Will I Go to Hell Because I Yelled at God?

crying-babyMy heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue.” Psalm 39:3

I yelled at God.  I was aggravated because He wasn’t doing things like I thought He should.  The truth is, He wasn’t doing anything at all.  A difficult situation was just festering, and so was my frustration level.   I had prayed so much about this issue.  I had begged God to intervene; I had pleaded for His help with my face down in the carpet.   I told Him all the reasons why He needed to act on my behalf.  I pointed out how devastating this situation would become if He didn’t.    The longer the situation drug on the shorter my patience became until I just exploded—at God.  I told Him that I couldn’t take this situation any longer.  I asked Him what He was waiting for.  I asked Him if He was paying attention.  I even asked if He was trying to push me over the edge of sanity.

Lest you think I’m being disrespectful and irreverent, God and I have worked out the situation and we are still on very good terms.  But I’m telling you this because in our human nature we all tend to get impatient and frustrated with God.  Really—it’s okay to admit it.  Do you think He doesn’t know?

That day I sat in the floor of my study, my face red and streaked with tears, yelling at the God of heaven and earth—and He never yelled back at me.  In fact He didn’t say anything for a long time, He just let me rant on and on until my anger gradually gave way to quiet exhaustion.  I leaned my head against the wall, closed my eyes and took a deep breath.  And that’s when I “heard” a quiet voice in my spirit say, “Feel better now?”  I’m not sure I felt better about the situation, but my anger was spent and I quietly answered, “Yes.”  Then the Lord reminded me of the lesson I had taught just a few days before; that God is sovereign over our lives and He is able to take the most impossible situations and bring amazing things from them.

I had talked about Joseph who was sold into slavery by his own brothers, forced into servitude and thrown into prison on trumped up charges, yet God used every step in his journey like rungs on a ladder to elevate him to the second highest position in the province of Egypt and to save the lives of his entire family.  Had his brothers not sold him into slavery, he would have never been in Egypt.  Had he not worked as a servant and been thrown in prison he would have never encountered Pharaoh’s cupbearer who recommended him to Pharaoh to interpret his dream.  Had he not interpreted Pharaoh’s dream he would have never been placed over the entire kingdom’s food resources.  Had he not been in that position, his family would have starved to death in the famine and the nation of Israel—along with our Savior—would die with them.  Though all his challenges, the Bible never shows that Joseph became impatient or frustrated with God.  He quietly trusted God and waited for the Lord to act on his behalf.  He believed that God was able to take rejection by his family, slavery and prison and work them all together for a good purpose.  I’ll bet Joseph never yelled at God.

So what do we do with our pent up emotions?  Deny them?  We’ve already established that He knows our feelings.  Stuff them?  That’s a sure recipe for a pressure cooker explosion like the one I had.  Nor do I think God wants us to pretend that we are so spiritual we are not affected by these difficult times.

Remember that we are made in the image of God, and Scripture frequently tells us that God experiences emotions.  God feels delight – “The Lord your God  . . .will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).  God feels sorrow – John 11: 35 tells us that Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus.  God feels joy – when His disciples returned rejoicing over the wonders they performed in His name, Luke says that He was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit.”  And yes, God also gets angry – though His anger is righteous and just.  The Israelites angered God on more than one occasion with their faithlessness and idolatry.  Job 42: 7 says that God declared His anger at Job’s “friends” because they spoke untruthfully about Him.

God knows that we have emotions – including anger – and He knows that in our finite human minds we get frustrated over things we do not understand.  Surely if God would have sat down with me and told me His plan for this situation I would have been able to control my emotions as He worked it all out.  But then, that doesn’t require much faith does it?

So that day I had it out with God, and you know, He never berated me for losing control.  He didn’t turn and leave in a cloud of offense.  He didn’t respond with His own blast of anger at me.  He let me purge my heart of all that I was feeling, then like a good Father He wrapped His tender love around me, calming my anxious spirit and assuring me that, indeed He was watching, He cared and He had a plan.  And as time moved along, I saw Him faithfully resolve the issue.

Beloved, God is big enough to take your honest emotions, in fact He insists that we come to him in truthfulness—and that includes your feelings of disappointment, discouragement, frustration and, yes, even anger.  We do so with honesty and reverence knowing that He will not reject us, but rather draw us close as His child and soothe our hearts with His love.   So take all your raw emotions to God and tell Him how you feel, even if you have to yell a little.

Holy Father, I am thankful that You know me so well; You know that I am fraught with human emotions that I sometimes can’t control.  Lord thank You for hearing my heart’s cry and for touching the deepest part of me with Your peace and tender love.  Amen

The Banner of Love

battle standard“His banner over me is love” (Song of Songs 2:4)

When I was in my teens, I went with a group of young people to a major theme park for a fun day of rides and shows and eating things that were bad for me.  I was excited because I was finally old enough to go through the park with just my friends and no chaperone. (What were they thinking?!)  We set a time to gather together for supper and the group leader pointed to a tall structure that stood out well above all the others.  He said “This is our gathering spot.  You can see it from anywhere in the park so you can easily make your way back.”    Off we went, and it was reassuring to see the top of that building from wherever I was and know that I couldn’t get so lost that I couldn’t find my way back.  Several hours later, at the appointed time, we all made our way back to our gathering place.

That was only a group of about 30 scatter-brained teenagers, but imagine trying to keep an entire nation together. That was Moses’ task in leading the nation of Israel out of Egypt.

Consider what it must have been like with 2-million plus people marching together through the desert.   It was a major challenge to stay together over the many long and dusty miles.  It could easily have been chaos, but God set out a plan.  The Israelites were the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob and were identified by their ancestor’s name.  To minimize confusion, everyone was required to travel and camp in a certain order with their clan.    So how did they find where they belonged in an ocean of people?  Each tribe created a banner or standard that was unique to their own family.  It was at the top of a long pole so it was visible to every family member.  This is the same type of banner you’ve probably seen in battle scenes in movies. It was usually adorned with bright colors and often had bits of shiny metal so that it would sparkle and glitter in the sun.  This is how every family member found their way back to their family.  Imagine if you were a child in this vast company of people and you got separated from your clan, all you had to do was look up and spot your tribe’s standard and you knew where to go.

In this world, it is hard to know which way is right, there are too many distractions and detour signs along the way.  If you don’t have a fixed point of reference you can easily find yourself wandering into dangerous places.  Do you ever find yourself wishing there was something that could guide you to a safe haven?  I know I have often prayed, “Lord just give me a landmark so I will know which way to go.” I need something that stands high above the chaos and confusion of this world.  Something that will help me find the place I belong.

God has created a banner that flies high above this world.  Its colors are the crimson red of Jesus’ blood and it is adorned with the glory and majesty of His Son.   This standard is the cross of Christ.  It is your banner to lead you to where you belong.   The cross rises high above the world, standing tall and sure in the instability of our culture.  You can see it from wherever you are, even in the deepest, darkest places.  The cross is more than your family’s standard.  It is the declaration of God’s overwhelming love for you.  It is His eternal promise of salvation and everlasting life.  In the cross is hope and freedom.  In the cross we have light and truth.  If we keep our focus on the cross, we will never be lost to the whims of the world.

Beloved, if you have wandered away and cannot find your way home, lift up your head and look for the cross—God’s banner of love.  Because love is where you belong.

Holy Father, thank you for the cross which stands high and firm above the world.  No matter where I go, I know that the cross will lead me back to where I belong.  Help me, Lord, to keep my heart and mind focused on the cross of Christ and the love that placed it there.  Amen.

Dance Like the Whole World is Watching

Dancer“David danced before the Lord with all his might.” 2 Samuel 6:14

Deep within the soul of a little girl beats the heart of a dancer.  When she was very small she would twirl around the room making her skirt billow out wide.  She would dance standing on her father’s shoe-tops and spin and sway as her mother sang along with the radio.  When she wasn’t dancing she skipped—down the halls of the church, across the playground as school, curls bouncing as her feet leapt with the joy in her heart.  She got older and the times for dancing were set aside for studies, still she danced in her bedroom to her favorite songs.  Life grew busier and dancing was reserved for formal halls in ball-gowns and high-heels.  Then came her wedding day and she floated down the aisle of the church and danced with her two favorite men—her Daddy and her new husband.  As they settled in to their new lives, he promised to hold her close in the dance of marriage.

But things do not always turn out like our little girl dreams.  Cinderella was a fairy tale, but this was real life.  Somehow the music faded and the dance was abandoned for work and kids and bills.  Her prince charming turned out to be just a flesh-and-blood man who had no energy for spinning across the room anymore.  Every once in a while the sound of music stirred something in her heart, but dancing seemed a far distant dream.  One morning she woke up and realized she had forgotten all the steps.  Maybe it was better that way, because her dance partner had walked away leaving her a broken woman with no heart for the dance anymore.

Sometimes this life can just knock the breath—and the joy—right out of us.  We start out well, full of dreams and enthusiasm, but real-life struggles and heartaches come along and we find those dreams fading and our excitement waning.  Perhaps you are not a dancer at heart, maybe deep inside you are a teacher or a singer, an artist, or like me—a writer and speaker.   Maybe your dream is not so big, but you have a God-given desire to step into something that would bring God great glory; yet you also have a past that has weighted you down with shame and regret.  You have been places you shouldn’t have, entered into relationships you wish you hadn’t, faced hard things you can’t seem to overcome, or had someone else’s choices leave you broken and hurting.   You think, “I can’t dance (or whatever that desire is in your heart), people know my past and they will not approve.”  My friend that is the very reason you need to tie on your ballet slippers again.

In the story that surrounds our key verse, David is making a second attempt to return the Ark of God to Jerusalem after it had been captured in battle.  His first attempt was a humiliating failure that ended in the death of one of his trusted men, all because David failed to follow the rules about transporting the Ark.  He made a mistake, a very costly one, and for a season, left the Ark at a random home and walked away from it, angry and defeated.  But God burdened his heart that the Ark needed to be in its rightful place, so he learned the right way to get the task done and set out once again to bring the Ark home.  And on this attempt, David actually did something that was quite undignified for a king, “dancing and leaping before the Lord,” and he got called out for it, by his wife no less. She said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would” (v. 20).   David’s answer: “It was before the Lord [that I danced]” (v. 21).  He didn’t care what she thought because God was glorified in David’s dance and his people loved him all the more for it.

Here’s a little secret you may not know: everyone has a past, no one gets through life without stumbles and failures and regrets.  Those people that are watching you are just as wounded and broken and hurting as you are.  They may hide it well, but if you get close enough you will see that no one is as perfect as they seem.  And the truth is, we find it very hard to relate to someone who glides through life unscathed.  I don’t want to know that you did everything right in life—I want to know that you’ve stumbled too, but you got up and got back in the dance.

Why do we think we can’t live for the glory of God when we have made mistakes, that we have to sit down when we’ve stumbled in life?  Everyone out there has made mistakes.  If we all sat out the dance because of the mistakes we’ve made, no one would ever dance again.  And that is all the more reason why we should dance or sing or create – to show the world that Jesus forgives and restores and makes life worth living again.  The walking wounded in your world need to see God take the mess of your life and speak a message of hope.

Beloved, someone else has stumbled over the same rock that brought you down; let them know they can get back up again. Dance before the Lord with all your might. The world doesn’t need to see you dancing out of perfection, they need to see you dancing out of redemption.

Holy Father, with all the failures of my past, You still call me to dance before Your throne.  Please use me to show the world that when we fall, Christ gives us hope and restoration and life.  Start the music God, and let me dance.  Amen.

The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Know

resurrectionChrist Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God.  Romans 8:34

In the world of biology, all organisms are classed or grouped together by certain similarities and separated by differences in their cellular makeup.  These grouping are known as “kingdoms,” such as the “plant kingdom,” and the “animal kingdom.”  Those are pretty obvious in their classifications, but other groupings such as bacteria and a kingdom known as “Prostista” (complex microscopic cells) have a far wider range of characteristics.  So how do the biologists determine the criteria for classifying species? My Biology 101 textbook made a statement that drew my attention: “Evolutionary assumptions are generally used to decide which characteristics are most primitive and therefore most important.”[1]  In other words, in tracing a species’ changes and growth, classifications are based on the most basic characteristics—it’s “starting point”—as the most important.  Please note, I am not endorsing an evolutionary perspective, but merely pointing to the way all life forms grow and change from their earliest state.  For instance, all human beings start from the same organisms and from there a person changes and grows, but the basic building blocks of human life are evident throughout those changes.  All humans share this starting point, regardless of gender or ethnicity or location.  Thus we classify all humans differently from say plant life or bacteria.

So how does a biology lesson apply to a Christian devotional?  I’m glad you asked.  The Christian faith has experienced a tremendous amount of change over the past two-thousand years.  Some of these changes have been positive, such as the agreement of the doctrines of the faith and some have challenged and strengthened the faith—consider the inspiration of the martyrs during the persecution of the church.  Some changes have been hard, but necessary, such as the Reformation, which gave birth to Protestantism.  From there we have multiple branches of denominations, each with their own traditions and structure.  These are not bad things in themselves but they have changed the complexity of the faith.  And yes, some changes have caused havoc, confusion and turmoil in the church.  I’ll leave those unnamed so we don’t lose focus.  The point is, all these changes have added layers to the basic truths of Christianity.

The question then becomes, when we strip away all these added layers what is the “most primitive and most important” aspect of the Christian faith?

Paul makes it very clear in his letter to the church in Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time . . . Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appear to me also.”  1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

The death of Jesus Christ, His burial and His resurrection are the core, the root, and the foundation of the Christian faith.  Paul said that those are “of first importance.”  That does not mean that other doctrine of the faith are of lesser importance.  We must recognize the humanity and divinity of Jesus, the incarnation and the virgin birth, but the heart of our faith is the fact that Jesus died, evidenced by His burial, and that He rose again, as seen by the many witnesses afterward.  If your faith is built on anything other than this, if your confidence is in your religious affiliation, if you follow a Jesus who is a “good teacher and moral example,” if you adhere to traditions rather than truth, I dare to say you do not have saving faith.  Only faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is saving faith.  If your Christianity is not built on this single most important truth of all, then you should reconsider whether you truly are a Christian.

Why are these so important?  Without the death of Jesus, our sin debt remains.  Only Jesus could be the perfect sacrifice for your sin and my sin and the sins of all of humankind.  Simply put, Jesus’ death paid for our sins.  But why is it so important to know about His burial?   Because without the grave His death is a question not a fact.   Jesus was visibly buried in an earthly grave to validate His death.  It is also important because, to borrow from Bill Gaither, “The empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.”[2]  The empty tomb was the first indication that Jesus’ followers had that He was alive.  Jesus’ resurrection is the assurance we have of eternal life.  Without His resurrection, we are trusting in a dead man with no power.  But He is alive and He promises us that we will have life everlasting if we believe and trust in Him.

There are many facets to the Christian faith and we do well to learn about atonement, justification, sanctification, grace, Christology and the other great truths of Christianity.  If you’ve never studied these important doctrines, I encourage you to do so.   They will enrich your understanding of the Bible and of your relationship with Christ.  Consider them the building blocks of your faith.  But before you start building, make certain you are on the rock-solid foundation of “first importance.”  Be sure your faith is resting on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Chris. “All other ground is sinking sand.”[3]

Lord Jesus, there are many voices that claim to know the truth, but only Your Word tells us what is “of first importance.”  Guard Your church Jesus lest we wander from the substance of our faith and lose our foundation.  Amen.


[1] Charles Detwiler, Kimberly Mitchell and Norman Reichenbach, Life by Design, (Boston, Cengage Learning, 2014), 14.

[2] William J Gaither and Gloria Gaither, Because He Lives, (1971).

[3] Edward Mote and William B. Bradbury, The Solid Rock, (n.d.)

When Your World is Shaken

“At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” Hebrews 12:26-27

There are two perspectives taught in the church about suffering, one is that suffering is inevitable and unavoidable and the other is that suffering is evil and its presence should be rejected, and in truth they are both correct.

Suffering and hardships are part of human life. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind has been subject to the travails of life outside of the perfect world of the Garden.  Sickness, death, failure and even the ravages of nature are all part of the consequences of that very first sin.  In that sense suffering is unavoidable.

Suffering is also part of the Christian’s life—Jesus told us as much: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). He said the world would hate and persecute His followers because they hated and persecuted Him (see John 15:18-21).  It is both a painful experience and a joyful one to suffer for the name of Christ.  As we watch the world turn farther and farther away from God, it is reasonable to believe that suffering in this way is inevitable.

Suffering is also rooted in evil, as we noted—a direct consequence of the actions of the first humans who listened to the evil one rather than their Creator.  In the Garden, all was perfect.  No disease, no death, no hatred, no failure, do destruction.  Evil entered the picture and Adam and Eve were banished from their perfect home.  If only they had resisted . . .  Now mankind and creation are subject to evil in the forms of hatred, war, crime, poverty and abuse, to name a few.

How are we to comprehend a good God who allows suffering to befall His beloved creation—human beings, animals and the planet He spoke into being?  Look around the world at what evil men have done, at the pain they have inflicted. Why would God allow this to be?  Let’s bring this closer to home—how can we understand when He allows suffering to touch our lives?  Is it possible that God has lost control?

Beloved, God has never lost control of this universe; He is just as sovereign over the affairs of creation—including suffering—as He has ever been.  And He has never lost control of the lives of men.  He continues to hold the reigns of the world, just as He continues to hold your life and mine in the palm of His hand.

So how do we reconcile God’s sovereignty and suffering?  Do we become spiritual Eeyores and resign ourselves to it?  Pat each other on the shoulder and say “Just trust God,” with a sigh?  There are many theological reasons we can consider, but I don’t think that will comfort our hearts.

Our key verse is the hope I hang on to in suffering.  This verse references a passage in the Old Testament book of Haggai, which is written to the Israelite refugees who had returned to Jerusalem after their 70-year Babylonian exile.  The weary and bedraggled Jews came home, not to the shining city of their past, but to a burned out shell.  The walls had been knocked flat, their homes decimated, and worst of all, the temple of the Lord has been burned to the ground.  In their recovery efforts they restored the wall and built homes and even began the work on the temple, but they were too overwhelmed to finish.  God declared to His people, “Be strong and work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4), and the Jews did indeed complete the task.  Yet they became discouraged because this second temple was much smaller and less opulent than Solomon’s temple.  So God declared to them that an even greater Temple was yet to come, a heavenly temple far beyond their wildest and greatest dreams.  This is what the writer of Hebrews was drawing on in our key verse.

Times of suffering in the lives of God’s people are tools He uses to prepare us for what is to come.  In this verse, the author used the image of being shaken.  Some things are “shakable,” unstable and unfixed.  They are the temporary things that we too often set our hearts on in this life.  Power, popularity, prestige, wealth, health and beauty—all things that fade away.  God wants us to realize that these things, so sought after in this world, have no value or permanence in the eternal.  So He shakes things up, causing these worldly “treasures” to fall away, and with them our dependence on and affection for them.

What remains after all the shaking is done?  Look at Hebrews 12:28: “a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” What remains is the eternal, unshakable Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  The New Jerusalem, the Holy City where we will live forever in the presence of the Lord.  What value is there in worldly treasures when we stand before the King of kings and Lord of lords?  Those things that captured our hearts in this life are meaningless in the light of heaven.  Oh why do we hold on to the unstable things of this world when an unshakable destiny awaits us?

What is God shaking loose in your life?  What are you holding on to that has no eternal value? Dear one, He will not take anything from you that is lasting and true.  Let God have His way with the temporary treasures of your life so that you may inherit the unshakable and eternal.

Holy Father, in my hand are worldly treasures, trinkets and false gemstones set in fool’s gold.  Shake them from my hands that I may grab hold of that which is unshakable and eternal.  Amen.

Did God really say . . .?


“He who doubts is like is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6

Satan’s favorite weapon against us is to cause us to doubt God.  I don’t know why we fall for it time after time, it is such an old trick that he used all the way back to the Garden.  Check out Genesis 3, the account of the fall of Adam and Eve which is the fall of all mankind.

Satan, in the form of a serpent, slithered up to Eve with evil in his heart and a question on his lips: “Did God really say…?”  (Genesis 3:1). He was not asking for clarification of the Creator’s words, he was sowing that tiny seed of doubt.  You can almost hear him stress the word really.   He was asking Eve if she thought God meant what He said in pronouncing the inevitability of their death for eating from that one particular tree.  Well Eve took the bait and took a bite and Satan knew then that he has a sure-fire missile to use against God’s beloved creatures.  But the truth of God’s words proved itself, and mankind has suffered death—physically and spiritually ever since.  Oh if only Adam and Eve had believed God, how different it all would have turned out.  They learned the hard way the one thing you can be sure of, God doesn’t mince words.  He says what He means and He means what He says.

He used that same ploy against Jesus in the wilderness: “If you are the son of God… (Matthew 4:3, 6).  He questioned Jesus’ identity, but the Lord did not fall for it, because He knew the truth.  You will recall that the wilderness episode followed immediately on the heels of Jesus baptism.  Do you remember the Father’s words? “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  Right away Satan began to question Jesus’ confidence. That is the enemy’s other favorite dart against us; he plants doubts in our mind about our relationship with God.  “If you really are God’s child, why is He allowing you to suffer so much?”  “You can’t really be a Christian and behave the way you just did!”  Satan tried to cast doubt in Jesus’ mind, but his attempts failed, because Jesus knew exactly who He was; His Father had proclaimed it and Jesus never lost that confirmation.

Friend, Satan still works to cause you and me to doubt God.  He wants us to doubt what His Word says about what is right and what is wrong.  He uses the culture of the day to cast doubt on the reality of sin and the consequences of rejecting Christ.  He even uses the most learned people in society to cast doubt on the existence of God.  In the church he brings in those who twist and misinterpret the Scriptures to say “what their itching ears what to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).  That is where we have to go back to the only source of truth—the Word of God and refresh our minds with what God really said so that we can stand firm in this evil day.

But I think Satan’s strongest weapon against us is casting doubts in our mind about our identity and about God’s love for us.  When we are unsure about who we are and about our relationship with God everything else gets shaken too.  Hear this loud and clear dear ones, when you received Jesus Christ as your Savior, God spoke the same words over you that He spoke over His own Son: “This is my child, whom I love; with him (or her) I am well pleased.”  How do I know that?  Check out Jesus’ words in His prayer just before His arrest and crucifixion: “My they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23, emphasis added).  God loves those who are in Christ Jesus just as He loves Jesus Himself.  Because of the Son’s sacrifice, you and I are loved—eternally, unreservedly, and completely.  You can be sure of God’s love and of your place in His family.

My friends, don’t give Satan another victory over you.  Every time you and I give way to his words of doubt we stumble and fall in our faith-walk.  God has given His word in His Word to enable us to walk with confidence in the face of doubt.  Don’t let Satan trip you up with his old, tired routine. Trust God to always speak the truth, to speak it clearly through His Word, and to assure you of who you are and Whose you are.

There’s no doubt about it!

Holy Father – yes, You are my Father, and because of Jesus Christ, I am Your child.  Help me today to walk in the assurance and freedom of Your truth and cast aside every whisper and shout of doubt.  I trust in your Word and in You. Amen.

To See the Extraordinary

rainbow stars“Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25

When we read the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we are amazed at the record of Jesus’ miracles and wonders while He was on the earth.  Healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, walking on water, feeding the multitudes, calming the storm, just to name a few.   We read of His teachings and his sermons and think how exciting it must have been for the disciples to be with Jesus on these occasions.  But the gospel accounts only highlight a select few incidents on certain days in the Lord’s life.  Does that mean the other days they walked with Jesus were just ordinary, hum-drum days?   I find that hard to imagine.  I can’t help but believe that every single day with Jesus the disciples witnessed something extraordinary.  I believe that is what today’s key verse means.  Jesus did more amazing things than could be contained in written records.  Surely every day they saw and heard more than just everyday things because they were in the company of the divine Son of God.

You and I don’t have the incarnate Christ physically present with us, but that doesn’t mean we have to miss out on the miraculous.  You see, we have the presence of Jesus Christ, in the person of the Holy Spirit living in us, and if we are willing, living through us.

We find recorded in John 14, Jesus’ promise to His disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (v. 18).  He was not talking about His appearances after His resurrection; He was talking about the Holy Spirit, whom He would send to empower His followers.  By that Spirit, Jesus said, “[you] will do what I have been doing; [you] will do even greater things than these” (v. 12).  That is how Jesus could tell His disciples: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  He would be with them—and with us, through His indwelling Holy Spirit.

What does that mean for us?  It means that, just as was so for the disciples, we are living every day in the extraordinary presence of Jesus Christ.  That means every day for us is never just an ordinary day.  Every day you and I walk with Jesus, we are filled with the power of the divine Son of God.    He’s right there with us, because He is in us.  Does that mean that we will see the sick healed, the dead raised, multitudes fed and all the things the disciples saw with their own eyes?  Well, yes and no.  I will never count out the possibility of God doing today what He did in the first century, He is still the same God of miracles in every age.  And through His followers, healing takes place (consider the ministry of Samaritan’s Purse physician Kent Brantly and team during the Ebola crisis); and multitudes are fed (have you ever had the privilege of serving at a homeless shelter?)  I will say the likelihood of seeing the physical dead raised to life is pretty slim, but every day we have the opportunity to see dead marriages come back to life, to see dead churches restored to vibrancy, and especially to see the spiritually dead resurrected to spiritual life.

Maybe your life feels like a drudge of laundry, kids, paperwork, telephones, machines or assembly lines.  Day in and day out it’s the same routine, the same faces, and the same struggles.  Where is the extraordinary in that?  I believe we can find it if we have our eyes open to what God is doing around us.  Every sunrise is a wonder, those sweet babies are living, breathing miracles, and even our own bodies are a marvel to behold.  Nature offers us glimpses of God’s power all around us: the beauty and fragrance of the flowers, the warmth of the sun with the cooling breeze, and the glorious colors of the sunset all give witness to the awesomeness of God.  I also believe we can be part of the extraordinary by letting the Spirit of Christ work through us to accomplish incredible things beyond our own natural abilities and strengths.  Your testimony can be the springboard to the miracle of a transformed life.  Your kind words and caring actions have the power to restore hope—and if you’ve ever lost hope, you know that finding it again is nothing short of a miracle.

What wonders await our senses when we look for God’s hand in this world?  What miracle can He work through you in someone’s life today?  My friend, I encourage you to look around with fresh eyes and a seeking heart for the extraordinary presence of God around you and inside you.  If you are a follower of Christ, no day is “just another day,” because nothing is ever ordinary when Jesus is there.

How wonderful are Your ways, O Lord, how miraculous are your deeds.  Please give me eyes to see all you are doing around me in and within me.  Help me to see the extraordinary in my everyday life.  Amen.

The Measure of Success

header_success“To obey is better than sacrifice.”  1 Samuel 15:22

What does success mean to you?  A six-figure salary?  A big house in the best neighborhood? Power? Prestige?  Popularity?  Maybe success is excelling at a sport or with a talent.   Parents want their children to succeed in life – get good grades, get in the best college, graduate with honors and land a great job.  I am a late-in-life seminary student and I approach every exam and assignment with the desire to succeed, to make the highest core possible.  There is nothing wrong with wanted to do your best and be your best, but have you ever wondered how God defines success?

By our human standards Abraham, the father of the entire Jewish nation would surely be a success. Moses is a mixed bag – he brought the Israelites out of Egypt, but did not himself get to enter the Promised Land because of his disobedience.   Joseph’s story at first looks anything but successful, he was sold into slavery by his brothers and imprisoned under false accusations; but he came out of that to be very successful as the second highest authority in Egypt and the savior of his family.  David gets a big thumbs up as a successful warrior and King, and Solomon successfully built the Temple of the Lord.  And what of Jesus?

Yet the great things that these great heroes did are not the true measure of their success.  ook again at Abraham, the patriarch of the nation of Israel.  Take a few minutes to read Genesis 22:1-19.  The scene starts as God comes to Abraham and tells him to “take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and . . . sacrifice him as a burnt offering” (v. 2).  The scripture says that the very next morning Abraham, Isaac and his servants set out for Mount Moriah.  If you know the story, you know that Abraham bound up Isaac, laid him on the altar and raised the knife above his son in obedience to the Lord’s command.  Thankfully, the Lord stayed his hand.   God declared that Abraham would be blessed and that his descendants would be “as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore” and would possess the best of the land (v. 17). That sounds like success to me!  But God measured success by a higher standard.  Look at verse 18 – “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”  Abraham was a success in the eyes of the Lord because he was obedient.

Obedience is what God counts as success.  It’s not how much money you make, it’s not how high you climb the corporate ladder.  It’s not even how many Bible verses you memorize or how much you give to the church.  To obey God is the highest mark of success in the Kingdom.  Do you feel the nudge to teach a Bible class?  Has God laid it on your heart to witness to your neighbor? It is obedience even to the smallest things.  Has God asked you to call and encourage a friend today? Your obedience will be your success.  God impressed my heart some years ago to pack my husband’s lunch every morning.  He counts my obedience as success.

Listen to Joshua 1:7: “Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.” With our obedience, God gives success in the form of blessings above anything we can imagine.  Isaiah 1:19 says “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.” Deuteronomy 28 is God’s prescription for success. He tells the Israelites “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth” (v. 1). And God detailed the signs of success that they would enjoy: children, wealth, land, rich harvests and large herds, provision for all their daily needs, victory over their enemies, respect among all the peoples of the earth, and more.

In the Kingdom of God the greatest success was Jesus. But how does a successful ministry end on a bloody cross and a borrowed tomb?   Even the disciples who followed in His footsteps all met with persecution and martyrdom – not a very successful movement, wouldn’t you agree? Yet Jesus was a success because “He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). And we are the beneficiaries of His obedience as Hebrews 5:8-9 says, “Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.” Jesus’ obedience led to our eternal salvation. Moses may have saved the children of Israel, but Jesus Christ saved the entire human race!

If you have been trying to win God’s favor and blessing by working hard to succeed, I have good news for you. God is not interested in your success, He is only interested in your obedience. He does not give you and me a mission or task or ministry and expect us to make it into a rousing success. He only asks us to step into His will, and when we act in obedience, we are a success to God. So slow down, jump off the hamster wheel and quit trying to show God how much you can accomplish for Him. In God’s eyes a simple “Yes” means success!

Holy Father, I’m so grateful that all You expect from me is obedience. When I say “Yes” to You, I am a success. I’m through trying to make success happen, I’m just going to obey You and know that that is all the success You desire. Amen.

Once and For All

Picture of a wooden Christian cross on St. Cuthbert’s Isle, Holy Island, Northumberland. St Cuthbert’s Isle is a small island used as a retreat by both Aidan and Cuthbert.

Picture of a wooden Christian cross on St. Cuthbert’s Isle, Holy Island, Northumberland. St Cuthbert’s Isle is a small island used as a retreat by both Aidan and Cuthbert.

Read Leviticus 16

“He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.” Hebrews 7:27

In a dusty, desert wasteland, a man slowly unties a rope from the goat’s neck. His fingers trace the dried blood on the goat’s forehead, where a few hours before the priest had laid his hands. The transfer of sin is complete. All that remains is for it to be removed from the camp.

The man slaps the animal’s rump and it jumps. It runs a few paces, then stops and looks back. “Go on,” the man yells. “Run. Run away!” He claps his hands. He chases the goat. And it runs. But it keeps looking back, hesitating, waiting and wondering if the man will change his mind.

But the man doesn’t change his mind—he can’t. When he is sure the goat has gone far enough, he turns to leave. He makes the dusty journey back alone, without the sound of trotting hooves or bleating to keep him company. The sin of the Israelites has been temporarily atoned for, sent away on the head of the goat that was left in the desert.

The Day of Atonement was Israel’s most solemn holy day. On that day, God made a way for his sinful people to set things right with him, the Holy One of Israel. But like the scapegoat that kept looking back, sin and guilt always returned. Year after year, goat after goat, the ritual was repeated: One goat slaughtered to atone for sin, the other sent far into the wilderness to remove the presence of guilt. But it wasn’t enough. It merely symbolized what was to come.

When Jesus died on the cross and was banished to the tomb, he fulfilled the requirement for the two goats on the Day of Atonement. His sacrificial death on the cross atoned for our sin, finally making us one with God for all time. His journey to death removed our guilt for all time. He took our sins with him to the pit of hell, just as the scapegoat was banished into the solitary wasteland.

It was a high price to pay. The scapegoat didn’t have a choice, but Jesus did. He chose to die because of his unfathomable love for us. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.[1]

[1] American Folk Hymn

Anatomy of a Miracle

woman in prayer“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples” (Psalm 77:14).

When we read the Bible today, we have the decided advantage of hindsight, or as Paul Harvey said, we know “the rest of the story.”  We have the record of God’s activity and know the outcome.  Don’t you just wish you could tell the disciples, in the hours between His death and resurrection, that hope is not lost and Jesus will rise from the dead?  Or wouldn’t you like to yell to Eve – “Don’t touch that fruit!”  I have always wanted to tell Sarah and Abraham, “Please be patient with God in this, you will have a child.”  Oh, what peace this world would have if only we could warn them of the future consequences of their actions.  This thought really struck home with me while I was reading the story in Mark 9:17-27 of the father who took his son to Jesus for a miracle.  I invite you to take a moment and read the account to get the scope of the story.

Now I want you to put yourself in this father’s shoes – or sandals – and look at the scene again through his eyes.  He is a loving, but very worried father.  His son is under the control of spirit that is causing the boy to harm himself, throwing him into fire or water to kill him and causing him to convulse and foam at the mouth.  (Many scholars believe the child had epilepsy.)  Now I’m a mom, and simple fevers, cuts and scrapes don’t phase me, but this – this would be terribly frightening and disconcerting.  No doubt they have carried their child to countless doctors and religious healers, and probably spent all their money hoping for a cure.

Think about this from the father’s perspective – in real time – as he stands before Jesus with pleading eyes, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).  The father doesn’t have our vantage point to know how this will end, he has no guarantee of healing to hang his hope on.  All he has are scraps of others people’s stories of their encounters with Jesus– and a plea that the rabbi will do the same for his boy.

Stay in the moment as we see Jesus turn to the child and speak with authority, “I command you to come out of him and never enter him again” (v. 25).  Watch through this father’s heart as “the spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out” (v. 26)” But wait, what did Jesus do?  The boy looks dead – like a corpse!  The father brought his boy to Jesus and Jesus made everything worse.

Now, freeze this scene right here and consider with me, how many times you and I have been in the same place.  You brought your problem to Jesus in hopes that He would help you.  You pray and plead with Him.  You’ve heard of others’ testimonies of the wonderful things He’d done for them, and you hope He will do the same for you.  And what happened next? It all got worse instead of better.  And so the questions start: “Did I pray wrong?” “Did God not hear me?” “Does He have something against me?”  “Why does He do good things for others, but not for me?”  Now, in addition to our problem we have all this anxiety and we’re wondering, “what just happened and what do I do now?”

You see, just as the father lived out his story in real-time, you and I are also living out our story without the advantage of a written script that tells us how it all ends.  All we know is, right now, in this moment, it all seems hopeless.  Jesus has let us down.

“But Jesus . . .” these are the most precious words in the Bible to me.  When all seemed more hopeless than before, Mark said, “But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet” v. 27).  Wonder of wonders, the boy is not dead – he is alive – and healed!  He runs into his father’s arms with a smile of triumph.  The stunned father bends his head to kiss his child, and then looks at Jesus in amazement.  “My child . . . my child is alive?” “My son is healed?”  “Surely,” he muses to himself, “this is no ordinary rabbi!”

My friend, may I remind you not to give up on Jesus before the miracle is complete.  That moment when all seems lost, just as it was for this father, may be the moment before all is found again.  I have some dear friends whose grandmother wrote a song that said “Don’t give up on the brink of a miracle . . .” I think that is wonderful advice.  Bring your problem to Jesus, give Him room to work, and don’t give up until He pronounces the miracle fulfilled.

Mighty, merciful, awesome Father – how often we give up before You are finished working in our situation.  Please remind us that miracles always end with glory, so if we haven’t seen the glory of God displayed, we must wait and trust that it all still rests in Your hands.  Amen.