Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Big Question

If you could ask God for anything—and he promised to grant it—what would you ask for? (That’s assuming you don’t ask for three more wishes.)

But what would you ask?

Your answer reveals a great deal about your heart.

This morning, we’ll take a closer look at the request of three people, and what the answers revealed about them…and possibly us.


Today marks your first month reading through the Bible in 2010. Committing yourself to something like this isn’t easy. After today’s reading, you have read almost 10% of the Bible. Celebrate!

Here are some ideas to help you maintain your stride:

Recruit a friend to join you. Whether you’re training to run a marathon (like my wife and me) or wanting to grow deeper in your relationship with Jesus, doing it with someone will give you added motivation to stick with it.

Join the conversation. Your insights could make a difference in someone else’s life—and someone else’s insights could make a difference in yours. So share your comments with everyone so all of us will benefit.

Make—and don’t break—the habit. Reading every day builds momentum. Breaking out of the habit makes it that much harder to get back into it.


Exodus 12:14-13:16
Matthew 20:29-21:22
Psalm 25:16-22
Proverbs 6:12-15


Exodus 12:1-28. The Passover foreshadows and symbolizes Jesus’ death on the cross. We’ll delve deeper into the topic as we work our way through the Bible.

The Bible Background Commentary offers an interesting insight into the Passover rituals: “Many elements of the Passover ritual suggest that it may be adapted from a nomadic ritual that sought to protect herdsmen from demonic attack and insure the fertility of the herd. Even if this is so, each of the elements is suitably “converted” to the new context of the tenth plague and the exodus from Egypt. If such a conversion of a nomadic festival took place, it would be similar to the early western European Christians’ superimposing Christmas on their pagan winter solstice festivals, with tokens such as holly, mistletoe and evergreen trees carried over.”

Exodus 12:17-20. Throughout Scripture, yeast is symbolic of impurity.

Exodus 12:29-30. Pharaoh paid a high price for his pride: the death of his firstborn son. But his pride also impacted every family in Egypt. Remember, they had already endured nine other plagues. Now, with the death of every firstborn son and animal, they were completely beaten down.

The Bible Background Commentary adds, “By taking the firstborn of both man and beast, Yahweh is again asserting his rights to be viewed as the deity responsible for life in Egypt—a role usually attributed to Pharaoh.”

Exodus 12:32,36. Despite the devastation, the Egyptians still looked favorably on the Israelites. Notice that Pharaoh even asked Moses to bless him on their way out.

Matthew 20:34. The Greek word used for “eyes” in this verse is different than the normal word. It implies that their spiritual eyes were opened as well. And as a result, the two men followed Jesus.

Matthew 21:15-16. We’ve been studying Pharaoh and his hardened heart, now we see the religious leaders with hardened hearts. In verse 16, Jesus is quoting Psalm 8:2, which refers to infants and children praising God. The religious leaders could read between the lines. Incidentally, as many as 500,000 people visited Jerusalem during Passover.

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An interesting contrast…

In yesterday’s reading, the mother of James and John approaches Jesus. “What do you want?” he asks her.

“Let my sons sit at your right and left in the coming kingdom.” She replies.

Uhhh, lady, can you come up with something a little less arrogant???

I’m still chuckling at the rest of the disciples for being upset with James and John. They wanted the prime seats in heaven, too. My hunch is, James and John put their mom up to it.

Scene change, next episode. Jesus is leaving Jericho when he hears two blind men yelling, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asks as he approaches them.

“We want our sight.”

So he healed them.

Think about it: Jesus refused to grant a request from two of his disciples, who—with Peter—were in his inner circle. Yet he graciously granted the request of two blind men whom he had never met.

I don’t think it’s any mistake that the two stories appear in succession.

What would you like Jesus to do for you?

Your answer says a great deal about your heart.


  1. What spoke to your heart in today’s reading?
  2. Where do you see Jesus in our reading from Exodus?
  3. What would you like Jesus to do for you?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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A Tale Of Two Men

Two days ago, Jason Giambi reached an agreement with the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball team to play back-up first baseman.

Did you miss that news story? Surprisingly not.

Not long before, Mark McGwire reached an agreement with the St. Louis Cardinals to become their hitting coach.

The chances are much more likely that you heard about McGwire’s story than Giambi’s. Why? Because four weeks ago McGwire—the former single season home run record holder—admitted that he injected himself with steroids earlier in his career. Baseball fans were incensed.

But Giambi used steroids too. A former teammate of McGwire’s and a baseball star in his own right, Giambi is a 5-time All-Star  and the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2000.

So what’s the difference?

After the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2004 that a number of professional baseball players had taken steroids—including Giambi—Giambi admitted his guilt and apologized to the fans. His prompt confession caused a moderate stir which quickly died down.

McGwire was exposed as well in a 2005 book written by former baseball star Jose Canseco. As a result, McGwire was subpoenaed to testify at a congressional hearing on steroids later that year. But when asked if he had taken steroids, McGwire replied, “I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here to be positive about this subject.” He never answered the question directly. You can watch his testimony here.

Five years later, McGwire finally came clean: “I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.”

Two men with similar offenses. One apologized quickly and moved on with his life. Another man avoided admitting his guilt, only to confess it years later…amidst a storm of controversy and protest.

A little humility goes a long ways in helping a person avoid further pain and sorrow.

Just ask one of our characters in today’s reading…


Exodus 10:1-12:13
Matthew 20:1-28
Psalm 25:1-15
Proverbs 6:6-11


Exodus 10:3. This verse echos yesterday’s discussion about humbling ourselves. Again, God asks Pharaoh, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” At this point, Pharaoh would lose face before all Egypt if he gave in to Moses’ request. Hardened hearts and pride go hand-in-hand.

Exodus 10:7-8. His royal officials are now trying to convince Pharaoh to let the people go.

Exodus 10:13-14. According to the Bible Background Commentary, “Locusts breed in the region of the Sudan and would have been more plentiful than usual in the wet climate that initiated the entire sequence.” The east wind, then, would have blown the locusts into Egypt. Incidentally, a locust eats the equivalent of its weight every day.

Exodus 10:21-29. The Bible Background Commentary explains, “The comment that it was darkness that could be felt (v. 21) suggests that the darkness was caused by something airborne, namely, the khamsin dust storms known in the region. There would be excessive dust from all of the red earth that had been brought down and deposited by the Nile, as well as from the barren earth left behind in the wake of the hail and locusts…The fact that the text emphasizes the darkness rather than the dust storm may indicate that the sun god, Amon-Re, the national god of Egypt, the divine father of Pharaoh, is being specifically targeted.”

Exodus 11:1-10. Once more, from the Bible Background Commentary: “In Egypt Pharaoh was also considered a deity, and this last plague is directed at him. In the ninth plague his ‘father,’ the sun god, was defeated, and now his son, presumably the heir to the throne, will be slaughtered. This is a blow to Pharaoh’s person, his kingship and his divinity.

Exodus 11:3. This verse made me laugh. Of course the people were favorably disposed toward Moses. He was making Pharaoh, their king, look like a fool. Pharaoh’s pride was destroying his country.

Exodus 12:2-3. This refers to the Hebrew month Abib, which begins with the first new moon after the spring equinox, generally between mid-March and mid-April.

Exodus 12:7. Placing the blood of the lamb at the top of the doorpost and on both sides forms a cross. This foreshadows Jesus by 1500 years.

Matthew 20:1-16. Matthew’s Gospel was written for Jewish believers. In light of this, I can imagine that as Gentiles were coming to faith, the Jewish believers were feeling a little uncomfortable. It was upsetting the balance of power—and changing their culture. I can hear them claiming, We’ve been in the faith since Jesus; we should enjoy extra privileges. But Jesus said no. In the same way, every follower of Jesus is a recipient of God’s grace. No one is better than the other.

Matthew 20:20-28. Read “The Word Made Fresh” and then take a second look at this passage. The tentacles of pride are insidious. Most telling of all is the fact that the other disciples were “indignant” with James and John—obviously because they, too, wanted to sit on either side of Jesus in the age to come.

Also, look at Jesus’ words in verse 28: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” What humility! The creator of the heavens and the earth, the savior of humanity, came to serve…us! What great love. And what a great model to follow.

Psalm 25:1-15. This is the prayer of a humble person. Look at verse 9: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” The key to receiving God’s direction in our lives is to humble ourselves.

Also, we read in verse 14 that the Lord confides in those who fear him. The word “confide” means “secret” or “friendship” and gives the idea of intimacy. Friends share secrets.

Proverbs 6:10-11. This passage runs through my mind at times when I try to take a nap. When it does, I can’t sleep!

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Stages take time to be built. The more time you have, the bigger the stage.

Today’s reading about Pharaoh really spoke to my heart…

Up to this point in the book of Exodus, we read about the seven plagues God inflicted on Egypt. Then today, we read about the locusts and the darkness, bringing our total to nine.

Each plague created time for Pharaoh to humble himself or time for a bigger stage to be built on which he would be humiliated.

Finally, Moses stood before Pharaoh and promised him that if he didn’t let Israel go, all the firstborn sons in Egypt would die—from royalty to the lowly slave girl to the best cattle in the land.

If the previous nine plagues had come true, surely this one would, too. But by this last confrontation, Pharaoh was so hard-hearted that he refused to budge. Pharaoh knew all the firstborn sons and livestock in Egypt would die—but he refused to humble himself.

Pharaoh’s pride now became a liability to everyone around him. And his subjects, to whom he owed the duty of protection and provision, meant nothing to him.

Lesson Learned: We Aren’t God

The insight that the Pharaohs were considered gods (mentioned in “Insights and Explanations”) really hit home. Ultimately, the confrontation became a showdown of wills—not between Pharaoh and Moses, but between Pharaoh and God.

It seems to me that walking in humility is really the acknowledgement that we aren’t God. This is the issue God targets in all of us. We aren’t God.

Like Pharaoh, when God begins dealing with our pride, other people are affected as well. Our family and friends. Perhaps coworkers or clients. It gets messy. And the longer we wait to humble ourselves, the stage upon which we will ultimately confess becomes bigger and bigger.

Humble Or Be Humbled: My Story

Earlier in my life, God began dealing with my pride. It wasn’t the first time, and surely won’t be my last. But in the midst of it, I refused to acknowledge my shortcomings. And the longer I fought God, a stage was being built for me to be humbled. At the end of that painful season, I departed a broken man—humbled on a stage before hundreds. And unfortunately, other people were affected. Family, but also friends. Some are embittered about the mess to this day.

I wish I could go back and do things differently. But had I not encountered the pain of my humbling experience, I would have repeated my mistakes.

My heart aches because I know what’s coming to Pharaoh. I want to warn him “It’s not worth it!” But when our hearts are hardened, we only listen to people who agree with us and tell us what we want to hear.

It really boils down to a choice we all will eventually make: be humble or be humbled


  1. What spoke to your heart in today’s reading?
  2. Describe a time when you were forced to humble yourself on a stage. What would you do different?
  3. Why do you think humility is such a big deal to God?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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Giving In To The Inevitable

Bruce Nolan worked as a not-so-mild-mannered reporter for a television news station in Buffalo, New York. Eager to make a name for himself but repeatedly rebuffed, he complained that God was standing in his way.

But God turned Bruce’s world upside-down by giving him a measure of his divine powers. After becoming the master of his destiny, Bruce’s true self-absorbed nature became abundantly clear.

You can probably already guess that I’m referring to the movie Bruce Almighty.

Throughout the movie, we witness the power struggle between Bruce and God. Finally, at the end of the story, Bruce falls to his knees in the middle of the road and cries out to God in a pouring rainstorm, “I give up, I submit to your will, I can’t do this on my own!”

Why didn’t he just give up at the beginning of the movie? It would have prevented a world of sorrow and pain. Of course, it would have brought a quick conclusion to a good movie, too.

Like Bruce Nolan, all of us engage in a similar struggle with God.

In today’s reading, we’ll examine the story of a man much like Bruce—and probably like you and me, too.


Exodus 8:1-9:35
Matthew 19:13-30
Psalm 24:1-10
Proverbs 6:1-5


Exodus 8:1-6. The frog invasion makes sense because the Nile River had become uninhabitable. Incidentally, the Egyptians worshiped a frog-like goddess named Hequet.

Exodus 8:15. Previously, God said he was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. But in this verse, we read that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Although God can do anything he wants, this verse tells me that Pharaoh had already displayed hardhearted tendencies.

Exodus 8:16-19. Scholars aren’t certain of the identity of the “gnats.” They now believe this was either a mosquito or tick infestation. Pick your poison! Even the Egyptian magicians admitted: “This is the finger of God.”

Exodus 8:20-32. In light of the rotting fish and frogs, the presence of flies makes sense. In this episode, we begin to see a crack in Pharaoh’s resolve, although he changes his mind and refuses to let Israel worship in the desert.

Exodus 9:1-7. The Bible Background Commentary explains, “The plague on the cattle is regularly identified as anthrax that was contracted from the bacteria that had come down the Nile and infected the fish, the frogs and the flies.” Incidentally, the Egyptians worshipped Hathor, the goddess of love, which looked like a cow, and a sacred bull named Apis.

Exodus 9:10-12. The Bible Background Commentary further explains: “Skin anthrax would be carried by the bites of the flies which had had contact with the frogs and cattle, and would produce sores, particularly on the hands and feet.”

Exodus 9:27. This is the second crack in Pharaoh’s resolve. He admits his sin.

Matthew 19:14. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (italics added). How did this ancient society view children? Dependent and socially powerless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like this.

Matthew 19:16-26. The New Bible Dictionary makes an interesting insight about the rich, young ruler: “The man was rich, moral and eager for eternal life, the ideal recruit to the disciple band.”

Matthew 19:21. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t ask everyone to sell all their possessions and give them to the poor. However, he does ask us to give him everything, and in fact, he already owns it (see Psalm 24:1 below in today’s reading). Robert Gundry adds a touch of discomfort to anyone who feels relieved about not receiving Jesus’ costly directive: “That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command.”

Psalm 24. Whenever I read this psalm, my heart jumps. It begins by setting the scene of God’s incredible power and might. Then it delves into our preparation of entering God’s presence. Finally, the last 4 verses conclude with the procession to the Temple. Make way for the King of Glory! The band Third Day recorded this song. If you’d like to see their video, click here.

Proverbs 6:1-5. The operative verse in this passage is “Go and humble yourself.” Repeatedly in Scripture, I find that humility is not a fruit of the Spirit. God doesn’t humble us, we must humble ourselves.

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Reading about Pharaoh’s ongoing trouble with Moses and his relentless plagues, I keep asking myself, Why doesn’t he just give up? If Pharaoh would just give in and let Israel leave the country, his life would get a lot better.

Really, I think that’s the question God asks all of us. Why don’t we just give up? Why do we resist him? His resolve is much stronger than ours. And usually, after losing the wrestling match, we walk away with a host of bumps and bruises.

A few years ago I stumbled across an anonymous quote that explains some of the pain we encounter in our struggle with God: “Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.”

Sometimes pain happens. I can’t explain it, and hopefully someday God will. But in his love, I believe God occasionally allows us to feel pain in order to plant the flag of reality—his reality—in the fortress of our rebel hearts.

One of the overarching themes of Scripture is the importance of humility. Interestingly enough, God doesn’t make us humble ourselves. Nor is humility a fruit of the Spirit. It’s an act of the will. Our reading in Proverbs 6:3 reinforces this: “Go and humble yourself.”

Unfortunately, Pharaoh never learned to soften his heart and humble himself.

Fortunately, we don’t have to follow in Pharaoh’s footsteps.


  1. What spoke to your heart in today’s reading?
  2. In what areas do you encounter your greatest struggles with God? Why do you do it when you know you’re going to lose? You do know you’re going to lose, don’t you? What have you learned from your struggles?
  3. Referring to children, Jesus said “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” What does this look like in real life? What prevents you from being like a child?
  4. Why do you think humility is important to God? Who has modeled humility in your life?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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Better Than Avatar At The Imax In 3D

Last Monday, the movie Avatar crossed the threshold of highest grossing film of all time. After only six weeks, the movie has rung up $1.859 billion (1,979,833,948.05 CAD; 14,135,817,410 ZAR; and 2,074,404,997.96 AUD for our foreign friends) in sales compared to now-second place “Titanic’s” $1.843 billion.

The movie’s success can be credited to a number of factors: the compelling storyline, realistic graphics, cutting edge special effects, serviceable acting, and the otherworldly mystique of Pandora.

But there was one overriding factor that made a difference to me. If I was going to see the movie, I decided I wanted the full “Avatar experience,” which meant paying a little extra to watch it at an IMAX theater in 3-D.

Although I’m not a fiction aficionado (I like facts!), the movie mesmerized me. Throughout the film, the 8 year old kid sitting next to me kept reaching out to touch the characters or the foliage. I wanted to do the same thing, but I refrained…because I’m an adult. (Actually, I did reach out for a low-lying branch one time—but don’t tell anyone!). The whole time, my friend Mike and I kept shaking our heads, looking at each other, and saying, “This is soooo cool!”

After seeing the movie in 3-D, I can’t imagine seeing it a second time on a regular screen in 2-D. Really, 2-D isn’t two dimensions, it’s just one dimension, with the flat characters and flat backgrounds appearing on a flat screen. 3-D makes all the difference because it gives us a fuller perspective of the movie.

You know, we can perceive God in 2-D or 3-D. We can see him from one perspective or from a fuller perspective, which makes him all the more real.

In today’s reading, we’re going to take a closer look at our three dimensional God.


Exodus 5:22-7:25
Matthew 18:21-19:12
Psalm 23:1-6
Proverbs 5:22-23


Exodus 6:6-8. Notice how many times God says, “I am the Lord” or “I will be your God.”

Exodus 6:12. In spite of God speaking to him, Moses remains unconvinced that God’s promise will come true.

Exodus 7:1. I love this verse! God was basically telling Moses, “You’re Pharaoh’s daddy!

Exodus 7:8-13. The serpent symbolized the power and authority. When Aaron’s serpent swallowed Pharaoh’s serpent, it communicated to Pharaoh that the God of the Hebrews was more powerful than him or his gods.

Exodus 7:14-24. God began by striking the lifeblood of Egypt—the Nile River. It gave the Egyptians access to water for drinking and water for their fields, not to mention the fish they could eat for food.

Matthew 18:22-35. The basic premise of this parable is, if we want God to forgive us (and we really need forgiveness), then we must be willing to forgive others. Through the years, I’ve seen numerous people try to neutralize this parable to justify their unforgiveness. But the question remains: How can I ask God to forgive me if I refuse to forgive others?

Matthew 18:35. When someone has offended us, he doesn’t want us to act nice while we’re simmering inside. He wants us to forgive from our heart. No one knows the true state of our heart except us…and God.

Psalm 23. The Bible Background Commentary sheds some light on the role of the shepherd and the sheep: “In contrast to goats, who are quite independent, sheep depend on the shepherd to find pasture and water for them. Shepherds also provide shelter, medication and aid in birthing.”

Psalm 23:4. The rod was more like a billy club that was worn around the belt.

Proverbs 5:23. The word for discipline means literally, “bond” or “band,” giving the idea of restraint. Although we may not like restraints, they’re good for us and prevent us from destroying our lives, and the lives of others.

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Exodus 6:3 is an astounding verse. God told Moses that he appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as “God Almighty.” But beginning with Moses, he began revealing himself as the Lord. The Hebrew language renders God Almighty as El Shaddai, whereas Lord is rendered as Yahweh. As we briefly studied in a recent post, Yahweh means “I am.”

So what’s the difference between the two? God is both sovereign and personal. Powerful and tender. Holy and love.

All too often, I view God through one lens. He’s either God Almighty, who punishes my enemy but also hates my sin. Or I view him as Yahweh, who fills my every need and meets me in the tender places (like we read in Psalm 23).

But he’s both. A holy God and a God of love. A God who hates my sin and forgives my sin (which we read in Matthew 18:22-35).

To live as if God were only one of these two attributes is like watching Avatar in 2-D. He’s still God, but we lack the perspective that makes him who he really is.

So let’s give him what is due. He’s God in 3-D.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Why do you think God kept saying to Moses, “I am the Lord” or “I am your God”? In what areas of your life do you need him to repeat this to you? What prevents you from hearing it? (see Exodus 6:9).
  3. What’s the difference in the way that we respond to God if we only see him as El Shaddai or Yahweh? What’s your tendency?
  4. Do you find it difficult to forgive? How does Jesus’ parable about forgiveness help you move forward? Do you also find it hard to accept God’s forgiveness? If so, why?
  5. In your relationship with God, do you act more like a sheep or a goat (see “Insights and Explanations” on Psalm 23)?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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A Darwin Award Even You Could Win

Every year since 1985, Wendy Northcutt has granted 10 unfortunate people the not-so-prestigious Darwin Award. The tagline to her website reads, “Honoring those who improve the species…by accidentally removing themselves from it!” Hearkening to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Northcutt explains, “The Awards honor people who ensure the long-term survival of the human race by removing themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion.”

The video above presents five worthy candidates. If you enjoy what you see, a quick search of “Darwin Awards” on YouTube will give you quite a (natural) selection to choose from.

How could they be so stupid? I ask myself.

Very simple. They’re just like me.

Learn more about it in today’s reading.


Exodus 4:1-5:21
Matthew 18:1-20
Psalm 22:19-31
Proverbs 5:15-21


Exodus 4:1-9. God gave Moses three signs that he was with him:

  • The rod. Symbolic of God’s authority over Pharaoh.
  • The ability to afflict leprosy. This wasn’t Hanson’s disease where people’s ears and noses fall off, it was a variety of skin afflictions which nevertheless separated a person from the rest of the community. Throughout Scripture, God used this to deal with a person’s pride or rebellion.
  • Turning water to blood. This symbolized God’s control over Egypt’s economic prosperity, which was completely reliant on the Nile river.

Exodus 4:10-20. At the time of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, he was one of the most qualified, educated people in the world. In the world! Yet he still begged God to use someone else. Although Moses’ conversation with God revealed his deep insecurity, I think it also revealed deep inner strength: he had the audacity to argue with God. Also, notice that Moses didn’t even tell his father-in-law why he was returning to Egypt, which tells me that he wasn’t convinced about God’s plans.

Exodus 4:21. Notice that God said he would harden Pharaoh’s heart. This phrase occurs 20 times over the next 10 chapters. In the Western world, we practically make idols of our freedom, but God is still greater than our hearts (1 John 3:20).

Matthew 18:2-4. Children were the most powerless people in ancient society.

Matthew 18:15-20. If someone offends us, the tendency among most of us is to wait for the offender to apologize. And while we wait, we simmer. But Jesus commands us to do the opposite. If someone offends us, he tells us to go to the offender to work through the offense. That’s proactive reconciliation. The onus is on the offended, not the offender.

Matthew 18:20. This was a pretty amazing claim. People who doubt that Jesus claimed to be God should take a closer look at this verse.

Psalm 22:24, 26. This psalm makes clear to me that God loves the poor and afflicted. Of course, God loves everyone, but he has a special fondness for the underdog. If we want to join God in what he is doing in the world, then comfort the afflicted and assist the poor in rising out of their poverty. If you fit into one of these four categories, take encouragement in the fact that God has a special fondness for you. You are not forgotten!

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“Sin makes you stupid.”

Years ago while in seminary, John Wimber, the former leader of the Vineyard Churches, made this statement in one of my classes.

Wow, that’s profound, I mockingly thought to myself.

“Sin makes you stupid,” he repeated. “Why else would people sacrifice their lives, their families, even their ministries for a one-night fling or adulterous affair?”

The longer I thought about it, I realized he was right.

And ironically enough, Scripture agrees with John Wimber as well. Proverbs 5:22-23 tells us, “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.”

How easily do we burn ourselves by playing with fire?

Allowing myself to play with an illicit thought could easily lead to the destruction of my marriage and the devastation of my children. But in the middle of my denial, I can easily convince myself that I’ll never get caught or that my actions are justified. James 1:14-15 describes the progression that can affect any of us.

That’s why any one of us could win the Darwin Award.


  1. How did today’s reading speak to your heart?
  2. Do you easily doubt God’s plans for your life? What does that say about God?
  3. Why do you think Jesus told us to reconcile with the person who offends us–rather than wait for the offender to reconcile with us? Which is harder?
  4. Do you agree with John Wimber’s statement that “Sin makes you stupid”? Why or why not?
  5. If you’re comfortable, share a time when sin made you stupid. Please share your own story and not someone else’s.

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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What We Can Learn From Tiger Woods

Fame can be a blessing and a curse. Just ask Tiger Woods.

As a result of his fame—and golfing prowess—Tiger has earned in excess of $1 billion. And in spite of his ardent efforts to hide his personal life from the media, his fame has thrust his personal struggles onto the world stage.

Nearly every person in the western world—perhaps on the planet—knows many of the intimate details of Tigers’ sexual escapades. More than what anyone should know. And last week, photos were broadcast showing Tiger at a clinic for sex addicts.

While Tiger has become fodder for countless late night TV jokes, my heart goes out to him. First, I realize that his personal life is in shambles. What a prime opportunity for him to meet the one person who can cleanse him completely from his sin. But secondly, I also know that I’m as susceptible as Tiger. It’s hard to laugh at Tiger when I know it could be me. All of us are capable of committing the most heinous sin.

So what can we learn from Tiger?

Join me in today’s reading and find out.


Exodus 2:11-3:22
Matthew 17:10-27
Psalm 22:1-18
Proverbs 5:7-14


Exodus 2:11. I don’t know if this fits in today’s reading or yesterday’s reading, but I’m struck by God’s providence in preparing Moses to lead Israel. By growing up in Pharaoh’s household, he was given the best education in the world. He was exposed to world cultures, trained in rhetoric (public speaking), and instructed in warfare. Years later when he returned from the desert to convince Pharaoh to let Israel leave the country, he intimately knew the Egyptian culture, language and mindset of the person he was addressing.

Exodus 2:12-15. The Bible Background Commentary explains why Pharaoh was so angry with Moses: “Egyptians maintained a substantial sense of ethnic pride that caused them to consider foreigners inferior. For a foreigner to kill an Egyptian was a great crime.”

Exodus 2:14. Did you catch the irony of the man’s statement? Someday Moses would become the Hebrews’ ruler and judge.

Exodus 2:16. Women weren’t normally shepherds because they could be bullied by male shepherds. Usually, this indicated that there were no brothers in the family, which meant the family line would come to an end and there would be no provision for the parents when they were older.

Exodus 3:1. I never caught this before. Chapter 2 refers to Reuel and chapter 3 refers to Jethro as the father of Zipporah. Here’s how the Bible Background Commentary explains it: “Perhaps Reuel is the grandfather head of the clan, Jethro is the father of Zipporah and technically the father-in-law of Moses, and Hobab is the brother-in-law of Moses, Jethro’s son. Alternatively, Jethro and Hobab could both be brothers-in-law, and Reuel the father.”

Exodus 3:18. Initially, Moses wasn’t requesting that the Hebrews emigrate to Canaan. He was only requesting that they go to the desert for three days to worship God.

Matthew 17:10. What a short verse with powerful implications. After meeting this demonized boy, we read that “Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.” No yelling. No jumping up and down. Jesus simply rebuked the demon and it departed. That’s authority.

Matthew 17:24. The annual two-drachma tax, which was equivalent to two days’ wages, paid for the upkeep of the Temple. The collectors asked if he paid it because Jesus was known as somewhat of a renegade. Although he didn’t see the need to pay it, he still did because he didn’t want to offend anyone.

Psalm 22. Try singing this psalm in church sometime. I’ll comment on this later in Psalms, but most Christians and churches do a lousy job of grieving and crying out to God.

Psalm 22:1. Jesus uttered these words on the cross (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).

Psalm 22:16-18. The New Testament writers viewed these verses as a prophetic reference to Jesus (John 19:24, Matthew 27:35, Luke 23:34).

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I find it interesting that an entire chapter of Proverbs is dedicated to the allure of sexual sin—especially as a preface to the book. While a sin like any other, sexual sin carries deep consequences which can destroy a life—unlike nearly any other.

In his warning, Solomon advises us in Proverbs 5:8 to “Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house.” The writer is referring to an adulterous woman, but it assuredly applies to any sort of sexual sin.

The Apostle Paul reiterates this advice in 1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee from sexual immortality.” Here’s the Klassen paraphrase of this passage: Run like hell from sexual sin.

We need to “keep a path far from her” because when we play with its thoughts or images too long, we cross the point of no return. Our sexual desire takes over.

I can’t answer for Tiger, but I wonder if he had run like hell from sexual sin earlier in his life, he might not be in the predicament that he’s in.

Obviously, God created sex for our enjoyment…in its proper context. But out of context, it can destroy a life.

Just ask Tiger Woods.


  1. How did today’s reading speak to your heart?
  2. Are you ever hesitant to tell God what you feel? Why?
  3. If psalms were written to be sung by the congregation, why don’t we sing songs like Psalm 22 in church?
  4. Do you read the news articles about Tiger’s troubles? Why?
  5. How do you “keep a path” far from sexual sin? Does it work?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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True Confessions

After 45 years of life, countless churches attended, and 23 years of pastoral ministry, I must confess that every church I’ve been involved with has knocked me around. I’ve witnessed pastors who were caught in adulterous affairs, church members who deliberately lied about me to force me out, and suffered a painful church split.

Am I nuts for staying connected to the church?


But in today’s reading, we’ll look at what drives this insanity.


Genesis 50:1 – Exodus 2:10
Matthew 16:13-17:9
Psalm 21:1-13
Proverbs 5:1-6

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Genesis 50:3,7. This is pretty amazing: “All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt.” Jacob was apparently given royal honors among the Egyptians.

Genesis 50:15-18. Imagine being in Joseph’s shoes and listening to your brothers make up a story about your father and then watching them throw themselves on the ground begging for mercy. This communicated to Joseph that they didn’t think he was sincere in saving their lives. This also reminds me of the time when Jesus stood in front of Lazarus’ tomb and Mary and Martha doubted him. What did Jesus do? He wept[John 11:35].

Genesis 50:22-26. Strangely missing is the rest of the story of Joseph’s brothers—especially Reuben, the firstborn son. Joseph’s bones were eventually transported to Canaan, but his brothers weren’t. This tells me that Joseph assumed the role of firstborn son.

Exodus 1:10. The Bible Background Commentary explains, “The argument for enslaving the Israelites is that if they are not enslaved they will join the enemy and leave the country…The Egyptians would have wanted to keep the Israelite presence for economic reasons.”

Exodus 1:14. The Bible Background Commentary goes into detail about the difficult life of a brickmaker: “The ancient records agree that brick makers had a filthy job. A work known as the Satire on the Trades attests to an existence that is perpetually muddy and miserable. Houses, public buildings, walls around cities and even pyramids were at times constructed of brick. Literally millions of bricks were needed, and daily individual quotas would vary depending on how many were assigned to a crew.”

Exodus 2:3. The Hebrew word used for Moses’ basket is the same as that used for Noah’s ark.

Matthew 16:21-17:13. Isn’t it amazing how Peter can be so right and so wrong at the same time? Anyone who thinks they need to have their act together before following Jesus hasn’t spent enough time studying the disciples.

Proverbs 5:1-6. Although this section is written to men, I think women could place themselves in here as well. It’s a pretty sobering chapter. Adultery may sound so exciting, but in the end it brings death.

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Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:18 is significant, but Jesus’ answer to Peter’s confession is equally significant: “On this rock I will build my church.”

The Greek word for “church” means “congregation” or “assembled ones.” It doesn’t mean a collection of Jesus’ followers who do their own thing.

On a fairly regular basis, the organized church knocks me around. In a morbid kind of way, I expect it. And I’m sure some people point to me as someone who has knocked them around.

As a result, sometimes I look in the mirror and ask myself, Mike, why do you stay involved in the church? Just do your own thing. That way people won’t keep knocking you around.

At times I’d like to do my own thing, just me and God. But that doesn’t fit into God’s plans. Jesus said “I will build my church.”

The church is Jesus’ primary means of reaching the world. To walk away from the church, in some ways, means to walk away from Jesus.

I realize this sounds pretty opinionated, but I can’t get around Matthew 16:8.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. In light of Jesus’ promise to use Peter—despite his obvious flaws—what stands in your way of allowing God to use you? Why?
  3. Why would Jesus choose to reach the world through such a messed-up group of people?
  4. If you’ve been knocked around by the church, and still attend a church, what keeps you coming back?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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Taking Care Of The Goose

Aesop’s Fables have been told and retold since mid-fifth century B.C. Believe it or not, Aesop was a real person—he was a Greek slave who compiled and wrote stories as a means of teaching moral lessons.

One of Aesop’s enduring fables tells the story of a man and wife who owned a goose that laid one golden egg every day. But they convinced themselves the goose wasn’t making them rich quickly enough. So, they decided to kill their moneymaker in order to open up the goose and get their hands on the treasure trove inside. However, when they cut open the goose, they were aghast: it looked like any other goose and there was no gold to be found.

Now they were much worse off than before because they killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

In today’s reading, we’re going to take a closer look at a very important goose: You!


Genesis 48:1-49:33
Matthew 15:29-16:12
Psalm 20:1-9
Proverbs 4:20-27

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Genesis 48:5. By “adopting” Ephraim and Manasseh as full sons, Jacob was promising them equal portions of his inheritance, along with their father Joseph and his other sons. The Bible Background Commentary further explains that, “In one sense this adoption could be seen as the means by which Joseph is given the double portion of the inheritance due to the firstborn, since two of his sons receive shares from Jacob’s inheritance.”

Genesis 48:12-19. This scene is reminiscent of Jacob and Esau receiving their father Isaac’s blessing. In fact, Jacob is continuing a pattern in the family of the younger brother receiving a blessing over the older brother: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers, and now Ephraim over Manasseh.

Matthew 15:29-39. Initially reading this, I said to myself, This is déjà vu all over again! Yes and no. It resembles the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand in Matthew 14:13-21. But this time, Jesus was ministering to Gentiles in Gentile territory. And how did the people respond? “They praised the God of Israel” (verse 31). Remember: Jews didn’t consort with Gentiles, who were considered “defiled.” Although he focused on reaching Israel, Jesus also planted seeds in the hearts of the Gentiles, which later bore fruit after Pentecost.

Matthew 16:1. This is a pretty astounding request. Jesus has already begun a healing ministry to both Jews and Gentiles—and the religious leaders demanded a sign to prove his legitimacy. The signs were all around them! Jesus wasn’t going to work a miracle just to prove himself. He worked miracles because he had compassion for people.

Psalm 20. The psalm was sung before going into battle. This would be a good psalm to meditate on before entering into a difficult conversation or meeting.

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Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 4:23

I’ve run across this verse a number of times, but I’ve never taken a close look at it…until now.

First, the New American Commentary points out that “‘Heart,’ here as always, refers not to the physical organ but to the mind and even the whole personality of the individual.” I’ve always assumed the heart referred to my emotions or my walk with God. But if the heart refers to the whole personality of the individual, it means taking care of the whole person. In fact, the Hebrews avoided slicing and dicing the human person into different parts, unlike the Greeks.

But what does it mean to guard? Does it mean to protect it?

After a little research, I discovered that the Hebrew word for “guard” also means to watch or care for it. Better yet, to tend to it.

So Solomon is advising us to tend to ourselves or take care of ourselves—body, mind, and spirit. We need to take care of the goose that lays the golden egg.

Rather than tell you what to do, I think this is a great opportunity to begin the conversation. See below…


  1. What do you do to take care of yourself—your whole self?
  2. In your experience, do people take good care of themselves? Why or why not?
  3. How does taking good care of ourselves relate to our walk with God? Is it an act of worship? Why or why not?
  4. How did God speak to you in today’s reading?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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Strength To Finish The Race

Taking his place on the starting line at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Derek Redmond was brimming with confidence. The British record holder in the 400 meter run, Redmond had battled through injuries and had finally positioned himself to win a medal. After posting the fastest overall time in the first round and winning the second round, he now lined up for the semi-final.

As the gunned sounded, Redmond began sprinting around the track. He looked fast enough to qualify for the medal round, perhaps even win a medal.

But halfway through the race, his hamstring snapped. He came to a screeching halt and then fell to the ground, wincing in pain.

Derek Redmond, however, was determined to finish the race. Rising to his feet, he began hobbling to the finish line. Race officials ran to help him, but he waved them off. Then a man jumped the bleachers toward the injured runner.

It was his father.

Security guards tried to remove him from the race, but Derek’s father refused to leave. Then the 65,000 spectators rose to their feet to cheer Redmond on.

Together, arm-in-arm, the two finished the race.

About this time into 2010, I can imagine you may have grown weary in reading through the Bible this year. Perhaps you bit off more than you could chew (which is probably the case for me!). You might even be questioning whether you should continue. What you need is encouragement to finish the race.

Which is why today’s reading it so timely.


Genesis 46:1-47:31
Matthew 15:1-28
Psalm 19:1-14
Proverbs 4:14-19

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Genesis 46:1. Jacob grew up in Beersheba, so this was an opportunity to make his final  pilgrimage home before leaving for Egypt.

Genesis 46:31-33. Joseph was quite unlike his passive grandfather Isaac. Instead of letting the chips fall wherever they may, he instructed his family about what to say to Pharaoh, which worked brilliantly.

Genesis 46:34. The Bible Background Commentary explains the reasoning behind Joseph’s instructions: “It is unlikely that native Egyptian herdsmen would be detested by other Egyptians. Joseph’s advice to his father is both a warning about Egyptian attitudes toward strangers and a piece of diplomacy in that they would claim independent status (they had their own herds to support them) and show they were not an ambitious group who wished to rise above their occupation as shepherds.”

Genesis 47:21-25. The New Bible Dictionary adds a different perspective on slavery in Old Testament times: “Slavery in OT times was very different from the harsh exploitation that was involved in the Atlantic slave trade of more recent centuries. OT slavery at its best meant a job for life with a benevolent employer.” Job security!

Matthew 15:1-20. This is an extremely convicting passage of Scripture. Basically, Jesus is saying that the state of the heart is more important than our actions.

Matthew 15:2. Nowhere does the Law say that people must wash their hands before eating—although I’d like to add that I think it’s a good idea!

Matthew 15:12. I love this verse! After Jesus challenged the Pharisees, the disciples pulled Jesus aside and asked him, “Did you know that you just offended the Pharisees?”

Psalm 19:1-6. This psalm is so rich, it’s hard to know what to say and what not to say. The first six verses point to nature as evidence of God’s existence. “Look around you,” David seems to be saying. “All of nature declares the magnificence of God.” Theologians refer to this as “General Revelation.” This means God’s existence, character, and moral law can be known through his creation.

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Look at Psalm 19:7-11. Most Christians detest the word “law” in reference to Scripture. They think of it as a list of dead rules, but that isn’t how David and the other psalmists viewed it.

To them, the Law is dripping with life. It gives life. Practically all of Psalm 119 extols the virtues of the Law. The beginning of each stanza in Psalm 19:7-11 refers to the Law (even the phrase “fear of the Lord” in this context). In this passage, David describes four benefits from soaking in the Law—God’s word:

  1. The Law revives the soul. When you’re feeling burned out or spiritually empty, it slakes the deep thirst within.
  2. The Law gives wisdom. It provides wisdom for making decisions. Even people without a lot of common sense can become wise by meditating on it.
  3. The Law brings joy to the heart. When a morsel of God’s word becomes real in our lives, it brings us joy.
  4. The Law gives light to the eyes. It gives us God’s perspective into everyday living.

Let me add another twist to this: The law, the word, has become flesh—and his name is Jesus. By spending time in the word, you’re creating space for Jesus to speak to your heart. Actually, you’re spending time with Jesus.

So if you’re already feeling worn down from the new year, be encouraged. Investing your time in the living Word will give you the wisdom and strength you need to follow Jesus throughout 2010.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. In what ways do people nullify the word of God by their traditions (Matthew 15:6)?
  3. In what ways do you nullify the word of God by your traditions?
  4. Describe a time when God used Scripture to breathe new life into you.

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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Taking The Jump

“Do you trust me?”


“Do you trust me?!”


“Then jump!”

And with that, Aladdin grabbed Princess Jasmine’s hand and they jumped off the balcony, landing on a tarp below and escaping their pursuers.

Since its release in 1992, this scene from the animated movie Aladdin has challenged me. If someone standing on a balcony asked me that question, how would I respond? I guess it depends on the size of my pursuers. And my trust in the person extending his hand.

Not so oddly enough, all four of our readings today somehow relate to trusting God—his power, his wisdom, his heart.

Read carefully and observantly, because God might be speaking to you.


Genesis 44:1-45:28
Matthew 14:13-36
Psalm 18:37-50
Proverbs 4:11-13

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Genesis 44. I’ve often wondered why Joseph toyed with his brothers like he did. He may have wanted to vent some “passive” aggression on them because of what they did to him. But I wonder his intentions were to place them in a position where they could explain their actions to Joseph back in the day—without realizing they were explaining it to their brother. He may have wanted them to own their transgression and regret it. He may have also wanted to know them better in order to decide whether or not he would offer them provision in the midst of a drought. Most of all, I think Joseph wanted to know if his life—and loss—meant anything to his family (especially Jacob), regardless of his present status and ability to rescue them (see Genesis 44:20, 27-29).

Genesis 44:5. The Bible Background Commentary explains, “Just as tea leaves are read today, the ancients read omens by means of liquid in cups. One mechanism involved the pouring of oil onto water to see what shapes it would take (called lecanomancy)…More popular methods of divination used everyday occurrences, configurations of the entrails of sacrificed animals or the movements of the heavenly bodies. Another technique, hydromancy, made its observations from the reflections in the water itself.”

Genesis 44:18-34. Notice who comes to the defense of Benjamin and offers himself in place of his brother: Judah. He’s the one who proposed the idea of selling Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:27). Just as significant, this was a son of Leah laying down his life for a son of Rachel. The family hostilities had come to an end!

Genesis 45:24. Joseph joked with his brothers not to quarrel on their return to Canaan because when they were younger, the family was deeply divided between Rachel’s side and Leah’s.

Matthew 14:13-21. Jesus withdrew to a solitary place because he had just heard that his cousin John the Baptist was beheaded. John wasn’t just a cousin, he was a ministry partner of Jesus, the appointed person to prepare the way. It was also likely a reminder to Jesus of the death that awaited him.

I’m also struck by the fact that in his grief, Jesus still gave himself away to the people. He healed, taught, and fed them.

Matthew 14:19. By giving thanks and breaking the loaves, this intentionally foreshadows the last supper.

Matthew 14:27. Literally, Jesus’ response was “I, I am” (rather than “It is I”). The Hebrew name for God is translated “I am.” In emphasizing himself before saying “I am,” Jesus was stressing his divinity—and his power over the storm. The disciples’ response? “[They] worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33).

Matthew 14:29-30. Walking on the water—and then sinking—was probably the safest place in the world at that moment.

Proverbs 11:13. This verse fits well into today’s theme: “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.” God is the best teacher: he knows our strengths, weaknesses, shadows, learning styles, etc. Not only does he work for the good in our lives, but he also uses everything to instruct us for our good. God’s instruction is life-giving. For that reason, he tells us to hold onto it. Remember it. Savor it. Meditate on it. Live it.

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“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” Genesis 45:8

Every time I read this story, Joseph’s ability to forgive astounds me. The years could have turned him into a bitter person, but he chose to keep his heart soft toward the brothers who sold him into slavery. At a minimum, he could have sold grain to his brothers and left them to fend for themselves for the remainder of the drought.

This brings me back to an overarching theme in Scripture that I can’t escape: God’s perspective on pain is immensely different than ours. In the moment, our pain or frustration may feel unbearable, but the last chapter hasn’t unfolded. I heard author Larry Crabb once say, “God will only do good in the lives of his people.” Romans 8:28 bears this out: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

This begs the deeper question: do we trust God’s heart? Do we really believe that God is good and that he only works for the good of those who love him?

If so, then our present pain or frustration means that the last chapter hasn’t unfolded. It’s already been written, but it hasn’t been read…by you, at least. And it may not even conclude until we step into eternity.

In an earlier season of my life, I was forced out of a job by a supervisor with less-than-noble intentions—at least from my perspective. To this day, I fight the temptation of becoming embittered by the experience. But two insights help my heart remain soft: 1. God could have prevented it but didn’t—our readings in Matthew and the Psalms affirms God’s power; and 2. The next faze of my life brought me into a new season of growth and fruitfulness.

If you’re in the middle of a painful chapter in your life, remember this:

  1. God is good.
  2. If you’re committed to him, he will only work good in your life.
  3. The last chapter of your life has yet to unfold.

And because of that, you can trust his heart.


  1. What spoke to your heart in today’s reading?
  2. How has God redeemed pain in your life?
  3. If your life was a book, what would the title be? How far have you progressed into the book?
  4. What storms are you encountering? In what ways is Jesus asking you, “Do you trust me?”
  5. How do you hold on to God’s life-giving instruction?

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