Joshua’s Bucket List

In 2007 the movie “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman inspired many people to think about what they wanted to do before they died. I have never made an official “bucket list” but there are a few things I hope to do before my life here on earth is complete. Near the top of my list is to visit to the Netherlands during the Tulip Festival. I would also love to spend some time walking the ancient streets of Israel retracing some of the steps that Jesus and his disciples took.

Near the end of the book of Joshua we read about the number one thing on Joshua’s “bucket list”, something that was not even for himself but for others. This compilation of verses from chapter 23 should give you a clue as to what he wanted for God’s people:

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left” (v6). “But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now” (v8). “So be very careful to love the Lord your God” (v11). In verse 14 he brings it all home, “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”

Joshua wanted what was best for the people as he was getting ready to “go the way of the earth”. His greatest concern was for the people and their relationship with the Lord. With one last opportunity Joshua addressed the whole nation, an address that I can only imagine was delivered with incredible passion and deep heartfelt emotion. Alongside each verse quoted here Joshua also gives a sharp warning of what comes if the people do fall into the temptation of doing life on their own, without God. With incredible grace and mercy through Christ today we have all we need to stay strong so that when we do fall, he picks us up to journey forward.

From the day Joshua spoke these words to this moment in time here and now and into the future, the promises made by God to his people continue to be trustworthy in their fulfillment. Knowing this brings incredible hope to me and many others who know and follow Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. 

What if we took a different perspective on adding things to our bucket list based on Joshua’s words? What if as followers of Christ we continue to build our own relationship with the Lord while also focusing on helping others do the same. We can continue to be strong in our own faith while helping someone grow in theirs; we can hold fast to the promises God has made to us and share them with someone who might not know about them. 

What if we move our attention away from what we want to what others need? Today more than ever people need Jesus. We have something that so many others need, as a disciple of Jesus a part of our responsibility is to share his incredible love with others. 

So, what might we add to our bucket list today? First, pray and ask God how he might inspire you to find a way to share his great love with someone else. Second, write it down and share it with someone close to you and third, do it. Easier said than done, I know. A wise man once said, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13)

What Will You Receive?

Recently there was some discussion at my house around a particular science assignment that one of my girls was working on. We inherit certain traits from our parents that dictate the outcome of our physical attributes; I have blues eyes and my wife has beautiful brown eyes. When my daughter plugged these variables into a Punnett square (a weirdly named scientific tool) and with a little explanation from our resident science teacher she finally realized why she and her sisters all have brown eyes. There are many things in life and in death that we can inherit. 
 
If you have the time and patience to read through chapters 13-21 of the book of Joshua, you will come across the word inheritance somewhere around 50 times. After leading the nation of Israel through many victorious battles it was time for Joshua to allocate the land that the Lord had given them as their promised inheritance. The reality of living in the land promised to them through Moses was coming to realization. 
 
To inherit something typically means something is passed down or given to you. You may not have earned it or even deserve it, but it comes to you in one form or another. Joshua and his army were one to be feared; they did things that are seemingly unimaginable for most of us to get them to the place they were in. God was the force in front of and behind them as they battled to secure the land he promised to them. We may be inclined to think that they deserved the land that they deserved it. Yet, without the Lord’s help they would have had nothing. The Promise Land was a gift of God’s incredible love for them as his chosen people. The land was their inheritance from their Father in heaven. 
 
These events that happened in centuries past are a strong witness to the assurance we have today in the fulfillment of 
another promise made to those who continue to faithfully follow God.  
 
1 Peter chapter one describes for us a promised inheritance that is kept for us in heaven, one that will never perish, spoil, or fade. As followers of Christ our inheritance is found in him. Our life (new birth) in Christ through his own death and resurrection promises us eternal life with him in heaven. 
 
We have been given an incredible gift of love by the same God that brought the people of Israel into the Promise Land. In many ways like the people of Israel experienced time and time again our promise of faithfulness often falls short of Christ’s command to be holy as he is. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through the complete forgiveness of all our sins and through the incredible gift of grace we are presented as blameless and pure in God’s eyes through Christ. 
 
As followers of Jesus, we are considered children of God, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). As his children we will inherit what God has promised, eternal life. As we live our lives in wait and wanting for the completion of our salvation (that day when Christ comes again) we can be assured that God continually works for the good of those who love him. It may be hard to see amid all that is going on around us in the world today, but we have inside of us a living hope that points us to a better day. 
 
Do you hope for an inheritance that will never perish, spoil, or fade? Here is the best part of this promised inheritance, it is available to anyone who truly seeks it and humbly comes before the Lord and asks him for it. What will you receive?

Melting Point

This past summer as one of the particularly long heat waves passed through our area, we discovered that two of our Costco sized bags of chocolate chips melted and transformed from little, tiny morsels into large solid blocks of chocolate. Our chocolate chip cookies turned into chocolate chunk cookies. It seems that everything has a melting point. 

Six times in the book of Joshua we read about the idea of people “melting in fear”. (2:9; 2:11; 2:24; 5:1; 7:5; 14:8). In context of each of these verses there is a very real sense of fear surrounding life and death as people have witnessed the incredible power of God through the continuance of his promise to bring his people into the land promised to them through his covenant with Abraham. 

Chapter 2 of Joshua recounts the interaction between Rahab and the spies where she explains to them, “When we heard of it, (the crossing of the Jordan) our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” As we read this today, we recognize the transformation in Rahab’s life that speaks to a “melting” or “softening” of another kind. We don’t know a lot about Rahab, but we do know that at some point in time she recognized God for who he is and gave her life over to him, her heart was softened.

What started as a real fear in the sense of life and death became a life changing experience for Rahab. A new sense of understanding and fear of the Lord became a new reality of reverence and awe for a God who saves and protects those who love and follow him. Later in scripture (Heb 11:31; James 2:25) we hear of Rahab as an example of faith, one who stands out because of her actions in service to God. 

In life and ministry, I have had the opportunity to hear many incredible stories of life transformation as God continues to work in the hearts of his people. Each story, unique in their own way demonstrate the incredible power of love, forgiveness, and acceptance as people put their hope and trust in the Lord. Unfortunately, I have also heard stories that are surrounded by a paralyzing fear that keeps people at a distance from God. They fear that their life choices and actions are unforgivable, and that God could never love or forgive them.

The scriptures are filled with stories of forgiveness and redemption; Rahab’s story is only one of many. David is another example, and he shares these words for all of us:

He (God) does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

The God that we serve is so full of mercy and grace and no matter who we are and what we have done there is forgiveness available to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. 

The stories we have in scripture have the power to inspire and change lives. Our stories, just the same, have power to inspire and encourage others who may not know how great the love of God is.

When was the last time you shared your story? How has God has worked in your life to draw you close to him? Take some time to pray and ask God to give you the opportunity to share your story with someone, you never know the kind of change it will bring in someone’s life.

Turn Signals

Recently as I was driving on the highway, I was reminded of the significance and importance of using turn signals and the fact that some people have forgotten about this factory installed feature on their vehicle. Turn signals provide a means of communication to let other drivers around you know where you are going so that they can act appropriately. 

My last blog entry (click here if you missed it) indicated that I was closing off my time in Nehemiah, but I was inspired one last time by his words and I wanted to share one last thought. 

For twelve years Nehemiah used his God given gifts of leadership and discernment to bring honor and glory back to a nation of people that God had chosen as his own, to bring honor and glory to the great and awesome God that he served. During his time as governor of Jerusalem Nehemiah never led the people without a signal of what direction he was going. All the rebuilding, the prayer, the scripture reading, the teaching, the love and compassion were signals that were used to help bring the people back into a right relationship with God. 

Through opposition by other leaders, corruption in his own ranks, and amid intimidation and offerings of bribes Nehemiah never lost sight of the direction he has heading. He may have had to signal around these obstacles but always stayed on course making sure that everyone knew where he was leading them to go.

This made me think about the signals that we may or may not use that other people see, indicating the direction that we are headed in our own relationships with God. While some of these things are personal and remain between God and us, there are some that are obvious indicators that provide opportunity for others to see and follow. 

What are these signals? What will people recognize in our lives that set us apart from the rest of the world? Well, after reading Nehemiah I would say the number one signal that others can see is humility.

First, Nehemiah did nothing for his own personal gain or recognition. His motivation was to serve God first, then the people of Jerusalem. Living humbly and serving God and others before ourselves seems counter-cultural in our world today. When we live a life outside the bounds of cultural norms, we signal to others that we are different and that opens opportunities to share the answers of why.

Second, Nehemiah showed incredible compassion and generosity to the people. He did more than just listen to the needs of the community around him. As governor he put into motion a plan that levelled the playing field in respect to social and economic injustice. He gave generously from his own wages so that other could benefit. When we serve and give freely to those in need, we signal to those who are watching that other people matter to us. 

Third, Nehemiah was dedicated to the reading of the word of God and prayer. Our lives should reflect the same. We have an incredible opportunity to show the people around us who our God is and how much he loves them. Prayerfully reading and studying the word of God will inspire us, motivates us, and show us that our God can and will use us to be a signal of hope for those in the world. 

The Key Ingredient.

I am a big fan of chocolate chip cookies. I may be biased but my very talented wife makes the best chocolate chip cookies on the planet. I took a peek at her recipe book and found the dog eared, grease-stained, timeworn page that lists all the ingredients that make up these mouthwatering morsels. The main ingredient by measure is of course flour, but the key ingredient is the semi-sweet chocolate morsels. Without this key ingredient these delectable treats wouldn’t even get a second look. (That is my expert opinion). 

As I finished reading through the book of Nehemiah, I couldn’t help but think about one of the main themes or ingredients that was key in his life and work as a servant of God. While we can garner an incredible amount of wisdom from Nehemiah’s leadership and many accomplishments, the key ingredient that made me take a second, third and even fourth look was his commitment to prayer. 

Found throughout the accounts of Nehemiah’s story we find a variety of prayers; prayers filled with offerings of praise and thanksgiving, prayers of confession, petition, and blessing. It seems that no matter the time or place, the practice of prayer was a part of Nehemiah’s life and leadership, something he modeled for the people of Jerusalem. 

The opening words of Nehemiah begin with a prayer as do the closing words in chapter 13. These words and the many in between are clear evidence of Nehemiah’s dependance on God to help him undertake the mission of rebuilding and rekindling the physical and spiritual condition of God’s people and city of Jerusalem. 

When we examine the life of Nehemiah through his actions, we can see that his motivation came from his complete trust in the Lord. The “main ingredient” in his life and faith was a trust that was proven repeatedly throughout the narrative of his story. The “key ingredient” to his faith and trust in God was renewed each and every day through his devotion to prayer. Nehemiah’s success in life and mission came because he depended on God. 

Nehemiah opens his first prayer with an incredible reminder of who God is, “the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” These words continue to stand true for us today as they did when Nehemiah recorded them. This covenant of love God made with his people was magnified many years later through the incredible sacrifice of his one and only Son so that we could be saved from our sins. How great and awesome is that? 

The loving relationship that we have with Jesus today continues to be the main ingredient of our faith. Christ lived and died for us; his love for us, his sacrifice is the foundation of our forgiveness and promise of an everlasting life in the presence of his father. Our God is an awesome God. 

The key ingredient in faith and life in him is prayer. How often did Nehemiah get down on his knees and pray to God? How often do we get down on our knees and pray to the same great and awesome God? 1 John 5:14 is an assurance to those who believe in the name of the Son of God, it reads, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” It is my prayer that these words inspire you to draw closer to our great and awesome God in prayer today. 

Knee-Jerk Reactions

In the medical field a knee-jerk reflex is a sudden kicking movement of the lower leg in response to a sharp tap just below the kneecap. We also use this knee-jerk expression to describe someone’s response or reaction to a question or situation, often in a very predictable way or without thinking. A knee-jerk reaction is typically a quick reaction that does not allow you time to consider something carefully. 

While I could share an overflowing bucket full of illustrations and stories from my own life that would make you either laugh out loud or shift uncomfortably in your seat, I thought it would be more valuable to share some thoughts about what should be at the epicenter of our reactions.

I was recently reading Paul’s words to the church in Colossae. In chapter three he gives instruction to his brothers and sisters in Christ to have their hearts and minds set on things above, not on earthly things. He calls them (and us) to rid ourselves of things like anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. Each of these destructive “things” Paul describes can be a dangerously attached “spur” riding on the side of our reactive comments or actions. Be it un-intentional or otherwise, these “spurs” of destruction (a tool of the evil one) can have a powerful impact on the relationships we have with others. 

Paul offers us some strong counsel on how we as followers of Christ can work in our lives to help smooth the sharp points down on the spurs that can cause harm. He says: 

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col. 3:12-14)

In Christ we have the power to overcome the fractured image of a once perfect reflection of our heavenly Father who created us. When the peace of Christ rules in our hearts and the perfect unity of love, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience come together they are the means that help to condition (for better) our sometimes-hasty reactions. 

Knee jerk reactions are inevitable in life, they surface in our daily face-to-face interactions, through social media posts and other areas of life. We would do well to heed to Paul’s words in verse 17 of Colossians 3: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Today, it is my prayer for all of you that strive to live according to our Fathers will, that you will show a natural response of love and compassion in all your words and deeds with those around you.

The Mechanic

I have the upmost respect for mechanics. I have attempted some DIY mechanics in my driveway and without fail every time I do, I am reminded that our wise and all-knowing Father in heaven gave that gift to someone other than me. Clearly there are many mechanics in this world but most of us “have a guy.” When it’s time for an oil change, brake job, or something else we have a trusted mechanic that helps gets the job done. I “have a guy”, he has been our mechanic now for many years and I trust in his ability to not only keep my vehicles in good running condition but safe for driving my family around each and every day. 1

In his first letter to the church Peter teaches us about living for God, to live not for what the world desires but for the will of God. Today, much like the audience Peter was writing to we face a similar battle. The habits or ways of the world have an uncanny way of drawing us into its power of looking out for number one… ourselves. In chapter 4:10 Peter says, “Each of you should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others… If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 

One of the things that made me stop and think after reading this verse a couple of times, was that Peters instruction for us had nothing to us. Let me explain. It’s about serving others, not being self-serving; It is about bringing glory and praise to God, not putting ourselves in the limelight. It takes a 

supernatural strength of character and humility to live a life that brings honor and glory to God over ourselves. A strength that Peter tells us God provides. 

What comes to your mind when you think about “gifts” in context of your faith? For the most part we think about passages like Romans chapter 12, 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4 where we find references to the gifts of evangelism, teaching, giving, administration, healing and others. When we commit our lives to Christ, we, through the Holy Spirit are given one or more of these spiritual gifts. Being uniquely created by God, we use them in many different ways. The call to serve one another in 1 Peter 4:10 refers to an act of service done in genuine love and for the encouragement and growth of those who are being served. 

So, why did I choose to relate this message of gifts and serving to a mechanic?  Well, “my guy” the one who helps with my mechanical work, does so with an attitude of genuine love. Frist, he loves to help others. Second, he loves what he does. He does the work because it is a part of his ministry of serving others. I used this example of a servant’s heart because it is inspiring, it often sparks the desire in me to use the gifts I have been given to serve others. 

The things we do, the gifts that we have, whether it be fixing vehicles, creating cards of encouragement or thanks, making meals for those in need, lending a listening ear or quietly serving behind the scenes on a Sunday morning, each one when done with an attitude of genuine love for others brings honor, glory and praise to God. That is what he has called us to do. 

A Little Bit of History.

HistoryEvery now and then I have the privilege of hearing stories about the “olden days”. These past stories of adventure and experience from an older generation often hold a glimpse into a vastly different world from that which we live in today. Bygone are the times of what some of them would call a much “simpler” life. A time when high tech was a simple transistor radio or when penny candy was actually a penny. We all have a story, a historical timeline of memorable and forgotten events that shape the very essence of who we are. Knowing our history is an important aspect to knowing who we are.

The first four chapters in the book of Deuteronomy recount the events in the “recent” history of the people of Israel, Moses reminds them where they had come from and what has happened over the past 40 years of wandering in the desert. He is speaking to a new generation of people that were born in exile due to the previous generations disobedience and ignorance of God’s direction. Moses’ whole point in bringing up their history was to motivate and encourage them to put their hope and trust in God alone for deliverance into the promise land. The people are reminded of God’s law through Moses as he digs deeper into its meaning, significance and importance for their lives. Near the end of the book, Moses leaves them with a stern warning in regards what will happen if they do not follow God’s law. He also leaves them with a word of encouragement and assurance that when they repent of their sinful ways God will forgive them and continue to walk with them.

Moses commands the people to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (6:5) We hear this command again from Jesus in Matthew 22 where he is asked this question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? This is the first and greatest commandment, says Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Did the Israelites love the Lord with all they had all the time? Unfortunately, no. Their lives, much like ours today were filled with distractions (sin) that tested and often destroyed the bond of our relationship with God. One of the most amazing realities in our relationship with God is the completely underserved gift of grace given through his son Jesus Christ. By the grace of God, we can come before Him every hour of every day with the promise of forgiveness. Do you have that assurance in life? Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength?

A Needle in a Hay Stack

WaldoOften, when something is near impossible to find we use the term “like finding a needle in a hay stack.” This aptly describes the extreme difficulty of locating something that is well disguised by its surroundings. I can’t help but think of Waldo, the little guy in the red and white striped shirt and matching hat who is hidden among other similar colored items and people dressed the same. These well designed puzzles can drive a person crazy trying to find Waldo, the thing to remember is that he is always standing somewhere.

Filled with words of lament from Jeremiah (also known as the weeping prophet) the book of Lamentations portrays the broken heart of the prophet over the destruction of Jerusalem and the brokenness of the people who have turned away from God. Jeremiah’s passionate expressions of grief and sorrow instill feelings of desperation, fear, loneliness and hopelessness. Brought to his knees, Jeremiah, amid all that is happening around him shows us a small but powerful spark of hope that keeps him from spiraling further into the full presence of darkness. “The Lord is good to those who’s hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” (La 3:25). God’s promise of rescue and comfort to Jeremiah,(Jer 1:8) the promise of love, is what Jerimiah put his hope in. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” (La 3:22)

Jeremiah found hope in the Lord because of His great love. The Apostle Paul expands on this great love in 1 Corinthians 13 saying, “love never fails… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Under the protection of God’s love Jeremiah put his hope and trust in Him for a better future, a hope in moving forward to better place in life. God, who was and is in full control over all his creation longs for each and every one of us to find hope and comfort in his love. This reminder of God’s sovereign power through the judgement over Jerusalem stands as a critical reminder that, in the busyness and of life we must continue to live a life according to His will. Jeremiah’s life and experiences model for us the incredible power of confession (crying out to God), forgiveness, hope and love.  Therefore, have hope in life. Live in obedience to God’s will because of His great love for you.

“The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side”

Cattle_eating_grass_through_barbed_wire_fenceHave you ever been driving through the countryside or nearby a local farm and come across the following scene? You must wonder, is the grass really that much better on the other side? This familiar idiom tries to capture the thought that people (or animals) are never satisfied with their own situation; they always think others have it better. When we consider our circumstances, when we compare our experiences with that of others we tend to think that we would be better off or happier on the other side.

Mankind has been struggling with this thought pattern for centuries. In Psalm 73, we are introduced to the thoughts of Asaph and his struggle to “jump the fence” and run free on what looked like the “greener” side of life. He says, “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”. Asaph continues to describes the appearance of a better life, “They have no struggles, their bodies are healthy and strong. They are freed from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. He sees them (those who have turned away from God) and sees a life “free of care” and prosperity.

It is through the experience and power of God’s love that Asaph is able to stay on the right side of the fence. He describes a moment when he “enters the sanctuary of the Lord”,  a place where he is able to ground himself in knowing that without God, those he looks over will one day be destroyed. Asaph makes the choice to enter into a place of worship with the assurance that God is with Him and that God will protect him. “My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart… But as for me, it is good to be near God.” The experience of God’s love through the story of Asaph is the same love that God has for us today. Our lives, our “sanctuary” or place of worship needs to be found in all areas of life. Through personal prayer, song, scripture reading, working diligently, serving humbly or building Christ like relationships, we are called to worship God. As we stay connected with God he will keep us on the right side of the fence. God gives us the ability to see clearly that what He has given us is good and what He has prepared for us in heaven is even greater.