With My Whole Heart

Have you ever had a morning that starts out bad?  The more you dwell on something troubling you, the more irritated you become?  Then, before you realize it, you are angry, frustrated or discouraged?

I had one of those mornings recently, and then I read the first two verses of Psalm 9.  This passage changed my perspective and my heart.  Here are some of the observations that changed my feelings from angst to joy:

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.  I will be glad and exult in you…” (Ps. 9:1-2)

1.  Notice in the first line, David says he will give thanks to God with a WHOLE heart.  In other words, he chose to praise God with a complete and undivided heart.  He decided to give thanks without any part of his inner soul holding back from such thanksgiving.  There have been times when I can partially praise God, but I am also holding back part of me that is upset about something.  I have to let that go. I have to give thanks to God entirely and without reservation.

2.  How did David move to a whole heart of thanksgiving?  This is line two. He recounted all of God’s WONDERFUL deeds.  This word “wonderful” is interesting because it is describing miraculous works that often are contrary to nature and this word is only used of God, never a man (Ps. 72:18).  David paused to think back and recall each of the miraculous works of God in his life.  He meditated on God’s faithfulness to him.  He thought deeply about the things in his life that only God could have done.  Such meditation can change your feelings of anxiety to joy.

3.  This process of recalling God’s miraculous work in his life personally, allowed him to say the third line.  “I will be GLAD and EXULT IN YOU.”  The word for “glad” is describing the expression of joy while the word “exult” is describing the feelings of joy.  David learned that joy comes from finding it in our relationship with God.  The realization of His unique and miraculous work in each of our lives should want us to express our joy and allow us to experience joy because of our relationship with the God who loves us.

Father, what a great way to start the day.  You have helped me to change my heart this morning.  I have moved from frustration to joy because I have chosen to praise you with a whole heart as I reflect on your miraculous deeds in my life!  This realization has caused me great joy in my relationship with you and makes me want to express it with a whole heart.  May that be true of me today and all days!

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But Not Jesus

At this time of year, I have always enjoyed refreshing my memory of the birth story of Jesus.  One passage that started me thinking today about the humility of Jesus is Matt. 2:1-6 which says,

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

  “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

After reading this, I was struck by what Benjamin Forman noted about this passage,

“The Messiah was not born in the ancient capital of the kingdom of Judah, the native residence of 19 Judahite kings, and the center of Israel’s religious worship. Instead, he was born in a small village five miles to the south.”

The choice of Jesus to be born in Bethlehem instead of Jerusalem is evidence that his whole life displayed humility instead of pride.

Seven observations about the life of our humble King:

Observation 1 – the location of the birth of our King was unassuming.  It indeed was predicted in the Old Testament (Mic. 5:2), but it was not the location for the birth of royalty from a human perspective.  If we were Jesus, we would have probably selected Jerusalem as our place of birth since all the famous kings ruled from there– but not Jesus.

Observation 2 – He was born to a poor family (Lk. 2:24). His family could not afford a lamb for their offering and gave a pair of turtledoves or pigeons indicating their lack of wealth.  We not only would have selected Jerusalem as our place of birth but yes, we would have chosen a family of great wealth– but not Jesus.

Observation 3 – He was born in a place where animals lodged (Lk. 2:7)!  This certainly does not seem fitting for a king! We would have selected plush accommodations appropriate for royalty– but, not Jesus.

Observation 4 – Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a place not known for anything good coming from it (Jn. 1:46).  Where would we have picked to grow up? Certainly somewhere known for its elites– but not Jesus.

Observation 5 – How should a king interact with others?  We assume that such a person of royalty should be treated in a special way– but not Jesus.  He came to serve, not to be served (Mt. 20:28).

Observation 6 – We assume a great king should have a view of himself that displays his position but, not Jesus.  He was not full of pride but humble (Zech. 9:9; Phil. 2:4-8).

Observation 7 – A king often rules with power at the expense of others — but not Jesus.  He suffered for you and me so that we might be saved (Is. 53).

In summary, our King is humble.  He thinks and acts so differently than the way we do!  What an amazing King!  He truly is worthy of our praise and worship!

Father, thank you for who you are.  You are humble and not caught up with what so often captures our thoughts, desires, and attention.  Help me to live with your perspective on life and live humbly as modeled by Jesus.  Thank you for sending your Son to live and die for me.

“O LORD, our Lord”

Psalm 8 is an amazing Psalm.  Notice what David says in verse one,

“O LORD, our Lordhow majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”

As we briefly look at this verse, the first thing to notice is the use of the words “LORD” and “Lord.”  These are two different words in Hebrew.  The first, in all caps, is the word YHWH.  It is the word that reveals that God is a personal Being.  In fact, it is the word God chose to reveal Himself to Moses in the burning bush and is translated Yahweh or Jehovah.

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Ex. 3:14-15)

The significance of this name YHWH is explained by Nelson Bible Dictionary, “’I am’ expresses the fact that He is the infinite and original personal God who is behind everything and to whom everything must finally be traced.'”  The “I AM” God is Yahweh!

David is praising God for being a personal God with whom he can have a relationship.  God is not some energy or mystical force.  His very name shows that He is a Person we can know.

The second name for God, “Lord” is the name “Adonai.”  It stresses that this personal God who is eternal, is also in sovereign control of all things.

In a sense then, David begins this Psalm by recalling that God is the eternal, personal God with whom he had a relationship and who was in control of all things. This is a great way to regain your perspective as you talk to God!

He concludes the verse by stating that God’s handiwork is shown in the heavens.  God is personal, sovereign and “majestic.”  This means that He inspires “awe or reverence in the beholder; (this reverence) can be related to size, strength, power, or authority” (Logos).  We should be in awe of God because the heavens declare his power, wisdom and greatness.

Father, this Psalm crafted by David, beautifully describes who you are.  I am so thankful that you are a personal God!  We can have a relationship with you!  Amazing!  In addition, you are the Sovereign One. You are in control of all things and your greatness is displayed in the heavens for all to see.  Creation declares your glory and perfection. My response to your demonstration of power should be awe.  Help me to live in constant awe of you and not take the demonstration of your power for granted.

Testing Can Make Me Better

Have you ever felt the heat of trial?  I am sure you have.  For me, it can show up in the pressure of an anxious heart when things are not going as I expected.  I tend to respond to trial by wrestling with them internally. I think about them, get frustrated with them and try to force them to fit my will.  Instead, I need to remember that God can use them to reveal my imperfections.  When I see my lack of faith, lack of trust or worry, I need to confess that to God so He can remove it from me and make me better.  That is why Proverbs 17:3 hit me today. It says,

“Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the LORD tests the heart.”

As intense heat is used to surface imperfection in metal so that it can be removed, so too the heart.  Trials are not there to make us miserable but to show us what is within us.  When imperfections are brought to the surface, God can remove then as I confess my sin to Him. Tests have a purpose–to make me better!

Notice what the NET Bible says about this verse,

“When the LORD ‘tests’ human hearts, the test, whatever form it takes, is designed to improve the value of the one being tested.”  

As a result, testing can improve us, purify us and mature us if we respond correctly.  Tremper Longman notes,

“Since the crucible does not only expose but also gets rid of dross, the implication may be that he not only evaluates hearts in this way but also helps people get rid of their sin.”

Father, thank you for the reminder the trials and difficulties can be welcomed since they surface my imperfections and because you can remove them from me as I ask you to do so.  Instead of fighting them and complaining, I must remember that you use them to show me where I still do not trust you and try to handle things myself. Instead, I should discuss my anxious heart with you.  I need to believe in you and your promises instead of trying to fix everything myself.  Use the trials in my life to purify me. Through them, make me more like Jesus and more usable for your Kingdom.

Friend? Are you sure?

As I was reading in Matthew 26, I was struck by the word Jesus chose to describe Judas when he betrayed him. It is a familiar story. Judas had agreed to give the authorities Jesus in exchange for money. When Judas and the mob approached Jesus, Jesus said,

Friend, do what you came to do.” (Mt 26:50)

Are you not puzzled that Jesus would use the word “friend” to describe Judas? How could He use such a word?

Unfortunately, in English, we only have one word to describe associates. The Greek is more specific. Jesus uses the word philos to represent his real friends. Notice the following example:

“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn 15:14-15)

Jesus did not use the word philos, “true friend” when he talked with Judas. He used another word, hetairos. What is the difference between these two words?

“The study of the word hetaíros causes us to conclude that it could not be used as synonym with phílos, a true friend who seeks the other’s good. Hetaíros is one who only projects his own interest. The inference, therefore, is that hetaíros means a selfish acquaintance, one who seeks his own interests above the interests of others. (Zodhiates)

So what does this word choice mean in the confrontation of Jesus and Judas? Zodhiates continues his insight by saying, “the Lord called him hetaíre, indicating that while Judas was giving Him a kiss pretending that he was a friend, all he was interested in was the thirty pieces of silver. Therefore, the meaning of the word is a person who attaches himself to another for what he can get out of him, a leech or a phony friend as we would say in our culture today, a selfish comrade.”

Isn’t the Bible amazing?! The word choice of Jesus to reveal the real intent of Judas would be condemning for him to hear. Jesus understood his motive for following Him. Yet, for our benefit, He allowed it to happen.

Father, may I be a true friend of yours. One who seeks to do your will for your benefit and not selfishly try to use my relationship with you for my selfish interests. Help me to live in constant fellowship with you.

Proof That Jesus is the Lamb of God

If someone asked you why you believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, what would you say?

Certainly, there are many ways to show that Jesus was no ordinary man.  This would include his miracles, his teaching, what others said about him, his ability to forgive sin, and his resurrection. All of these are appropriate, but something hit me today as I was reflecting on Matt. 27:12-14 which says,

“But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. ‘Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?’ Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.”

How does the silence of Jesus to the charges against him show he was the Lamb of God? Jesus is living out what was foretold in Isaiah 53:7 which says,

“He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.”

The silence of Jesus proves He was the Lamb of God who suffered for you and me according to Is. 53.  Spurgeon says it this way, “By his quiet he conclusively proved himself to be the true Lamb of God.” When you and I would have been screaming about injustice and defending ourselves in an attempt to protect our lives, Jesus was completely silent so that he could die to save our lives.

As Spurgeon goes on to say, “Never man spake like this man, and never man was silent like him.” His quiet strength in the midst of cruelty and injustice shows that he was the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 and the true Lamb of God who died for you and me to take away the sin of the world!’

Father, thank you again for your amazing grace. How you could allow your Son to suffer without complaint on my behalf is beyond my ability to comprehend. Thank you for your love, patience, compassion, and grace. Thank you for allowing Jesus to die for me as the true Lamb of God.

Following Jesus with you,

How do you handle suffering?

Today I was impressed by something Winston Churchill reportedly said, “Nothing is more exciting in life than being shot at without result.”

I can only imagine the adrenaline rush of barely escaping death or severe injury as he described. As I thought about that statement though, it made me also wonder what happens when life hits us and we were not able to dodge the bullet of suffering?

In times like these, I think it is easy to feel isolated and alone as though no one else is having times of difficulty. How do we as Christians find hope to endure the dark valleys of life?

Notice what Jesus says in Rev. 2:9-10 NLT

I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”

What comforting words we have in “I know.” Jesus KNOWS! He is not a distant God, but one who is intimately aware of all that is going on in our lives.

Notice that Jesus also does not sugar coat the message for the believers in Smyrna who are enduring great suffering for their faith. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” He didn’t tell them that their suffering was over to give them a false hope. Instead, he said, don’t be afraid when the suffering continues. In some ways, for them, the worst was yet to come.

Why can these believers continue in faithfulness in spite of their great anguish? Notice the last sentence, “If you remain faithful, even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”

The readers could be encouraged by the reminder that Jesus knows their suffering and the promise that faithful obedience even to death will not be forgotten, but rewarded!

This morning then, I was encouraged by the reminder that Jesus knows all that is going on my life today and every day. In addition, I need not fear when difficulties come or when they even get worse. I simply have to trust God, remain faithful, and follow him regardless of what happens.  I should do all of this as I am encouraged by his promises to reward such effort.

Father, thank you for shooting straight with us. We all will suffer, some more than others. You are not surprised by this. You do not tell us to ignore such things, but that we should accept them and remain faithful to you knowing that one day you will reward the life of endurance.

The Unavoidable

This past weekend I did one thing I hate doing but really needs to be done. I cleaned the outside grill! I knew that cleaning the grill was certain to include a greasy mess. It was unavoidable!

One unavoidable truth in scripture is that judgment is coming for everyone. No one can escape it. The passage that impressed me this morning with that truth reminded me that I need to be faithful regardless of whether others notice because God sees it all. God sees both my sin and my good deeds, even when others don’t.

In 1 Timothy 2:24-25 notice how Paul reminds Timothy of these truths,

“Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later. In the same way, the good deeds of some people are obvious. And the good deeds done in secret will someday come to light.” (NLT)

Those who think they will get away with unseen sin will be in for a surprise. The text tells us that man may not see our sins but God sees it all and he will hold everyone accountable. This reality should motivate us to be faithful and obedient.

For those who think their good deeds will never be noticed, need to see the encouragement here. Even though I may never be praised by man for my good works, God sees them. He does not miss a single one! The encouragement is that these works will one day be evident and rewarded. Instead of being discouraged by a lack of human recognition for such effort, we are to be encouraged knowing that nothing misses the observation of God. He will one day reward such faithfulness. It is unavoidable!

Notice how Barclay summarizes this section,

“This saying bids us leave things to God and be content. There are obvious sinners, whose sins are clearly leading to their disaster and their punishment; and there are secret sinners who, behind a front of unimpeachable rectitude, live a life that is in essence evil and ugly. What man cannot see, God does. ‘Man sees the deed, but God sees the intention.’ There is no escape from the ultimate confrontation with the God who sees and knows everything.

There are some whose good deeds are plain for all to see, and who have already won the praise and thanks and congratulations of men. There are some whose good deeds have never been noticed, never appreciated, never thanked, never praised, never valued as they ought to have been. They need not feel either disappointed or embittered. God knows the good deed also, and he will repay, for he is never in any man’s debt.

A. Duane Litfin adds, “All people are heading toward judgment, carrying with them either their sins or their good works. For some, their sins or good works go before them and are obvious to all observers. For others their sins or good works trail behind, hidden from view, becoming known only after the individual has passed.”

Father, help me to be convinced in my heart that certain judgment is coming for me. Not to determine if I am a believer, but for my faithfulness as a believer (2 Cor. 5:10). As a result of my convinced heart, help me to be faithful and fruitful whether of not others notice because you notice and will reward me.

Following Jesus with you,

Following Jesus: The Life Of A Disciple

My book on discipleship is now available!

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I am thrilled to announce that my first book is now available at Amazon!  Please check it out if you want to study important discipleship concepts for yourself, or if you want to lead others and help expand the Kingdom!  I hope it is something God can use for His glory!  The Spanish version will be available soon!

Here is the link if you would like to check it out https://www.amazon.com/Following-Jesus-Dr-Jeffrey-Benda/dp/0998998206/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499101113&sr=8-1&keywords=following+jesus+the+life+of+a+disciple

Please email me at followingjesuswithyou@gmailcom if you have questions about the book or how to use it.  Let’s make disciples of Jesus together!

Jeff

What So Enraged Ahithophel That He Betrayed David?

Have you heard fo the saying, “Blood is thicker than water”? This truism reminds us that relationships within the family and their loyalties are generally stronger than those outside the family.

I could not help but think of that saying when I was contemplating an event in the life of David. The situation I am referring to is when his son Absalom tried to overthrow his kingdom with the help of Ahithophel. Notice what it says in 2 Sam. 15:31,

“And it was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”

This coup attempt for David’s throne is compounded by the defection of Ahithophel. Ahithophel was the most esteemed advisor that David had. He is described as follows in 2 Sam. 16:23,

“Absalom followed Ahithophel’s advice, just as David had done. For every word Ahithophel spoke seemed as wise as though it had come directly from the mouth of God.

Why would David’s most trusted advisor leave him for Absalom? Ahithophel had been David’s right-hand man for years! This just does not seem to make sense! In fact, Ahithophel appears to be more than a casual conspirator because he wants to personally kill David. Notice what is says in the following passage,

“Now Ahithophel urged Absalom, ‘Let me choose 12,000 men to start out after David tonight. I will catch up with him while he is weary and discouraged. He and his troops will panic, and everyone will run away. Then I will kill only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride returns to her husband.’” (2 Sam. 17:1-3)

What is going on? What was driving Ahithophel to pursue this desperate course of action? We do not know much about Ahithophel, but we do find a major clue in 2 Sam. 23:34. There we learn that he had a son named Eliam.

This observation is very significant because of what we learn in 2 Sam. 11:3,

“He (David) sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, ‘She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’”

Do you see what I see? Ahithophel is the grandfather of Bathsheba! The daughter of his son had a tragic end to her marriage because of David. Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was killed through the conniving plan of David in his desperate attempt to hide the fact that he was the father of the child that Bathsheba was carrying.

When David had learned that the woman he wanted was married and the granddaughter of Ahithophel, his most trusted advisor, he should have come to his senses and abandoned his plans of taking advantage of her. Instead, he forced himself upon her in spite of this information. His decision to sin in this way had tragic consequences for him and many others.

As a result of these observations, it seems very possible that Ahithophel never got over this betrayal by David and he was waiting for his opportunity to get revenge because he had harmed his family. What a tragic story!

Father, thank you for helping us see that sin has disastrous consequences. David, controlled by passion, rationalized away obedience to pursue his selfish pleasure. You graciously let him know two facts 1) Bathsheba was married and 2) she was the granddaughter of his closest advisor.  This information should have stopped him cold in his tracks, but tragically it did not. Help me not to be deceived by sin and give me the ability to see my foolishness before I make mistakes like David.  Enable me to pursue simple obedience in following you.