“A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t,” said…somebody. I like it. So let’s chat about Scripture and a devotional time with God.

In a previous post I tried to entice you to have a daily morning ritual of meeting with God. But what would that look like? Here are five musts:

* Commit the time. Let’s don’t be legalistic about this thing. Your devotional time can vary according to your commute, work hours, if you have young children, and the like. So whether 5:00am, noon, or 9:00pm, just nail and plan the time. Make that time non-negotiable. You wouldn’t stand up your best friend, your spouse, or your dad, would you?

* Declare the place. Visualize right now where you’ll meet with the Lord. What room? What chair? Choose the place you’ll daily read Scripture and pray. Ideally, it should be an isolated place (Mark 1:35). That place needs to be comfortable and serene readying you to meet with your God.

* Choose your food. Ever felt starved and scanned the fridge to figure out what to eat? It’s frustrating. So don’t approach the Bible like that. Don’t wait until your devotional time to scan Scripture and decide what you’ll feast on. Be prepared the day or night before. Even better, land a long-term reading plan and stick to it. Right now, I’m reading the YouVersion Bible plan “The Bible in a year”.

* Ready your tools. Get the coffee cup out the night before and set it by the Keurig. Have the water vat filled to the rim and your k-cup ready to go. Have your journal, pen, and Bible ready and waiting. Remove every obstacle and time-stealer from your time with the Lord. And turn off your phone! Or turn off the notifications if you’re reading from your phone.

* Savor don’t Surf. You’re busy. But surfing Scripture in order to check off “Bible-reading and prayer” is a no-no. Always try to walk away with some sense of eternal perspective, deeper wonder in God, and application for your life. That won’t happen in a hurry. Furthermore, if verse four (for example) of your planned chapter reading grabs you, then by all means STOP! God is speaking! Savor it like spiritual hard candy or sweet chocolate (Tim Keller). If one verse takes all your devotional time, so be it.

What I didn’t cover above is prayer. How about praying Scripture? Find out more HERE.

How about you? What do you do? Where do you struggle? Do share. Thanks for reading!

** Post edited and updated 1/04/2017.

I have a journal entry from December 14 asking myself a simple but piercing question.

“Am I hiding anything?”

“Am I hiding anything from my wife, my children, my elders, or my church?”

Are you hiding anything?

Who are you hiding it from? Has the secret brought you happiness? Freedom? No-sir.

You’re always looking over your shoulder. You’re constantly retracing your steps. You’re counting down the minutes to when you can escape and indulge.

You’re a slave.

No wonder the Psalmist pleaded: “Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin.” (Psalm 19:13 NLT).

One of the mantras for my life is this: “Jarrod, if you are hiding anything you are in trouble.”

And so are you.

Are you hiding anything?

Don’t start with new year’s goals and resolutions. Start with the question no-one is asking. Then apply the answers you already know but have ignored or rationalized away.

Step out of the slavery of secrecy of 2016 and into freedom in Christ in 2017. May 2017 be a banner year not because you lost weight but because you lost chains!

The late comedian and actor, George Burns, once said: “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” You might especially agree after the holidays!

But what about those loved ones—friends and family you deeply loved—who left you? Someone once said: “The hardest grief is when the person you love is still walking around.”

What about the loved one you feel was taken from you? The friend, spouse, parent, child whose life on this earth came to a slow or sudden end? This is the hardest.

There are bad days and better days that follow. Over time and by God’s grace your better days begin catching up with your bad days. You start getting your feet under you. You’re back on speaking terms with God. You’re tasting hope again.

But then Christmas comes along.

You’re still not over it. You’re never really over it. Christmas reminds you of that.

What to do? God shows the way for you to have Christmas hope not in spite of your pain but with your pain. Here are few thoughts to help you cope and hope:

* Pour out your heart.
When you most do not want to pray or cannot pray that’s especially when you must pray. Can’t pray because the lump in your throat is too much, or your tears too hot? Can’t find the words because your mind is too dark, and your heart too broken? God’s Holy Spirit prays for you in those moments with groans on your behalf (Romans 8:26). Think of Him. See yourself leaning into Him as He holds You and groans for You to the Father.

* Cling to God’s Word.
Discipline yourself to read the Scriptures especially in your agony. Read the Christmas story and the Psalms slowly. And let them slowly read… and minister to you. Ask God to show Himself to you through His Word in a way unlike you have ever known. Watch every word of the Scripture passage closely. Read the passage(s) like it’s your first time to do so. Pay close attention to what God whispers to your mind or prompts in your heart.

* Talk it through.
You were never meant to do life alone. You were especially not meant to navigate your emptiness and loss alone. Reach out to Christian friends. Ask to meet for coffee. Tell them why. Tell them Christmas is still very hard for you and you just need someone to talk it through. Don’t believe the “I just don’t want to bother (or keep bothering) them. They probably think I should be over it by now.” No. Tell them you’re not over it. Perhaps ask if every Christmas you can meet with them to get your bearings. Or see a Christian counselor during the holidays.

* Be with God’s people.
Don’t isolate yourself from the gathering of God’s people for worship. Worship focuses you on God and off of yourself. Worship lifts your broken heart to God. Worship begs Christ to come and fill the broken spaces with Himself. When you most want to avoid Church is when you most need to be there. Where is God when you hurt? He’s with His people. Be with God’s people. You may discover the hug, the smile, the word, the song, the message that your heart was most crying out for.

* Serve others.
Emptiness, pain, and loss understandably makes us self-absorbed. So turn from self and give all the hurt to God. You can practically do so by giving yourself to others. Who can you serve? Who can you help? Who can you visit and encourage? Who can you secretly bless? Serving is a salve to the soul.

Praying for you.

4 Ways to Enjoy the Mess

December 14, 2016 — 4 Comments

The holidays means messiness. A messy house. A messy table. Messy rooms. With our four energetic kiddos, a temperamental Chihuahua, and a rambunctious Boxer, messiness can easily take over the Jones home. Especially on the holidays. So Christie and I are grateful for this wisdom crying out in the messiness: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4

In other words, messiness is the price of labor, growth, and God’s favor (and not laziness, of course). If you’re working to prepare for Christmas morning with your kids, the Christmas party with your friends, or the Christmas gathering with your family, you’re going to have a mess everywhere. But that mess is the beautiful display of your labor to make sweet memories with those you love. The mess is an exhibition of the growth and depth of the relationships in your life. The mess is a megaphone to the favor God has given you to be loved and to love.

How can you enjoy the mess?

1. Accept. It’s the holidays. Holidays equal mess. Accept it. Resist getting overwhelmed by it. You’ll catch up, tidy up, and clean up in due time. It always works out. In the meantime, consider this: A workout trainer once told me that when I hit the hardest reps in a workout I should smile. Smiling forces (tricks?) me mentally to enjoy and endure. So see the mess, and smile!

2. Simplify. Let’s get practical. With the few moments you have, what is one place, one spot, one room you can tidy up or clean up? Start with the space that’s most public to your guests (front porch, foyer, guest bathroom, living room, dining room, and so forth). Don’t knock it all out in one day. Give five minutes here. Ten minutes there. Something is better than nothing.

3. Delegate. Perhaps it’s time you need to splurge and hire someone to clean the house for your sanity’s sake. If you have kids, put them to work. Your spouse too! Your family may not clean up as thoroughly as you can, but as Sheryl Sandberg says, “Done is better than perfect.”

4. Appreciate. Take a deep breath. Survey the messiness. Ponder the faces of those you love and those who love you. Then thank God. Those faces mean you get to have a mess. Without those faces you would have no mess. Which would you prefer?

Is it truly possible to have joy and peace in the mess? Absolutely. But only if you look through the mess of your kids, the clutter on the table, the dust on the furniture, the grime on the floor… and to the favor of God.

Relax, friends. Blessed are the messy.

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1) Sleep. A non-negotiable. Lack of sleep will jack you up emotionally. Everything will go from an emotional two to an eight. Compensating with caffeine will bring anxiousness and edginess. Shoot for seven to eight hours. 10:00pm bedtime!

2) Exercise. Make the time. It’s that important. Shoot for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Brisk walks, treadmill, elliptical, jumping jacks, body squats, burpees, etc. And lots of stretching. You can find many exercise/workout routines on Youtube. Yogalates is a great option! My faves are here and here.

3) Drink lots of water. Water purges and cleanses your system. When you are dehydrated you have food cravings and you feel terrible. Think 8 x 8. Eight glasses of eight ounces of water per day (half-gallon).

4) Fast from social media. Especially when slipping into a funk. You’ll be tempted to compare yourself with others who seem put-together, happy, smart, fit, and on and on. Don’t do that to yourself! Take a break. If anything only look at social media with positive messages, inspirational quotes, and Scripture verses.

5) Avoid the news. Avoid like a stomach virus. Much of the news feeds fear and outrage. Disengage for your mental, emotional, and spiritual health’s sake.

6) Beware of sugar. Cookies, fruit drinks, soda, cakes, pies, candy, and so forth. I love all that poison. Sugar can reek havoc not only on your body but especially your emotional and mental health. I read somewhere that 25 grams is the daily allotted amount. A 16oz. coke has 52g alone! Also beware of too many carbs (breads) because it turns into sugar. Save it for the actual holidays.

7) Commit to devotional time with the Lord. Again, you make time for what’s important. And if you are slipping into the blues, you’ll begin to let this slip. You need quiet time and space to read Scripture, pray, self-examine, repent, journal (if you are into that), and the like. Here is what I do for my heart everyday.

8) Get some sunlight. At least 20 minutes a day, four to five times per week. If in the dark wintry Northeast, perhaps invest in a Seasonal Affective Disorder Therapy Light. I use this one. Take daily Vitamin D.

9) Don’t isolate yourself. When the emotional fog rolls in you will be tempted to isolate yourself from others. Don’t do it. Force yourself to connect with friends by phone, for coffee, for a meal. Also, serve someone… even anonymously. All of this gets you out of your head and out of yourself.

10) Get help. Talk to a pastor. Go see a doctor. Get counseling from a Christian psychotherapist. Perhaps there are deeper underlying issues going on. Perhaps you need medication to weather the tough season you are experiencing. Don’t put it off or tough it out. Get help.

a877463c8ff55d5dbd531826356d319c1) Be thankful.
Family. You’re all together. Take a look around. Enjoy them—the good, the bad, the ugly. Don’t forget: They are your family.

2) Take nothing personal.
Odds are something will be said to offend you or provoke you. Whether it is religion, politics, or sports. It’s coming. Pray up. Take it on the chin. Let it go.

3) Stay above the fray.
If conversations go there, stay above it. Don’t leave with regrets. It’s not worth it to prove your point. You will convince no-one. Be bigger than the moment… and the conversation.

4) Get some air.
Your buttons get pushed. Your blood begins to boil. Pause. Slip out or excuse yourself. Breathe. Pray. Get perspective. It’s all good.

5) Laugh… a lot!
Lighten up! Don’t be stand-offish. Don’t be so guarded. Don’t take yourself or anyone else so seriously. Laugh it off. And eat a plate of food or three. For crying out loud, have some fun!

Happy Thanksgiving!