Weekly Inspiration – 2017 Week 3

Weekly Inspiration – 2017 Week 3

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My very good friend, Daniel Mathews, is guest-authoring this Weekly Inspiration post. It has been an honor to have him in my life and truly a blessing to be a student of the religious proficiency that he brings to the table. He is a Good Sheep of our Great Shepherd and I cherish the time I have with him to sit and reflect on the Good News of the Bible. This is a story that hails from Dan’s recent vacation to the Tampa Bay area.

Just when I thought this trip couldn’t possibly go any better, two experiences took place which… well, you’ll see.

Blessings To Count

As I have done every evening since I got here, I repaired down to the water tonight to watch the gorgeous sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. There was a young married couple standing next to me. The wife asked me if I would mind taking their photograph against that dramatic backdrop, which I did. Then we got to talking. It came out in the conversation that he is a youth minister for his church. He told me that the most important lesson he tries to impart to his students is to be grateful.

HE:     God is so very good to us. If only people would take time to be thankful for all that they have, instead of focusing on what they don’t have, perhaps their attitudes about life would be better. Just listen to all those beautiful sounds… The crashing of the waves, the cries of the seagulls, the live music being played on the beach… And the smell of the salt air, the scent of the barbecues and the fine cigars… How could we not be grateful?

ME:     I quite agree. There is so much for which to be thankful… Of course, standing here on this beach I suppose it’s easy for you and me to say that. Most people on this planet have it a lot harder than we do.

HE:     Perhaps. But they still have blessings to count. Everyone does.

At that point dinner beckoned, and I rose to take my leave. I held my hand out to them and bade them good night. I was a little surprised that he didn’t take my hand. He just stared at me.

SHE:    Mark, Dan is holding his hand out for you to shake.

HE:     (finally extends hand)

ME:     (looks in confusion from him to her, and back again)

HE:     You’ll have to excuse me, Dan. I’m blind.

ME:     (shaking his hand) You see farther than most…

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 In a second way, on this very same night, experiencing the kindness of others and the grace of our God, Dan was enlightened by a simple gesture of a tiki bar guitar player. Cindy, Dan’s dear friend back at home, was certainly on his mind.

 On the way back to my hotel, I was drawn to a musician who was playing at a Tiki Bar. I thought that if I greased his palm he might consider playing a song for Cindy (with whom I was speaking on my cell phone). I did, and he said into the phone, “Cindy, this one’s for you.” Then he played on his guitar and sang “Souvenirs” by Jimmy Buffet, to Cindy’s great delight. When it was over, he took the phone from me.

HE:     I hope you enjoyed that, Cindy! It was a pleasure to play for you. God bless you.

SHE:    (clapping over the phone) Thank you!

I had never heard the song before, but the final verse stuck with me:

“Pieces, bits and pieces
Add up through the years,
I’ve collected a small fortune
In souvenirs.”

What a day. What a night. WHAT A LIFE!
I bid you all a heartfelt good night.
Daniel Sean Mathews
Tampa Bay, Florida
January 16, In the Year of Our Lord 2017

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Weekly Inspiration for 2017 Week 2

Weekly Inspiration for 2017 Week 2

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Since I was literally stumped by this week’s calendar verses, I decided to take a different route this week: I received a lot of get well cards when I was in the hospital, recovering from surgery. This was the text on the card that hit me the hardest. I think it speaks volumes to God’s love for us and how we can use it to propel us into a new year of health, happiness and prosperity.

Acknowledging His presence the whole year through

“Take hold of your gentle Father’s hand…Walk in His Son’s footsteps, for they will never lead you astray…Let the Holy Spirit fill your soul with the joy of the season and the peace of knowing how deeply you’re loved. Whatever your dreams, whatever your hopes, may they come true for you in the new year through God’s leading and His loving grace.”

HOW GREAT IS YOUR GOODNESS…    – PSALMS 31:19

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He is with you Always

The first step is to acknowledge His presence and know that He is with you always. Take His hand. Not just when you need it, but before you need it. Let Him guide you through the fields of challenges you will face each and every day…be they large or small. With your hand in His, you are already a step ahead of meeting those challenges with strength, grace and humility on your side.

Footsteps in the Sand

We all remember the “Footsteps in the Sand” poem. As God walks with us, there are two sets of footsteps and we eventually ask where He has gone when there remains only one. “It was then that I carried you,” says God. I believe that taking His hand is the first step to having a relationship with Him and when times are good, you hop, skip and you jump with joy as you travel together. When times get tough, if you’re already holding His hand, it’s that much easier for Him to pull you close, pick you up, and carry you through to better times. And when it’s your time, He will literally carry you to the Light. Stay close to Him, and allow him to walk beside you…welcome Him to be by your side.

footprints

Walk in the footsteps of Jesus, “for they will never lead you astray.” The Bible says that we were created in His image. I have to believe that to be created in His image, it seems only logical that we were divinely intended to be like Him in every way. Now, the devil and the sin of man have led us astray as a people, but if we walk in His footsteps, and abide by His teachings, we can come back to Him. Everything we need answered in our life, is addressed in the Bible and by heeding his direction and doing our best to walk in His footsteps, we can come around to humility and hope in the glory of Life Everlasting.

A Christ for All Seasons

The season can be any season. I know this card is referring to Christmas and the rebirth and dedication of a new year, but we should let the Holy Spirit fill our soul with the joy of every season. Most especially, we should rejoice at the birth of Christ, but think of how fulfilling our life could be if we were rejoicing around every corner of the calendar at the wonder that is Jesus Christ. He has no timeline for your salvation. Come to Him whenever, and as soon as you feel so moved.

Unimaginable Love

He loves you more than you can imagine and whether or not you think you love Him at any given moment, HE LOVES YOU, regardless. There is something unique and lovable about every human being, and whether or not you can find it, God knows what that thing is, and frankly, He probably has a whole list. He loves you EXACTLY as you are at this moment. With all your faults and your failings, you probably hold yourself to a much higher standard than God does. Sure, we need to try to follow Him, but as we fall short, God loves us no less. This, I believe is what this verse means by “the peace of knowing how deeply you’re loved.” We can’t comprehend the depth of God’s love for us. But we can certainly accept it and share it with someone else. Reach out a hand to someone who needs it and see if you can’t get that struggling soul to reach out their other hand to God, with your help.

How do your plans and God’s plan match up?

“Whatever your dreams, whatever your hopes, may they come true for you in the new year through God’s leading and His loving grace.” This too, is a powerful statement. “Through God’s leading,” I believe is the most important part. We all have dreams, we all have hopes. Many times, they don’t line up with God’s plan. That doesn’t mean He thinks your plan is bad or your timing is right. I know for sure that when my dreams in life fell short, my hopes seemed smashed, it wasn’t because they weren’t noble or I wasn’t worthy. It most often meantt that I had some learning to do first and some challenges to overcome on my way to earning the right to see these come true in my life. Many I’m still waiting on, but God hears my prayers and I trust that in His time – which may not even be when I still walk this Earth – all of my hopes and dreams will come true. I bow to His great plan and accept that I have a duty and a purpose in this world that take precedence over my earthly rewards. We’ll leave that for Heaven…I hear it’s nice there.

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Please see the other posts in “Inspiration”:

Weekly Inspiration of 2017 Week 1

Weekly Inspiration – 2017 Week 3

Weekly Inspiration of 2017 Week 1

Weekly Inspiration of 2017 Week 1

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For Christmas, my beautiful and thoughtful wife gave me a “Daily Verse” calendar in which each day lists a short line from the Bible. Since I find searching online overwhelming to begin with, it would be difficult for me to find a ‘daily devotional’ that I could settle on, to be the one to follow out of what I’m sure are thousands. Plus, I wouldn’t have the discipline to get onto the site each and every day, without being distracted or more likely, falling behind. Finally, while I already own a few books of daily devotionals, again, I lack the discipline to open them up on a regular basis in order to use them to their full benefit.

 

So, I loved the idea of a calendar that can keep me on track! I have a daily verse to read and reflect on and I know right away if I’m falling behind. I keep this calendar hung right above my computer at my desk and I vow to keep up with its passages. I may not use them all for this blog, but with a goal of reflecting weekly, I’m sure there will be two or three each week worth emphasizing.

At the same time, as a brand new blogger, I was starting to get concerned that I may run out of material eventually. I’m now confident that won’t be the case, as with this calendar in hand and the Bible in my back pocket, I know there are endless subjects with which to reflect on. I hope this is the first of 52 posts, for starters!

Now, I am no pastor. I have no formal religious education. So, I encourage you: Take my reflections with a grain of salt and if anything feels “a bit off” in your mind, run it by your own pastor, please. I’ll start with Thursday the 5th, which is from Philippians 4:13.

I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.

Wow, could this be more appropriate for the six weeks my family has just endured? I was three weeks in the hospital and three weeks of recovery at home. My wife kept working her teaching job, getting the kids up extra early in order to get them to daycare, which is usually my job. Then, picks them up after school and gets them home for dinner and the whole bath-time, brush-your-teeth, get-to-bed routine…for two kids, aged four and one. My wife has been so strong through this ordeal and I know she owes it to the strength she gets from our Lord. She, unlike me, does follow a daily devotional online, and often leaves me notes before work with her favorite verses. I really appreciate that she takes the few minutes to do that once in a while. She knows me, and knows the verses that I will connect with.

Thankfully, my parents arrived from Florida shortly after my surgery, to help Sybil with the kids’ morning routine and be with us. As devout Catholics, I know for sure that my parents’ strength comes from the Lord as well. I’ve witnessed it my entire life. As for myself, two separate visitors of mine at the hospital had brought me “comfort crosses.” These are small, usually hand-made wooden crosses, meant to be held in your hand to feel close to Jesus. I literally cried when the first one was handed to me, because it was exactly what I needed. For the rest of my three week stay, I had that cross in hand around every turn. I endured a lot of pain, a lot of anxiety and thus, I prayed a lot. And to me, the cross in hand seemed to multiply the effectiveness of my prayers and certainly did its job of comforting me. The more I worried, the more I grinned, the harder I squeezed that cross. I know He was there with me. I could feel Him.

Most importantly, where do you garner your strength? If we set the Bible aside, there are a limited number of answers: The support of my family; my physical strength; the depths of my passion or enthusiasm; the breadth of my intellect. Are there more? Maybe a few. When we allow the Bible to direct and inspire our hearts and minds, the scope and scale of our strength becomes absolutely limitless! We can do all things in Him! There are no challenges that aren’t addressed at some level in Scripture.

So, Friday the 6th is the Epiphany:  In Christianity, the Epiphany refers to the realization that Christ is the son of God. Western churches generally celebrate the Adoration of the Magi (the Three Kings) as the Incarnation of the infant Christ. Today, the calendar reads, from 1 Peter 1:3.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

This is not a verse that needs much explanation. This is one of the most basic ideas of Hope that comes from the Bible: Through the resurrection of Jesus, we are reborn into a world with renewed Hope. I haven’t yet published them, but I have many a blog post written already about my struggles with depression, and all of my healing can be traced back to Hope. I pray that you have Hope in your life and that you recognize that our Hope comes from Him. Stay tuned for much more on this subject.

Finally, one of my favorite Bible quotes. Saturday the 7th comes from John 13:34.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

The first part of this verse, “A new command I give you:,” I didn’t know how to reflect on. I was unsure of its meaning. As I said, I am not a Bible scholar. My wife, however, has a significantly more amount of training than I do. As she read my post, she taught me about this phrase. Why is this a “new” command? She explained that this is a reference to the Old Testament versus the New Testament. In the Old, there is the notion of an “eye for an eye and tooth for tooth,” which this New Testament phrase is often compared to. It represents the somewhat harshness, or matter-of-fact, crime-and-equal-punishment sentiment found in the Old Testament. Sybil said that the prophets often spoke of the ‘Mighty King’ and ‘Rule Enforcer’ to come, whereas the Savior who arrived was in contrast, a humble, gentle, forgiving soul. So, the fact that loving your neighbor as yourself or as the Lord loves you is referred to as a ‘new command,’ speaks to the hard and fast rule of law depicted by the Old Testament versus what in fact, was to manifest into the true Grace of God.

Then, certainly love is one of the most talked about themes in Scripture. This one speaks specifically about loving your neighbor, even to the extent that Jesus loves us. Is that possible? Can we possibly love another to the depth that Jesus loves us? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But what he does is raises the bar extremely high. He gives us something to reach for, which He thinks is possible. Can you imagine the type of world we could live in, if our love for each other approached the level of love that Jesus has for each of us? Something to shoot for!

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So, this has been my first week of devotional reflections. My hope is that by following my blog – and if you’re so inclined to appreciate the love of Christ in your life – that you’ll find that following a weekly devotional easier to stick to than a daily one. Remember, I’m no religious authority, but I think as a Christian community, if we can share our own personal thoughts on how Scripture reaches us, then there’s value in that. I hope that you’ll comment and share your thoughts on the idea of helping each other understand the Bible.

Weekly Inspiration for 2017 Week 2

Weekly Inspiration – 2017 Week 3