Joyous Reality

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. – Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Over the years I have returned to Philippians 4 more times than I can remember.  Each time I find a little more depth, another facet – like turning a precious gem and seeing something new in the refracted light, another color shimmering off a contoured edge, another image where the light intersects.

Today as I read Philippians 4:8, I was reminded once more to be mindful of how we view things here on earth.  We must not get too caught up in anything this world has to offer.  Whether good or bad, happy or unhappy, celebratory or painful, there is no forever here.  In a very real sense, nothing lasts forever.

Except God.  And His kingdom.  

Remembering this brings me great comfort.  Nothing any of us face is so awful, so tragic, so painful that the Lord won’t look upon us.  Indeed, just the opposite.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, ESV).     The words “very present help” can also be translated “well proven help”.  

In other words, your troubles are not your reality.

Your pain is not your reality.

Your mourning is not your reality.

I say none of this to belittle the hurt you might be feeling.  What I am saying is that, instead of staring at our hardships, or weaknesses, or shame or guilt, or fear, or distress, Paul reminds us to fix our eyes on our true, eternal reality as followers of God through Jesus Christ.  Look at the Lord.  He is our Rock, our Salvation, our Strength.  He is the author of Truth, and the defined of reality.

Our perception is limited.  Instead of trusting in our faulty vision, God – our loving, Heavenly Father – wants us to trust Him.  Rely entirely on Him.  There is no trouble too deep, no pain to piercing, no hardship too tough for God.  God does not simply love you.  He is Love Himself.  Love is His very nature.  

The Bouville Diarist Morning Brief for 28 February 2017

I am not in control.  

Say it out loud: I am not in control.

How we choose to spend / invest our time and energy and resource?  Yes, that is our choice.

What we say, do, think?  How we (re)act?  Yes, our choice.  

But, ultimately, the end results of our labors?  Nope.  That’s in God’s hands.

We are not called to succeed (at least not by the world’s standards).

We are called to follow.  We are called to faithfulness.  We are called to love.

We are called to be Christ followers: humble, gracious, and loving.  We are called to do whatever we do as if we were working for God Himself.  Which, really, we are.

Don’t worry about the outcome.  Don’t sweat the obstacles.  Don’t let the thorn in your side stop you.  

Keep walking the path the Lord has set before you in faith.  He is in control.  We don’t have to try to run the show.

The Swimming Hole

For thus says the L ORD : “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream… – Isaiah 66:12 (ESV)

The Pearl River looked spectacular.  Looking out our hotel window at 1:00am, the neon lights danced on the shimmering ripples below, glimmering in a bright, colorful glow.  To these newly arrived first time travelers to China, the view was inviting.  

Then came sunrise.

Looking out the same window, at the same river, in the light of day, the reality of the river set in.  The beautiful light show of six hours before now had been replaced with what looked like coffee.

With huge tree trunks floating in it.

Nearly six weeks before our arrival in China, and over 1000 miles upstream, the Sichuan province had been rocked with a magnitude 8.0 earthquake which shook much of the country (including Beijing, itself 1000 miles away from the epicenter.  The area was still experiencing aftershocks while we were there.

And a lot of silt, earth and debris was flowing down the Pearl River, through Guangzhou and past our hotel on its way to the South China Sea.

There was something else we saw that was quite surprising.  There were people swimming in this tree trunk ridden coffee water.  Not just once.  Every morning.  They were undeterred by the poor state of the river.  The obstacles and dirt weren’t getting in their way.  This was their urban swimming hole.  And nothing was going to keep them from it.

I wonder how many of us would remain that resolute in the face of obstacles and ick.   When the Lord shines His light on the reality of the situation and the beauty we saw the night before turns to nastiness, do we run away?  Do we become disillusioned and just leave?  Do we find our peace and comfort gone?

I’ve done it.  I’ve let situations – obstacles, other people, the thorn in my own side, difficulties – derail me.  I’ve lost my peace and let others run over me.  I have forgotten Who my solid rock and firm foundation truly is.

I know how it feels to lose one’s swimming hole.

But what we all need to remember when trouble comes is this: despite the debris, the junk, the floating tree trunks in the polluted water, we still need to jump in and swim.  God has placed each of us where we are for a reason.  What is that reason?  I don’t know.  That’s between you and God.

Not only are you where you are for a reason, you are there for a season.  Don’t get too connected to your swimming hole.  Get connected to God.  Follow Jesus.  Know that He is with you always.  Know that your circumstances are not too hard for the Lord.  Know, grow and hang tight to Christ.  It may be ugly.  But the victory is not up to you.

Shalom dear friends.

From the Bouville Archives: No Appointment Necessary – Bold Grace and Mercy

The Bouville Diarist

14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

The grace of God is an amazing gift to behold. You cannot earn it. It is a gift – a gift from an infinitely loving and compassionate Father Who understands what each of us is facing at any and every single moment.

In faith, we have the ability to go to God and talk to Him at any time. He…

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The Bouville Morning Brief for 7 February 2017

No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” – Isaiah 54:17-18 (ESV)

That verse came to me while I was praying last night.  I haven’t read or heard it years.  But, having been reminded of Isaiah 54:17, I want to share three great reminders this reminder brought to mind:

1. God is in control of everything.  Therefore, being His children, we have no reason to fear anything.  There is no place too dark, no enemy too ferocious, no cavern too deep for God.  The Lord created everything.  That means He knows all of creation intimately – even when the enemy twists and misuses God’s creation to try to trip us up.

2. There is great power in reading, studying and memorizing scripture.  It you aren’t storing God’s Word in your heart, start doing it.  Now.  Today.  You’ll be amazed at what – and when – the Lord reminds you of just what you need to know.

3.  Simply trust in the Lord.  Place your whole faith in Him and trust in His strength.  His wisdom.  His love, mercy and grace.  Don’t worry about the outcome.  Do what God says, follow Jesus with your whole heart, and never stop seeking Him first.

God bless you today and always!

Uncertainty

Uncertainty is part and parcel of the world we live in.  It has to be. 

Why?  Because we are flawed human beings.  We do not with a God His attributes goof omniscience, omnipotence or omnipresence.

We don’t know everything.

We aren’t strong over everything.

We cannot be everywhere at the same time.  (Ask any parent with little ones.  They will confirm that one.)

Uncertainty can be scary.  It makes us feel vulnerable.  It exposes how little control we have.

But uncertainty is good, as long as it leads us to the One Certainty we need to embrace: the Certainty of God through Jesus Christ.

You can read His a Word with certainty, knowing God keeps His Word.

Knowing that, in Him, we can embrace uncertainty, because He is in control.

No matter what we face – without exception – there is nothing too hard for our Father.  No task too great.  No pain beyond healing.  No trial too fierce.

In all things, at all times, just trust God.  Don’t give in too anxiety.  Don’t stare at the problem.  Cast your cares on God make Him your certainty, your solid rock, your sanctuary.

Finding John

Who do you want to meet when you get to Heaven?  It is a question you may have been asked in casual conversation.  Maybe it’s a notion you’ve rolled around in your mind. I’d like to think that we’ll be so radically overawed by the presence of God that any desire we may have to ask questions of people we held in high esteem on earth will evaporate.  Besides, nothing of this earth will matter when we get there.

Still… while we’re bound by gravity to this material world, it can be an entertaining thought.  Who would I like to meet in Heaven?  And what would I want to ask?

I would like to meet the apostle John.  Mind you, meeting any of the disciples would be amazing.  

But John…

John seems so different.  As a young man, he and his brother were the “sons of thunder”.  They must have wild, and wildly competitive.  I want to know what made him so humble.  How did he find his identity, his sense of life direction?

John – along with Simon Peter – was present at all of the major events involving Jesus recorded in the New Testament.  While Peter would misinterpret, misunderstand and act in a misguided manner, John doesn’t display such impetuousness.

By the time Jesus is on the cross, John is showing signs of maturity.  While the other apostles scattered after Jesus’ arrest, John is the remnant who boldly went to Golgotha with his Lord and Savior.  Not only that, Jesus entrusts John to care for His mother, Mary.

Through it all, John sets the bar high for humility.  In his gospel account, he never refers to himself by name.  Rather he is “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.  And He puts Christ squarely at the very center of his life.  No swashbuckling removal of ears or attempts to garner the Lord’s favor.  

John did not find himself in his fishing profession, or his birthplace.  John identified himself solely in Jesus Christ, through God’s love – a major theme in John’s gospel and epistles.  Love – entirely selfless, wholly perfect – is central to John.  And not that John loves Jesus but, rather, that Jesus loves him.

When I get to Heaven, I’d like to ask John how he did it.  How did he bear all he did and not grow bitter?  How did he stay so humble?  How did he find so much strength?

But, I imagine John might simply say, “Shhhh…  we’re worshipping right now.  After all, the only thing that matters is that He loves us first and unconditionally.  We are His.”

Then it would all make sense.

Peace, Part 2: The Simple Source of Strength (or, This Week’s Episode is Brought to You By…)

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1 (ESV)

If the Gospel of John were a television series, this is the point at the beginning of episode 14 where the announcer would say, “Previously – on the Gospel of John.”  And we would get the replay of John 13 in short video bites:

  • Jesus washes the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper, teaching them the importance of servanthood and humility.
  • The betrayer in their midst (Judas Iscariot) is revealed.
  • A new commandment is given: love one another.
  • Jesus begins breaking the news to His disciples: they won’t be able to follow Him – at least not for awhile.
  • Peter is told a bitter truth about his faith, and himself.

As the camera closes in on Simon Peter’s downtrodden face, we hear Jesus say, ““Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”

Roll opening title sequence and cool Newsboys theme music.

Of course this is no TV show.  This is reality.  And chapter 13 of John’s gospel presents a lot of reality being dumped on these unsuspecting disciples in a very short span of time.

Indeed, it all takes place during the course of one Passover meal.

And, sadly, Judas Iscariot is not the only betrayer revealed this night.  In a sense, Peter is outed as well (although his “betrayal” is not a case of premeditated deception, but a lack of true faith in Jesus’ promises resulting in Peter’s thrice denial of knowing the Lord).

Try to imagine how deflated and confused these men must have felt.  Jesus said, “Follow me”.  And they did – leaving everything behind and walking with Jesus for around three years.  Now He is telling His disciples they cannot go where He is headed?

Things would get worse as the night – the weekend – progressed.  But the lows of Friday and Saturday will be more than justified by the unsurpassable glory of the coming Sunday dawn.

But, for now, they had no real idea of what was about to hit them.

And Jesus is giving them the words they will need to remember: “Don’t worry.  Just believe in Me.”

Jesus knew they would run for their lives.  He knew they would be afraid.  He understood their human frailties.

But He loved them.  The flaws did not change the fact that these were His disciples.  Jesus was there, preparing the remaining eleven for the road ahead.  The changes would be great, as would be the pressure and the temptations.

The same holds true for us today.  We are God’s children.  The Lord loves us, despite our failures and weaknesses.  He guides us, even / especially when the path ahead is rocky and treacherous.

It is the reason Paul could later take the words Christ gave him with great confidence and hope:

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

Quite simply, we are to called to follow Jesus, without fear of anything, in great faith, clinging to hope, knowing He is in control and we are part of God’s plan and God’s plan will not be thwarted.

People can threaten us. They can make us uncomfortable.  But they cannot separate us from God.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39 (ESV)

Walk out today with fresh faith.  Look to the Lord and His promises.  See what Jesus has done for you because of His great love.  And do not be afraid of any circumstances.

There is nothing too hard for God.  Trust Him – no matter what.

 

Peace, part one: Opening the Hydrant

I’ve said it before and will continue to say it with great conviction, reverence and astonishment: there is not one wasted word in the Bible.  Not one bit of filler.  Not one ounce devoid of depth and meaning.

The Bible is not a book to speed read through.  You have to slow down.  You have to prayerfully approach this precious tome for it is the very real, very true, very living and active word of God Himself.  This is no mere collection of ancient writings.  Make no mistake: men may have penned the words, but God is the Author.

And He is trying to tell us a lot.

About Himself.

About us.

About life.

About what’s important.

About perspective.

I have been prayerfully reading John 14 today.  And I caught myself reading way too fast.  For example, there is a great temptation to take John 14:27 and just run with it:

27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – John 14:27 (ESV)

In and of itself, this verse brings us great comfort.  For me, it stands as a reminder that the Lord is always with me.  His peace is beyond circumstances.  Indeed, no earthly situation can truly remove the peace of Jesus from our hearts.  Problems may kick us and knock us around.  But as long as we remember and cling tight to the promises of God, His peace stands firm within us.

But if we merely stop at John 14:27, not looking at the context and the cross-references and considering the audience, etc., we do ourselves a great disservice.

We need to slow down and take time to let the Lord unfold His Word to us, revealing in our hearts what He has for us.  It can be a lot like drinking from a fire hydrant, but what a blessing it is to savor His Word.

So… I think I will be parked at John 14 for a bit.  Would you like to join me?  I’d love the company.