Posted by: mikenicholsblog | February 18, 2021

the rest of a story … for your story

What a season!  It has been weeks since the ground in Northeast Ohio wasn’t snow covered. Who can ever remember Texas being a frozen tundra and Nashville seemingly under siege for a year (a tornado, terrorist attack, and now a deep freeze)?!  Oh, and, by the way, it has been almost a year of wearing masks and watching nonstop political acrimony. What a season!  And then this week, I read about Job. He is certainly the poster child for ‘what a season!’

Paul Harvey brought smiles to millions with the rest of the story.  However, his humorous and profound stories are no match for the rest of the story found in Job chapter forty-two. What we see of Job’s life through the pages of Scripture causes us to “feel his pain” and genuinely hurt for him. Losing his family, being directly attacked by Satan, and the condescension of his friends all took their toll. We catch a glimpse of his pain through his emotional and passionate words. But then something happened: God spoke! And the rest of the story is a picture of grace, forgiveness, healing and restoration.

If you have read the book of Job, you know God speaks in chapters 38-41. The counsel of others brought hurt, not help, in the midst of Job’s plight. But when God spoke, Job was deeply moved. Principles from Job chapter forty-two provide a dramatic conclusion. Let the rest of his story give hope for your journey.

I know that you can do all
things; no plan of yours can be
thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who
is this that obscures my counsel
without knowledge?’ Surely I
spoke of things I did not
understand, things too wonderful
for me to know.

My ears had heard of you but
now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I despise myself and
repent in dust and ashes.

Job 42:2-3, 5-6

For lack of a better way to say it, after God spoke Job got the message. He acknowledges God’s power and responds to God’s wisdom. And although I cannot know the depths of verse five, I believe Job was now seeing with eyes of faith and understanding that gave him the ability to accept God’s plan. Can you remember a time where your hearing became seeing, and your view of God’s plan became clear? And then when Job’s eyes were opened, repentance came. Whether at the moment of salvation, or along the spiritual journey, when our eyes are opened to our sin, repentance is needed.

As the rest of the story nears its conclusion, reconciliation between Job and his friends is in full view. God gave strong instructions to Job’s friends and Job prayed for them. It was after this prayer that God restored to Job prosperity and blessed him again with ten more children. I sensed a heart of forgiveness in Job as he prayed for those who abused him. I sensed a heart of grace from God to restore Job’s wealth and give him children. I am profoundly touched by the words of verse twelve. “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” (WOW!) When we face trials, do we really believe that what God has for us is better than anything we could imagine or wish for ourselves outside of that trial?

What a season! I can’t speak to global weather patterns, awful viruses and political acrimony, but I know God is in control. And God knew what He was doing with Job in his tough season. He also knows what He is doing with you and me. He knows the rest of our story.

So hold tight in your current season, and trust God with your story.

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | January 31, 2021

faith in the Faithful One

A month of reading through familiar portions of the Old Testament has taken us from a garden to a wilderness, from family struggles to a nation’s unbelief, all the while reminding us of the frailty and selfishness of mankind, the power of God, and His great patience.  We have seen faith exhibited and certainly significant examples of failure in trusting God. From Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Esau to Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samson, Samuel and Saul, the Old Testament has reminded us that God can be trusted. No matter how men and women of all ages have battled sin, selfishness, doubt, relational struggles and trust issues, God has always been trustworthy.

February’s journey through Scripture (from David’s battle with Goliath all the way to Jesus’ profound teaching in the Sermon on the Mount), will show again God’s profound grace and trustworthiness … and man’s struggle to trust Him.  In your continuing journey with us, know that there is nothing that can encourage, strengthen and prepare us for each day’s battle like the Word of God.  Nothing!  And if your life is anything like mine, there is a deep need to receive daily insight from His Word.

As you read and seek God through His Word, I am trusting and will pray for a year of defining moments in your life. Moments of growth and deeper faith for the journey ahead!  I would like to share such a moment from the life of Hudson Taylor that I have personally just revisited. I believe Taylor loved His Lord and wanted to fulfill God’s design for his life. After all, he landed in China in 1854 and started the China Inland Mission. But, for a season, he also struggled mightily in his faith. Then, as I recall, a letter from a friend birthed a defining moment. From that point forward, he stopped striving to be faithful and would instead trust the Faithful One. In essence, he shifted the weight of his faith journey from himself to the Faithful One!  Something all of us need to do.

Think of struggling with faith issues and doubt and then, as the result of the shift …

 “I am no longer anxious about anything … for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine.  It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me, for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the difficult His grace is sufficient.  It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases.  So, if God should place me in great perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency!  And His resources are mine—for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.”
Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secrets, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor
(emphasis is mine)

You and I may never claim to be a Hudson Taylor, but we have God’s love letter to us, and in Christ, His power within us.  Could it be that as we read through His Word in 2021, we sense the grace to stop striving and begin to daily lean on the Faithful One? That will be a defining moment.

Continue the Journey in Scripture with us this month!

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | January 13, 2021

nothing-new-under-the-sun families

“I want more” were the words which came to mind as I read Scripture yesterday morning. “More of what?” you might ask. In doing a survey of the Bible in 60 days, we are brushing broad strokes across stories that I hold dear. Don’t just give me pieces and parts of Joseph’s story, “I want more.” In this discontent I must remind myself (and you) not to worry. By the time we finish ’21, Joseph and other Bible characters will give you the “more” we’re looking for! And speaking of 21, I wonder in our overview of Genesis if you’ve noticed some patterns that bring to mind 21st century living?

Cain and Abel … family issues!
Noah … family issues!
Lot … family issues!
Jacob and Esau … family issues!
Joseph and his brothers … family issues!

Woven through the fabric of Genesis is a foreshadowing of family relationships in our own time (nothing new under the sun, indeed, Solomon).  Dysfunctional! Almost everyone has looked at their family (or extended family) and wondered what in the world is happening. In our minds, things should be better. And in our weakest moments, we even feel sorry for ourselves. Jacob’s words in Genesis 42:36 ring in my ears as I think about the family dynamics of today. He seemed at his wit’s end.

Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my sons. Joseph is gone and Simeon is gone. Now you want to take Benjamin. Everything happens to me!” (HCSB)

Granted, he was at a hard place, but his words (Everything happens to me) remind me of how we all sometimes feel when our family dynamics are in upheaval.

Over the last two weeks in reading pieces and parts of Genesis, issues of selfishness, immorality, deceitfulness, bad decisions and even favoritism have been exposed. As your friend, I would venture to say that your family faces some of those very issues today. The sin and dysfunction in families centuries ago, along with the models of wrong thinking and selfish living are alive and well today. So, what should Christ-followers do amid circumstances we seemingly can’t control, fix, or avoid? Take a moment to look with me at the character from Genesis I mentioned in the opening paragraph … Joseph. In reading his story, I see a heart of unfailing forgiveness. After his brothers threw his life into a tailspin that God used for His glory, we find the words of Genesis 50:20 …

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. (NLT)

God’s grace had worked so deeply in this man that his perspective with his brothers was amazing.

The view of family life in Genesis with all its dysfunction but also pictures of faith, trust and forgiveness, is the nothing-new-under-the-sun one we have today. Two thoughts come to mind as to how we can navigate family life in 2021. First, decide to ask this question of every family situation: What is His perspective?” Consistently asking God for His perspective changes the way you look at others and how you respond to them. And believe me, God has a perspective on how to handle dysfunction. Ask the question daily! Second, frame all family relationships through the lens of Ephesians 4:29. Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (NLT) If you and I consistently give words of encouragement, forgiveness and healing, our families will see a picture of what life can be. Try it!

There will always be dysfunction. But as Christ-followers, we have God’s perspective from His Word to navigate our family relationships. Your family dysfunction may not end in 2021, but your life of encouragement and forgiveness can make a difference.

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | January 6, 2021

a behind-the-scenes servant

We just jumped into 2021, and sadly it doesn’t seem much different than the year we just left behind … and never want to mention again. In reading through specific passages from Genesis, it becomes obvious the earth’s early days were also filled with unsettledness, immorality and family failure. But yesterday morning, I was reminded of hope in my Lord who answers specifically and miraculously.

Who is the most godly, wise, behind-the-scenes person you know? I am speaking of a man or woman who doesn’t live for recognition but who certainly deserves it. When you need encouragement, a kind or gentle word, prayer for a need, or a special favor, you know this behind-the-scenes friend will be there for you. Several years ago, I was given a magnificent book called Lead for God’s Sake, by Todd Gongwer.  The book exemplified the person just described in the words above. Joe was his name, and the value he added to the fictional story has never left me.  In Scripture, we tend to focus on characters who are well-known like Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah. There are also great lessons to be learned from the not-so famous characters of Scripture. Yesterday’s reading led me to a little-known man (not named Joe) who God used in a marvelous way.

Abraham was old and very blessed.  His wife Sarah had gone to be with the Father and Isaac, their son of promise, was approximately forty years old.  Abraham determines that his chief servant should go to the land of his birth and get a wife for Isaac. So, he made a covenant with his servant to go to the land of Mesopotamia and bring back a wife.  In that day, matrimonial arrangements were made by parents, and the chosen partners were to come from one’s own tribe.  Without this context you may be wondering why Abraham was leading the charge for Isaac’s wife (at Isaac’s age). This whole scenario is rich with meaning and could fill hours of discussion, but for purposes of this article, what about the behind-the-scenes servant?

Genesis twenty-four doesn’t mention the servant’s name, but some writers feel this was none other than Eliezer, who had risen to the position of chief servant.  He is mentioned in Genesis (15:2) as the one who would have received Abraham’s estate if he had no son.  Isaac was born and obviously the inheritance became his. So, if the servant was Eliezer, he earns my admiration for being a loyal, yet displaced servant.  Even if the servant wasn’t Eliezer, his actions in this chapter are wise, godly, and an example to all Christ-followers.

Abraham’s servant headed out with ten camels and lots of gifts from his master.  His dependence on God is quite evident in his prayer after arriving at the well in the town of Nahor.  Note his prayer in Genesis 24:12-14.

“O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,” he prayed. “Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown unfailing love to my master.”

Rebekah appears on the scene, and the servant asks for a little water from her jar.  Verse nineteen states, When she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough to drink.”  What an answer to prayer!  By the way, a single camel could hold up to twenty-five gallons of water … but she watered all the camels.

So, what’s the big deal?  God chose to use a behind-the-scenes “Joe” to seek out the wife of Isaac and mother of Jacob and Esau. We don’t know much about him, but his legacy for me will always be that he prayed specifically, and God answered miraculously.  Most of us will never be in the limelight or have an easily recognizable name; we are literally behind-the-scenes in the master plan of God. But if our legacy is that we prayed specifically, and God answered miraculously … wow!

The God who answered then, still answers in 2021.  Are you praying specifically … Joe?!

Posted by: pmarkrobb | January 2, 2021

humble ourselves and pray

A few days ago, I was in a deeply meaningful early morning coffee conversation with my Mom when my Dad slipped into the room and joined us. He seemed quite content to listen as we talked. We certainly weren’t solving any world-sized problems, but there was good and godly wisdom being shared on the subject of the big “C” Church’s response to the current state of things in our fractured land. At some point, Dad very quietly stood and walked over to the bookshelf in the corner of the living room. My focus didn’t follow him, but he seemed to linger for only a short time then returned to the couch empty-handed. “What were you looking at?” my Mom asked very soon after Dad sat back down. I don’t recall his exact response, but he spoke little more than the words of the chapter and verse he had gone to the bookshelf to confirm.

“There’s just a couple of things that would make all the difference. II Chronicles 7:14. If my people who are called by my name would humble themselves and pray.”

In an instant, all else seemed like just talk. It seemed so in God’s glorious and gracious way that didn’t take from the good and godly that had already been shared, but spoke all its truth strongly, succinctly, simply and solely in His words. Can you imagine the outcome of a great humbling and praying in our country, of all God’s people choosing the way of forgiveness and mercy? The whole of verse fourteen speaks perfectly to the healing that is so desperately needed in our land and turns our human instincts upside down in the way the Beatitudes did … and do. Maybe you question the application of that truth to where we find ourselves today, but I would suggest that it speaks into it quite wholly. I believe it would be right to judge us as too proud if we do not see first our own need to humble ourselves, pray, and seek His face.     

I am choosing to take two things from that sacred morning conversation with my Mom and Dad. The first is the reminder that my (our) posture in regard to all things should be humility. It was the way of our Savior in all things, and it should also be ours. And in that spirit (maybe better capitalized), it should also be our first instinct to fall, not fight. We should be falling into the arms of the Father in trust, and to our knees to seek His will, way and wisdom for all things. There are wrongs we should stand opposed to and forces to be resisted, but who is doing the fighting?

My second takeaway was the great goodness and imperative of being in God’s Word daily. The whole of the early morning with Mom and Dad reminded me just how important it is to hide God’s Word in my heart (Psalm 119:11) and respond with IT, rather than with words and wisdom that can so easily become my own. I love being involved with Journey onWord, whose singular purpose is to provide opportunity and encouragement to read the Bible daily.  

In these first few days of a new year, it feels for many like things are beginning again. The turn of a page on a calendar or the sunrise at the beginning of a new day are intensely welcome to the one whose heart is bending in the direction of newness and hope. But I am also keenly aware that this is not so for some. Dawn broke on 2021, and its morning and evening were not a new beginning for them… and the forecast isn’t suggesting much different for the next today (or the next one after that one). For a reason only God knows, I cannot shake a compel to offer a link to a post written this past Resurrection Day. It speaks a truth into the darkness that some are still experiencing at the second dawn or noonday of the new year. If you are the nameless one who God has so strongly on my heart right now, I invite you to click here to read about a powerful and not oft mentioned detail of Resurrection morning. In reading, I pray you are reminded that God sees you, is for you, and loves you without condition or ceasing.

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | December 26, 2020

2021 Daily Bible Reading Plan

Everything has changed this year. Well, almost everything! The Word of God has never changed, and 2020 was no different. 2021 will be the same. The Word won’t change, but it will change our lives if we engage it with an open heart willing to apply what it says. Journey onWord will have a singular focus for 2021 … to present opportunities for people to engage Scripture, and then trust God to change lives as He chooses.

With that focus in mind, please take a moment to read the introduction to our 2021 Bible reading plan.  It will give you insight into our journey through Scripture during the coming year. After reading the introduction, we would be honored if you used this plan for your devotional reading.

BEFORE YOU IS A UNIQUE BIBLE READING PLAN FOR 2021. AS YOU JOURNEY THROUGH SCRIPTURE, YOU WILL START WITH A 60-DAY OVERVIEW OF THE ENTIRE BIBLE. AFTER A SHORT REFLECTIVE PERIOD COVERING THE CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, YOUR JOURNEY WILL BEGIN AGAIN THROUGH THE SCRIPTURES. FOR THE REST OF 2021, YOU WILL ENJOY STUDYING THE WORD OF GOD WITH CHARACTER STUDIES. FROM ABRAHAM TO JONAH TO JESUS AND BEYOND, YOUR HEART WILL BE REFRESHED BY MEN AND WOMEN WHOSE LIVES TEACH US SO MUCH FOR OUR JOURNEY TODAY. WITH TYPICALLY ONLY ONE OR TWO CHAPTERS A DAY OF READING, AND TWO REFLECTION DAYS PER WEEK (EXCLUDING JAN 2 & 3) YOU HAVE IN FRONT OF YOU A PLAN THAT WE TRUST WILL ENCOURAGE, CHANGE AND IMPACT YOUR LIFE DEEPLY. THE PLAN IS DESIGNED SO YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH EACH DAY’S READING, WHILE HAVING THE TIME TO THINK AND REFLECT ON THE PASSAGE BEFORE YOU. REFLECTION DAYS ARE DESIGNED FOR TIMES OF REFLECTION, AND OF COURSE, CATCHING UP ON EACH WEEK’S READING, IF NEEDED. WE HOPE YOU ENJOY THE JOURNEY.

2021 will again be a year of change. Using the unchanging Word of God as your guide is the way to start, travel through, and finish the coming year.

The 2021 reading plan is linked below and will be attached to the automatic email notice of this post. It will also be available at any time by visiting www.journeyonword.com and clicking the link in the DAILY BIBLE READING section. We pray you will consider taking a journey through Scripture with us in 2021!

Journey onWord Team

2021 Journey onWord Daily Bible Reading Plan

Posted by: pmarkrobb | December 20, 2020

the father of the Father’s Son

Since 1976, there has been an inauspicious title bestowed upon the very last player taken in the National Football League’s annual draft. In an otherwise mountain-top moment that countless kids dream of, they become Mr. Irrelevant. Oddly enough, this title popped into my mind recently as I was spending a bit of time considering the Nativity and the character of Joseph.

He was the father of the Father’s Son. Yes, read that carefully and slowly again, the father of the Father’s Son. Doesn’t that just sound oddly redundant? Stepping into the sandals, can you see how this bends a bit in the direction of the Nativity’s Mr. Irrelevant? Jesus needed a mother. Prophesy was clear that the Messiah would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14). The divinity of the Christ-child made it clear that he wouldn’t be born of an earthly father. When the angel visited an expectant parent and exclaimed, “Greetings, favoured one!”, he wasn’t talking to Joseph.

But here’s where that whole vain train ends. That isn’t how things are with God. There isn’t a person anywhere, ever (are you listening?) who is irrelevant to God. This is God’s story, and He doesn’t do irrelevant. So, here is the truth I heard first and loudest but that is also, quite literally, only half of the whole truth … God doesn’t need us. It is a genuine, capital “T” truth that God doesn’t need you or I to accomplish His will. And yet, the inextricable, other-side-of-the-same-coin Truth in the form of a grand mystery is that He desperately wants us and chooses for us to go and do with Him in accomplishing His will. We are His masterpiece, remember (Ephesians 2:10 NLT), created intentionally for good things He authored specifically for us in eternity past.

Proof isn’t required here, but didn’t prophecy clearly say that Jesus would come from David’s line? Joseph is not irrelevant. In the harrows and hardships of the pregnancy and birth and fleeing to Egypt, wouldn’t a decisive, selfless, obedient and merciful man be an essential helpmate to the favoured one God had chosen to carry his Son? Joseph is not irrelevant. The sensitivity and strength Joseph showed at every turn was a beautiful, godly example to every husband. And his decisiveness and devotion were clearly evidenced in each of the visits of an angel in a dream. On all four occasions, after the angel speaks, you’ll find some variation of the words, “and Joseph woke up and did what the angel said.”

Scripture speaks of Joseph as a just, faithful or righteous man (Matthew 1:19 – various translations). To me, this is God’s choosing of Noah as the only man suitable with whom to start over again. It is His choosing of Abraham who would raise the knife on his own beloved son. It is His choosing of Joseph with the colored coat, and Elizabeth with the barren womb and David and Mary Magdalene and Joshua and Ruth and Jonah and Anna and so, so many others.

Joseph’s wife would be ever near in Jesus’ earthly ministry and in the deeply sacred work of His dying and rising. We would hear nothing of Joseph after a casual reference in the temple incident when Jesus was twelve. But he was, and forever will be, the father of the Father’s son. He was not needed, but intentionally chosen. He was the essential non-essential. He was everything that God desires in each of us — merciful, faithful, selfless and true.

Our attentions will soon be immersed in the celebration of our dear Savior’s birth. Emmanuel, God with us. May our eyes be fixed on Him as we sing for joy and fall to our knees in worship. As our focus begins to narrow from the full narrative of the Nativity, I pray you see Joseph in a way that invites every one of us into this Greatest Story Ever Told. God has put down His pen, but He is still writing His story in and through the lives of each of His children. Oh, come let us adore Him.

Posted by: pmarkrobb | December 13, 2020

emergency or Emmanuel?

The word “unprecedented” has been all but worn out in describing the nature of what we have walked through as people, families, and communities of faith and geography in 2020. I suppose that’s because it’s hard to find a truer word. Bodies are under attack by a terrible virus, yes, but I also believe other, equally destructive contagions have been loosed by the necessities of our response to the pandemic. Things like quarantine and personal protective equipment have isolated us in ways that are, well … unprecedented. And I could write for days in detailing the woes, worries, curses, and costs, but …

(Yes, the abrupt stop is purposeful and, oh, how it is needed.)

If we can (just for a few minutes here in this space) quiet all that noise, I would like to offer a clear and concise question. One I believe to be more fundamental than any of the thousand, million others that could be asked. That question is:

“Where do I go?”

Our lives and our world are a full orchard of low hanging fruit when it comes to what can trouble our hearts. But exactly in this moment, in the midst of the minutes that make up this day, our Lord clearly whispers to us, “Let not your heart be troubled.”  John 14:1 (KJV)

I can only imagine how some might respond to that suggestion or the astronomical odds some would give on the reality of living with a quieted, peaceful heart right now. I know. I promise I know. But can you give yourself just a sliver of time today to hear that whisper? To push back against the tide that continues to crest and break over the rocks or sand of your shoreline and just get quiet. Where have you been going for answers? Who has become your expert? Who is the person in whom you place the most trust?

I see a very clear challenge in our right now. A challenge to us in the singular sense, and to all of us as families and communities together. For you, and for us all together, will this be a season of emergency or Emmanuel? Sure, that’s catchy and certainly fits with the blessed event we are Adventing, but I am not trying to be catchy or Christmassy. There is a choice before us. A very real and fundamental challenge to our believing what we believe. A life-altering challenge to our trust. A fierce storm is upon us. Will we be battered about by the fierce winds, frantically filling and spilling buckets of water over the edge of our sinking ship or will others find us with the One who is sleeping below deck? I believe, in many ways, people of genuine faith have mistaken masks and other things like that as the battle before us. But I see us as disciples of Jesus standing in a boat in an unprecedented storm. And like them then, our test now is … emergency or Emmanuel?

These are not times when the light-hearted and more surface experiences of things like “happy” or “fun” seem near. But do not believe the lie the enemy of God is most certainly peddling right now — that deeper and truer things like goodness, joy and peace are not possible. Go to Him. Go below deck where He is sleeping. Don’t rouse. Gently lay the body blows and every bit of your very real burden at His feet. Give Him your worry, anger, fear, depression, indecision, heartache, mistrust or loneliness. Give Him all those things you’ve turned to that were other than Him. Fight the urge to take any or all of it back. Hear Him whisper these words into your heart.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33 (NIV)

This is so very important for us, but there are also kingdom implications. If God wills and also waits in His coming again, there will be other times when being ready with an answer for the hope that is within you could be just what someone else notices or needs. But do you see that chance now? If there were ever a time when a kind word turning away wrath or standing tall and sure as the wind whips around you would cause someone to take notice, it is now. Father, help us be ready. Give us opportunities to share our answer for the Hope that is within me. There are still so many who need You.

When all else around us suggests or shouts otherwise, God is on His throne. Not a single second of our circumstances or sufferings escape His notice. Take heart my brother or sister, He is sovereign. He is near. Emmanuel, my brother and sister. God with us. He who spoke the world into existence and with His life and death and resurrection broke the power of evil and death is holding all of this … and He is holding you. Take heart. Go to Him.

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | November 22, 2020

and genuine thanksgiving to Him is in order

Later this week, we will all pause for our annual tradition of Thanksgiving. It feels different this year with all the rules and encouragements for smaller family gatherings, eating outside or six feet apart. But perhaps we can distinguish this as an “of the world” mindset and fix our minds, rather, on the freedoms of being “in the world.” The source of real Thanksgiving for all Christ-followers is our God, and He is still good. When it seems that all else has, His love has not changed. Please reflect on the following words, and lead your family and loved ones with this truth: He is good and His love endures forever.

Every year as Thanksgiving approaches, we can look back over the last year and say, as Charles Dickens did in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times and the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”  Each year, our past and future will be part joy and difficulty, smiles and tears, new energy and tired bodies. In 1621 when the pilgrims gave thanks, it was not without recognition of the heartbreak of the last year. When President Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving a nation-wide holiday in 1789, he knew the struggles which were behind and before the people of the fledgling republic. But with a grateful heart, he declared it to be a day of prayer and giving thanks to God. Over 200 years later, the day is still special.  Joys and difficulties persist, but God is still good … and genuine thanksgiving to Him is in order.

Truth be told, for many, Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday of the year. Families gather, the turkey and trimmings are great (and so are the leftovers).  Football comes in the afternoon, and for some it’s a four-day weekend. If you are like me, those items alone create thankfulness, but there has to be more.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts
with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 103:4-5

When life seems too difficult, He cares .. He is good and His love endures forever
When the sun is bright, and we can smile .. He is good and His love endures forever
When we pray, He has the answers .. He is good and His love endures forever
When we are fearful, grace is available .. He is good and His love endures forever
When hope fades, and no one understands .. He is good and His love endures forever

With all the joys and sorrows of this past year, one thing never changed. He is good and His love endures forever! It is easy to immerse ourselves in each new challenge, and forget that He is good and His love endures forever. In 1621, the pilgrims stopped in the midst of their struggle to give thanks. Should we be any different? He is good and His love endures forever.   As we celebrate Thanksgiving later this week, let those words ring clear. You may (like me) have a tendency to get caught up in all the earthly joy of the holiday, but God’s grace has been poured out on our country and our lives, and He deserves our deepest thanks and highest praise.

He is good and His love endures forever!

Posted by: mikenicholsblog | July 20, 2020

subtle selfishness

It’s happened to all of us. We’ve spoken (maybe even passionately) to someone who was absolutely not listening. We could see it in their eyes, that our words were falling on deaf ears. Conversely, we’ve also been on the receiving end of a conversation where we had absolutely no idea what the speaker was saying. We all make excuses for not listening. We were distracted, extremely tired, in a hurry, there were too many details — the list goes on and on. At the core of our poor listening is a subtle selfishness. It whispers, I am more important than you. Those words may sound overly blunt or harsh, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

The people in our lives deserve to be heard. I heard someone say once, “When I speak, all anyone hears is blah, blah, blah!” You, like me, have probably felt that way. Sadly, we’ve also listened that way. Listening can be boiled down to one word … focus!

Writing about this subject without admitting my failures would be inappropriate. I’m pretty driven and intentional as to what I want to accomplish. Without much effort, my agenda will dictate my thinking and I can easily lose focus on what others are saying to me.  I would never want to say it this way, but it is the subtle selfishness I mentioned above; I am more important than you, or my time is too important to stop what I am doing and listen to you. It’s easy to say “just listen.” It’s far more difficult to live deliberately present in each moment, and “really listen.” Do you struggle as a good listener?

In my personal growth journey, I ran across some pages that were ripped from an article. The words truly help me frame the way I should actively listen and be present with others in a profound way. If you will take the same words and internalize them, your listening skills will improve and others will sense that you are truly focusing on them and care about their needs.  The words were written in the Cedarville TORCH magazine in 2011. They can be attributed to a great author, Dr. Richard Swenson.

“The focus of Christ’s ministry was always the person standing in front of Him. The person standing in front of me is an obstacle I ‘m trying to get over, under, around, or through because I’m late for whatever is down the road.  Jesus did not cure every case of leprosy in Israel. If you could just look at it or touch it and heal it, wouldn’t you hold a clinic until 3a.m. every morning? Wouldn’t you give the disciples only an hour of sleep and keep running from village to village? Jesus didn’t do that; He knew there would be more leprosy tomorrow. How completely contrary that is to my whole mentality.”

His focus was always the person standing in front of Him … Hmmm! Although I don’t have an exact example to give you, I believe with all my heart that Christ dealt with people that way. It’s my opinion that His attention and care was directed toward the needs of those (individually or as a group) who were in front of Him at any given moment. Living with this kind of focus is a rarity in our fast-paced, check-my-cell-phone, read-my-texts, get-to-the-next-meeting world. As a result, we hear half statements, draw wrong conclusions, offend those we love, and selfishly infer I am more important than you. I’ll say it again, listening can be boiled down to one word … focus!

A popular mantra in the 1990’s was WWJD (What Would Jesus Do).  I can tell you one thing He would do, because I believe He did it. He would focus on the person right in front of Him. So should I, and so should you! Today, you will stand in front of someone who is speaking to you. Will your eyes drift, will your hand reach for a phone, or will your mind wander to another place? You know what Jesus did … and what He wants you to do. Listen with laser focus and show others the care that Christ would have definitely shown them (and you). I haven’t mastered it yet, but I’m growing. Grow with me!

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