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)

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. 

Tending to the Fire

One of my favourite things to do while camping is watching the burning fire. The sight of the flames dancing around, the smell and sound of the wood burning, and the comforting warmth all work together to help me slip into a mysteriously hypnotic state. Fires need tending, a constant supply of fuel to keep burning; without it, the fire slowly burns out leaving small burning embers or nothing more than a pile of ash in its place.

From the moment when Nehemiah first inspected the damage to the walls surrounding Jerusalem, to the time he returned to his position as cup bearer for the king (a span of 12 years) he had been tending “fires” of a different kind. Not only did Nehemiah light the fire of inspiration and drive of the people to commit to rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, but he also re-kindled the fire and passion in the hearts of the people to fall back into a life that honored and glorified their Heavenly Father.  

Chapter 10 of Nehemiah outlines the elements of a binding agreement or covenant the nation and its leaders made and committed to follow together. At that time the priests and Levites were responsible for the continued spiritual leadership of the city. In many ways they were responsible to tend the “spiritual fire” that brought the people back into a right relationship with God. As we continue to read on, Nehemiah outlines for us in chapter 13 several things that, after he left, began to stifle the desire (the fire) of the people to stay on track with a life devoted to following the laws and commands given to them. 

If we fast-forward a few thousand years to today, we can see some similarities to our own walk of faith in the Lord. 

Many of you can remember the time in your life when you first accepted the good news of the gospel and made Jesus a part of your life. There was an excitement, a fire that burned inside of you as a new believer; you devoted your life to following and serving the Lord, loving him, and loving others. God’s word (the bible) became your guide for life, you immersed yourself in it and you surrounded yourself with others who lived with that same fire in their soul. 

I have seen in others and experienced for myself this incredible feeling as the fire burned bright in life. I will be the first to admit that there are times when the fire does not burn as bright as it should. There have been times when the fuel for the fire seems in short supply, and we only see a few burning embers. 

Nehemiah saw a fire in need of tending among the people of Jerusalem and once again did his part to help re-kindle the flames of life with God among them. Like Nehemiah, we must pray and seek God’s mercy and grace in our lives; confess to him our weaknesses and He will begin a work in us to restore that burning fire in life. Keep the fire fueled through the reading of his word. When you do, you will hear his voice, his direction for your life. Surround yourself again with those who share in the warmth and comfort of knowing Christ as their Lord and Savior. Consider these words of an old hymn that continue to inspire new life in Christ, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”. 

A Journey in Time

I remember the moment with vivid clarity, it was early January 2016, I was awkwardly crammed into the back of a vibrantly decorated Jeepney with a mission’s team and several new Pilipino friends. One of our new friends was a local pastor with a propensity for telling jokes. While we were nervously weaving in and out of traffic, he shared this joke: “Who was the shortest man in the Bible?”. Not knowing the answer, he regaled us with this witty response, “Nehemiah” but with a twist… (Knee-High-Miah).  

I share this with you because every time I turn in my Bible to the book of Nehemiah this memory floods back into my mind. This past week I spent some time reading through Nehemiah’s words and one of the themes I have been considering is that of “time”. This remarkable story recounts Nehemiah’s incredible leadership and reliance on God in completing the re-construction of the wall around Jerusalem in only 52 days. Yet, there is another important segment of time that precedes the building of the wall that was critical to its success. 

Chapter 1:4 records these words, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” While it takes us less than two minutes to read these words and transition to the next events of Nehemiah’s story we must stop and understand that “For some days” was a span of time that was approximately four months long. Today, living in a culture that thrives on instant gratification, high achievement and quick solutions four months might feel like a lifetime. 

After receiving news about the trouble and disgrace of what was transpiring in Jerusalem three things occurred in the months following for Nehemiah. First, he mourned over the circumstances surrounding the lives of the people and the city that was their home. Second, he fasted and third, he prayed day and night before the God of heaven to help the people of Israel. 

Something I need to ask myself and one thing I can ask of you is this: In the light of a difficult situation or experience do I/you take the appropriate amount of time to mourn, fast and pray for God’s direction in moving forward?  While some difficult experiences in life may not require a lengthy period of time to navigate, others will. Who we are will often influence the length of time each of us needs to work through life’s challenges, the important part is how we start the journey. 

The book of Nehemiah is filled with examples of his dependance on God through prayer to accomplish the tasks that God called him to. The meaning of the name Nehemiah is “Yahweh comforts”. In times of mourning, in times of fasting, and in times of prayer, God is our comfort. He is our hope, and he is our guide in life. Paul, in Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”. My prayer is that no matter what life brings our way, easy or hard, positive or negative, that we are on the journey together with a God who loves us. 

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.

Project Management

ProjectFor any large building project, there has to be someone who is in charge, a person who takes the responsibility to see the project through till the end. There is either a project manager or a site supervisor that oversees all aspects of the building process. Two of the biggest responsibilities of this important role is to communicate the building plan and set a timeline for the many different trades to follow. We all know that we don’t live in a perfect world and things go wrong, problems arise, people and circumstances fail. One of the most powerful tools in the toolbox for the project managers is clear communication.

Even before Nehemiah made his way to Jerusalem to take on the role of project manager for the rebuilding of the wall he had to communicate his plan to the King. Nehemiah made his request (he came with a well-defined plan, how long it would take and a list of resources and materials that would be needed) and the king granted his appeal. After an inspection of the wall and a good knowledge of what needed to be done, Nehemiah setup his work teams and started working on the project. Nehemiah, as project manager had some tough choices to make, he had to deal with persistent opposition, there were physical threats, false accusations and more as he tried to keep the project moving forward. With a solid understanding of what was required Nehemiah was able to keep his focus not only on the project but on the people.

Nehemiah communicated on two different levels with the people, one, through his words and another through his actions. Nehemiah stood strong in the Lord’s call on his life to be on mission to rebuild the wall. He prayed often for determination and strength to carry on, both for himself and for the people. Nehemiah prayed, “Now strengthen my hands”, this was a cry out to God for the power to carry on in the face of all that was happening. When I reflect the story of Nehemiah, it communicates to me a message of hope, a message that when God calls us to be on mission for him, he stays with us. God has the “blueprints” already drawn up for each and everyone of us. His word communicates the building plan that helps us live according to his design. It is our job as project managers to stick to the plan.

 

Stumbling Blocks

obstacles_webTake a minute to think about how you got to where you are right now. I don’t mean financially or in respect to your profession or family but right now physically as you read these words. I imagine you walked from somewhere to the seat you are sitting in now. Did you have to think about walking? How many times did you stumble or fall? Other than stubbing my toe on a chair once and a while or stepping on a stray piece of Lego in the dark of night while checking in on my kids I do pretty well.

Ezekiel talks about a different kind of stumbling that has a profound effect on our lives, in fact he calls them “wicked stumbling blocks”. He is talking about the things that hinder our relationship with God, these are the sins, the idols and the practices that we hold on to in our lives. The audience Ezekiel is speaking to are some of the elders of Israel, these are the men called to be leaders and examples to the people. These elders have built up in their hearts and lives idols that have hindered their relationship with the only one true God, their trust in God has been diverted to the things of the world. Overcoming the stumbling blocks in our faith and relationship with God constitutes an authentic change of heart, a genuine repentance for the sins in our lives.

God hears our prayers; He waits for us to come Him knowing that we can’t do life on our own. I often think about the stumbling blocks in my own life that hindering my relationship with God, has the open line of communication with God through prayer become a little clouded or blocked by the idols I hold onto in life? I may be quick to judge the hindrances I see in others people lives but I have to continually examine my own life for those same things. We may have a good handle on physically walking around the things that might make us stumble but can we say the same thing for our spiritual lives?

God’s Timing and Prayer

old-clockWe all need reminders of things from time to time; this has been proven over and over throughout history. Peter writes to the believers of his time to encourage them as they face opposition and false teaching both inside the church and in their community. Peter’s encouragement for them was a reminder of what the Lord had done for them in the past; chapter 2 recounts many of the events throughout the history of their people.

As I reflect on the role of prayer in my own life and in the lives of others I was mainly drawn to the words of chapter 3:8-9,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

I know that Peter is talking about the coming day of the Lord in this passage; I find encouragement in these words when I consider them in respect to my prayer life. Often I pray for something and wait (sometime patiently and other times not so much) for God to answer my request. These verses remind me that we (God and I) work on a different timeline; He does promise to give us what we ask for (in His time and His way). As we grow in our relationship with God we can begin to understand how He can use this time to strengthen our faith. As hard as it is to appreciate I think that “unanswered” prayer prompt us to dig deeper into our faith and be patient in waiting just as He is with us.

This verse talks about His promises, not just that Christ will come back one day but He also promises to be with us here and now. The key to any great relationship is communication, time in prayer with God, spending time in the word are the ways we have to build and grow in our relationship with Him.

Sober and Alert

1_Peter_Title“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming”(1Peter 1:13). Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray” (1Peter 4:7). “Be alert and of sober mind” (1Peter 5:8). Alert and sober, two words used in the NIV translation that offer insight to an appropriate state of mind as we come to the Lord in prayer. Other translations use words like vigilant, disciplined, watchful and self-control, each of these words help shape our relationship with God.

When we think of the word sober it is often used in context to contrast the  the lack of self-control and over indulgence of alcohol, an unfortunate state that often numbs the senses and makes one careless and unaware of their actions. There are many things today that can pull us away from that alert and sober state of being that Peter writes about. Things like power, prestige, love/lust and even technology, all these things can distract or diminish our faith allowing us to fall away from God. Peter writes in chapter 4:7 that “The end of all things is near”, He is warning us to be in the right place with God so that we may pray and be ready to be in His presence.

When we set our hope and trust on the grace given to us through Christ Jesus we have an open line of communication to our creator who gives us when we humbly ask the ability to maintain a lifestyle of self control and reverence for Him. The key to staying “sober” is remaining vigilant and disciplined when it comes to our time in prayer with God. Taking time to remove ourselves from the distractions of life (Mat 6:6) will help us know our God more fully and help us live out a life that is pleasing to Him.