by Laurie Besonen, Executive Director, Village Schools of the Bible
Skip the New Year’s resolutions this year! Instead, we invite you to Reflect and Refocus with a simple guide (see link below) to prompt you. You can think of it as a personal coaching appointment sure to produce insight with no bill attached! When I went through training to be a coach for emerging leaders, the trainer revealed her personal practice. She admitted that she sometimes uses the process she taught us to coach herself.
You might wonder, how is reflection related to beginning a new year? According to the University of Edinburgh, “reflection is a process of exploring and examining ourselves, our perspectives, attributes, experiences and actions/ interactions. It helps us to gain insight and see how to move forward”. Reflection on the past helps us with a fresh start. It is also a practice that appears present throughout the scriptures.
As you read through the Bible, the “raw” motives/emotions/ laments God allowed into His book can be a shock. We hear the desperation of the prophets, the anguish David experienced over sin, the joy the Israelites experienced at the dedication of the temple. We read these incidents because, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, someone reflected upon them and wrote them down.
Plus, reflection “increases insight, and creates pathways to future learning” according to Experiential Tools. Reviewing the entire year has yielded benefits in my relationships and leadership. It has reminded me of God’s faithfulness to meet me in every circumstance with His presence and His grace. It has revealed patterns I missed and aided in seeking necessary change.
We invite you to reflect and refocus as you begin 2021 using the guide we created (see link below). As you reflect, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 15: 13).
Hello, my friend. It’s quite something to read through the Psalms with a certain intention. Few people have done this, and I am personally finding this experience again refreshing and stimulating. Thank you for joining in.
Now we come to PSALM 18, a Psalm with a difference. I found the introductory note in my Bible very useful. It says: “For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord.” He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And this Psalm is a direct quotation of 2 Samuel 22:1-51. If you have the time, take a moment and turn to that chapter in 2 Samuel and you will see, from circumstances, how significant this anthem of praise is. Especially when the next chapter, 2 Samuel 23, begins with, “These are the last words of David.” So PSALM 18 is one of the very significant Psalms, well worthy of much study, if and when you can make the time. I thrill to the way this chapter begins: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.”
I think David is truly just exploding with joy and thankfulness, a spontaneous “I love you Lord, my strength.” That is surely a great key to spiritual power. And he continues his praise of God in the next verses…the Lord is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my refuge, my shield, my stronghold, the Lord, who is worthy of praise. Isn’t that powerful? And there are other very precious verses in this Psalm, like vs. 19, “The Lord brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” And vs. 21, “I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not done evil by turning away from my God.” And he continues there in vs.28, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” And vs. 30, “As for God His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord. It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect.”
Then David seems to be almost arrogant as he speaks of the power, influence and authority God had given him, and we are puzzled by this. But then he declares clearly that all he has and is and ever will be is because “the Lord lives, exalted be God my Savior. He gives his king great victories; He shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.” (vs.50). These are David’s private thoughts, you know, as he reviews how his enemies were destroyed and the nation secured, and we can be stirred to great exploits for God, as we ponder this.
“We feel puny, even pathetic, Lord, in our feeble words of praise, and our fumbling lives of failure, in the light of the glory of all we have read. Give us courage, Lord, to do great exploits for you, as we are confronted all around us with people who ignore you. Make us strong soldiers, Lord Jesus, for your glory! Bless my friend who is alongside, even as we pray for dear ones in very urgent need.”
Thank you, friend, for checking in. It’s a blessing to be together. Cheerio!
Sitting at the kitchen table, sipping fresh hot coffee, I watched them. Small silver snowflakes flew in from the south, flying right to left across my windows.
My family and I cheered and immediately started humming Christmas music. Naked December lawns morphed white, and the wind blew harder.
“It’s snowing!” we exclaimed to each new family member who came upstairs.
The flakes fell for an hour and it reminded me of Jesus.
On Monday nights for sixteen weeks, Cover to Cover Bible Survey students across the United States and in Asia and Africa have been immersing themselves in the Old Testament section of the Bible, seeing God introduce himself to people throughout generations. Rescuing his people from the dark places of their own choosings, God again and again calls them back into a right relationship with himself. “I’ll be your God, you be my people,” he invited the nomadic Israelite people, but his plan was larger than just the budding Jewish nation. God’s plan has always been for the whole world to know of his deep love for them and to live in relationship with him. Before 2000 BC, God laid out clues and prophecies about his plan to rescue the world.
Like the snowflakes tumbling past my window, God’s clues and prophecies pile up in each book of the Old Testament, accumulating to change the landscape of history.
Genesis 3:15, the earliest prophecy about Jesus’s coming and his mission, explains cryptically that a descendant of Eve’s line would one day crush the Evil One’s head and power, in a process that would wound Jesus too.
In another true history account that points to Jesus, we are told of a father and son duo who walk up Mount Moriah. The upward hike in Genesis chapter 22 is fraught with emotion and pain since the son is due to die at the top of the mountain. Abraham walks beside his beloved son Isaac, while his son carries the wood on his back. As Isaac crawls up onto the altar to die, the Angel of the Lord urgently stops the action, and Isaac’s life is spared. In thorny thickets nearby, a substitute ram’s life is sacrificed instead, and the God of the Bible poignantly introduces himself by a new name: he is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides. Abraham called that place The Lord will Provide, and to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’ (Genesis 22:14). In a conversation that we weren’t there to hear, I’m sure that the God of the universe explained further to Abraham the good news of God’s plan to offer rescue and salvation to the world. Mount Moriah, 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us, is to be the site for the temple in Jerusalem, and part of the same mountain range where Jesus died on the cross.
Two thousand years after Abraham and Isaac walked there, God the Father and his beloved Son Jesus walked up that same mountain range, fraught with pain and emotion too. Jesus, His Son, was due to die at the top of the mountain. Jesus carried the wood on his back (John 19:17).
Like the tumbling snowflakes, more and more prophecies about Jesus appear in the Old Testament, telling us he will be from the tribe of Judah, from the town of Bethlehem, and yet “out of Egypt I will call my son.” Further prophecies foretell Jesus’s death and the startling implications that will ripple out from that, including forgiveness, clean hearts, and restored relationships with God! In prophecy after prophecy, God tells of salvation, hope, and changed lives, describing himself as the God who never gives up, who never stops chasing us — the only True God. In a single day I will take away the sin of this land, foretells an ancient prophecy in Zechariah 3:9, linking it to the death of a dearly loved only Son who died outside of Jerusalem. The direct results of that Son’s death, state Zechariah’s prophecies in chapter 12 and 13, are a fountain of forgiveness that cleans people of sin!
The snow outside my window slowed, trickled, and stopped, but indoors I was still musing, wonderstruck by God’s words.
As we celebrate the last Advent candle this Christmas, called simply “the Christ candle,” we remember Jesus. Jesus is our Rescuer, the One who so loved the world that he gave his life. It first looked innocuously like a tiny, wet wrinkled baby in Mary and Joseph’s arms in Bethlehem, in the small town that was predicted seven hundred years earlier. Then they fled to Egypt to escape a murderous King Herod. Returning to Israel, Jesus grew up.
One day in Jerusalem, Jesus and his Father walked up the ridgeline of Mount Moriah to Golgatha. Jesus carried the wood on his back. The God who keeps his promises was keeping his to Abraham and the world: The Lord will Provide, and on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided. Jesus willingly died on the cross, becoming our substitute, dying for our sins. He defeated the Evil One, wounded in the process, but fulfilling the ancient prophet Isaiah’s words from seven hundred years earlier that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
For this fifth Advent candle, we remember Jesus, foretold by hundreds of prophecies and the One who invites us into relationship with him.
I’m delighted to be guest-posting this today at Village Schools of the Bible, a wonderful discipling ministry that teaches God’s word to transform lives.
Merry Christmas, my friend. May you be wonderstruck by God’s never-stopping, never-giving-up-love for you, and his desire to be in relationship with you, foretold for thousands of years, and yet looking directly at you too.
Jennifer Dougan is one of our Cover to Cover Bible Survey teachers.
Jennifer speaks often at MOPS/MomsNext groups, at the Set Apart conference, at churches, retreats, camps, home school co-ops and more. She would be honored to have you join the 900+ people who have been getting to know each other over the last 14 years or so at www.jenniferdougan.com and doing life together. If you are not receiving her posts by email yet, welcome! Simply enter your email address at the bottom of her website page. Be part of any special invitations and don’t miss a post!
Hello, my friend. So often we wonder how far can we trust the Lord. We are all familiar with Proverbs 3:5,6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Yet we drift along, thinking about Him occasionally, praying now and then, but find ourselves pretty fully preoccupied with the job, the family, the social whirl around us. And David, frankly, who obviously was busy with the vast affairs of his kingdom, says today, in PSALM 17:3, “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing. I have resolved that my heart will not sin.” What an amazing, challenging statement!
Now that seems almost arrogant, David intending to live a life with sinless intention.
We have often heard that the way of a man cannot be sinless perfection, but sinless intention. Sinless perfection would be to live a faultless life, which we know would be impossible and we are never once told that God expects this. But even sinless intention seems a pretty tough commitment, and we find so many excuses why such an intention would be impractical. After all, we reason that we’re living in a flawed world, with so much shifting in focus and even blurred integrity.
But this is really what it’s all about. And we say, how can this be possible? Notice the Psalmist refers to parts of his body, Here in PSALM 17: his lips (expressing convictions) vs.2, his heart (the seat of emotion) vs. 3, his steps and feet (the expression of direction) vs. 5. It is not a coincidence that Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord (or Owner), and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.’” The heart, convictions; the mouth, the spoken confession. Both of them in healthy condition to glorify God.
You notice how in vs. 10, he describes the contrast to unbelievers who ‘close up their callous hearts and their mouths speak with arrogance.’ And the Psalmist describes the way the Lord can deliver him from all evil, if his heart is right and his lips are full of God’s praise. That last vs.15 is so good… “I, in righteousness, will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.” I take this very seriously; David is simply declaring that beholding the face of the God in His Word, through the day, will enable him to reflect God’s glory when he awakens to go into a world full of need, of hurt, of betrayal and suffering. What a challenge for you and me to go forth displaying Christ’s likeness today, wherever, however, whenever!
“Thank you, Lord, for this reminder that in this world we are like you, as the Apostle John tells us there in I John 4:17, and as the Apostle Paul says, there in 2 Corinthians 3:29 that we can ‘reflect your glory… being transformed into Your likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ Bless my friend who is alongside, even as we pray for any in very urgent need. Thank you, Lord.”
And thank you, friend, for your fellowship. Such a blessing to have you come along. Praise the Lord. Cheerio.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2: 14).
The angel’s pronouncement to the shepherds that Jesus would bring peace on earth is the focus of the fourth advent candle. It’s easy to move right past these first witnesses to Jesus’ birth since only Luke’s gospel account mentioned them. In a Christmas Eve nativity pageant, the shepherds are kids who wear customs of itchy gunnysack and don’t have to memorize any dialogue. They may be cute, but they aren’t essential characters in the story.
However, shepherds, rather than Kings or religious leaders, were the first guests to see the King of Kings in human flesh. Why this unexpected choice? It is likely that these shepherds were taking care of the sacrificial lambs the priest used during Israel’s religious celebrations. King David had set aside his ancestral land in Bethlehem for the caretaking of this special flock. Since the lamb had to be perfect, the shepherds had to be vigilant. So, the shepherds who heard the pronouncement of peace from the angels were the same ones that took care of the Passover lamb.
What did this promise of peace on earth mean? The actual word used for “peace” means “the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Jesus came to give us lasting peace with God (Rom. 5:1). This means that when we are in Christ, there is no more striving, or earning, we need no pedigree. We have peace with God because of the price Jesus paid (Is. 53:5).
· Thank God for the peace you have with Him because Jesus came and fulfilled His purpose.
· Celebrate this peace with the joy and enthusiasm that the shepherds expressed. Luke 2:7-8 recounts that after they saw the Christ child, they told many people, and those who heard it paid attention to their eyewitness account.
· Ask God who needs to hear this message of peace from you.
Hello, my friend. We come now to a very important and special PSALM 16. Few passages in all of Scripture present such a clear testimony of anyone who has only one primary passion, which is the Lord. Raymond Lull, great missionary to India a century ago said, “I have only one passion, it is He!” What a challenge, what a key to freedom and a life of significant usefulness. Here David shouts, “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing.”(vs.2) How can you say it any more clearly!
And note how he rejoices in all that God is to him. And he gives us the solution to vacillation and lukewarmness in vs. 8, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand (a figure of speech meaning God is in control) I will not be shaken (or vacillate).” He praises the Lord for the other saints around him, in whom is David’s delight. He laments about others who run after other gods, whose efforts are in vain. He praises the Lord for being his provision day by day (vs.5) and acknowledges it is the Lord who lays out David’s life before him (vs.6).
But then we come to those hugely important verses 9 – 11. He begins with the word, ‘therefore’ and we should notice what that is there for. It is simply a statement that he sets the Lord before him each day, an intentional, specific and determined reminder that his heart is glad, his tongue rejoices and his body is safe.
And then comes vs. 11, which we should all memorize, “You have made known to me the path of life.” God has not left us to wander in the wilderness of ignorance, but clearly opens up our path before us. Then comes “You will fill me with joy in your Presence.” And as I have so often said, the reward of being a committed believer is the privilege of living in the Presence of the Lord every moment of every day. In God’s presence is fullness of joy, and joy simply means Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last. And please note that this verse isn’t talking about heaven, as some people think. It is talking about right now, where we can enjoy His presence together.
“Lord, how else could we ever express our joy and thankfulness for your blessed presence, your gift of your withness every step of the way. Bless my friend who is along side, even as we pray earnestly for those in very special need.”
Thank you for your great encouragement by being along. Cheerio!
Hello, my friend. Today we look at PSALM 15, a short one with only five verses, but it holds a number of very important truths. First of all he poses the question: “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?” In other words, who are permitted to dwell in the presence of the Lord. And if you have read these verses carefully you note that he describes such a person in eleven ways, and states at the end: such a person will never be shaken. Now what on earth are these characteristics of a person living in the presence of God? We could take 11 days to describe them, but here they are in simple terms: a person whose walk is blameless, not faultless, but blameless. We are never expected to live a faultless life on this earth, we are still learning, we still fall. But we are expected to live lives of blameless, pure motives.
Next, he does what is righteous, what pleases a righteous God. Then he is inwardly honest, what he says in truth he lives. Then he is a person free from gossip, who is kind to his neighbors, who doesn’t malign those around him, who despises evil and who honors those who love the Lord. He is a man who keeps his promises, even when it hurts. I found that striking, since the Scriptures are strong on our committing ourselves to the Lord in a serious, irreversible way. Psalm 119:105,106 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will obey your righteous laws.”
When a person takes the Lord that seriously, then the Lord can take that person seriously, entrusting to that individual opportunities that sometimes stretch far beyond what one could ever have dreamed. And it is interesting how here in Psalm 15 David finally declares that the person living in the Lord’s presence is one who handles his money carefully and generously. He refuses to allow financial gain to corrupt his behavior in any way in the market-place or in any area of his life.
One is obviously greatly challenged by these descriptions of a person living in the Lord’s presence, and we are greatly blessed to have such a clear declaration of a person who is living in fellowship with the Lord. I am stimulated, reminded and even rebuked as I ponder this brief but strong passage of Scripture, and I am thankful that I have it to live out.
“Thank you, again, Lord for your wonderful Word, strong to rebuke but also able to guide, challenge and bless. We long to live like this, for your glory. Bless my friend who has joined in, even as we think of some in very special need. Thank you, Lord, that you are enough.”
Hallelujah! Thank you, partner, whether nearby or around the world. Cheerio!
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice…The Lord is at hand… — Philippians 4:4-5
The focus this week is the candle of joy.
What Is the Candle of Joy?
This candle of Advent reflects the joy of Jesus’s arrival, and the salvation made available to all. The candle of joy is also known as the Shepherd Candle, reminiscent of the shepherds’ joy at receiving from the angels the good news about Christ’s birth as they hastened to Bethlehem to see Jesus (Luke 2:8-20).
Just as Biblical hope is radically different to the secular concept of hope, so Biblical joy is distinctly different from the secular concept of joy. Secular joy is circumstantial and worldly, coming from things like financial security, relationships, health or personal successes.
However Biblical joy frees us from the superficiality of merely worldly happiness. Biblical joy is a gift, a fruit of the Spirit, a God-given grace, an emergent character quality rooted in spiritual rebirth, focused on Jesus. Biblical joy involves delight and wonder regarding Jesus, the gospel, and God’s promises for the future. Biblical joy renders personal circumstances irrelevant — which is why Paul could write from a prison the epistle of joy, the letter to the Philippians, from which we quoted at the beginning of this post.
Joy is a hallmark of the Christian life. In fact, the word joy appears over 100 times in the Bible, an epic story of a Creator more committed to your joy than you could imagine. Entrusting each sphere of life to God is the way to enjoy him.
Here are some key truths to remember:
It is God who fills us with joy (Romans 15:13).
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
No one — and no circumstances — can take away God-given joy (John 16:22).
The gift of joy is a grace given at the time of spiritual regeneration. In light of Christ’s first advent, and in anticipation of His second advent, God has given his people a joy that no one can take away. Let Him continue to build joy deeply into your character. No matter what happens in this fallen world, we can experience more of God’s joy as we keep our focus on God, entrust our lives more fully to Christ, live in deeper communion with Him, and follow more faithfully His ways.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the miracle of new birth. Help us know afresh the wonder and joy of this Christmas season. Help us feel the excitement that overwhelmed with rejoicing the hearts of the shepherds as they hastened to see Jesus. Help us understand more deeply the gift of Jesus as a baby in a lowly manger, the significance of prophecies perfectly fulfilled, the love of the Savior who came to dwell among us, and the wonder of promises yet to be completed. Flood our hearts with joy this Advent season as we reflect on this very good news! Our joy is in you, King Jesus! Amen.
Hello, my friend. We look today at PSALM 14, and you may have noticed in your Bibles that the entire Psalm is repeated in Psalm 53, which gives me the impression that, since it appears twice, it must contain especially valuable instruction. Furthermore, if you are familiar with the book of Romans, you find that these first verses are quoted in Romans 3:10-17, where we read, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” The wording is slightly different but the emphasis is the same and that is simply that no one on his own seeks God. We may be very religious, we may know all the creeds and the hymns and the verses, but unless I allow God to be God then all my religious activity is mockery. The Word of God has been given us that we might acknowledge that the God of the Word is indeed God, that He is first in all of life.
How hugely important this is, in a day when everybody thinks they are being touched by an angel, where there are lots of meetings and conferences and discussions, but unless Jesus Christ is Lord, all is in vain. Anything I call good is bad, if I have not allowed Jesus to be Owner, Ruler, in charge of all of my life. You see, even when I give to a food-shelf, and when I give money to the poor, the motive is always self-centered, unless I know the Lord and can truly, meaningfully give Him all the glory. In fact, I think the greatest joy of being a committed believer is the enormous privilege of having God to thank. And unless I have allowed Christ to be my life, then to thank Him for this or that blessing is mockery. As someone has said, “My goal is God Himself, not peace, or joy or any blessing, I seek the Lord and thank Him for all that He is, and that I enjoy in Him.”
“Thank you, Lord, for stripping us so harshly from every foolish religious pretense, helping us remember that the one who refuses you to be Lord of all of life, however busy they may be in religious activity, is in your eyes a fool. Your word stuns us when it says that ‘all have turned to their own way, they have together become worthless, there is no one who does good, not even one.’ Forgive us Lord for being seduced into thinking that you want our busy activity, rather than our quiet loving, living worship. Bless my friend, who is alongside, and for whom I give you daily thanks.”
Hello, my friend. If you have read PSALM 13, our chapter for today, you have probably been startled by the rather wild swings the pendulum of David’s life takes. Have you noticed how frequently he begins a chapter, with a cry from his heart. Chapter 10 begins, “Why do you stand aloof, Lord?” Chapter 11 cries, “In the Lord I take refuge.” Yesterday we heard David cry, in Chapter 12, “Help.” And today, chapter 13 begins with a great complaint, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and every day have sorrow in my heart?”
There is, I think, strong therapy in being absolutely candid and honest with one’s inner being. So often, I’m afraid we Christians pretend to be triumphant in all our lives, of being “more than conquerors”, when if people only knew, we would be sensing an estrangement with everything and everyone around us. I had a bowl of soup at Eddingtons today with one of my past-students whom I enjoy so much. In the conversation he admitted that at times he finds his mind bewildered by the turmoil that conflicting thoughts can produce. At one moment, some solution seems logical, in spite of the waves it may cause. And then, at the next moment, one moves ahead in an entirely different direction. And the result is deep frustration.
So we ceremoniously dumped all these conflicting thoughts on the table there at Eddingtons, and renewed together his deep commitment to allow the Lord alone to guide. His heart is strong and his life is pure in his walk with the Lord. So of course he can confidently trust the Lord to guide. And the result will be that great final shout of David’s, “I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me” (13:6).
You see, when we focus on the surrounding circumstances and problems, we feel the Lord has forgotten us. But when we focus on the Lord’s presence and provision, it seems that we begin to experience a deep, satisfying peace. I love that translation of I Peter 5:8, from Peterson’s translation, The Message, “So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; He’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; He is most careful with you.”
“Thank you, Lord, that we can know that trusting you is not being idly fatalistic but is being spiritually optimistic, since we can know your hand is indeed on us. We love you Lord, and give this day back to you.”