A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.

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Christmas Joy and Update

We’ve had a great week of music and fun excursions!

First off, Caleb’s school’s Christmas Concert was quite a treat. We got to see all the grades singing and playing musical instruments. And not only that, Caleb sang a solo on one song and debuted his cello playing during the prelude! One of the other treats is watching the parents. They’re waving while kids are singing or they’re crouching near the foot of the stage with iPhones poised to snap just the right pic of their singing child.

The next day they sang in the Capitol Building’s rotunda. Ah, that brought back

Capitol_sing_2017

Caleb is way up on the right in the second to last row.

memories, I was able to do that in high school! Nothing resounds vocal music so majestically as the harmonizing chords ringing up through the marbled rotunda dome! Listening carefully reveals the delicately fading notes with more piling up behind them.

Comfort_joy_marqueeA couple of days later we took a jaunt up to Portland, Oregon. Portland may be known for riots and roses or microbeer and artistic donuts; but it also has a vibrant music scene that includes the Oregon Symphony. Our end goal was to enjoy our second year in a row of the symphony’s Comfort and Joy classical Christmas concert. This year, though, we decided to spend the night rather than have a quick daytrip. Staying overnight opens opportunities for new and fun adventures.

For instance, we rode an actual streetcar! We wanted to get to the Tillikum Crossing bridge, the new pedestrian-friendly bridge (it’s the largest car-free bridge in the United States). It’s also known as the Bridge of the People (Tilikum is a Chinook word for people). It was a relatively long walk from our hotel, so I asked a friendly Portland police officer her recommendation for getting there. She suggested the streetcar which stopped only three blocks away. So off we trudged to 11th and Taylor.

It took a minute or two to figure out the ticket-buying kiosk; I am from the ‘burbs after all. And adding to the pressure was the streetcar lurching up the hill towards us two blocks away. Just in time, though, three receipts slid out of the kiosk and we boarded on our first trip on a bone fide streetcar!

We got off the streetcar on the northwest side of the bridge. Then we walked across the bridge back to the southwest side. From the bride we enjoyed the skyline of tall and diverse skyscrapers, the west hills, and the Willamette River rolling along its northward trek toward the Columbia.

Back in downtown we sauntered over to Pioneer Courthouse square. The square has thePioneer_tree_2017 biggest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen in person. We also had another first: real chestnuts roasted over an open fire! Well, it was actually a large wok sitting atop an open flame; but hey, we had roasted chestnuts. As the purveyor said, they tasted more like sweet potatoes than like nuts. And, frankly, they’re labor-intensive to peel and eat. But at least we briefly lived out a scene from a famous Christmas choral.

Inside_symphony_2017After some shopping, gawking at all the lights and dinner, it was off to the symphony! It was wonderful. We were in the fourth row on the aisle on the violin side of the orchestra. Oh, the music! Beautiful, lyrical, and layered with the sounds only a symphony orchestra can produce. There was also a sing-a-long and the director provided brief and often humorous commentary. It was definitely worth the price of admission and I’m already looking forward to next year!

What a fun few days in this festive season!

Now The Update

Following up on my last post, my doctor did order an MRI. I had that Wednesday and got the results yesterday afternoon. I won’t elaborate, but the news isn’t reassuring. It does, however, clearly explain the cause of the pain. The next step is consulting with a neurosurgeon. I am, of course, quite concerned about this. But a recent devotional reminded me of a record from Daniel:

“Our God will deliver us from the burning fiery furnace … but if not, let it be known to you, O king, we do not serve your gods.”

—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego addressing King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:17-18.

I know I’m not facing a fiery furnace, still, I will face whatever is coming with faith and strength in God. Eventually healing will come, I’m just not sure what avenue it’ll come through. Until it does, though, I pray for protection from the worldly “gods” of discouragement and self-pity.

Thankful is Cool and Other Lessons

 

Turkey 2017

24 pounder smoked on our pellet grill.

We had a great Thanksgiving this year. Plans were changed, requiring the celebration to be at our house unexpectedly; but it worked out okay. We got the place cleaned, dishes prepped and cooked, and even the turkey (pictured here) turned out okay. I’ve prepared three Thanksgiving turkeys these last few years, and this year’s was by far the best. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the best turkey I’ve ever eaten, just the best one I’ve ever prepared (I think because of the brine and the herb butter under the skin). I’m finally getting the hang of the relationship between the pellet grill and that big ol’ bird. Although I do recommend grilling two smaller birds rather than one pterodactyl-sized bird; after brining and all the other stuff, the thing is almost as big as I am!

 

But what makes Thanksgiving a blessing rather than just a gathering are the people. It seems that more and more people are increasingly unthankful nowadays. Maybe they feel they have good reason to be, or are somehow entitled to live in a world of dark, stormy clouds. But this last Thursday, even amid such global ugliness, we were family together in one place at one time. We were thankful for each other, for the ability to have such an ample feast, and very thankful for our merciful God. And to top it all off, the rain stayed away as the turkey grilled in the corner of our deck under the branches of the leafless red maple tree.

The next day we had the great privilege of spending time with some good friends of ours.

Tree 2017

Our tree from Brooks Tree Farm.

They’re a couple we don’t get to spend too much time with. But on that day, we went together to cut down our Christmas trees. And once the trees were cut down, twined into easy-to-carry bundles and loaded into the back of our friend’s pick-up truck, we got a tour of the farm. The owners of the farm are members of our church and they were delighted to give us, including our eleven-year-old son, a tour of their facility. We got to see wreaths being made, trees being prepared to be shipped all over the world, including to Dubai (who knew they had Christmas trees there!). We saw the many large greenhouses where baby trees, called plugs, matured enough to be planted or shipped to nurseries. We saw all kinds of cool equipment as well.

 

After heading home and getting our trees set up and decorated (and eating a turkey lunch, of course), we reconvened and continued our day engaged in other activities. As the day came to a close, my family and I sat around our dining room table in flickering candle light and twinkly tree lights, feeling thankful that our last two days were spent with special people. We were also beginning to recognize that God was blessing us through the lives of others. We spent a lot of time with people that care for and love us as we care for and love them. Perhaps this is why there’s so much “unthankfulness” in this world, people don’t have meaningful relationships in their lives. Or maybe their hope, their future wishes, are based on flimsy philosophies or broken promises rather than on the God of the universe. Perhaps this helps me realize how important it is to be as much of an encouragement as I can to others. After all, Jesus did say:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
—John 13:34-35

Maybe if I take Jesus’s words seriously, I can help an unthankful person see even an inkling of something to be thankful for. And if nothing else, at least I won’t add to their reasons to be unthankful.

Chair Thinking

 

blue deck chair

The Blue Chair.

Prayer times outside are my favorite areas for prayer. For instance, from this blue chair I can see the woods behind our house in all of their God-ordained splendor. This particular chair has nice arms for my coffee, my journal and my Bible (which is actually on the iPad that took the picture). And I’m spending time in nature; well, sort of, because the comforts of suburbia are only a few steps away (not to mention coffee refills). But the air is fresh and slightly crisp, the birds are all aflutter and the tiny and shimmering humming birds are especially vocal with their signature squeaky-chirp sounds. back fall tree

 

Jesus spent time in nature. There are many passages indicating Jesus stealing Himself away to be alone in nature with His father. One great example is in Matthew 14:23:

“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when the evening came, He was alone there.”

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons. First, Jesus is alone in the mountains; He’s alone in nature. There’s something about nature that draws many of us closer to God. In nature we see much beauty alongside the wild. Much of nature is predictable but much of it is not and cannot be tamed. God reveals much of Himself in Scripture and, of course, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh. Still, this same God, the creator of all that is, cannot be tamed, put in a box or outguessed. I get a sense of all this in nature.

Second, Jesus is alone; He’s alone by choice. Oh, I know, God is always with Him; but my point is He is purposely away for other human contact. Not to read too much into this, but alone-time seems to be an important ingredient in our relationship with our Father.
Alone-time means no distractions, no email chimes, news alerts, TV chatter, or side conversations. And, frankly, in this day and time, it is hard to find quiet. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that many of us are afraid to be alone, to be quiet, to truly be ourselves with our Father. Jesus being alone with His Father is He being fully open and honest with His Father. This means He must be open and honest with Himself; so, do you and me.

What’s really going on deep in the soul? Am I as carefree as some think I am? Am I shrinking in my faith somewhere? On the other hand, where am I truly strong? Is my faith truly enlarging?

Many of these deeper issues crack into the darker recesses of our soul and are best accessed while being alone with our Father in prayer. These are quiet but courageous moments, because it takes courage to be real and be vulnerable with anyone, even in prayer with our heavenly Father.

But another thing you’ll notice about Jesus is He’s not always by Himself. In fact, He is just as often seeking the company of His friends. In other words, Jesus lives a balanced life. He balances time alone with His Father and time with His friends and family. Hmm, pretty practical if you ask me.

And all of this started in the blue chair on the back deck.

What’s With all the Swirl?

Lots of swirl going on in the world: the seemingly quickened pace of natural disasters, heightened tensions in the US both inside and outside of our borders, the Revelation 12 sign; and even more personal issues like injuries, surgeries and now a raging cold! What’s it all mean?

All this stuff going on can fuel confusion or even fear. Sometimes it’s hard to see the light

Shellburg sun peaking

Shellburg Falls Trail near Mehama, OR

through all the jumble. But one thing I do know is that I belong to the Lord. Whenever the Lord calls me home, whether individually or in the Rapture, my ultimate destiny is with Jesus forevermore, amen! So, the challenge before me is do I live my life like I belong to Jesus? Am I doing the right things in my life? Do I need to do more stuff or less stuff or different stuff? Honestly, at this moment I just don’t know.

 

But this swirl has gotten me thinking more deeply about how my life reflects the Lord. Am I fully answering the call God has on my life or am I only partially answering the call; like I let it go into voicemail first so I can listen to it on my timing? Do I understand the urgency of the times as I should? Obviously, current events have me asking a lot of questions. These events also raise my awareness of how quickly it can all end.

It reminds of the time when Caleb and I were running a quick errand to a large hardware store. I was planning to be gone only 15 to 20 minutes—only we didn’t come home at all. And it happened so fast.

One moment I’m holding a bag of fertilizer and the next moment I wake up in the back of an ambulance, bloodied and confused. I’ve blogged about this before and eventually everything worked out; but the time lapse between my conscious thoughts was 40 to 45 minutes. Completely “out of blue” I was struck down, most likely from noxious fume inhalation, leaving my then 5½ year-old son yelling for someone to come “help my Daddy!” Thankfully, someone did come and help me, only I don’t remember it so I have no idea who the off-duty nurse was that kept me from swallowing my tongue. May God bless she and her family!

My point for bringing this up? I obviously didn’t plan this sort of departure. I planned to arrive at the store in my car, purchase three items as quickly as possible, then depart the store in my car and head back home to finish my chores before going on a date-night. But circumstances beyond me changed the course of my day, and to a degree, my life. Instantaneously I was out, totally unconscious and completely helpless; you know the song, “boom-boom, out go the lights!”

Who knows, maybe someday a similar event could be how I come into the presence of Jesus. If so, I have no idea when it will happen, therefore, how do I make my life count now before it happens?

That’s the question I’m wrestling with; perhaps you are too. It’s not like I’m not living for the Lord, but can I improve? What changes do I need to make? I just don’t know at this point, but I continue to lay the question before the Lord in prayer; in His timing, I will know.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
—Proverbs 3:5-6

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
—Jesus, Matthew 7:7

Still Dreaming

 

Inn sunset 2017

Inn at Spanish Head sunset (Oregon Coast).

Spending a week on the Oregon Coast is a great time to unpack my dreams and aspirations. I take them out, letting them soak in the sun’s rays while they reflect back to me periodic glints, like the winking of God’s eye. Holding each one gently, I brush away the dust of passing years and daily survival.

 

I then examine each one closely, looking for cracks and fading. Some are so old and faded that they are fragile and brittle; ready to break apart in my hands. These are the ones that have been with me since childhood or early adulthood; still unrealized, but also still beating with a little life, as fleeting as it may be.

Some dreams are newer and some are more practical. For instance, I still dream of writing the great American novel, but realistically I write more about theology, daily living and urban adventure riding; not great fodder for penning The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden. Other dreams are almost defeatist being more fraught with worry than dreaming.

This last category I desire to leave behind me, but they always somehow find their way back into my suitcase of dreams. The others, however, I still hold onto. If they’re God-inspired than actual realization may come in my lifetime. Ones that aren’t God-inspired are probably more ego-driven; these I hope turn brittle and become dust in the wind.

Still a Dreamer…

But the point is I’m still a dreamer. Dreams keep me looking toward and striving after the horizon. They help to inspire me to try new things, like seeking a Doctorate degree even in my fifties. They help me step into the unknown, to truly take those steps of faith, not knowing where they’ll lead.

Sure I’d “like to dance across the mountains on the moon,” but more realistically and closer to my heart I want to teach sound theology to willing students and congregants. I want to commute more places on my bike. I want to juice more. And I want my spine to stop hurting.

So as the clock of time ticks on, I’m slowly being faced with deciding which dreams are worth hanging onto and which are not. Yes, I stopped dreaming of being a rock star in my twenties when I realized my talent didn’t even rise to sitting-around-the-campfire level much less selling out stadiums; but I still dream of being able to play guitar well enough to sing worship songs without embarrassing myself or my family. I have other dreams to, of course, some much loftier and some much simpler.

But what kills dreaming is fear. So, as I slog through life I pray for help vanquishing the fear. The fear of failure which paralyzes me from even trying; fear of looking foolish when I do try; and fear of pursuing the wrong thing. Wisdom is good, but fear is not.

Dream on

I guess for me dreaming is okay provided I don’t get lost in them and stop living in the present. But how many dreamers are there in this life? I know few; at least few have ever shared their dreams with me.

But to all of us dreamers out there I say: pray on; and, of course, dream on!

 

Revelation Meets the Great Commission, Part 1

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday (the link is here if you’re curious). Such opportunities are always exciting for me but come with a dose of nerves as well! But no such opportunity would exist except by the grace of God and the freedoms we enjoy in this country which inspires a hearty ‘thank you’ to Veteran’s that have served, are serving and will serve our country.

Revelation 21:1-7 speaks to a wonderful future for those saved in Christ.

‘And God will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, no crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. … Behold I make all things new!”

—Verses 3-5

This section of Revelation contains strong aspects of celebration and of destiny. And even though the Book of Revelation belongs to the genres of the prophetic and the apocalyptic, I believe there’s also a sub-text, or an undercurrent, to this section of Scripture. That sub-text is the sense of invitation. This a great party, who are we going to invite to come to it? And how do we invite them?

Recall that Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). What we have freely received is the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9-10). We can’t earn it, or buy it, or barter for it; it is freely given to us through faith because of the accomplished works of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Your'r invitedThis invitational aspect brings two questions to mind. Today, Part 1 will look at the first question, and Part 2 in my next post will look at the second question.

Question 1: “what is the first area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in?” The answer is in the question: the first area is in our lives, in the interior of our souls, the very depths of our being. Another way to phrase this question is asking if the Holy Spirit can move freely in our lives. If not, where are the barriers blocking the Holy Spirit’s movement, how and where are we quenching the Holy Spirit? And why are we quenching His movement?

Question 1, then, is asking us to honestly examine ourselves. But to what standard are we examining ourselves against? The answer is in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

—Galatians 5:22-23

Granted, we are all works in progress, so it is highly unlikely that we will see all the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives all the time. But we can explore to discover if certain fruit is missing altogether or “ripens” only rarely in our lives. The Holy Spirit will even guide us in this exploration.

Cultivation

A helpful key in this exploration of building the Kingdom in our lives is intentionally cultivating our relationship with God. Any meaningful relationship, whether with a spouse, or a child, or a friend, takes investment, it takes cultivation. Our relationship with God is no different.

One idea to assist in this cultivation is prayer. But maybe more prayer isn’t the answer as opposed to a new approach to prayer. For instance, if we are “laundry-list” pray-ers, that is we foist a list of requests up to God then move on with our day, we can instead shift our approach to a posture of more being with God in silence. Lists are fine, but there’s more to prayer than just that. We need to learn to listen and to be still before God.

Another idea is Scripture reading. Most of us think we need to read more Scripture daily; and maybe some folks do need this. But I think that sometimes a reading regimen places undo stress into our lives or orients us more toward checking off a to-do box on our daily tasks rather than actually absorbing what we are reading. Another approach for consideration is reading less Scripture daily and thinking about It more. Take small sections but think more deeply about them; meditate over them; perhaps even journal about them.

There are several other ideas as well; these two are merely to get our thinking started.

The Point…

The bottom line, though, is the Holy Spirit is attractive and enables us to be invitational people. But without the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are working in our own power and are not in sync with what God is wanting in our lives or the lives of the people around us.

Question 2: what is the second area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in? We’ll explore this question in the next post.   

Lessons from a Fourth Grader

Just last week I was one of several parent chaperones on an over-night field trip to the Oregon 4th_grd_3Coast for third and fourth graders. I was also invited to share the devotional after dinner and before s’mores. I chose to teach Psalm 139:13-16. Verse 16 reads:

Your eyes saw my substance; being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

According to my research, the phrase “my substance” refers to an embryo; and “in Your book” connotes the idea that the life in the embryo is established, or purposed, by God. Therefore, I shared with the children that each life is intentionally purposed by God. And since each one of them was purposed by God while still unborn, they, each one of them, is significantly important to God.

How important? Important enough that when God came in the flesh in Jesus Christ, He sacrificed for them. But not only that, He then rose from the grave and ascended on high. And it doesn’t even stop there; ten days later He sent the Holy Spirit that all who place their faith in Jesus will receive salvation, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thereby guaranteeing them to be with Jesus for evermore, amen!

So, the main theme I wanted them to understand is that they are purposed by God and therefore vastly important to Him. No matter what anyone ever says about them or to them, they are a daughter or son of the Most High God and loved dearly by Him.

After teaching this I asked them how they felt about being so important to God. Many hands went up with many different and wonderful answers. But one little girl’s answer arrested my attention so much that I just stood looking at her.

“How do you feel about being so important to God,” I asked.

“Speechless.”  

I was left speechless; so was everyone else. What an apt description from someone so young.

I get so busy trying to understand what I can of God and then preparing to explain it so others can share in that understanding, that I often forget just how awesome God really is. What wonder God presents to us. What wonder His creation presents to us. And what wonder our very bodies present to us.

Speechless.

Perhaps speechlessness is the essence of worship. We are in such awe of God we can’t even find words.  Speechless, or silence, may be one of the main postures to assume as we desperately desire to hear from God. Could it be that our hearts are more open to God and His work in our lives if we are in a speechless state; when we are quiet and in a posture of reverent awe? Such a posture quiets our minds, preparing our souls for God to do His deepest work in the darkest parts of our souls.

Yes, fourth graders have a lot to teach us if we just listen to what they have to say. I’m speechless!

Thoughts on Holy Week

“It is finished,” said the broken, bruised and battered man; struggling to lift his bloodied body holyweekfor quick gasps of air. Then He died. The horrible result of Roman crucifixion had claimed another victim. But this was no ordinary victim; this was “Immanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). This, of course, was (and still is) Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

He had entered Jerusalem with celebration, the laying down of palm branches and the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13). Not even a week later, the same people were crying out, “Away with Him! Crucify Him” (John 19:15).  

Fickle lot, we humans.

Hopefully you know the story, but even if you don’t, after three days and nights in the tomb, Jesus, much to the astonishment of not just humanity but the satanic realm as well, rose from the dead. Yes, I believe whole-heartedly in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not some sick, psychological fantasy to appease grieving souls; the body was not stolen; nor is it some figure of speech. Jesus was tortured, crucified, buried three days and three nights, and, yes, rose from the dead. This same Jesus, God in the flesh, that entered humanity as an unborn baby in the womb of a young virgin allowed Himself to be mercilessly treated, even to point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

But why?

Simply stated, because of the sin of humanity and the abject rebellion of humanity against God. Only a perfect atoning sacrifice would suffice. Nothing is more perfect than God. Therefore, God entered humanity in an astonishing way and exited His earthly life in an equally astonishing way: by being executed by the humanity He came to save.

Easter Sunday, perhaps more accurately referred to as Resurrection Sunday, is the acknowledgement of this miraculous resurrection event. The world of darkness celebrated the death of Jesus because it felt that this salvation business expressed by Jesus in the famous John 3:16 (and other places as well, of course) was now laid to rest. As the old adage goes, “Dead men tell no tales.” Salvation and hope was now a tale silenced in the dank and dark coldness of a sealed tomb; a sealed tomb under guard by Roman soldiers no less.

But brutal beatings resulting in death, sealed tombs, dank darkness and several feet of solid bedrock could not keep Jesus in the grave. At the right time, He broke loose from the shackles of death. At this very moment, Jesus showed His power over even death. Weather, physical laws and demonic strongholds could not withstand Jesus (Mark chapters 4-6), and now even death was firmly trampled under His feet. He had conquered the grave, proving that even all of hell couldn’t stop Him. He is, was, and will forever be King of kings and Lord of lords, the Captain of our salvation (Revelation 17:14 & Hebrews 2:10.

Eternity Awaits!

And we can partake of His eternal victory by simply expressing faith in Jesus by confessing with our mouth the Lord Jesus and believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, then we will be saved (Romans 10:9)! This isn’t just good news, it is great news with eternal results. If you haven’t confessed Jesus yet, I invite you to do so and become a part of His kingdom both now and forever more. If you have confessed Jesus, how will you approach this time known as Holy Week? I ask, because I’m asking myself the same thing: what will I do to draw even closer to Jesus? What will I do to better understand the significance of His sacrifice on my behalf, a broken and sinful man?

I’m not sure yet, but I have some ideas. But what I do know now, is that when I think deeply about Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for me, I tear up and become speechless. Maybe you do to.

Can We Bless God?

Septuagint

The first word in Psalm 103 is “bless.” The Hebrew word is barak and in the Septuagint, the Old Testament in the Greek language, it is eulogeo.  Some Bible versions render these words as “praise,” but there are other Hebrew and Greek words for praise (hallelu, hallei, and yadah in the Hebrew; and epainos in the Greek). While the definitions are similar in nature, I think they are distinct enough to call out the differences; especially when the first line in Psalm 103 is:

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

The question this raises is how do we bless the Lord?

The essence of the word ‘bless’ is a bit complex. The meaning, according to various references, is centralized in the interior of our soul. Praise, however, is more centralized in the external expression in a worship service or some other outward demonstration of faith.

So what’s the big deal?

I think the big deal is, as Bullock states, “The person who praises must endow the vocabulary of praise with content. We can praise God without using the special language of praise, but we cannot long maintain the genuineness of that language without relating His being and works”[1].  To bless God, then, is a recognition of specific works of God with an intentional expression of thankfulness for those specific works.

For instance, Psalm 103 gives some very specific works that we can intentionally express gratitude for. He forgives our iniquities and heals our diseases (v. 3). He redeems our lives from destruction (v. 4, and my personal favorite). He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies and satisfies us with good things (vv. 4-5). He’s merciful and slow to anger (v. 8); and on and on it goes in just this psalm alone.

I think the lesson in Psalm 103, and others like it, is that blessing God’s heart is our expressing thankful acknowledgement for specific things God has done for us. Such specific things can be reciting what we read in Scripture, or, more personally, deliverances God has done specific to our own lives. For example, I was facing a significant challenge at work but with the click of an email from someone else, the challenge dissipated away, leaving me stunned and inexpressibly grateful for His deliverance. He brought deliverance in a way that was completely unexpected. Another example is if one of my sons says he loves me, that warms my heart; but if he states something specific, like the way I help him with his homework or the times we spend together in the wilderness or on our bikes, I’m deeply blessed. Why? Because he shared a specific thing that brings blessing to his soul which then in turn brings blessing to mine. Why would our heavenly Father be any different?

Praise on the other hand, while a good thing, is often motivated by some external stimuli such as music or maybe a touching play or movie. Such stimuli may spark momentary thankfulness in a more general sense, but it often fades away as the stimuli fades away. Blessing God, though, is internally motivated and, because it’s in the depth of our souls, is not reliant on external stimuli and can be recalled at any moment throughout our day.

So while the differences may seem minor, I still think they are distinctive enough to understand. Besides, if the distinctions were unimportant to God, why would He go to such great care to use such distinctive words in Scripture?

[1] C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books: Revised and Expanded, Moody Publishers, 1988; Kindle location 2850.