I find God grabbing my attention to stop and meditate on one single verse in the day’s reading instead of pressing on with the rest of the text.

But I’ve found that a daily practice of systematically working through the Bible has been just as important spiritually as eating a healthy diet is for the physical. The objective is simply coming before the life-changing Word of God regularly and allowing HIM to change us.

In my vocation, it’s easy to check out and look at the Bible as a textbook. By this, I mean merely studying the content for sermon preparation, teaching, and the like. But, unfortunately, that’s probably not too far off for many of us. In other words, it’s easy to take it for granted. Yet somehow, we know there’s something different to this book. The Bible is still the number one selling book of all time. It is both mysterious and rational. It is known to change even the hardest of hearts and bring purpose, clarity, and hope for those honestly seeking answers.

I know; some have argued against or wondered about the validity of the Bible.  On the surface, that is a good question. To that, I have written in places such as here on the reliability of the text. So, yes, there are indeed rational reasons to trust the Bible and learn from it today for those honestly seeking truth.

Therefore, the challenge that I’m passing along to you is to pick up the Old Book in the New Year and dive in. Don’t worry if you miss a day or can only grab a few verses on another. Just pick it up again the next day at the scheduled reading spot. No, you may not end up having read every single word of the text in 2022. But if you are not at least setting a road map, you’ll never travel anywhere. It’s not about legalism anyway. The purpose is not more religious points scored with God but instead preparing the heart for Him to speak into your life and the lives of His people, the church.

I have often remembered a quote attributed to the 19th century English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, who supposedly said, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” I like that regardless of who said it. It conveys that the Word of God is powerful and will indeed transform your life today.  There are several good online plans to read the Bible through in a year.  This is the one that I use and here are other options.

As for me going into 2022, I’m in. What about you?

 

Remembering a Man and the Making of Another.

Remembering a Man and the Making of Another.

This past weekend I attended a memorial service for a great man. His name is Walter, and he had a tremendous impact on countless souls during his years on earth. Walter was an attorney who fought for civil rights during the 60s and 70s and even argued and won more than one case before the Texas Supreme Court.

Walter was heavily involved in Boy Scouts of America and lived to serve and support those in need around him.  The drive for Walter’s care for others was rooted in his relationship with Jesus Christ. His passion for Jesus was on display for all to see, even in his last days.

All of that is enough for praise at a memorial. For me, though, Walter was more. He was a significant father figure in my life. So when I got word last Thursday night that Walter had gone home to be with the Lord, I told my wife that there was more of a sense of loss in his death than when my adopted father died.

Walter and his family showed me Christ, and he also demonstrated to me what manhood was in a world of so many mixed messages.

In my book, Confessions, I noted that I lived part of my childhood without a dad in the house. During those seasons, my mother tried to include some men in my life, men such as Walter, and his son, Eric, who led me to Christ. She didn’t fret over getting more ladies into my impressionable heart. She knew that men and women are different and that I needed the gift of masculinity and the challenge of manhood.

As I scan the neighborhoods of the world today, I see this need being much more pressing in the lives of boys and young men. So I try to convey the love of Christ and work to build and encourage boys and young men the way Walter and others encouraged me.

Today, there are times when I meet a young boy and extend my hand, but instead of offering a high five, I’ll say something like, “Let’s shake hands like men.” Sometimes it’s those little encouragements along the way that helps a boy realize who he is and what he can become as he grows.  He needs to hear—from a man—that he indeed is or will be a man someday.

I still remember one of those transformational steps. It wasn’t big, but it was recognition, and sometimes that’s enough to get the ball rolling. We were at my aunt and uncle’s house for some family gathering, and I was the only kid my age there. I was bored out of my skull in the dining area, listening to my mom, aunt, and three or four other ladies talk. Then I heard Walter yell at me from the back patio: “Steve, what are you doing? Come out here and sit with the men.” It was a little thing, but why do I still remember it to this day? Because a man I respected called me out to be with him. If this man was calling me a man, then I figured I’d possibly be a man someday, too. Thus I am.

Who was a powerful man in your life?

 

If you’d like more on the subject of manhood, check out chapter 4 in the Confessions book. Also available at B&N and Audible.