Being in Love: Thoughts on In the Garden


Have you ever been in love?

It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

What’s it like when you fall in love?

You know you’re in love when…

You think of that person every single day.

At random moments in the day, that person’s face pops up in your head

You can’t wait to speak to that person on the phone. Maybe you talk for hours, just to hear this person’s voice.

If you receive a letter from that person. You open it with anticipation…then you read it over and over again. When you get to the end of the letter, you’re disappointed, you just wish it would go on.

And if this person writes something giving the slightest indication that they feel the same way about you, it can make your whole day brighten up.

You can’t wait to see this person. The time you spend together seems to go by quickly. Hours go by like minutes. You wish you could be with this person all the time.

Even the quirks–those things about this person you don’t understand—you love anyway. In fact, those things make you love this person more.

And when you have misunderstandings—you work through them. You try to understand each other’s point of view, and you make compromises—meeting in the middle in a way that both sides are satisfied.

Does this sound about right?

Okay, now let me ask you this.

If I were to ask you, do you love Jesus Christ, what you would say?

I think all of us would say…yes, of course I love Him.
I go to church, I pray, I read the Bible. I even do church work.

But let me ask you again. Do you love Him?

Do you think of Him every single day?
At random moments in the day, does His face pop into your head?

Do you look forward all day to that moment of time at night when you can kneel in quietness and meet him in prayer? Do you hear the sound of His voice, so sweet that the birds hush their singing?

How about the love letter that God wrote to you? Do you open it with anticipation? Do you read it over and over again? I’m talking about the Bible of course. And every time that the Bible mentions how much God loves you, does that make your whole day brighten up?

And how about those moments when you are in God’s presence? Family altar time at home. Or church services. Do you feel that the time you spend with God goes by quickly, or do you feel that it just drags on and on?

And what happens when you and God have misunderstandings or disagreements? Do you just throw up your hands, and say, “God is God—he’ll do whatever he wants…i’m just a pawn in his big chess game…”. Or do you get on your knees and spend time to communicate to him. “God, I love you. I want to understand where you’re coming from, even if we have to talk all night. I am not happy with you, but because I love you, and I know you love me, I think we can work things out”.

Think through these questions…and then ask yourself again…do I really love God?

The Bible uses two kinds of love to describe God’s love.
The Bible describes God’s love as the love of a Father. We are God’s children.
The Bible also describes God’s love as the love of a Husband. We, the church, are God’s bride.

And as deep as human love feels to us sometimes…remember one thing—human love is just physical and emotional. But the love we have with God is spiritual. So human love is only a shadow…only a mere approximation of what God’s love is. Because human love is finite, but God’s love is infinite.

I think a lot of us did experience this kind of love when we first came to Christ. I know after I received the Holy Spirit 20 years ago, I made myself a firm commitment. I will pray every day…I will study God’s word inside and out…I will do work for him joyfully…not because I have to…not because anyone’s telling me to…not because I want anything from God in exchange…but only because…I love him

Over the years, things have changed. And so, I realize. I say I love God. But I don’t really.

It’s the same that happened to the church in Ephesus.

Yet, I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the high from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

Do you love God?
Does your church love God, like a bride waiting to marry her husband?

Imagine for a second, an engaged couple. Imagine a bride who suddenly feels that spending time with her fiancé was boring and burdensome. Imagine if this bride dreaded having to talk to him on the phone…and felt no joy when she was around him…if she felt this way, should the wedding go on?

Well, as a church…if our worship of God becomes dry and feels burdensome…If we don’t look forward to prayer…If we don’t feel joy when we’re in the presence of God. Then we’re like that bride, and we’re not ready to be married.

I think it’s important for us as a church, and this means each of us individually as members of the church—to remember our first love.

And what this means is each one of us stepping back first and rediscovering his love for you and me.

You see, Jesus Christ is exactly the same as He was when we first committed to him

It’s we who have changed. It’s our lives which have become complicated. It’s we who have wandered away from him.

But the funny thing is…he still loves us anyway…he always has.

He still thinks about us every day
He still can’t wait for the moments that we decide to take time to talk to him
He cherishes the moments that we spend in his presence

So, as a bride, let’s wake up
Let’s remember back to the moment when we first accepted Jesus into our lives.

Start over. Forget what lies behind…forget whatever happened since that day that has separated you from him…If a sin has caused you to be separated from him, repent of that sin and leave it. If TV or Internet or work has separate you from him, cut back on those things and spend some more time with him. And if a person has disappointed you, and caused your faith to fall…remember one thing. Whatever this person said or did—those words and actions came from another human being, not from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is exactly the same as the day you committed yourself to him.

Toss aside everything that has caused you to forget your first love, and let’s prepare for the wedding day that’s written about in Revelation 19:7:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory
For the wedding of the Lamb has come
and His bride has made herself ready
fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear
(fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)

“In the Garden” is one of the nicest love songs ever written.

Now, when we hear the term ‘love song’ we tend to think of songs about physical love…the songs you hear on the radio…”baby, baby, this” and “jiggy, jiggy that”

But those songs aren’t really about love. Or if they are, it’s love on a very superficial level.

But hymns are the greatest love songs, because they’re about a pure, spiritual love–the love that God has for us. The love that all other love is modeled after. Whatever else people call “love”, it’s just a mere shadow of God’s love.

And with this hymn, think about it from a spiritual sense.

It’s about two who love each other meeting in a peaceful, quiet garden in the early morning.

A voice calls to the other.

They walk together

They talk together

They express how deeply they love each other.

Their hearts are filled with such joy, they don’t want to leave.

So the next time you kneel down to pray, don’t just present your laundry list of requests to God. Don’t ramble off platitudes and meaningless repetitions. Instead, plan a trip to the garden, where you can walk, and talk, and be together alone with the One who loves you more than anyone has ever loved you.

————————————————————

1.
I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses,

Chorus
And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
and the Joy we share
as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

2.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing,

Chorus

3.
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go;
through the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.

Chorus

Ruminations about Dad and That Which Lasts: Thoughts on One Day


We used to sing hymns as a family growing up. My dad and mom would sing from a Chinese hymnal, while my brother, sister, and I would sing from an English hymnal.

Every time we sang this hymn “One Day”, my dad would put down his Chinese hymnal and pick up an English one.

He explained one day. He loved this hymn, because when he was a young student at Baylor University, they would sing this hymn. Baylor is where Dad first heard about Christ.

This devotional isn’t so much about this hymn, but about my Dad. And how his passing helped me to understand 1 Corinthians 13 a little better.

My mom went back to be with the Lord back in 1992. In her final weeks, I spent a lot of time with her. I asked her about her life. You can read about it here.

Mom did manage to tell me those things that were most important in her life. How her father came to Christ. How she said good-bye to her mother in 1949, when communist China closed the borders and separated them for the rest of their lives. How Jesus healed her from a terminal illness as a teenager, after an elder in her church lay hands on her head and prayed over her. How the three of us, three healthy children, were born after she had suffered a string of many miscarriages (fittingly, my big brother’s name is “Samuel”).

But she never got to tell me much else about her life. And so, not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I went to my dad a few years later, and asked him to tell me his life story. Dad ended up taping almost 8 hours on cassette, going through his life. I heard them for the first time after he passed away, and it was an amazing experience.

I had promised him I’d write a book about it. I still plan to. But for now, I’ll just give you the 50,000 foot version.

Dad grew up in the northernmost part of China, near Manchuria. Living conditions were primitive. There was no running water, no electricity, no cars. Rice was a luxury that was enjoyed only once a year—for the other 364 days in the year, they ate a grain called gao-liang. As a baby, his mother would chew gao-liang, and feed it to him. He grew up malnourished and sickly. At one point, he said he had a recurring dream of him hungry and crying, and his grand-uncle threatening to bury him alive, saying that such a child couldn’t survive anyway, and should be put out of his misery. He said he was pretty sure this really happened.

When Dad was a young adult, the Japanese took over northern China. Dad decided with his college friend to make a run to southern China, which at the time was still under Chinese control. He tells a harrowing account of the long trip by train, boat, foot, and bus. At any time in the journey, all he had to do was open his mouth—the Japanese would hear his accent and send him back to the north, where he might be imprisoned or even executed.

Dad made it to southern China. From there, he made it to Taiwan, and then to the United States.

The boy who had once failed entrance exam after entrance exam for high school in China, due to the poor education provided in his hometown, then graduated from Baylor University with a PhD in chemistry. He went on to work at Pfizer, and then at Squibb (now Bristol Myers-Squibb). Over his 30-year career, he collected 17 U.S. Patents.

Dad and mom had the happiest marriage I have seen. They supported each other. Where one was weak, the other was strong. They knew what it mean to submit to each other, and to respect each other. And it spilled over to us kids. Growing up, our lives were filled with love, and joy, and happiness. The magical combination of a praying mother and a father whose sole aim in life was to fulfil his duty as a father to his family.

I remember when mom was sick, dad watched over her literally day and night. When mom was terminally ill with cancer, her face and body were puffy because of the medicine, she coughed a horrible sounding cough due to her asthma, and her room smelled horrible because of her incontinence, again due to the medicine. But dad stayed right there in that room with her. He had an oxygen tank ready to administer to her any second of the day or night her breathing became difficult.

And when she breathed her last breath, I remember that well. My dad, normally not a spiritual nor an emotional person, asked me to kneel down and pray with him, to ask God to take mom’s soul. And as we knelt down, I remember him wailing the cry of someone who had lost a soulmate and a best friend.

Dad got remarried later, but to be honest, it wasn’t the same. My dad and my stepmother took care of each other, but there wasn’t that connection of two people truly submitting to each other.

A few years ago, Dad suffered a massive stroke. It left him unable to talk and move his entire right side. He became, quite literally, like an infant. He had his stroke exactly the same week that his first grandchild was born. I remember hwen Sam and Linda came back from Baltimore, seeing how similar Katie was to dad.

When he tried to speak, it came out as incoherent babbling. He had to be fed pureed food, a spoon at a time. He even had to wear a diaper, because he couldn’t physically go to the bathroom.

The difference was…she would grow out of it. He would not.

Dad was always a serious person, but in his last few years, when I would visit him, he and I would have a little inside joke between us. I’d raise my eyebrows and make a funny face, and he’d do the same thing, and then we’d both just laugh. Or, if someone in the room said something odd, we’d both shrug our shoulders and hold up our hands in an “I don’t know what’s going on” pose. Then, we’d both chuckle about it.

Dad passed away about two years ago, around this time of the year.

When I think back at Dad, what do I remember?

Do I remember a young man from northern China who grew up in poverty and found the American dream, through hard work, perseverance, and grit?

Not really.

Do I remember the PhD who had seventeen US Patents to his name? The brilliant scientist who worked for 20 years for one of the world’s pre-eminent pharmaceutical firms? The scientist who once got a letter from a United States senator in the late 1960’s, requesting the state department to allow his wife to remain in the country, because her husband’s research was critical to the United States?

No.

Do I remember an 80 year old man, wearing diapers, who couldn’t talk, and who ate mashed up food?

No.

Did I receive a huge sum of money, or a business to run, or a prestigious name as an inheritance?

No.

What do I remember?

One of my earliest memories being held in strong yet gentle arms as a child, feeling the stubble of face as it pressed against mine in a hug.

I remember every Thanksgiving and New Year, him roasting a duck and carving it for the family. I remember him making, from scratch, Chinese pancakes to wrap the roast duck in. I remember the joy of sitting around that white kitchen table filled with delicious food, surrounded by the smiles of a family whom I loved and who loved me.

I remember when I was sick in the hospital myself with cancer, him sitting by my bed day and night. To the point where I almost got tired of him being there, and wanted to be alone. But looking back, I treasure every second he stayed by me.

In other words, the greatest inheritance that dad left me wasn’t wealth, or a prestigious name, or property. It wasn’t fame or fortune.

The greatest inheritance he left me was love. All those other things were there, and now they’re gone. But the love abides. Even after I’m gone, his love remains.

And that’s what it means in 1 Corinthians 13.

There are three things that last.

Money doesn’t last, fame doesn’t last, prestige doesn’t last.

What lasts?

Three things last, past life, past death, past eternity.

Faith
Hope
And love

And by being a servant to his family, by showing his love, dad guaranteed himself immortality. In every sense of the word. He lives on in the people he touched on earth. He lives on in eternity.

I only hope that I can do the same so that one day, we will meet again.
1.
One day when heaven was filled with his praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin—
Dwelt amongst men, my example is he!

Chorus
Living, he loved me; dying, he saved me;
Buried, he carried my sins far away;
Rising, he justified freely, for ever:
One day he’s coming—O, glorious day!

2.
One day they led him up Calvary’s mountain,
One day they nailed him to die on the tree;
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected:
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is he!

3.
One day they left him alone in the garden,
One day he rested, from suffering free;
Angels came down o’er his tomb to keep vigil;
Hope of the hopeless, my Saviour is he!

4.
One day the grave could conceal him no longer,
One day the stone rolled away from the door;
Then he arose, over death he had conquered;
Now is ascended, my Lord evermore!

5.
One day the trumpet will sound for his coming,
One day the skies with his glories will shine;
Wonderful day, my beloved ones bringing;
Glorious Saviour, this Jesus is mine!

How Could An All-Loving God Do That? Thoughts on Great Is Thy Faithfulness


This blog post is originally from August 2005.

————————————————————————————————————–

Like many of you, I’ve been riveted to the TV the last few days, looking at the effects of Katrina.

It was just a few years ago that I decided to treat myself to a little trip. I happened to see that the Giants were playing the Saints, so I used some of my hotel points to get a room in a Four Points Sheraton in Metairie, used Priceline to get a rental car, and used my air miles to book a plane from Newark to New Orleans.

The trip was a great one. The first night, I got the Giants game over with. I can’t remember the score, but I do remember the Giants phoning it in that night. And they weren’t the only ones. That was the game where Joe Horn of the Saints scored four touchdowns, and grabbed a cell phone from under one of the goal posts–I’m sure he felt it well worth the $30,000 fine he had to pay later. At that point, of course, I had to deny to the rabid Saints fans around me that I was a Giants fan. “California. I come from California” I sheepishly replied when a friendly person in the next seat asked me where I was from. I felt like Peter talking to the servant girl.

The next few days, I saw the town. Made sure to get beignets for breakfast. Walked around the French Quarter. Had a “Po-boy”. Ate an incredible Cajun buffet lunch at the Court of Two Sisters restaurant. Lots of Jambalaya, lots of crawfish, lots of great jazz. Visited the D-Day Museum. Had a nice drive down to Lake Pontchartrain, and drove up and down that bridge a few times. Lots of smiles from the people there.

A great trip, all things considered. I think it’s the last trip I’ve taken that wasn’t work-related.

To see the devastation on the TV is heartbreaking. Who would have thought it? Just a week ago, Katrina was just a tiny little disturbance, like all the others. Who would have known that just a week later, thousands and thousands of lives would be tossed about?

For some reason, a verse kept popping up in my head this week.

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

- Lamentations 3:18, 19

When disaster like this strikes, you invariably hear people snidely remark, “how could an all-loving God allow this to happen”.

But honestly, the questions should go something like this:

“Why is it that I have been spared thus far?”
“How is that that an all-powerful God still has the time to hear our cries when we pray?”

Disaster and calamity will happen on this side of paradise. It all goes back to the curse. That it doesn’t happen to us every day is the miracle. But some day we will get hit by that storm. That’s a guarantee. Maybe its name won’t be ‘Katrina’. Maybe its name will be “9-11″. Or “massive stroke”. Or “broken engagement”. Or “sick child”.

But our all-loving God already did do something. He sent His only begotten Son to die. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse by becomes a curse for us.

So it’s the same, whether you’re dealing with the aftermath of a physical storm, or of any kind of storm in your life. Maybe we can’t think of an explanation of why things happened the way they did. Maybe there is no explanation, at least not one we’ll fathom until we’re out of this world. But the one thing to hang onto is this: Christ lives. And this means we have hope. This means we can pick up the pieces, and move on.

And the best way to move on…is to wait. Kicking and screaming and crying might be what we feel like doing, and yes, it’s okay to do that for a time. But it won’t change anything. Waiting quietly for the salvation of the Lord, that’s what brings relief. “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”

Please remember the victims of Hurricane Katrina in your prayers, and please be generous in your giving.

—————————————————————————————-

1.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Refrain
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

2.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Refrain

3.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Refrain

Review of Wounded By God’s People, by Ruth Graham Lotz


wounded by gods peopleIt’s a sad but all-too-prevalent fact of life that while Christian churches have some of the most true, nurturing, and loving people in the world, they also can have some of the most hypocritical, hurtful, closed-minded people as well. And sometimes when you get hurt by Christians, it hurts much more than when you’re hurt by non-Christians, just because you would think that someone who has been born again and strives to be a reflection of Christ should know better.

But churches are made of humans, humans are imperfect, and then imperfect humans get together the results can be devastating. Among my own friends, I can count many who have had a heart to serve God, but who ultimately were disappointed by people who were supposed to love them but ended up doing just the opposite.

Wounded by God’s People: Discovering How God’s Love Heals Our Hearts is a book by Ruth Graham Lotz, who has been there. As the daughter of Billy Graham, and someone with a heart to serve God herself, she has faced all kinds of mistreatment, persecution, and unreasonable expectations simply because of her name, borne out of jealousy, resentment, and envy.

The story of Hagar is usually just a blip in the book of Genesis, but Ruth Graham Lotz takes it and really dives examines it closely, doing what very few of us do when reading that story and trying to commiserate with Hagar. Here, you have a woman who was ripped away from her home to be a slave in Egypt and then sent to be a slave of Abraham. And in that role, she experienced horrific treatment from both Sarah and Abraham, people who still today are considered among the most faithful and godly people who ever walked the planet.

When we put ourselves in Hagar’s shoes, it’s a sobering wakeup call, as when we’re mistreated by God’s people we often go through the same emotions she must have gone through. Feelings of shock, self-pity, isolation, shame, resentment, confusion, injustice, sadness (to the point of wanting to give up on life). But as Hagar experienced, we can also feel the loving hand of God as well.

Anne Graham Lotz doesn’t share many anecdotes about her father’s ministry, but she shares plenty of personal stories about mistreatment she and her husband experienced. While it’s not stated, it’s almost assured that some of this was due to jealousy, some due to unrealistic expectations, and some due to her more conservative approach to scripture. In any case, she’s amazingly open about her own experience and her own emotions, but it’s not just a book complaining about how she was treated, but also one that goes through her own internal conflicts and at times her own recognition of her own flaws.

I really appreciated this book. I won’t go so far as to say it’s going to immediately bring you relief and reconciliation if you’ve been estranged from your church or a group of believers, but I don’t think it’s meant to do that. If nothing else, it’s a great read to remember that we’re not alone, to remind us to examine ourselves, and to be reminded that God cares for the broken-hearted.

Review of the NIV Integrated Study Bible


As part of the Booksneeze program, I’ve been reviewing a lot of Bibles lately. I promise I’ll go back and review a couple regular books soon, but there was one Bible I saw that I had to take a look at: NIV Integrated Study Bible.

The concept and execution of this Bible are excellent. Every verse in is arranged in the order of which it happened. So for example, you’ll find Psalm 90 right after Number 36, as the Psalm was written by Moses. Similarly, Psalm 63 is put smack dab in the middle of 1 Samuel 23 and 24, as it was written by David at that precise time. Deuteronomy 4 and Exodus 20 are written side-by-side, as are many of the events of the four gospels.

Some of the choices aren’t going to be without controversy; for example, you’ll find the contents of the book of Job right after the account of Joseph, even though scholars don’t all agree that he lived in that time period. Still, it’s a fascinating way to read the Bible, as it’s a way to take it all in like a chronological history book.

Adding to the “history” feel of this Bible, the contents are divided into several distinct periods of history, including:

- Creation through the Patriarchs
- Exodus to Conquest
- Conquest Through United Kingdon
- Divided Kingdom and Exile
- Return to the Land
- The Life of Jesus
- The Early Church

Each of these sections has an introduction that provides context into the period of history, as well as a fascinating timeline that points out milestones by year. In fact, on the bottom of every page of the Bible is a running timeline that shows exactly where you are in history.

Even though the Bible is called a “Study Bible”, it doesn’t have any study notes nor commentary. That said, for seasoned Bible readers, it’s a fascinating way to read the Bible and understand some of the passages in context with others around it.

As is customary with my reviews of Bibles, I’m not going to review the translation nor the text of the Bible, but rather the format and “value-added” features that the Bible editors added. But because other reviewers have mentioned it, I do want to spend some time talking about the fact that, like all NIV Bibles published after 2011, this one uses the “new” NIV translation that some have called “gender-neutral” or trying too hard to be accepted in a “politically correct”.

I admit, I’m still undecided about whether or not I like the new NIV translation. This is the first time I’ve read the 2011 NIV and based on some scathing commentary on it I’ve read about it across the Web, I was expecting the worst.

But as I read it, I really don’t find most of it as offensive as others seem to think it is. When God is referenced, He’s still a “He”, when countries are referenced in poetry, they’re still “she”. And most of the places where I notice that the word “he” is replaced with “anyone” or “whoever” (e.g. “Whoever has ears, let them hear”), I don’t see it as really changing the meaning of the underlying verse.

That said, there are more than a few verses where adjustments have resulted in the meaning of verses becoming a little more ambiguous, and those were enough to cause several large denominations to discourage use of the NIV Bible. Personally, I don’t mind reading it as a second Bible, but I’d still want to keep a KJV, NKJV, or RSV around as my main Bible.

Follow the Signs: Thoughts on Savior, Lead Me Lest I Stray


I do those 30 and 60 mile bike tours every now and then. A few years ago I did the 60-mile bike tour for MS in New York. The weather on the day of the ride was absolutely perfect for the ride. Arrows posted all along the route showed us the way to go. The ride took us through Manhattan, from the South Street Seaport, up the FDR, across town, down the West Side Highway, into the Lincoln Tunnel (you haven’t lived until you’ve coasted at 35-40 MPH through the Lincoln Tunnel), through Hoboken and Edgewater, New Jersey, and into the Palisades.

I stop here, because this is where today’s adventure begins.

The Palisades, for those who don’t know it, is a National Recreation Area in New Jersey. It’s a beautiful bit of wilderness running along a cliff facing New York City. At certain points in the Palisades, you can look down and see a great view of Manhattan.

I knew I was in for a bit of a challenge, because even when I drive up the Palisades, I get exhausted. Now, here I was with a mountain bike and legs that had already ridden about 45 miles, against these mountains.

I gave it the old college try. I rode up until my legs gave out. Then, I took the bike and walked up. My average speed of 12-15 MPH suddenly went down, as I trudged up the mountain at 1-2 MPH. Still, there was no turning back.

I’d made it past the roughest parts of the trail. Now, there were a bunch of roads that were mostly downhill. There was one in particular where I just coasted and coasted downhill. But suddenly, something seemed wrong.

All through the ride, I had always had at least 3-4 bikers within shouting distance. Suddenly, I was all by myself.

Then I realized—I haven’t seen an arrow in quite some time.

Panic started to set in. A few minutes later, I saw two guys with bike jerseys in the distance walking up the hill with their bikes.

“MS Bike Tour?” they asked.
“Yep,” I responded.

We didn’t have to say any more. We had all missed a turn somewhere. I joined them in the arduous trek back up the hill.

Admittedly, I looked down that hill, and it looked awful tempting to keep going down. I looked up the hill, to where my missed turn was, and I wasn’t looking forward to yet again proving Newton’s Third Law. But I swallowed hard, got off my seat, and walked my bike with the other guys back to the point we all missed, probably a good mile up the hill.

We got to the intersection. Surely enough, the sign was there, but really hard to see. We got on our bikes. It made me a little late, but I still finished the ride, back over the George Washington Bridge, and down to Chelsea Piers. I had finished my own triathalon—I biked, I walked, and I crawled. But I finished.

Sometimes God’s will is very clear. But quite often, even after things have been made abundantly clear to us, we still want to press forward with our own way.

I’ve been in that boat many times, as I’m sure you have too. I’d want something with all my heart. I’d be convinced that it is the best thing for me. I’d try my best to achieve it. I’d even pray and pray asking God to make that thing happen in my life.

But everything would fall apart.

But, I’d press on. Maybe…maybe God didn’t hear me. I’ll pray harder. I’ll spend day and night hoping and hoping for what I want. After all, I know what’s best for myself, right? I know what “feels right” to me. And that must be the best for me.

I guess as I get older, I realize something. I don’t know what’s best for myself at all. Because feelings lie.

The funny thing is, I look at my life today, and…I like it. A lot. And I wouldn’t have gotten to this point had I not gone through the uphill climbs, the soreness, the fatigue. Had I had a choice, I would never have faced any of those things. But I did, and it made me who I am today.

We can only see what’s right in front of me. We don’t know the twists and turns on the road ahead. Sure, there might be a road where the arrow points to the left, but the downhill slope straight ahead is just so tempting you want to ignore the sign and speed down the slope. But if you do that, be prepared to crawl back up.

Are there things I wish I had that I don’t have? Of course. But it’s just not time for that arrow yet. I’ll keep an eye out for the arrow, and when the time comes, I’ll follow it, just as I’ve followed the others that have gotten me to where I am. The one who placed the arrows there knows the right road to lead me to the finish line and the goody bag.
1.
Savior, lead me, lest I stray,
Gently lead me all the way;
I am safe when by Thy side,
I would in Thy love abide.

Refrain
Lead me, lead me, Savior, lead me lest I stray;
Gently down the stream of time,
Lead me, Savior, all the way.

2.
Thou the refuge of my soul
When life’s stormy billows roll;
I am safe when Thou art nigh,
All my hopes on Thee rely.

Refrain

3.
Savior, lead me, then at last,
When the storm of life is past,
To the land of endless day,
Where all tears are wiped away.

Refrain

Review of the NIV Worship Together Bible


When I signed up for the Booksneeze program, I figured I’d be reading and reviewing all kinds of books, but it turns out that the kind of book I tend to get again and again are Bibles. This works out well for me; as I mentioned in an earlier post, my mom used to give me a Bible every year, and since we’re only a few weeks from my birthday, I was happy to receive another one from Booksneeze to review.

This Bible is called the NIV Worship Together Bible. The tagline of the book says “Discover Scripture through Classic & Contemporary Music”. I was especially happy to review this particular Bible, as its theme of music and worship ties in very well with the mission of this site.

When you take the book cover off, the book itself looks like a standard hardcover cook or pew Bible. In fact, the cover only reads “New International Version” and “Holy Bible”–there’s no indication on the cover that it’s a special kind of Bible. As such, it’s definitely a Bible that’s appropriate not just for personal worship, but also for buying for use in a church or a small group setting.

As usual with my Bible reviews, this review won’t review the actual Bible nor the translation, but instead it’ll focus on the special features that make this Bible unique. The “Bible” portion of the Worship Together Bible is a fairly standard NIV Bible, with books, chapters, and verses arranged in the usual way and NIV footnotes on the bottom. The paper is thin and an off-white color.

The highlight of the book is that every 40-60 pages or so there are two pages dedicated to a popular worship song, complete with full lyrics, the verse that inspired it, a “behind the song” story/devotional about how the song came to be written, and even a “Selah” call-out that gives you short, practical advice to use in your personal or group worship.

While the devotionals are well-written and provide some fascinating insight behind the writing of some of 50 modern praise and worship songs, the one thing that struck me is that it just felt kind of incongruous. Each song seems to be placed almost randomly within the Bible, so that there’s not really a connection between what you’re reading. For example, the Chris Tomlin song “Holy Is the Lord” was inspired by the books of Isaiah and Nehemiah, but for some reason it’s placed in the middle of 1 Kings. The story of the praise song “Happy Day”, inspired by the events of Matthew 28 inexplicably appears in Isaiah.

At the end of the book, they do have full lyrics and chords for 20 of the praise songs highlighted in the Bible. This is a great feature to have, especially when using the Bible in conjunction with a praise session. But the obvious question I had is, why limit it to only 20 songs?

There’s also an original article by the author at the end of the book that talks about the history of worship music. It’s a well-written article, but in many ways also felt a bit out of place, as if it was something I’d think of reading on a Web site or a magazine as opposed to a Bible.

There’s also a “Table of Weights and Measures” which also seems kind of random, as if they just had to fill up one more page.

Overall I like the idea of the NIV Worship Together Bible, but I’m not so sure I’m crazy about the execution. It feels like either a Bible with a small worship music book thrown in, or a small worship music book with a Bible built in. Both are definitely solid on their own, but putting them together didn’t really add much to either.

I almost would have rather seen the song lyrics and devotionals in a separate book, with a lot more commentary and deeper history of the use of music in worship, a more full set of lyrics with chords and even sheet music, a wider selection of praise songs and hymns, and some practical advice for worship leaders that talks about how to lead worship services. On the flip side, I wouldn’t have minded seeing it in Bible form if it more closely tied together themes in songs and hymns with themes in the Bible.

Despite its flaws, as someone who spends a lot of time with Christian music, I did appreciate the insights that the history and devotionals offered from the original artists. If you’re a praise and worship leader and happen to need an NIV Bible, this is just as good an option as any.

Here’s a full list of the songs highlighted in this Bible. Names with asterisks mean that the chords are included as well.

Blessed Be Your Name *
You Never Let Go *
Give Us Clean Hands
O Lord, You’re Beautiful
The Heart of Worship *
God of Wonders
Sing Sing Sing
Better Is One Day *
How Great Thou Art
10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) *
Thy Word
Our God *
Forever *
He Is Exalted
How Great Is Our God
Indescribable *
All Creatures of Our God and King
Your Name
Jesus Paid It All
Open the Eyes of My Heart *
Holy Is the Lord *
Forever Reign
Everlasting God *
Beautiful One
From the Inside Out *
Beautiful Things
The Stand
Mighty to Save *
Hosanna
Hosanna (Praise is Rising)
Cornerstone
Happy Day
The Wonderful Cross (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross) *
You Are My King (Amazing Love) *
Glory to God Forever
Christ Is Risen
Jesus Messiah
Enough
Your Grace Is Enough
How Deep the Father’s Love for Us *
Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)
Give Thanks
Here I Am to Worship *
Be Thou My Vision
In Christ Alone *
Sing to the Lord
How He Loves *
Revelation Song *
We Fall Down
Soon and Very Soon

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Getting Rid of the Bugs in Your Soul: Thoughts on Search Me, O God


In my old apartment, I had great success growing basil plants. I had purchased a few small plants at the Montclair Historical Society’s annual herb sale. By the time it came for me to move out of my apartment, those little plants had grown. They then filled four giant flower pots, producing beautiful, gigantic leaves. I’d used them for all kinds of dishes. Seasoning for homemade spaghetti sauce, chicken and basil, you name it. I had so much basil that I even started putting basil in things that probably would have been a bit better off without basil.

Sadly, when I moved out of the apartment, I had to figure out what to take and what not to. The big flower pots of basil were the first to go. (I had not yet grasped the concept of making and freezing pesto).

When I moved into my new apartment, one of the first orders of business was to get basil plants again. So I went to a nursery and bought two little basil plants again. While I was at it, I decided to start my own little indoor herb garden. At one point, I even had my own “Scarborough Fair” (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme).

It started out well enough. I did make myself some very good pesto, and mixed it up a bit. One night I had it with rigatoni, the next with fettucine. It was, to put it mildly, quite yummy.

A few days ago, I got ready to make another big batch of pesto. But I noticed something. There were big blotches on the leaves. I had a mint plant which had almost completely died, because the leaves were brown. It seemed that this had spread to the basil. I was a bit confused, because I water them just right, and they get the right sunlight.

Needless to say, no pesto for me. I picked off the offending leaves and threw them away. What was left was a lonely stalk with a few leaves left.

I looked carefully at one of the leaves, and noticed a tiny brown speck underneath one of the leaves. It was the size of a piece of dust. I used my finger to nudge it, and it moved. It was a pretty revolting experience.

I went onto Google, and searched for ‘brown blotches basil bug’. What I found was more information that I could possibly have wanted to know about a little thing called a “spider mite”.

A spider mite, it seems, is a tiny little bug that sucks the juices out of leaves. It’s very common in indoor plants, and it’s very hard to spot, because it does its dirty business on the underside of leaves. Gone untreated, the mites suck and suck and suck until the leaves are completely brown and unusable. Yes, spider mites suck.

To find them, one Web site said to put a white piece of paper under the plant and shake the plant. I tried that and surely enough, I got a result worse than a bad Head and Shoulders commercial. Dozens of little mites fell onto the paper, creeping and crawling around. Some were just the size of pinheads. Others were green, having gorged themselves on basil juice.

I collected all my plants, and proceeded to the kitchen sink. I doused each plant in water. It was strangely satisfying to imagine the tiny little screams of all those spider mites. Afterwards, I made a mixture of my own insecticide from household soap. I sprayed each leaf, above and below. The Web site said to do this every four days.

After spraying, I examined the plants a bit more. There were still stragglers—left on the plant, they would multiply and multiply. I even saw one little spider mite hiding inside the crevices of two leaves. I got the bottle and gave him a nice jolt of soapy water.

I thought about it, as I am wont to do. In terms of our spiritual lives, sin works kind of the same way as these little spider mites.

Psalm 1 talks about the type of person we should all aspire to be. A man who “walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers”. A man whose “delight is in the law of the Lord.” The Psalm goes on to say that such a man is like a tree, planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in its season. His leaf doesn’t wither. In all he does, he prospers.

The wicked, the psalmist goes on, are like chaff. Dead, dried out leaves.

Sin is one of those things that you can’t always tell is infesting you. But little sins add up. And pretty soon, you find yourself far away from that ideal of a green tree. Your leaves and your fruit are infested. The life is sucked out of them, and they dry out and die. You’re really not good for anything anymore. Your work for the kingdom becomes completely unproductive, your relationships turn sour very easily, and you find yourself more and more inundated with stress, and guilt, and anger, and despair. No, you really never do equate those things with “sin”, because there’s not an obvious cause-and-effect relationship between the two.

But sin is very often exactly what causes those negative things. Because sin separates us from God. When sin latches on to our souls, like so many of those little spider mites, they just suck the life out of us. They make it so we can’t be productive.

What’s the solution then? Same as for my basil plants.

The first thing is to admit it. I could have gone for weeks and months just watering my plants and ignoring the little brown blotches. But eventually, the complete plant would have been destroyed. No, I had to shake it in front of a white piece of paper and see what drops out. The same is true of your soul. Anyone who claims to be without sin, so the good book goes, is only fooling himself. There are sins of omission and sins of commissions. Left inside you, they fester, and suck the life out of you.

Second, douse yourself in the kitchen sink. Baptism is the way to clear yourself of the spider mites of your soul. But even more important than the physical act of baptism is that pledge—the pledge of a good conscience. The pledge that says you’re not going back.

Third, keep shaking out your leaves to make sure the spider mites don’t return. They will try. They will attack your most vulnerable leaves, and hide deep where they think no one will find them. For my basil plants, every few days, I’d shake them out on top of white paper. And sure enough, mites would fall out. But as the weeks went by, the number of mites got to be less and less as I kept shaking and spraying.

Don’t let even one spider mite live. The moment you are tempted to sin, tell yourself—I don’t want to get to the point again where my leaves are brown and blotchy and unusable for anything.

Sure enough, after a while, new leaves sprouted, and they were rich and green and thick. I have a little bit of time yet before I can start harvesting them, but the day will come when I’ll again be able to enjoy pesto and spaghetti sauce and all kinds of good stuff.

I wish the same were true of my mint plant. I had a lot of plans for that mint plant. When it was new, the leaves smelled so nice. I figured I’d use them in cooking, making jelly, or whatever else it is that they use mint for. But that didn’t happen. Eventually, I had to take the plant, dirt and all, and throw it into the garbage. Because it just wasn’t useful anymore. The leaves were completely brown, and the underside of the leaves were covered with spider mites.

I hope that never happens to my basil plants. Basil can be used for so many things. So can you and I.
1.
Search me, O God,
And know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior,
Know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be
Some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin
And set me free.

2.
I praise Thee, Lord,
For cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word,
And make me pure within.
Fill me with fire
Where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire
To magnify Thy Name.

3.
Lord, take my life,
And make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart
With Thy great love divine.
Take all my will,
My passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord
In me abide.

4.
O Holy Spirit,
Revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival,
Start the work in me.
Thy Word declares
Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now,
O Lord, I humbly plead.

Review of NIV Leadership Bible: Leading By the Book


When my mom was still on this earth, she had a tradition of giving me a few Bible every year. Now back when I was growing up, there wasn’t the alphabet soup of Bible translations that there are today. But there were enough special versions of KJV, NIV, RSV, NRSV, and Interlinear Bibles out there that I was able to amass quite a collection.

Of course today, not only are the a ton of translations, but there are a ton of “specialty” Bibles as we. You have Bibles for teens, for women, and for men. You have Study Bibles, Archeological Study Bibles, Life Application Study Bibles, and every flavor of Devotional Bible out there. They say the Bible is the all-time best-selling book in this history of the world at over 6 billion copies sold since the beginning of print (where, of course, the Bible was the first book ever published), and Zondervan and its parent company HarperCollins are certainly doing all they can to keep this number growing.

The book I’m reviewing this month is the NIV Leadership Bible: Leading by The Book, an update from their 1998 Edition. Now of course, this review won’t be about the Bible itself; there aren’t enough stars in the universe I could use to give a star rating for that. Rather, this review will be about everything surrounding the Bible text, from how useful I found the study notes to the aesthetics of the book.

The first thing to note about the NIV Leadership Bible is that it’s intended for leaders of all kinds, not just leaders in a church or spiritual setting. The forward of the book was written by none other than David Green, Founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, one of the most successful arts and crafts chain stores in the world.

I love the idea of the NIV Leadership Bible. When I went to business school in the 1980′s, it was just at the start of the Gordon Gekko “greed is good” era. Yes, there were yuppies who did nothing but follow the almighty dollar, but there was also a certain amount of decency and, dare I say, morality in the business world. There weren’t “Bible classes” in the MBA program, of course, but among my professors and classmates there were certain understandings that unmistakably had their roots in Judeo-Christian teachings. Nobody recited the Ten Commandments, but it was understood that you didn’t hate, cheat, steal, lie, or covet. You treated others as you wanted to be treated yourself. Not to say the business world were ever paragons of virtue, but at the very least it valued the principles that society around it taught as commendable.

Fast forward to the 21st century. You see corruption in corporations on a daily basis. You see the mantra on Wall Street being that cheating is okay because everyone does it, and there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you don’t get caught. And the pillars of society that are supposed to keep the business world in check–the government, the church, and the educational system–seem to grow increasingly impotent, marginalized, and/or increasingly equally as corrupt.

There’s a somewhat overused quote by Alexis de Tocqueville, a French Historian, but I think the reason it’s overquoted is because it’s true: “American is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” We often decry how our society has gotten so rotten, but remember that society is nothing but a collection of individuals. Within this group of individuals there are rotten eggs and good eggs. And what I think the NIV Leadership Bible tries to do is to remind executives and leaders in the business world who happen to be followers of Christ that they are not of this world, and that they can be salt and light to their employees, and in doing so help be a “voice in the wilderness”. In fact, the lessons in this Bible aren’t just suitable for executives, but also managers of any kind, both in the secular and the religious worlds.

Starting with the aesthetics, this is a beautiful book. It’s a book with over 1400 pages. The paper is typical “Bible paper”–very thin stock that you don’t want to sneeze on or turn too quickly–but even so it’s a very hefty volume. It measures about 9 inches by 7 inches, and has a beautiful leather cover that’s tan and brown with beautiful gold page edges, which would look respectable in any executive’s office or bookshelf.

From what I can tell, there are two main ways to use this Bible. The first way is by reading as you normally would, and paying attention to the call-out boxes that appear on almost every page called “Insights”. Here, a commentator would provide a short 1-5 paragraph business- and management-oriented interpretation of the passage you’re reading. Some of these I found to be very useful in terms of reminding me of the life application of the Bible passage to work (for example, in the passage about the agreement between Isaac and Abimelek, there was a short but useful reminder at how to apply the concepts of their agreement to contracts or business deals you might be working on; in the passage about Moses and Jethro, it provides good insights about the difference between the two men’s management style and how important delegation is.

I do have to say that some of the insights seemed a little forced or contrived (for example, in 3 John, the insight is about how John wrote words of encouragement to Gaius and how “skilled leaders take advantage of every opportunity they have to let those on their team know they value them”. While I know they’re not implying this, to a casual reader it sounds like a good leader just needs to put “encourage my employees” on a checklist and be done with it; of course, there’s much more to it than that. Admittedly, I’m nit-picking here; most of the insights are useful reminders of how to apply God’s word to your business life, if not groundbreaking new insights.

The second way to read this book is by following a calendar-based Bible study format. This is a year-long program that is integrated into the Bible (starting at page 7) where each week focuses on a different business concept (planning, organizational management, risk taking, etc). The week will have five separate readings throughout the Bible on the subject, as well as a memory verse. Unlike other Bible reading programs, this won’t take you through the whole Bible in a year, but is a great tool for thinking about the business world through Biblical eyes.

The one gripe I have about this system is that it can be really, really confusing the way it’s interspersed with the pages of the Bible. I think it would have been much more useful to have the contents be in a standalone book (which, in fact, they are to a certain extent; editors Sid Buzzel, Kenneth Boa, and Bill Perkins had previously authored a devotional book called Handbook to Leadership: Leadership in the Image of God, which I presume contains much of the same material). Incorporating a study guide into a Bible was a noble idea, and it helps that you don’t need to carry two books around, but it takes time to get used to the format. It doesn’t help that they use terminology like “home page” to refer to the Bible Study pages that confused me at first, thinking there was an online portion (there isn’t).

One very useful part of the book comes at the end: it’s a topical index that goes through a lot of topics of interest to business leaders, from humility to decision making to human resources management. It’s a great resource if you’re looking for guidance on a particular topic or are preparing a talk, a sermon, or a Bible study.

Bottom line, I’d give the NIV Leadership Bible four stars. It’s a beautiful Bible for presentation, and it contains a lot of practical advice for business leaders of all levels.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Clean Up the Mess: Thoughts on Is Your All On the Altar


A few years ago, I moved to my apartment in Long Island. Now, I’d lived in NJ for all my life. I was born in Princeton, grew up in Princeton Jct., went to college in New Brunswick, went to grad school in Newark, worked in South Plainfield, Piscataway, and Basking Ridge, went to church in Elizabeth and Hillsborough. I have a shelf full of Sinatra CDs, I’ve been to a Springsteen concert, and I still feel weird pumping my own gas and making u-turns.

Anyway, I moved from my childhood home in Princeton Jct to my apartment in Montclair about 5 years ago. Now, I didn’t move all in one day…I actually moved over a period of a few years. You see, I’d go home to visit my dad, and every week I’d drive up, I’d bring a carload of stuff with me back to my apartment.

So, in September a few years ago, I got a job in Westbury, NY. So I sold my apartment in Montclair and bought a new one in Great Neck. When I first walked into the apartment, I fell in love with it. Two big bedrooms, beautiful hardwood floors. I thought to myself…there is just so much potential in the place. I could move in furniture, invite friends over, maybe even start a family there one day. I looked forward to the move.

The week of the move came. Now to myself, I thought…this’ll be easy. I’ll just pack about 15 boxes of stuff, take about 2-3 hours to move, and that’d be it. I started packing.

10 boxes.
20 boxes.
30 boxes.

I ended up with over 40 boxes full of junk!

The day of the move came. One hour. Two hours. Three hours. Four hours. Five hours… It was a full Nine hours later before the movers were finally done. It would have been a lot longer, but by the sixth or seventh hour, I put on a T-shirt and became one of the movers. After all, they were paid by the hour…

After we were all done, I signed a few papers and let the movers out the door. Then I turned around. My heart sank.

Every square inch of my beautiful new apartment was filled with moving boxes and junk. Some boxes were piled 2, even 3 high. I couldn’t even walk from one end of the room to the other.

The next week I went to church. One of the first people I talked to about my new apartment was a good friend of mine, who happens to be a fellow Yankee fan. I mentioned to him that I had cable TV, with the YES Network. His eyes lit up like Times Square.

“Say Steve…Opening Day is this Sunday against the Red Sox”.

I wanted so much to tell him to come over that weekend. But I was too ashamed…not to mention that it would be a health risk…I don’t know if his insurance would cover if a pile of boxes fell on him.

The next week, I was at the CostCo near my work, and a girl came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. It was someone else from my church! She and her husband had driven all the way to Westbury to buy the famous CostCo grapefruits. We had a nice chat, and I wanted so much to invite them over to my place for dinner…I was in the perfect place to get food for a feast. But again, I wasn’t able to.

And I came to a realization. Until I got rid of the clutter, I could never enjoy my apartment. And no one else could either. I could never invite anyone over. My apartment would be pretty much useless.

So I started to get rid of stuff. I went through all the junk box by box, item by item. I had to decide what was worth saving and what wasn’t. I found that some things I had treasured 10 years ago, they were meaningless to me now, but for some reason I held onto them. I just threw them out.

Some things were still worth something, but had no value to me personally anymore. But I listed them on eBay, and funny thing is, they had value to other people. Things I was about to throw away, I ended up making tens, even hundreds of dollars of them!

I told myself I’d toss a little bit each day. So for the next few weeks, I’d make sure I’d have at least one garbage bag full of stuff as I left home for work in the morning. On weekends, I’d spend all day and night, to the point where I’d get exhausted.

But finally, I started to see hardwood floor again. And the empty boxes started to pile up one by one, to be thrown out.

Bet you’re wondering how it all ended up ☺

Well, not too long after that, a friend and his wife, both of whom are good friends of mine, came to visit from California. I offered to host them in my apartment. They came, and spent two nights with me.

On the last night, my friend made a comment. He said he couldn’t say my place was like a 5-star hotel. He explained. Saying that would be a disservice to my place, because it was more like a 6 or 7 star hotel!

The following week, a bunch of church youth went to eat at the buffet in Great Neck. I invited everyone over to my place after dinner. Everyone came over, and we just sat around the living room table and talked for hours. And my friend did finally get to see a Yankee game.

The feeling of having my friends over to my place was just a wonderful feeling…like Peter, that night I wished I could have built booths so that they could stay there forever.

Well, there is a point to my story.

And I’ll give it in the form of a question.

What junk are you carrying around with you?

You see, as servants of God, we’re a lot like my new apartment in Great Neck. We dedicate ourselves to God. We are excited at the change to be of service to God. We are filled with potential, with beautiful gifts.

But something within us prevents us from being of service to God? Or something prevents our service from being joyful.

Perhaps it’s something we’ve carried with us for a long time. Something we never quite let go of.

For each of us, it something different.

Perhaps it’s a bad habit. A habit that we never quite let go of. And it still clutters our lives today.

Perhaps it’s an incorrect concept. Maybe there is still a part of ourselves that still believes that money has value. Or that outward appearance has value. Or that human prestige and honor has value. This is all clutter.

In some cases, perhaps we were hurt in the past. Perhaps by someone who was supposed to love us. Perhaps by someone who should have known better. And we never let go of that hurt. Instead, we let it clutter our lives.

So, like my apartment, our lives get filled with clutter. We wish to be of service to God, but we just can’t. Even if we try to, chances are people will get hurt. And we simply feel more burden in our service, and certainly no joy.

What do you do when this happens? When your life is filled with junk?

Well, we know Jesus is the greatest physician.
He is the greatest philosopher.
He was the greatest orator.

But did you know that Jesus is the greatest garbage man? He is the king of the Sanitation Engineers.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28)

Just like those 40 boxes, the clutter in our lives is a heavy burden to bear. For as long as we’ve been carrying it, it’s been taking a heavy cost from us. The longer we’ve lived with it, the heavier it becomes.

Whatever trash you have, one by one, give it to him. How do you do this?

Like I did with the boxes

One by one, go through the junk. Ask yourself..Is this junk I’m carrying with me worth anything?

Perhaps your junk is valuable to someone else, like my useless junk was worth something to others on eBay. In other words, maybe a bad experience you’ve had in the past will help someone else going through the same thing.

But most things will be worthless. In that case, throw them out. Every day, throw something else away. Clear your heart. Just like my apartment had beautiful hardwood floors once the clutter was gone, the same is true of your heart. Once the clutter is gone, you’ll see the beauty of a pure heart, ready for service to God.

I’m happy to say that the apartment is still relatively clean. But keeping the apartment clean is a daily task. It’s so easy to leave a pile of junk mail here, an empty can of soda there, and soon the apartment will be unfit again. So, clearing the clutter is not something you do once and it’s over, it something you do for the rest of your life. But the beautiful thing is, Jesus is always there, waiting for you to take a pile of junk and hand it over to Him. And each time you do that, you’ll find that your heart opens up to being able to be a blessing to many.

—————————————————————————————————-
1.
You have longed for sweet peace, And for faith to increase,
And have earnestly, fervently prayed;
But you cannot have rest, Or be perfectly blest,
Until all on the altar is laid.

Refrain

Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest, And have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul.

2.
Would you walk with the Lord, In the light of His Word,
And have peace and contentment alway?
You must do His sweet will, To be free from all ill,
On the altar your all you must lay.

Refrain

3.
O we never can know What the Lord will bestow
Of the blessings for which we have prayed,
Till our body and soulHe doth fully control,
And our all on the altar is laid.

Refrain

4.
Who can tell all the love He will send from above,
And how happy our hearts will be made,
Of the fellowship sweet We shall share at His feet,
When our all on the altar is laid.

Refrain