Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Center of the Bible

"Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits " (Psalm 103:1-2).

These two verses are the middle two verses of the English Bible (some lists erroneously cite portions of Psalm 118). Since there are an equal number of verses (31,102) there can be no single “middle verse.” It may be of interest that the chapter and verse divisions that we are all familiar with were not in the original manuscripts but their addition greatly aids our navigation through the Bible, and today leads us to this focus on these two verses that point us to our God and enable us to express our heart to Him.

I note a couple of observations about these “middle verses” first they are words of worship directed to God. They are not primarily about the human condition, man’s destiny or the quality of our lives. The center of the message of the Bible is and our lives should be centered on Him. Truly it is all about Him. Lesson: Worship is that which brings us back to having our God truly at the center of our thoughts, intents and heart. Secondly not how these verses end. We are not to forget the benefits that God heaps upon us. All “benefits” start and end with Him, and He has a great benefit package.

Maybe this would be a good time to ask how you are doing in the worship department. If it has been awhile since you really met with God in worship make time to do so.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

All Out Blitz

Ephesians 1:3-14

One of the most exciting and risky plays in football is the all-out blitz. This is when the defense rushes everyone toward the quarterback and pass-receivers are left undefended. Everyone on the defense is moving toward one goal, to tackle the passer, before he can throw the ball. In today’s reading, note that God the Father (vs. 3-5) God the Son (vs. 6-12) and God the Holy Spirit are moving in harmony with one goal: the salvation of His own. All that God is, is involved in bringing us to Himself.

As you meditate on this truth, rejoice in the fact that God has thrown Himself into saving you. He has held back nothing of Himself. As an act of reciprocal love, we should throw ourselves full-force into worshipping Him and serving Him.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Five Words from Psalm 23


It is common that buildings, monuments and landmarks be named for notable people. Most of us do not have our name in high-profile places. Note the fourth word of verse one. Substitute your name for the pronoun. “The Lord is (insert name) Shepherd.” God wants us to make such a personal connection to His Word. We need to see ourselves on the pages of scripture. Such a view will help us gain the perspective that God is totally involved in our lives.

One result of seeing God as our ever-present Shepherd is that we can find true contentment. Freedom from want is not having as much stuff as we may like it comes from having all of God that we need.


Focus on verses two and three. As we follow our great Shepherd, notice the three places He will lead His sheep. Green pastures, a place of nourishment and rest; still waters, a place of quiet and refreshment; and the path of righteousness, a place of growth and purity. We often seek out places to go for restoration: a favorite vacation spot, or recreational activity. The context of God’s restoration is not a place but a Person. It is the good Shepherd who leads and provides. He wants us to regularly spend time fellowshipping with Him.

Are you in need of some restoration work on your soul? If so set aside some extra time to spend in God’s Word, prayer and meditation. You will find the experience transforming.


What scares you? The list can be seemingly endless: spiders, water, flying, heights, speaking in front of others, etc. Somewhere on everyone’s list of fears is the fear of facing death. It is the last battle, the great unknown. It inevitable and irreversible. In verse four we find David expressing that he will not fear even when walking through the valley of the shadow of death. The reason is simple; he doesn’t have to face the valley alone. He has the presence and power of God at his disposal. The great news is so do you!

Even if the fear you face is not death, you can still rely on God being with you. Recall His love, ability and care. You, too, can “fear no evil.”


Most floods are not positive experiences whether the flood was a river or a basement. There is one overflow that is a welcome experience. When the blessing of God surpasses our ability to account for them then our cup of blessing truly runs over. Verse five lists a trio of blessings the Good Shepherd allows to flow into our lives. These are His provision in spite of opposition (table), healing for the wounds of life (oil) and an overflow of joy.

What does one need do in order to get in line for such blessings, simply this: follow the Shepherd. The hearts attitude of a follower include: humility, obedience and devotion and these will keep us in the place of blessing.


Someone has said there only are two things you really need to worry about: This life and the afterlife. The final verse of Psalm 23 gives us rock-solid promises that cover both. David was sure that as he followed the Lord, his Shepherd, his life would be marked by both the goodness and mercy of God. He does not expect a life of ease or one free from hardship but through whatever life would bring, he would find the benevolent character of God. In the life to come, he would live in God’s house. What blessing, what comfort.

Take a moment and release your anxieties for the present and the future as you fall back on the promises of God for both.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Wilderness Again

“For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim. Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.” (Lamentations 5:17-18)

For two and half hours, earlier this month, Julie and hiked along the North Fork of the Blackwater River in Tucker County, WV. We were strolling along an abandoned railroad grade in search of Douglass Falls, a seldom seen, scenic spot on this river. The picture of above should be proof of our success. We enjoyed the solitude, the sound of the water, and the spectacular scenery of this part of the eastern highlands of West Virginia. (If you want see some more from our trip you can see our entire photo album.)

One unexpected discovery was the land we were walking over was once a thriving community. More than 3000 people live along this stretch of river and mined coal and refined it into coke to ship it downstream to power the engines of progress in the first third of the twentieth century. Once the coal was mined out, the jobs left and the people left and the wildness began to march back into this valley after a period of rapid retreat. We did see a few signs of former habitation, dozens of “coke ovens” still peaked from the hillsides and few foundations of the former time. We passed by Barbershop Falls, so name because a barbershop once overlooked the falls. The falls remain, no barbershop in sight. Douglas, West Virginia is now wilderness again.

Julie spotted a red fox scouting the trail ahead of us. (picture below) This visitor sent my mind scurrying to the Bible passage above. In these verses the prophet Jeremiah used the imagery of foxes walking in the city of God as a proof of desolation, a place of habitation that has now been pruned of people and has been left for the beasts of the field.

It is a sobering thought that some day my home, my city may become a habitat of foxes and begin the reversal to nature. The things I own, the things I build will soon be swept into the dustbin of history and be gone. Does that sound depressing? I hope not, I hope it brings perspective and a little relief. Perspective that only what is done for His glory will last, and only people who are made to last forever are really of value. And relief – why worry so much about stuff, why strive so hard for material success, it really is not that crucial. It will soon be going. Listen you may hear a fox approaching…

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Another Trip Around the Sun

To day completes my 47th complete trip around the sun. I have never been a big fan of my birthdays, I do appreciate the people in my life who try to make the day special, but I don’t like being the center of attention. But birthdays do have a way of getting me thinking. As I think, certain realizations come: Some days it seems unbelievable that I am this firmly in the grips of middle-age. Other days it feels like I am getting close to what ever the next stage is (older middle age, or just old age? Yikes!). I can clearly remember my father at the age I am now (wow!). My children are all adults, no more permission slips or naming a guardian in case of my untimely demise. (ohh!). I can see lines in my face and gray in my beard (ouch!). Others my age look really old (no!). In dog years I would be 329 (glad I am not a dog!). My heart has beat 1.8 billion times (I wonder how many it has left?). And last but most profound – life is really short. I know this because I got to this point fast. I also know it because the Apostle James reached this conclusion by divine inspiration a couple of thousand years ago.

“For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away?” (James 4:14)

I am not quite ready to be known as a wise old sage. Or even a wise sage. But a few bits of wisdom considering life is short would include the following: 1. Make every day count. 2. I don’t have time to waste feeling sorry for myself. 3. Every experience is an opportunity to learn. 4. People are more important than anything else, they last forever. 5. Laugh more, complain less. 6. Life is not about me. 7. Life is about bringing glory to God.

If you want to add your own bits of sage advice – please feel free to leave a comment.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Life Below the Surface

I have been a keeper of fish for more than 30 years. Currently there is 55 gallons of water in my office housing a few swimming friends. At home are three more. One is Brandon’s tank, which those of us at home have adopted since he is away at college. This is the one that housed Curly – a “prize at the fair” goldfish that he had for nearly 10 years. Brian has one that brightens up the hallway in our basement. Aquariums are good for you, psychological studies a have shown that observing a peaceful aquarium can lower your blood pressure. In my mind they are living, moving work of art, a cross-section into the world below the surface.

I have learned this over the years. That fish outside there natural habitat require significant, maintenance, supervision and care. Some of the required items include:

  • Water constantly filtered
  • Water oxygenated via an air pump
  • Water warmed to a proper temperature by means of an electric heater
  • Lighted by a florescent light fixture
  • water maintained a proper PH by chemicals
  • Water chemically declorinated

A few years ago in South America I remember looking into a drainage ditch and was surprised to see fish that I could swear I had seen in a pet shop back in the states. In their natural habitat a ditch will do, out of there natural habitat it takes hundreds of dollars of equipment and a not so small investment in time to keep the scaly ones healthy and happy.

Christians are also not in their native environment. Spiritually we are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). Positionally we are in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6). Practically we are camped out on planet earth. It takes a great deal of care on God’s part to keep us healthy and flourishing in this non-natural world. He must limit the amount of temptation we receive (1 Cor. 10:13 ). He must provide us with proper nutrition (1 Pet. 2:2 ). And He must constantly monitor our condition (Matt. 28:20).

As God pears into my little cross-section of a world I hope he finds a grateful, growing part of His creation.

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20)

Friday, March 23, 2007

The View From the Other Side

There is a side of me and you that we present to the public. It is a carefully crafted image, one that is constantly refined, reviewed, tweaked and tended. We want to appear better than we really are. I was reminded of this by the following…

Brian and I recently attended the WV State High School Basketball Tournament at the Charleston Civic Center. The game was carried statewide on television. While I was snapping a few pictures before the game – I got one of Tony Caridi (The Voice of the Mountaineers) and Fred Persinger getting ready to do the play-by-play (the top pic is from the TV broadcast). I couldn’t help but notice that a wire was held to the back of Tony’s suit coat by a large and rather ugly strip of duct tape. I really don’t think Mr. Caridi normally uses duct tape as fashion accessory. I am sure it was intended to keep the wire under control, after all what TV personality wants an out of control wire to contend with while you are talking to the sports-craving masses? I also noted that the duct tape was wisely placed out of the view of the TV cameras.

Don’t we also hide the ugly strips of stuff hanging on us? We are trying to protect our image for the masses who, for the most part, really don’t care. It might be better strategy to work on who we really are. The part that God sees clearly. The part that no makeup, clever phase or insincere smile can cover. I want to seek God’s help to strive to be authentic with others and particularly with Him. By the way could see if there is any duct tape on my back?

“Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” (Heb 4:13)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Superman Seat Grab

Brian recently had a birthday and for his birthday, his dear ol' Dad gave him two tickets to the Monster Jam - Monster Truck Show at the Charleston Civic Center. We arrived in the arena ready with our hearing protection (a must if you go) to enjoy the show, yes there were monster trucks crushing cars, there was Grave Digger (the greatest monster truck of all time) spinning donuts in the imported dirt of the civic center floor, there was even Dragonator - the fire breathing, car eating dragon! There was much noise, much hype, much dirt, much fumes and at for one father-son combination-- much fun. As an added attraction there was demonstration by four professional moto-cross riders who did wheelies and tricks and jumps on their bikes. The picture above is of one rider demonstrating one of the most impressive manuvers - the superman seat grab. The rider zooms up a short, steep ramp and while he flies through the air he slips off the bike until he is only holding onto the seat and fully extends his body and flys - superman style. If you want to see for your self take a look at this Video Clip (real media). I have never met a real professional moto-cross rider but when I do and we get to talking about the superman seat grab, I really only want to ask one question: Why?

I can only venture a guess at the answer - some possibilities include: The thrill, the money, the adrenaline rush, the fact of doing something that is beyond the ordinary. Motorcycles were not originally designed to jump through the air. Back in the day, Evel Knievel invented the "sport" of motorcyle jumping and went beyond the normal and look at where we are now, and I don't think even the "King of the Daredevils" ever did what these kids did. Maybe extreme sports just brings out an aspect of human nature that causes some to push beyond the bounds of normal experience or at least brings out those who gaze at Evel riding the Skycycle over and ultimately into the Snake River Canyon or those who plunk down $17.00 to watch young men fly and cars get eaten.

For the most part, life is lived within fixed boundaries, between narrow margins. It is not ordinary to become Superman and fly. Except for fleeting moments we are almost exclusively grounded. Yet we long for escape from such limitations. We are limited by the laws of gravity, physics, and time. We may push against the limits and seemingly bend the rules but in the end we come back to earth and back inside the sidelines of life. Since this is the case I have come to this conclusion - the secret to joy and happiness is not in stretching the boundaries, it is in finding contentment within them. This is a learned behavioral response, but it can be learned. Paul said it best: "I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content." (Phil 4:10). With God's help I want to keep on learning to be content too.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

My 24 Addiction

I feel like I should introduce myself to a support group and say …”Hi am Jess and I am a 24 addict.” In case you are not aware “24” is series on the Fox Network that features the adventures, trials and exploits of Jack Bauer. Jack is an agent for the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU). One of the unique aspects of the drama is the fact that each season consists of 24 hourly episodes all of which take place over the course of one 24 hour period. There are twists and turns and cliff-hangers and multiple overlapping plots that add up to an onslaught of intense, gripping drama. I am hooked. Thanks Brandon for being the dealer who gave me my first hit.

There are times that one must suspend belief to enjoy any work of fiction especially one that has such grandiose themes as 24 but there is one area that takes a major amount of suspension. It seems as if every terrorist (at least in the days I have seen so far) resides in Los Angeles and every terrorist plot is hatched, carried out and countered in Southern California. The reason for this is simple. The writers of 24 can’t have Jack going all over the world in the style of James Bond there are literally not enough hours in a day. Even Jack Bauer is constrained by the laws of time and space.

We certainly understand this limitation for ourselves and our fictional heroes. Only our God is beyond the bounds of the time, space, matter continuum which we inhabit. Theologians call this God’s transcendence. He is above, beyond and apart from His own creation. He can be everywhere at the same time, He equally occupies the past and future as He does the present. I can’t say I understand all of what I have just said but how can a man who is so limited understand One who has no limits.

I am certain that neither your or my worst days are to the extremes of Jack Bauer’s worst days. I can, however, rest assured that wherever I am, whatever events are pushing me along into the future. God is there. He is all around, involved, and in control. My response is simple but profound. Worship Him. Trust Him, 24/7.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It's All About Change

"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2Co 5:17)

There is frog that lives in a room downstairs. It is a room that our preschool uses here at Bible Center Church. That is a picture of him above (I assume it is a him). He is an African Clawed frog (Xenopus Laevis). He came to be with us as part of teaching series with the kids and came in the form of a cleverly designed and marketed product called – “Grow a Frog Kit.” The kit consists of a small plastic box, food, decorations and a grow-a-frog tadpole. The kids got to watch as the tadpole changed into a "froglet" and on into the final African clawed frog form. This was a hit with the kids and now, a couple of years later, the frog has moved to successively bigger homes and now swims and entertains a new class of preschoolers. All of this got me thinking (a good thing to do) that if I were to measure my spiritual change - would I still be in the tadpole stage, or maybe even a "froglet?"

Wherever I may be, I can make a couple of observations: One - Change is the norm of Christian living and experience. I have been made new positionally in Christ and practically I need to continue to change. Two - just like the former tadpole needs the correct environment and nutrition to complete the change so do I and so do you. As I remind myself may I also challenge you to keep a watch on your environment by ensuring you are sharing life with other believers and you are avoiding harmful influences in your environment. Secondly may I challenge all of you tadpoles, froglets, frogs and friends with this question: how is your spiritual diet? Maybe it is time to truly feast on God's Word. It is a must for change and change we must.

Friday, January 05, 2007


“With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” Luke 22:15

Often others do not have time for us and often we do not have time for others. Even worse sometimes it is not a matter of time but of desire. We really don’t want to be with others when they really need us. On the night before His crucifixion, at this last Passover, Jesus desired to be with the followers. He expressed this in words and then demonstrated His heart for them by using the Passover elements to show His coming sacrifice. The broken body, symbolized by the bread was for them. The shed blood symbolized by the cup was for them. Even in a moment where it might be expected he would be self-absorbed, Jesus heart took Him beyond His own suffering to reach out to His needy followers.

Jesus is not a remote Savior but One who desires to fellowship with us. It would be prudent of us to so order our lives that we have adequate time to spend with Him. There is not substitute for unhurried time to meditate and commune with the Savior.