All Together?

You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. – Isaiah 26:3-4 (ESV)

I wish I could tell you I have it all together. I wish I could tell you I’m never anxious, never worried, never have a doubt cross my mind.

I wish I could say I always stay ahead of my depression. I wish circumstances never bothered me, never tripped me up. I wish I didn’t want to crawl off to live in a cave (with electricity and high-speed internet, of course).

I wish I could tell you I have it all together.

But I don’t.

And that’s a good thing.

You see, if I had it all together – if I never had a care, never a worry, never a doubt – I would be delusional. These things make me realize how much I need my Heavenly Father. When the weight on my shoulders becomes too much, the LORD reminds me what Jesus said:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

– Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

When the burden is too heavy, He gives me the prescription to my anguish:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

– Philippians 4;4-9 (ESV)

God’s word reflects reality. How I view my circumstances is not an accurate reflection of reality. I’m not perfect. I’m not omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent.

But God is.

And God’s plan for my life is perfect. His love, grace and mercy are there for me. He is with me – always. He has my life and every aspect of it – large and small – in His hands.

And this perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God is my Father. And He loves me.

And He loves you.

And you don’t need to have it all together, either. Cast your cares on God. Get in His Word and stay there. (I’ve been soaking in Philippians 4 for a couple of weeks.) When the worrisome thoughts descend, focus on God and His promises. Pray.

And I humbly ask you to pray for me. And I will pray for you.

I’m glad I don’t have to have it all together. I need to pray, to trust, to rest in God. He is faithful, even when I am not.

Thank you, Father.

Everything

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

– 2 Peter 3:8 (ESV).

Think about it. God exists outside of time and space. Nothing binds Him. He cannot be contained. He is above all. He is active in all His creation.

Everything is in His hands. Everything is in His time. Everything.

Everything.

Every detail. Every minute detail.

Do not fear, dear friends. Do not worry. Go to God with your every care. Every concern. Every worrisome thing. Every pain. Every lack. Every need. Everything.

Everything.

Every thing.

Trust God. Know He loves you. Know you are in His hands. Trust Him above your own thoughts.

He exists outside of space and time. He knows all. He can do anything and everything.

Everything.

Every thing.

Questions for God. Purpose for Life

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Acts 17:26-29 (ESV)

Oh, the questions we ask God sometimes.

Why am I here?

Why didn’t this or that work out?

Why can’t I manage to open this door in my life?

How did this happen?

What do I do now?

All good questions. When we find ourselves in a place in life we do not want to be in – circumstances our our making or through no fault of our own – honest reflection and self-examination is good to avoid life’s pitfalls from happening again. (Wisdom is always good, and life’s best lessons are many times hard learned.)

The problem is often – no, I’ll go out on a limb here and say usually – when we ask these questions of the LORD, we are asking the wrong questions, for the wrong reasons.

We miss the point.

The point is this: God is sovereign.

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:16-17 (ESB)

We need to always remember this: whatever we face, God knows.

Our hopes and dreams – God knows.

Our hurts and failures – God knows.

Our fears and worries – God knows.

Our needs, our weaknesses, our past, present and future – God knows.

And, being sovereign over all He created means the LORD is not bound by time or space. Wherever you have arrived in life, God is already there.

And He knows what you need. He knows how to see you through. He knows what’s best for us, and what isn’t. He knows when we’ve tripped and fallen. He knows why life isn’t fair.

And, for us, knowing this – that our Heavenly Father Who loves us with a depth our minds cannot fathom, is sovereign over all – is far more important and significant than any hurt, loss or shame we experience.

It doesn’t matter where you are. God is there. And Jesus is where our focus needs to be. Not on ourselves. Not on our failures. Not on our shame or pain or suffering. True strength, real success, comes from faithfully, patiently waiting on the LORD. He knows what we need far better than we do.

And He can take you where you are, as you are, and doing an amazing work in you. We are here to serve God and others, to set an example of faith in Christ, to surrender to Jesus and let Him do as He wills in our lives.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

The Immutable Basis of a Sinner’s Hope

by Chris Courtney

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. – James 1:17 (ESV)

Who is this man? And why is he so happy? Read on and find out.

Sometimes the world seems to be spinning so fast, it feels like it could wobble right off its axis in an uncontrolled free fall. It’s easy to get anxious these days. Turn on the TV and the horrors around us play out before our eyes. Shootings, political leaders who seem to have lost their minds, COVID variants, supply chain issues, inflation, rumblings of wars, racial tensions… where does it end?

The simple truth is this: what we see, what we think is going on, what we hear and see in the media… none if this is the whole truth. Only God – the Only One Who is omniscient – knows the whole story behind what’s going on this world.

In our lives.

In this unsteady world, we have our Steady, Never Changing Heavenly Father. In Him we can trust. His Word is the Word of Truth. His promises are trustworthy because only He is trustworthy. Despite all the chaos swirling around us, we can stand firm and strong in God and His Word. Regardless of how hopeless our earthly situation may seem, we have Hope in Jesus Christ.

Edward Mote knew this. Born in London in 1797, Mote came to know the Lord at age 18. Long before his days in pulpit ministry (he became a pastor at age 55), Mote spent thirty-seven years as a cabinet maker. One day, on his way to work, Mote had an idea. He explained, “One morning it came into my mind as I went to labour, to write an hymn on the ‘Gracious Experience of a Christian.’:

And that is exactly what he did.

Mote titled his hymn “The Immutable Basis of a Sinner’s Hope”. We know it today as “The Solid Rock”.

Edward Mote knew well in Whom he could place his trust, in Whom he could rest. And he expressed his faith in far more beautiful words that I ever could. Soak in this wonderful verse. Let it fill your soul with the love, grace, mercy, and peace of the Lord our God, Who loves us beyond comprehension. And worship The One Who knows all, created all, and sustains all.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.


On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

—Edward Mote (1797-1874)

You Can Take the Boy Out of Indiana, But…

Our arrival home last Christmas.

It’s really hard to believe. As I write this, I am 19 days away from having lived half my life away from Indiana. For a Hoosier boy, that’s a long time to go without a decent plate of biscuits and gravy.

(A hint for my non-Hoosier friends: tap water is not an ingredient in true gravy. And, by the by, sausage is so integral to this dish that you shouldn’t have to mention it in the name. The presence of sausage – which should not be so tiny as to be indistinguishable from flecks of black pepper – should be safely assumed.)

Hoosier Caviar – Photo by jeffreyw, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

All these years and I still cannot surrender my birth title as a Hoosier. Don’t misunderstand me. Minnesota is a beautiful place to live. But, usually on the eighth or ninth straight sub-zero day in January, I find myself asking, “Why do I live here? What is wrong with me?” (However, when you visit back home in the summer and walk outdoors at 7am only to have sweat plaster your hair to the back of your neck faster than you can say “ick!”, the balance of life becomes obvious.)

God brought us to Minnesota via suburban Chicago for a reason. Perhaps not the reason I thought, but something far better. There are times I feel like an Israelite, wandering the desert whining about the manna. Times I remember the leeks, the melons, the cucumbers, the biscuits and gravy, and I feel the painful twinge to go back home. I miss my family. I miss all my overly-romanticized ideals about being a Hoosier.

Then I remember how God has blessed us for saying “yes” to Him. I see His hand on our lives every step of the journey. I love all the wonderful people the LORD has brought into our lives, our “Minnesota family” if you will. I marvel at the blessings He provides us with – to sustain us, to protect us, to grow us. He has softened my heart to this frigid place where people drive on lakes in winter (which still freaks me out a little).

Most of all, I look at my son Austin. I truly believe our greatest blessing on this earth would have never happened had we not moved to the land of 11,842 lakes (defined as a body of water covering at least 10 acres – so this number leaves out a lot of ponds and bogs!).

Wisconsin claims 15,000 lakes. But I think they’re just jealous.

I have come to realize that, no matter where I live, I am who I am not merely because of where I’m from. I am who Jesus Christ says I am. In Him lies my identity. And while I miss the ol’ folks back home, it’s no good pining for the good things and forgetting the bad. The Israelites remembered the leeks but forgot the reason they left. They forgot what God freed them from. They couldn’t see a better promised land.

I love my family and they love me. That’s the same whether we live six or 600 miles apart. Love is love, no matter the distance. Love wherever you are, because you are where God intends you to be – wthere it’s my Hoosier homeland or America’s southernmost Canadian province).

Love those around you. Love God and show His love to those in your life.

I’ve learned to live without the leeks and melons. But, boy, what I would give for a plate of biscuits with gravy that didn’t come out of a tap.

Meet Melanie, The Uncrushable Humpback of Madeira

Humpback anglerfish (Melanocetus johnsonii), a species of black seadevil (Melanocetidae). From August Brauer (1863–1917): Die Tiefsee-Fische. I. Systematischer Teil.. In C. Chun. Wissenschaftl. Ergebnisse der deutschen Tiefsee-Expedition ‘Valdivia’, 1898-99, 1906. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer.

You’ve seen her in movies such as Disney / Pixar’s Finding Nemo.  She’s appeared on SpongeBob SquarePants,  She’s been the bane of deep sea crustaceans for eons.

She is Melanocetus johnsonii: the Humpback Anglerfish.  We’ll call her Melanie for short.

And Melanie is a lot like you and me.

OK, let me explain.  To look at her, your first reaction may be to recoil in horror.  Let’s face it, at the very least, Melanie is way past due for a trip to the dentist.

She’s no Marilyn Monroe.  But she wasn’t created to be.

Melanie was handcrafted by God to thrive in the environment where He created her to live.  The Creator designed her with a luminescent “bulb” she dangles in front of her gaping mouth to lure prey.  He even provided her with the bacteria that cause her light gland to shine.

(And I thought Rudolph’s red nose was impressive.)

God didn’t just teach Melanie to fish.  He gave her the rod and bait as well.

And, wow, can she eat.  Melanie’s one mean carnivore, with a huge mouth and curved teeth perfectly designed to catch her dinner.  To hold her consumed prey (after all, she needs to hold as much nutrition as possible – shrimp aren’t exactly plentiful at 3,000 feet beneath the surface), Melanie’s stomach can swell to double her size. 

Take that, Mr. Creosote!  (My apologies for the disgusting Monty Python reference.)

Not only can Melanie avoid starvation, she is created to withstand immense pressure.  Consider this: at 100 feet below sea level, divers not wearing pressure suits can begin suffering nitrogen narcosis, leading to lethargy and impaired brain processes.  At 250 feet the average scuba diver becomes incapacitated.  We humans are not designed to live at these depths.  Melanie can live at a depth of 3,000 feet, where the pressure can reach over 1,300 PSI.  To put this in perspective, it takes 10-20 PSI to crush an aluminum drink can.  43-58 PSI underwater can crush a human.  

Like Melanie, we are created for the place God has us.  Melanie’s secret to surviving the pressure she lives in: she has no air within her.  No air = no air pressure.

Our “secret”: faith.  Simple trust in our loving Father God as opposed to our circumstances.  We are designed to serve and glorify God, to love one another, to be salt and light to a dark world.  We are called to follow Jesus Christ:

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? – Matthew 16:24-26 (ESV)

God equips us through His Word, providing us with the wisdom, guidance, comfort and strengthening we need to fulfill our purpose:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.– 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

Just as God provides for Melanie – as well as all of His creation, from the bottom of the sea to the heights of the sky – He provides for our every need as well:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

So, are you where God intends you to be?  Yes.  Are you doing what you were called to do?  If you are trusting Jesus, following God’s Word, seeking the Lord and glorifying Him in your life, yes.  God is after our hearts,  If our hearts are right, the rest will follow.

Like us, God created Melanie, as well as the environment she calls home.  Despite how uninhabitable her undersea world may appear (pitch dark frigid cold, with crushing pressure), the LORD provides Melanie with all she needs to live at the ocean floor. 

Unlike Melanie, we are created not merely to survive, but to thrive in our surroundings.  We are not created to attract as much krill and shrimp as we can consume, but to be a shining example of Christ, using our “bulb” to illuminate the world where we live.

You have a God-ordained purpose.  Find great comfort and joy in that simple fact.  Life isn’t always easy.  But it should be purposeful.

All-Encompassing Gratitude

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4-7 (ESV)

I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop. And I am grateful.

Very grateful.

Grateful to be anywhere outside my home. OK… maybe not anywhere. I’m not neck deep in a vat or boiling tar, or detained indefinitely in a dank foreign prison cell, or attending a political rally.

And, don’t misunderstand me. I am grateful for my home.

But I’m grateful to no longer be under COVID-19 induced house arrest.

Gratitude is a habit I really should work harder to cultivate. If I would learn to see all good things as a gift from God – and this includes the painful and uncomfortable things I would just as soon reject but are good for me – my life would be so much more joyful and productive.

We should be grateful to the LORD for everything,, because everything is in His hands. He is in control. And in that we can all rest peacefully, especially when life feels out of control.

Be grateful when life is difficult, because He is molding me.

Shaping me.

Growing and refining me.

Leading me.

Be grateful for where I am in life. He has me at this station for a reason. I’m thankful I’m not king, not in charge. Who wants that responsibility? I’d foul everything faster than you can say “Uh-oh”.

Be grateful for all I have, tempered with the understanding that my greatest possessions are no tangible possessions at all, but the people God has put in my life, My family. My friends. The people who God put in my path to teach me, open my eyes, influence me. We recently lost a very dear family friend, someone I’ve known all my life. His passing started me thinking about the influence he had on me as a child. And my heart swelled with gratitude to God for having known him.

When we are grateful, the garbage in our lives refocuses, the feeling of hardship diminishes, our spirit flourishes and our life perspective corrects. When we approach God with gratitude, we recognize He alone is God. He alone has our best interests at heart (after all, His will is our best interest, and vice versa),

I am grateful to be in this coffee shop. Now I am grateful to be going home, where my wife and son are – who I am far more grateful for.

Know

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 9:23-24 [ESV]

Knowing God is everything. And I don’t mean knowing about Him. I mean knowing Him.

Knowing God – growing deeper in our relationship with the Lord – is the most worthwhile pursuit we can have in life. It is beyond astounding to see our Father at work in our lives, and the lives of others. To know God is to know peace.

How do we get to know God? Simple:

Study

Don’t just glance over your Bible. Dig in. Study. Connect. Commit.

When we read Scripture, we find God revealed to us. When we begin connecting the dots and seeing the Bible for what it is – the inspired word of God, written over the span of centuries in three different languages by multiple people from many stations of life and cultural backgrounds.

Despite the different writers (from lowly fishermen to royalty, educated men to simple people, often the last person on earth who one would think should be writing God’s word), the 66 books that make up the Bible are , a cohesive whole. The reason is there are many writers, but One Author: God. The Lord inspired the writers with His message, His revelation of Himself.

The more we study the Bible, the more we know about God. But it requires more than Scripture reading.

Prayer

Converse with the Lord. It’s as simple as that. Open your heart to Him. Talk with God, knowing He hears you.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Matthew 6:6-8 [ESV]

Prayer is a conversation. Tell Him your hurts and needs. Ask Him for wisdom and guidance.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:7-11 [ESV]

God hears you. He sees you. He knows you. He loves you.

Believe

It all hinges on faith. Believe. Trust in the Lord. Take God at His Word.

When you read His Word, trust what God’s saying.

When you pray, believe that God hears you. He loves you. He is your Heavenly Father Who sent His Son Jesus to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins that we may have eternal life with Him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6 [ESV]

God is faithful, even when we are not. And God, full of grace and truth, merciful and not merely loving but Love Himself, loves you with a love beyond comprehension. This is why we never need fear, never worry. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all. And He is our All and All.

And the better we know the Lord, the deeper we’ll grow in Him, the firmer our faith will be, the closer our relationship.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8a, ESV).

The more you study His Word; the more you pray; the more you place your full trust in the Lord alone; the better you will know God, and hunger for the Lord and His will.

So Long 2020…

As I reflect on 2020 and try to make sense of the year just passed, I believe God is trying to teach me a few things. Among these lessons is this:

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. – Proverbs 3:5-8 (ESV)

Remember God is sovereign over all. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God does not merely love us. He IS Love. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God is with us always. He will never leave us, never abandon us. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God’s strength, timing and planning are absolutely perfect. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God indwells each of us who believe through the Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Guide. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember we are children of the One True King. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God’s grace is sufficient for us, for whatever we face. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God’s peace – a peace beyond all human comprehension – is available to us. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Remember God with praise and thanksgiving, for He is God. Our hardships do not change that. Our circumstances do not change that. Our pain does not change that.

Sleep well my friends. God loves you. He has you in His arms. You are safe and cared for.

A Very Merry Christmas from the Bouville Diarist!

The wreath. It’s circular shape represents the eternity of God – it is round, no beginning, no end. It is often bedecked with colorful berries or beads or flowers, bejeweled with a beauty befitting a king.

The King.

God encircles us, surrounds us, protects us. We His children rest assured in His love. God loves us so much He sent His only Son to willingly give His life as the perfect sacrifice for us. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we hopeless sinners have hope. We sinful people have cleansing. We have the opportunity to be radically, eternally changed.

Today we celebrate the day God our Father sent His only Son to us. While the actual birth date of Jesus is most likely not December 25, it isn’t the data that matters but the event itself.

So today, feel encircled in His love. He grateful for His grace and forgiveness. Today we celebrate our Savior with gratitude and joy, unable to fathom the size of the gift He has given us. The Lord lavishes His love upon us in more ways than we can possibly imagine.

Despite the chaos of the year near gone – the troubles, the drama, the pain, the suffering – God remains faithful to us. Far more than we to Him.

God loves us. And, today, we celebrate the day His Son Jesus began His earthly journey to the cross.

8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:1-11 (KJV)

Merry Christmas dear friends.