New York City

Matthew 11:28–30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Yesterday we were in New York City taking in the smells, lights, and sounds of the busiest place on earth at the busiest time of the year. Galaxy-sized jumbotrons lit up sidewalks packed with people from all over the world. I wondered how many selfies per second I was witnessing. The windows at Saks 5th Avenue, Lord and Taylor, and Macy’s were feats of Christmas wonder.

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral they hosted a free organ recital. Thousands gathered in awe as deep tones moved throughout the cavernous, towering space. Candle and pine smells filled the air. In the middle of this, some children clutched handheld devises, trading actual reality for virtual reality, while others whined to their parents that they were tired, or hungry, or bored. Parents summoned stamina and patience.

Weariness in such an environment is not an option. If you feel like you have energy at one moment, don’t worry, both the moment and the energy will pass.

In fact, New York City seems a perfect place to get into contact with personal weariness. And, in this setting, Jesus’ offer in Matthew 11:28 stands out as particularly sweet and satisfying. He has come to bring peace. He brings peace between us and God, peace between us and each other, and peace between us and our own hearts. This peace has a better name: rest. I pray for all of us to find rest in Christ this Advent.

(Although… maybe we can’t find rest; maybe, in Christ, rest has to find us.)



On the Advent of Advent

And I said to them, “Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on…” (Ezekiel 20:7a)

We are a few days away from the beginning of Advent 2017. It starts on December 3rd, the first Sunday of Advent. As we focus here on “looking unto Him,” we take note that if we are fixing our eyes on Him, we are unfixing our eyes on what is not Him. And there is so much that is not Him. Many of us have filled our eyes, hearts, and lives with what is not Him. Advent is a time to close our eyes to it all, take a deep breath, and look to Him.

One of the first things I notice (with the Spirit’s help) in averting my gaze away from detestable things is how detestable they really are. It reminds me of the various piles and messes I walk by in my home every day. After a while, I get used to them and they become invisible. Only when I clean them up do I realize how much energy these piles stole from me. I think I’ve added steps to my Fitbit every day just walking around them!

I have some cleaning up to do in my life. The physical piles around me are a small thing; the spiritual messes within me are much more significant. The verse above says that I not only fixed my eyes on detestable things, but I feasted on them. I fed my soul with poison. I consumed toxins that I should have cast away. Casting away is not casual either. The sense the phrase gives is of one throwing something as far away as possible in a big, dramatic gesture accompanied by some kind of involuntary grunt.

Isn’t it amazing how God is always interested in your welfare, in you being and doing better, even through difficult days? His commitment to you overcoming everything you need to overcome never wavers.

When I’m not looking to Him, I’m not seeing His love or His provision. I’m missing out on His mercy. When I do look to Him… finally… I see the miracle the Magi sought, the wonder that captured the hearts of the shepherds, the subject of the lyrics of every song sung by angels… right up to this very minute.


Returning for Advent

Isaiah 45:22 (KJV)

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

  • This is the verse that Charles Spurgeon heard in a small country church on a wintery Lord’s Day which altered the course of his life. It is the verse that God used to assure him of his salvation. Upon hearing it simply expounded he realized he could do nothing to save himself; all he needed to do was to look to God. God would play the part of God in his life and do all the saving through the complete work of Christ. Just look and be saved. He looked. How about you?
  • Just to update whoever who reads this, I’ve intentionally pulled away from engaging with this blog and all social media since the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday) 2017. I’m returning now about a week before Advent 2017.
  • I hope your Bible reading has gone well. I had to pull back from my aggressive plan and simplify, but I am on track to complete my 23rd year of reading through the Bible. It is a sweet foundation and a perpetual fountain for me. On a funny (or at least peculiar) note, Shannon and I had our whole family’s DNA tested this year, but we used instead of Weird huh? After all that.
  • So, I’ll be changing the name of this blog shortly and using it for offering my annual Advent devotional.
  • The devotional this year will take its title and theme from the verse above (Isaiah 45:22). “Looking to Christ During Advent” is my (rather ordinary) working title.
  • The weekend after Thanksgiving is usually the start of Advent, but not this year. This year (2017) Advent begins on Sunday December 3rd.
  • Consider how you and your family will set apart Advent as a special season. We like to set up a wreath and use candles. We light the candles pertinent to the week each night for dinner. It’s always exciting each Sunday when an additional candle is added to the cue for the week. And, of course, the lighting of the Christ candle in the middle on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is the highlight. How could it be anything else?
  • Here’s a link explaining what Advent is (from an apologetics viewpoint)…

Ash Wednesday Fires

  • I’ve written a devotional for Lent. It’s available to all at Goodwill Church and anyone who calls (845-457-5959). We’ll send one to you. It’s 20 readings for the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each week of Lent. The focus is on fire. We want to be on fire for God. It’s called “A Transform Matchbook” and we’re actually handing out special Goodwill matches (to adults) with it. The matches serve as 4-out-of-5-senses sermon illustrations for the devotional.
  • Today we read (for those of us using the Our Daily Bread full-Bible-in-a-year program) Numbers 25. A priest, Phinehas, kills two lovers, Zimri and Cozbi, and stops a plague before it kills more than the 24,000 people that have already died from it. Here are questions I came up with concerning this…
    • What is the equivalent of this passion for God now?
    • We see this kind of “righteous” killing occasionally in the Old Testament, never really in the New Testament. Many of have come up with poor solutions to this such as saying that the Old Testament God is different from the New Testament God or that this was a different “dispensation.” But for Lent, as well as for Christian life, we see only the Cross. So, how is Numbers 25 only solved by Matthew 27 (or Mark 15 or Luke 23 or John 19)?
    • Why are passages such as Numbers 25 both so hard to read with good spiritual comprehension and so easy to misread?
    • Why do we separate the Testaments? (Ever wonder about this?)
    • Only death brings an end to death, which is something I can only appreciate and understand if I appreciate, understand, and trust my eternity to the Cross of Christ. So, how can this concept apply to my devotional life and to the rest of my life?
  • I have a crazy schedule for the next several months. So, I’m taking time to absorb it and make plans. If I want time with my family and adequate sleep, I have to fight to the death with clocks and calendars. Blood will be drawn. The hands of a clock look like swords right now. This battle belongs to the Lord. It helps being in the military because I know (and care very much about and think very highly of) many members of our nation’s military who have crazier schedules. Way crazier! Yet, they make it work. They do it. They inspire me to not quit or pout. They are a gift from God to all of us.

Fitting, Not Quitting

I’ve heard from a few who are reading through the Bible in a year. Or they were. Things piled up. Yes, sometimes we get behind on our reading and it becomes a source of stress. Here are a couple of hacks for staying on track or getting back on track.

  1. The first is key. Don’t quit. Maybe you are a month behind. Maybe you haven’t made it out of Genesis yet. No worries. This is your private devotional journey. Don’t alter your goal. Instead…
  2. Alter time. One great approach, if you’ve gotten behind, is to call for a new New Year’s Day. Maybe you stayed with it for ten days before starting to slip. If you want to read this same amount daily (see the next point on this), then count back ten days from today and call that New Year’s Day. You will still read through the Bible in a year; you just stretched the year. That’s fine. It’s the reading that counts. Adjust the goal posts all you want, just keep holding on to that football.
  3. Taper back. Maybe you need a two-year plan instead of a one-year plan. Adjust the amount of reading you want to do in a day.
  4. Don’t despair or compare. You’re not in a race with anyone else. You should not feel ashamed that you fell behind in your Bible reading. This is kind of silly, right? Don’t make your devotions about self-discipline. Make them about “discoveries and discussions.” We discover the meaning for a day in God. We discuss with our spirit what His Word tells us and then we discuss it with Him through our prayers and our responses to His Grace throughout the day.
  5. If you can, another idea is to have a marathon Bible reading day or half-day. I can do this sometimes. Some people can’t at all. I totally get this. I know some single Christians who schedule “God days.” What a luxury! This, they tell me, is part of the plus-side of being single. They love it so much. They go somewhere scenic and catch up on their study and devotions. It’s just them and God.
  6. Take advantage of all the audio resources we now have. Maybe it’s best for you to listen to the Scriptures in the car during your daily commute. This is not cheating. This is your life and this is what will work for you in terms of connecting with God through His Word. So, get at it with my blessing! Also, I sometimes like to have the Scriptures read to me by a recording while I read along. This is especially helpful when my mind is racing all over the place, which is often. 🙂
  7. Enjoy God. Scripture study and devotions are like eating. We eat more of what we like. Maybe it’s just the New Testament this year. Then do that. Maybe you like Psalms and John and that’s it so far. Then start with those two books. Keep in mind that if you are bogging down then FITTING is the word, not QUITTING.

If you’ve come up with some other hacks yourself that have helped you stay the course, drop a note here about them for the rest of us. God bless!

This is your friend

“It is our heaven to lay many weights and burdens upon Christ. Let him find much employment for his calling with you; for he is a such a Friend as delighteth to be burdened with suits and employments; and the more homely ye be with him, the more welcome.”

Samuel Rutherford, “The Loveliness of Christ”

There’s a fruitless fig tree in the reading a few days back (Matthew 21:18-22) for those reading through the Bible in a year via the plan found in Our Daily Bread. Jesus disdains this tree’s fruitlessness. It is the opposite of who He is. You will never go to His tree, the Cross, and fail to find fruit that restores your soul to life. This fruit is displayed like a summer night sky filled with stars. When you reach for it, a hand reaches back for yours. A voice like no other says, “I will never leave you. Never.” This is your friend. This universe creator turned carpenter laid down his life for you on purpose. He knew who you were before you were born. He knew what He was doing for you before you ever heard His Name. This is your friend. You do not have another friend like Him. This friend wants you to find fruit in Him every time you seek it. This friend wants your problems, your pain, your failure, your sin. Hand it to Him. He leans into every part of you that you try to hide even from yourself. He wants to clean things up and clean things out. He knows how you speak to and treat the ones you say you love. He wants those dead parts of your life and heart; that’s what He’s come to work with and change. Like an artist seeking a blank canvas or a sculptor a rough stone, Jesus seeks your broken life. The things He can do with a broken life! It is amazing. This friend of yours is something else. The things about you that destroy every other relationship in your life are the basis for your relationship to Him. And your friendship with Him brings relief and rescue for each of these other relationships. This is your friend.


Matthew 15:32

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” (ESV)

In reading about Jesus throughout the Gospels, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Jesus is unwilling to send people away in need… ever. He is permanently unwilling that you or I would walk away from Him hungry even once. There’s never a question of His willingness to bless us. He has come to give us the full measure of what our souls yearn for. This is always His posture. When I come to him in the morning via opening up His Word, I come to the One who is prepared for me and who is committed to provide for me exactly what I need. More than this, He is acutely aware of my needs and hungers. He knows what I lack better than I do. He also knows the eventual outcome of my needs, should they remain unmet. (I will faint on the way.) This drives Him to do what He does for me. His love is behind every miracle; it outshines every miracle. I forget this, like every believer, and then I believe a lie and begin to make my own arrangements. “I’ve got to find something to eat myself! I’m on my own in this world and in this life.”

No. I’m not on my own. He promised to be with me to end. He never breaks a promise. He has compassion on all of us who seek Him. Circumstances can’t touch this. What a blessing it is!