Author Archives: jenlvest

Joshua 22-24; Psalm 116; Luke 19

Today I’m sharing Psalm 116 in my own words followed by a song, entitled Psalm 116, by one of my favorite artists. (If you’ve never rearticulated/rewritten a Psalm from your own perspective back to God, I encourage you to try it!)

Psalm 116

I love you, Father.  Thank you for knowing me and knowing my voice specifically and for HEARING and ANSWERING my prayers.

You have shown me in the past that You hear and listen, so I know that, for the rest of my life, I can talk to You anytime and You will hear me.

I have experienced grief and sorrow.  At times, the sadness and fear are almost too much to bear.  

But I remember! Because I know that You have heard and answered in the past, I can call on You NOW and ask for help and comfort.

God, You are so kind and loving to me.  You make ALL things right even when this world seems very WRONG to me.

Thank You for protecting me even (and especially!) when I don’t realize I need Your protection.  You guard me in every way- physically, spiritually, and emotionally. You protect me from my own ignorance and inexperience. You pick me up and carry me when I am at my very weakest.
 
I’m a worrier, God. I lose a lot of sleep worrying. But I should be able to rest peacefully, having left all my worries and concerns with You.  You have blessed me more than I could ever know or articulate. Because you have done good things for me in the past, I know You will do them in the future.

Unlike the author of this Psalm, I haven’t faced the possibility of my own physical death.  Although I have experienced times when it seemed like death would be a welcome relief from the struggles of life and the sins of the world, You give me hope.  Your Word and Your reputation of kept promises console me and keep me from spiraling into despair.

And I have the assurance that, while I live on this earth, I am living in Your very presence because of the salvation You have so generously bought for me.

I confess that often, during difficult times, even when others assured me that You were working for good, I didn’t believe them.  I couldn’t understand how my circumstances could possibly be good.

But now I can look back and clearly see Your repeated goodness to me.  And although it seems silly to ask, I wonder how I could ever repay You?

I know what I can do! I can thank You again and again!  I can continue to pray so that You can answer my prayers and put Your goodness and love for me on display for everyone to see. And then I will have the opportunity to thank You yet again. 

I trust You to work on my behalf in the future so that I can see Your goodness and praise You again.  I will tell others of Your goodness so that they too can see what You’ve done and can believe that You will do the same for them.

Death is not something to be feared! Because all of Your children are precious to You, You welcome us to eternity when death arrives
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You have given me true freedom to serve You forever.  Thank you for the godly heritage I have been given in parents and grandparents and great grandparents who loved and served You.  May I give my own children this same invaluable inheritance that was given to me.

Thank you, Lord.  I have committed my life to you, and I want all my days to be a sacrifice of thanksgiving to You. I will do what I’ve promised to do in fellowship with other believers and in Your church.  Hallelujah!

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Deuteronomy 15-18; Psalm 115; Luke 9

In Luke 9:51, eight simple words, “He set His face to go to Jerusalem” (ESV) mark a turning point in Jesus’ earthly ministry and hold deep meaning for you and me.  Up until this point, most of Jesus’ ministry had been in Galilee, near his home.  But as He began the journey to Jerusalem, He was resolute and willing to face what awaited Him there.  Jesus knew that He was on the way to His death.  He was heading to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s promise of a Savior who would die and forever satisfy the payment for sin.  It was a journey that Jesus took willingly, knowing He would be required to offer up His life.  Yet “He set His face to go to Jerusalem” and followed the path—for me. 

Jesus was resolved.  He had many opportunities to change His mind.  He was the God of the universe who could have called armies of angels to release Him from the cross.  But He knew that I was a sinner in a need of a Savior, and “He set His face to go to Jerusalem” and accomplish that for me.  I am always humbled when I think that even if Jen VeStrand had been the only sinner on earth, Jesus still would have willingly died just for me.  He loves me that much.

Jesus wasn’t interested in prestige.  Jesus willingly gave up all His glory to sacrifice Himself for the sins of the world. Israel was anticipating a king who would conquer evil and reign in Jerusalem.  Instead, God sent a baby who would live a humble, sinless life yet die a sinner’s death.  The Son of God had no place to lay His head, resisted temptation, and suffered persecution because “He had set His face to go to Jerusalem” and die for me.

Jesus turned toward Jerusalem, but He did not turn away from people.  Jesus’ determination and resolve did not overshadow His love and care.  The next few chapters of Luke are filled with examples of Jesus teaching to crowds yet stopping to have dinner with new convert Zacchaeus and his family, of using parables to teach valuable biblical principles to His disciples, of healing ten lepers and the blind beggar.  Those who society had cast out as worthless were important to Him, and He took the time to stop and show compassion to them even as He reminded His disciples that His death was imminent.  “He had set His face to go to Jerusalem” and even then, as He hung on the cross, He forgave the very people who had put Him there and, in so doing, He forgave me.

In a few days, I will join my church in celebrating the culmination of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem as we observe Palm Sunday.  It is my prayer that I will remember not just the King who rode triumphantly into Jerusalem amidst waving palm branches and adoring crowds but the humble Savior who “set His face to go to Jerusalem” to die and purchase my salvation.

“O you redeemed ones, on whose behalf this strong resolve was made—you who have been bought by the precious blood of this steadfast, resolute Redeemer—come and think awhile of Him, that your hearts may burn within you and that your faces may be set like flints to live and die for Him who lived and died for you!” CH Spurgeon

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Numbers 15-18; Psalm 113; Colossians 3

Although Numbers 16 is a difficult passage, it is also a beautiful display of God’s holiness and Moses and Aaron’s godly leadership.  And, as is always the case with God’s Word, it contains some valuable lessons for modern-day me (and you!) as well.

To summarize the passage, three groups within the nation of Israel expressed their discontentment with the leadership of Moses and Aaron: Korah (a Levite), Dathan and Abiram (from the tribe of Reuben), and 250 “well-known community leaders” (NIV) who Korah managed to rile up and convince to join him in his rebellion against God’s chosen leaders.  In the end, God vindicated Moses and Aaron and struck down Korah and his supporters. 

A few observations (necessary reminders for me!):

God is patient.  In Numbers 16:4, Moses first reaction to the uprising is to pray and seek God.  He gives Korah and his cohorts until the following morning to consider whether they want to rebel and be judged or repent and be spared.  They choose rebellion, but God in His patience gives them an opportunity to see the error of their ways and choose differently.  He exhibits the same patience with me. 

God cares about my motives.  Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were envious of Moses and Aaron.  This, combined with their selfish ambitions, created a perfect environment for rebellion.  They were seeking their own greatness rather than the glory of God.  Although their outward rebellion was against Moses and Aaron, their hearts were rebelling against God’s appointed leadership for Israel.  I may not have mounted any insurrections lately, but simple disobedience to God’s Word because I think my plan is better is a form of selfish rebellion as well.

God requires humble peacemaking.  Rather than approaching Moses humbly and sharing their concerns, Korah and his cohorts decided that accusations and confrontation would be better.  They lost their lives because of that decision.  Is my life characterized by a prideful desire to create dissension, or do I prayerfully and humbly approach those with whom I disagree?

God provides wise counsel.  Numbers 16:1 mentions a man named On.  On is never mentioned again in Scripture.  What happened to him?  Did he change his mind?  Jewish tradition holds that On’s wife rebuked him for taking part in a rebellion and because he listened to her, his life was spared.  Am I humble enough to seek and listen to godly counsel, or do I prefer to forge ahead with my own plans not caring about the potential fallout?

God avenges sin.  Moses did not try to vindicate himself; he lets God defend him.  This is a hard one for me.  My sin nature wants to see anyone who hurts me or my family “get their due”, preferably immediately.  When I slow down long enough to be obedient and pray for those who have hurt me, God does amazing things in MY heart even if I don’t see any evidence of God “judging” like I would prefer.

God blesses abundantly.  In Numbers 16:8-10, Moses essentially says to Korah “You already have so much!  Why are you coveting the priesthood, too?”  Korah’s discontent ultimately caused his death.  God has blessed me immeasurably, and yet I often find myself wanting the positions or possessions of others.  How would my outlook change if I were simply grateful for ALL I have already been given?

God is forgiving.  Twice in Numbers 16, God was prepared to destroy the entire nation of Israel.  Twice Moses interceded on their behalf, and they were spared.  God has shown me the same mercy–many more than two times!

God is holy.  Yes, God is patient and forgiving, but He is also holy.  Those who were unwilling to repent and accept God’s appointed leadership for Israel were judged accordingly.  God’s holiness demands MY obedience in the same way.

Father it’s so easy to fall into my own form of “rebellion”.  Thank you for the lessons I can learn from the story of Korah.  Remind me that my sins are as hurtful to you as Korah’s were.  And thank you for offering me the same grace and forgiveness if I am humble enough to repent and accept them.

Jen

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Leviticus 15-18; Psalm 31; Hebrews 6

The simple quote “And if not, He is still good” hangs in a prominent place in our home and serves as a constant reminder of God’s goodness and my hope.  It hangs there because I am a slow learner who needs a lot of reminders.  Rather than a loving and good God, I typically choose to put my hope and confidence in my doctor or my bank account or my own abilities, all of which fail me regularly.  As I read and reread today’s passages, I saw a pattern of God’s goodness—to Israel, to King David, and to me—a constant reminder that I can unquestionably place my hope and confidence in Him because He is unquestionably loving and good. 

Leviticus 16, which outlines the rituals and practices for the Jewish High Holy Day of Atonement (better known as Yom Kippur) is a difficult passage to read and can be easily dismissed as irrelevant or not applicable.  After all, I’m no longer required to observe the Day of Atonement.  But a closer look at its meaning and purpose reveals that the Day of Atonement was ultimately the design of a good and loving God to atone for the sins of His people and restore their relationship with Him.  The Day—and all of Leviticus for that matter—reflects God’s goodness and His love for Israel.  In the same way, I can see His goodness and love for me through His perfect plan that culminated in Christ’s death on the cross and fulfilled the need for rituals and sacrifices, covering my sins once and for all.  His goodness in sacrificing His son was the ultimate act of unselfish love and gives me the hope of eternal life.  It is the reason I can be confident and hopeful in Him and His good plan for me.

It’s been a difficult week at our house.  One of our dearest missionary friends is fighting for his life overseas in a country where good healthcare is not readily available.  We have been begging God for a miracle on his behalf and, so far, God has answered with a yes.  But that aforementioned quote reminds me that if even if God chooses not to heal our friend, He will still be loving and good.  And, because of Christ’s sacrificial death and our shared hope in Jesus, we have the promise of heaven and eternity together.  

Just as we have been begging God to heal our friend, in Psalm 31, David begs God to punish his oppressors and rescue him.  He doesn’t hide his fear or sorrow.  He acknowledges his grief.  But he also reiterates over and over again that God can be trusted.  He is not just good.  He is “abundantly good” (vs 19, NRSV).  David says confidently “I trust in YOU, O Lord…You are my God.” (vs 14, NRSV)  The writer of Hebrews expresses this same confidence in Hebrews 6:19 “We have this [the hope set before us], a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (NRSV)

This hope of David and the author of Hebrews and ME is only possible because a loving God who desires relationship with me was willing to sacrifice His Son and provide a way for that to happen.  He outlined the rituals and sacrifices in Leviticus out of a deep love for Israel.  He repeatedly showed His love and goodness even in trials, giving hope and confidence to David and the writer of Hebrews.  He loved me enough to become the scapegoat and provide complete payment for my sin.  Because of that, I can know that I am forgiven and, in good times and bad, I can place my hope and confidence in a God who is the only sure and steadfast anchor for my soul.

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love


Will Your Anchor Hold?
Priscilla J Owens

Jen


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Exodus 22-24; Psalm 109; Ephesians 6

Tychicus will give you a full report about what I am doing and how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper in the Lord’s work. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you. (NLT)

The following, largely unknown, quote is the final line of George Eliot’s book, Middlemarch:

“For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Middlemarch was published in 1871, many years after Paul described Tychicus in the final verses of his letter to the church at Ephesus, but it accurately describes this man who was one of Paul’s most trusted and faithful friends.  We don’t know much about Tychicus, but we do know that he was essentially Paul’s “mailman”-he delivered the letters of Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and possibly 2 Timothy to their recipients-and it seems he never minded being the “unsung hero”.  He was a constant, faithful companion throughout Paul’s ministry.  He was willing and content to serve Paul and realized that, in doing so, he was ultimately serving God.

None of the five short New Testament passages about Tychicus includes a list of his accomplishments or successes.  Paul doesn’t share stories about how his friend likely served him in many tangible, physical ways.  He doesn’t highlight any THINGS that Tychicus did.  He highlights Tychicus’ character.  He describes him as “beloved” and “faithful”.  He finds him trustworthy enough to send him to Ephesus for a specific purpose-to update and encourage the believers there.  Paul doesn’t mention Tychicus’ education or jobs or successes because he doesn’t need to.  Tychicus’ character provides all the credentials he needs.

Just a few days ago, I was speaking (read whining) to a friend about how some recent “good deeds” I had done had seemingly gone unnoticed and unappreciated.  While I certainly didn’t think I had done them for the purpose of being thanked or appreciated, my annoyance at not receiving those things revealed otherwise.  I have a lot to learn from Tychicus.  All the good deeds I may think I’ve done-genuine or not-don’t matter to God nearly as much as my heart while I’m doing them.  My heart reveals my character.  It’s easy (and good!) for me to strive to emulate the godly examples of Joseph, or David, or Paul.  But, honestly, I’m just one regular, ordinary person, and there aren’t many Josephs or Davids or Pauls out there.  That’s why God included people like Tychicus in scripture:  to remind me that He values my character more than my actions.  He values steady faithfulness in the small things.  He wants me to be aware of and satisfied with the fact that, ultimately, HE is the one I am serving.

I’m pretty certain George Eliot wasn’t thinking of Tychicus while writing the final lines of Middlemarch, but they can be easily applied.  Paul’s “growing good” was largely dependent on and successful because of Tychicus’ “unhistoric” ministry and his “faithfully, hidden life”.  Can the same be said of me?

Father, forgive my lack of character, my pride and shallow service done out of a desire for recognition rather than a desire to simply serve You.  May You alone find me faithful in the small, seemingly unseen parts of every day, and may that be enough.

Jen

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