Hosanna!

PalmSundayLoop_03Palm Sunday

 

Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19: 28-44; John 12:12-19

“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” John 12:13

 The scene is just outside the city of Jerusalem, and the season is the “Passover Festival” – a week-long celebration commemorating the “passing over of the Death-Angel” prior to the Israelite’s exodus out of Egypt.

As was the tradition, thousands of Jews flocked to the city, and one major topic of conversation was on everybody’s lips: “Would Jesus come into the city for the Passover Feast?” The people were all abuzz with reports of His miraculous deeds – in particular, raising Lazarus from the dead. The Religious Leaders had given orders that anyone knowing His whereabouts should report it to them, for they planned to arrest Him on sight.

Jesus’ previous entries into the city were quiet, without any show of publicity. Now, however, with deliberate purpose, He publically presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah and King. To announce that He was indeed the Messiah, Jesus chose a time when all Israel would be gathered in Jerusalem, a place where huge crowds could see Him, and a way of proclamation that was unmistakable.

The people lined the road, praising God, waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks in front of the colt. They shouted “Hosanna” because they recognized Jesus was fulfilling the long-awaited prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. They began to spread their clothes in the colt’s path to provide a “royal carpet” and they cut branches from palm trees, adding them to their garments on the ground and waving them before the Lord.

 

The word “Hosanna: is made up of two Hebrew terms, “hosa” meaning “save” or “help” and “na,” which is a plea based on the urgency of the need. In the original setting of the word, which would have been familiar to the Jewish people, “Hosanna” meant “Help us, please, Lord!”

 

Interestingly, on the road outside the city, the people proclaim Him Messiah as they recall the prophet’s promise (Matthew 21:9). Once inside the city gates, as strangers gathering for the Passover asked: “Who is this?” the answer was different. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From Messiah to Prophet. First One who “comes in the Name of the Lord” – now one who comes from Nazareth-a city despised and disregarded by the Jews. (John 1:46)

Don’t we still do the same? In the Sanctuary on Sunday morning Jesus is Lord and we sing His praises with fine voice. But what happens we the crowd changes? Do we tuck Him inside the cover of a dusty Bible? How do we respond to the question? “Who is this?” Is He just a “good teacher, a man of peace”, or maybe even a fool?

He cannot not be Lord on Sunday and disregarded on Monday.

 

This week has, for centuries, been called “Holy Week” and “Passion Week.”

The church holds the remembrance of Christ’s death in highest esteem. Next Sunday is Easter, and we will celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection-our hope for eternal life.

The world looks to Easter as an excuse to shop for new clothes and to pay homage to a bunny who gives us baskets filled with decadence. No my friend, Jesus is the reason for the season!

 

Will you and I regard this week as truly Holy? Will we remind the world that this season is about a gift far richer than chocolate – the gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah King? Will we lift high the Cross of Christ for all to see? We will proclaim that He is Alive!? “Christ the Lord is Risen!”

 

Lord, Jesus, our Savior and our King, on this Palm Sunday we raise our voices with the multitudes and cry out “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

Selah

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” Psalm 46:11

Perhaps you’ve seen the odd little Hebrew word scattered throughout the Psalms – Selah – and wondered what it meant. You may have even heard it as the name of a popular contemporary Christian group. It is believed to be a choral or musical notation and seems to indicate a dramatic pause in the music. I discovered in the Amplified Bible, a version that gives word translations that deepen the meaning of the text, that this word translates the phrase “Pause and calmly think about that.” John Phillips says it means “to pause and lift up”; [and] can be freely rendered: ‘There! What do you think of that?’”[1] The word and these translations intrigued me, so I began hunting through the Psalms (and Habakkuk) for the occurrences of Selah.

Much of the times we see Selah the writers are declaring God’s blessing, kindness, protection and deliverance on behalf of His people. It is frequently used as the Psalmist reminds himself and the nation to trust in the Lord:

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Trust in Him at all time, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. Selah” (Psalm 62:5-6, 8)

You will see Selah often in Psalms praising God for His great victories, power and might:

“O Lord, the king rejoices in your strength. How great is his joy in the victories You give! You have granted him the desire of his heart and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah” (Psalm 21:1-2).

It often became part of a cry to the Lord for help, comfort and mercy.

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint . . . I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” (Psalm 6:1-4 selected).

Imagine that you are part of the nation of Israel, and your enemies are surrounding the city. You gather your children to your side and pray for strength and safety. Then the prophet of the Lord stands high above the crowd and proclaims:

“Lord, we have heard of Your fame; we stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day.” You rode with Your horses and Your victorious chariots.   You uncovered Your bow and You called for many arrows. You came out to deliver Your people; You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness” (Habakkuk 3: 3, 8-9, 13). Then he pronounces the Selah – “Pause and calmly think about that.”

To your frightened people, the reminder of God’s power and might on the nation’s behalf brings renewed courage and hope. As you stop and calmly think about the prophet’s words you realize that God had been faithful before, and He will be faithful again.

Selah is such a beautiful and powerful reminder to us that the Bible – all of God’s Word – should be received with such depth and thought. God has filled the Bible with promises, assurances, hope, peace, redemption, joy, comfort – and yes, even chastisement and words of discipline; and they are all meant for us to read and ponder. There is nothing you will face in your life that is not spoken to in the Scriptures. Perhaps we need to add a few Selahs of our own to the words we read.

To those who grieve: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Pause and think calmly about that.

To the prodigal who has wandered far from God: “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24). Pause and calmly think about that.

To the saint drawing her final breath: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43.) Pause and calmly think about that.

To the lonely: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Pause and calmly think about that.

When the enemy is pressing in on you: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). To borrow from John Phillips: There! What do you think about that?

Every endearment, every promise, every warning, word of instruction or chastisement is meant to be examined and pondered and remembered. God intends for you to take His words and think about them, commit them to memory and live by them. Make them personal – put your name in the verses, let them speak to you and about you. The Scriptures are more than a 5 minute devotional for the day, “they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). How might it transform your heart and life if you came to God’s Word each day with the intent to pause and really think about what He is saying?

Jesus spoke “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). He told His disciples, “Consider carefully what you hear” (Mark 4:24).  I think He was saying to them and us – Selah – pause and calmly think about that.”

Holy Father, You have said “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). You have promised “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). Jesus, You have vowed “I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:3). Oh what sweet joy to pause and calmly think about that. Amen.

[1] John Phillips, The John Phillips Commentary Series: Exploring Psalms, Volume One, An Expository Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2002) 14.

“. . . but have not love . . .

“…but have not love…” 1 Corinthians 13:1, 2, 3

I am committed to memorize 1 Corinthians 13 – “The Love Chapter” – because I want to be better at loving others. I want to love like Christ loved – deeply, tenderly, attentively and unreservedly. I want to love others because they, like me, are made in the image of God. Most of all, I want to love others because Christ gave His life out of love for me and you and every person, past, present and future. So I am “storing up” this wonderful thesis on love in my heart.

Yet, I know, loving others requires more than words. This is what Paul was teaching in 1 Corinthians 13. Listen to these first 3 verses:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. It I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

When we consider this chapter, we tend to go right for the “Love is patient, love is kind . . .” (v. 4f) and it is good to know what love looks like in action – what is does and does not do, because love that stays in the mind and heart has no impact on the beloved. But in verses 1-3 I find a core truth that I must always keep in focus: the greatest spiritual gift requires the most humility.

The Love Chapter comes in the center of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, very appropriately placed because he has looked at and will go back to those abilities and callings that make the church a functioning Body. Some of these gifts put people in the forefront of ministry, where pride can get out of control. So he tempers the ego with this discussion about love, calling it “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). And the most demanding.

In the calling of a teacher, it is very easy to get “the big head,” and if, in the future God allows me to become an author, I know the temptation will be greater still. Eloquence of speech, knowledge, Scriptural understanding can all get in the way of service. If love is not my motivation, then I am being driven by my ego.

Yet Paul also shines the spotlight on what we see as the most Christian behavior: self-sacrifice. He equally says that if we sacrifice all that we have, including our very lives, but are not motivated by love, our actions gain us nothing of eternal significance. But oh, how we will be remembered in history.

What the apostle is saying is that we may be able to impress men with our great words and actions, but God knows the heart where the true motivation lies. And the heart is what he measures: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). That which is done for ego’s sake has no standing before God, only what is done for the sake of love will come forth out of the fire as gold.

Love and humility are the twin sisters of the Christian life – you truly can’t have one without the other. Jesus gives us the perfect example in John 13:1-5, as he humbled Himself to wash His disciples’ nasty feet. Verse 1b says: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the extent of His love.” The NASB says it so beautifully: “He loved them with a perfect love to the end.”

I want to love with as near to “a perfect love” as is humanly possible. But that’s the problem – it’s not “humanly possible.” So how do I do the impossible? John has the answer: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). The only way I can love like Christ is if I allow God’s love to flow through me to those around me. That’s why anything done for the sake of appearance is “a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.” It’s a lot of attention grabbing noise – but it’s not love.

Holy Father, You are love – Your Word declares it and You proclaimed it loudly from the Cross. You call me to love others, in my home, my church, my neighborhood and the world. I can only do it if You love them through me. Let me be Your conduit of love Lord. Amen.

In a Dry and Weary Land

He opened the rock and water flowed out; It ran in the dry places like a river” Psalm 105:41 (NASB).

Moses led the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. They left the delta region of northeastern Africa, where the Nile River kept the territory lush and green, and crossed into a dry and barren desert. In the desert, they were overcome by thirst – “there was no water for the community” (Numbers 20:2). As far their eyes could see, there was only sand – and not a single drop of water. They endured long days of marching with their worldly possessions on their backs and a long journey still ahead of them. They were weary. They were thirsty. They were suffering.

Dry deserts are not just in the wilderness of Sinai. Sometimes they are in our hearts.

Call them “wilderness seasons” or “the dark night of the soul” or “spiritual deserts.” One thing is certain, they are exhausting, wearying and seem to have no end in sight. If you read biographies of the spiritual giants of Christendom, you will find many experienced these difficult seasons. The Psalms are replete with the laments of David, Aseph and others who cried out, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42: 1-2). Perhaps you also know the ache of a dry and weary soul, when you reach out for God and He seems so very far away. Maybe you have been in that season so long you don’t have the strength to reach out anymore. I know that soul-despair, I have been in the desert, feeling lost, parched, and lonely. I’ve gazed out across an endless expanse of dry, hot sand and wondered if I would survive to the other side – or if, in truth, there was anything on the other side.

There are many reasons we find ourselves in the desert and the Israelites provide the example for us. Sometimes the issue is with us – God commanded the people to cross over and take possession of the Land of the Canaanites, but they faltered for the same reasons we do. First they listened to the discouragement of others. Numbers 13:16-33 tells the account of the scouting party that went into Canaan and brought back a report to the people.  While Caleb and Joshua encouraged the people, the others left them filled with dread. Then, because of the discouraging report, the people lost their trust and confidence in the Lord. We read their reaction in Numbers 14:1-3– they wept and grumbled and envisioned only disaster. They forgot all the miracles God had done to bring them thus far and let their fear and doubts overtake them. From there, they rebelled in disobedience. Number 14:4 says they decided it would be better to return to their lives as slaves than obey the Lord: “They said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” God responded by declaring that “Not one of them will ever see the land I promised” (Numbers 14:23). He determined that the entire faithless generation of Israelites would fall in the wasteland.

Fear. Doubt. Disobedience. They will lead us into the desert every time.

But let’s not forget the quest they were on. God took them out of slavery and bondage in Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land of blessing and fruitfulness and peace.   They were sojourners being let by YHWH to a “good and spacious land, land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). They were on their way – with God – to better things. His promise was more than they could envision, and for the ones who chose to believe and press on, the blessings overflowed in their lives.

I have had dry and barren seasons because of my own doubts and sin and disobedience. But thanks be the God for His forgiveness and His mercy through Jesus Christ – I did not have to stay there. But the sweet truth I have learned is, often those desert seasons are leading me into a place of promise and fruitfulness and fulfillment that I could not see among the rocks and sand. Sometimes the desert is the place of preparation for the place of promise.

Here is one more point I want to make: even in the desert, God provided water. Psalm 107: 35 says “He changes a wilderness into a pool of water and a dry land into springs of water.” Even in their faithlessness, God proved faithful. He heard their cries (well, actually their grumblings) and as our key verse says, He brought water from a rock. Psalm 114:8 says “[The God of Jacob] turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of water.”

Listen to the beautiful promise of Isaiah 58:11 – “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Hear his word in verse 14 “Then you will find your joy in the Lord.” Dry deserts are no match for God and His grace.

If you are surrounded by a sea of endless sand, cry out to God today and let Him bring the refreshing waters to your heart and your life. Then you can say with David, “In the roar of your waterfalls, all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7).

Holy Father, Your Word promises that You will “satisfy the thirsty” (Psalm 107: 9), and Lord, my soul thirsts for You. Oh, please let Your refreshing waters flow into my life. Amen.

Stray Dogs and Sin

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Genesis 3:6).

A stray dog wandered into our yard this week, just a big old pup. She was so friendly, jumping and playing and following us around with delight. She looked the picture of health, not boney from hunger, no wounds or sores from disease. Her eyes were bright and she had a happy, smiling face. We tried to shoo her off, but she just made herself at home, curling up on our front porch and snoozing away the day. Every time one of us walked outside, she bounced up and ran circles around us – she was so happy to see us. When I walked past the front door, she looked up with excitement and delight. We knew we couldn’t keep her, we have a cat who has no love for dogs, and our home is too small for the big dog she will grow to be. But the more we tried to run her off, the more determined she was to stay. She thought our yelling and stomping at her was part of the game. Still, I waffled. She was so happy and friendly and my son had always wanted a dog, and, quite honestly, she was beginning to grow on me. I mean she obviously liked me. And was it really such a big deal that she chewed up my husband’s newspaper before he could read it? Was it so bad that she barked at every car that drove by – day and night? And, yes, my cat was terrified of her, but they would learn to get along wouldn’t they?

But then, she jumped on my neighbor. She harassed the little dog that was visiting next door. And she got under the house and knocked out a side panel trying to get out. Maybe it was not such a great idea to have her around after all. But she had really settled in here, and I didn’t know what would happen to her if I called animal control.

Then, we saw the blood on her fur – blood from some animal she had killed since she showed up in my yard. Now I knew, the stakes were higher and she would have to go. I had no other choice. I made the call, and asked animal control to come and pick her up.

Sin is a lot like that. Sin comes to us, delighted to see us, with bright eyes and a big, happy smile. Sin doesn’t present itself as unhealthy, rather sin is well-fed with nothing to indicate the disease that it carries. Sin is friendly. Sin laughs at our half-hearted attempts to shoo it away. We know that sin really doesn’t belong in our lives – but surely sin and our convictions can learn to get along can’t they? Besides, sin is happy with us; sin has made itself at home and is curled up peacefully on the front porch. Well, sure there are a few little red flags, but, you know – it’s kinda grown on you. We’ve come to like it, and frankly, we’re not sure we want to let go of it.

But then, sin starts to attack our relationships. Sin begins to pick off the good things in our lives. Sin begins to destroy the foundation of our lives, knocking out the moorings that have kept us firm in our faith.

And then, sin turns on us, and we see our own blood from the wounds that it has caused, as it sinks its teeth and claws into our flesh. Now, we see sin for what it is and for the damage it has caused. We are trapped and helpless.

Maybe you have done like me with this stray dog, and given sin an opportunity to make itself at home in your life. You should have cried out for help when it first appeared, but it was so deceptively happy and fun. It liked you and you found yourself liking it too. Now the stakes are much higher and the danger is real. And you can’t shoo it away.

There is only one choice – we must call on the One who can take away our sin and cleanse our wounds with His own blood. We must cry out to Jesus for his power to drive sin from us and his mercy and grace to heal us. You and I do not have to be held captive by sin, Jesus died to set us free. Don’t let sin sit on your front porch one more minute. Call the sin-control specialist and be free.

Jesus, I have played around with sin, I didn’t take it seriously at first, and now I’m held captive in its powerful jaws of death. Only You can help me now. Please come and set me free. Amen.

(Update: I told my son this morning that the dog had inspired me to write this devotional about how sin creeps into our lives, and he said, “maybe that’s why God send her here.”  Not ten minutes after I posted this, animal control came and she went happily off to the pound.)

What He Sees in Me

“What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:4

This is a personal testimony, and I share it because I believe with all my heart and soul that is true for every person. Please prayerfully read it and let God speak to your own heart.

I’ve always believed there was nothing good in me, nothing of value. That’s been a persistent feeling for most of my life.   The thought comes to me and I just accept it and agree with it and take it as part and parcel of my identity. Recently, that same old impression came to me – “There is nothing good in me – nothing worth redeeming.” Then came the thought, “No – that’s not entirely true.” So I went to God in prayer and posed a question. “God what is the truth here? You saved me through the cross of Christ – but why? What did you see in me worth redeeming?”

I wondered, is it some innate gift or talent He’d given me? I’m a pretty good writer and teacher – maybe that is what He saw. I’m generous and loyal (sometimes too loyal) and helpful – those are good qualities worth redeeming.   I have a heart for God and His Word – that has to mean something. But I knew that all these were not the answer. And then God painted a scene in my heart that was a true revelation to me.

Go with me, back to the beginning to Genesis and creation.

Genesis 1 tells the story of the creation of the universe, the heavens and the earth, plants and animals and God’s premier creation: man. Please take a moment and read Genesis 1:26-27. Both verses record the creation of man in the image of God, the Imago Dei. What does that mean?

Without trying to delve into much deep theological theory, the creation of man in the image of God can be understood as a certain essence of God imbued in man at the time of creation. “The image is something in the very nature of humans, in the way in which we were made. It refers to something we are rather than something we have or do.”[1] “The image of God is what makes us human”[2] Humans are created as body, soul and spirit.[3] It is within this trichotomy that we bear the image of God. How it works, I cannot tell you – theologians and scholars have debated it for centuries, but the Bible says that it is part of every human.  Consider Deuteronomy 6:5 which says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart [spirit] and with all your soul and with all your strength [body].” We share a body – a physical shell – with all creation. The body houses the soul – the seat of reason and emotion. But what truly sets us apart from all other creation is the spirit – the part that enables us to commune with God – it is somewhere in the realm of the spirit that the most distinctive image of God is found.  However, while the Scriptures tell us that we are made in God’s image “there are no direct statements in Scripture to resolve the issue.”[4] This is one of God’s mysteries and we can only accept it and rejoice in it, for this image is what God sees in man that calls out to His heart for redemption.

God saw His image – the Imago Dei in me, and that was worth saving.   So He pursued me – me, who’s never been pursued in her life – and drew me to His Son. He saved me through the cross of redemption, through the blood of His Son and in saving me He imparted His Spirit to me, [5] and His Spirit brought my spirit to life. [6] He brought Image and Spirit together to create a perfected being – perfected, meaning completed, as Hebrews 10:14 says – “by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”  (Perfect – teleioo – to perfect, complete, finish, to reach a goal, be fulfilled, made complete.)  He restored me to God’s original design – complete in Image and Spirit.

Now God sees in me His completed design. He does not see my faults and failings, my shortcomings, my weight, anxieties, character flaws, temper or  impurities – because of Jesus – He no longer sees my sin. He does not see this worthless perspective I’ve always held of myself.  He sees a completed, beautiful and whole person. I don’t know what that means to you, but it means the world to me. In Christ I am made complete.

Ah, but that’s not all there is! There is coming a day – a grand and glorious day – in the resurrection when I will receive my spiritual body,[7] and the total transformation is gloriously accomplished and I will be fully perfected – body, soul and spirit.

This can be your testimony too. You were made in the image of God and the redemption of Jesus Christ is available to you – just receive this wonderful gift – it is given freely. Will you be complete in Christ?

Holy Father, I don’t pretend to understand all of this with perfect knowledge, You left it a mystery. But one thing I know – “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2). But with You I have everything-I am made complete!

A word of thanks to Rev. Michael Shockley for his theological assistance.  Love you “Dad!”

[1] Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 176.

[2] Gerhard von Rand as quoted by Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 171.

[3] See 1 Thessalonians 5:23

[4] Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 175.

[5] See Luke 11:13, John 7:39, Romans 8:16, 1 Corinthians 3:16,

[6] See John 6:63, 1 Corinthians 6:17

[7] 1 Corinthians 15:35-54

Hiding the Cross

(Note: I have my son’s permission to share this conversation.)

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

My son stepped into my study this morning to tell me he was heading out for work. I noticed the cross hanging from his neck, not something he usually wears. I said, “Let me ask you a question. When you start letting curse words fly, what are your co-workers going to think about that cross you’re wearing?” Mind you, I love my son, but I know him. He professes a faith in Christ, and I believe it is so.   But, he’s a young adult who works in construction, not exactly an atmosphere that monitors inappropriate language.   Like a sponge, he tends to absorb what is around him. I’ve heard him use “colorful” words. I’m not excusing his language, it’s been an issue we’ve discussed often. He has told me that he is trying to “clean up” his language. When I posed my question to him, I was not doing so in a condemning manner, but rather to make him think.

He replied, “Well, I’ll just hide my cross behind my shirt.”

I understood the thought behind his answer because I’ve taught him since he was little that we are to honor and respect God and the things of God like the Bible and the Cross (and don’t run in the church – this is God’s house!). I’ve taught him that, as Christians, we should strive to never bring any shame on the name of God. So in his mind, he thought that by hiding his cross behind his shirt, he would not shame it.

Doesn’t that sound so much like the reasoning of this world? Rather than change our behavior in order to honor God, we hide His Word, we hide the cross, we hide Him. In fact, the trend in church “décor” in recent years is to remove the cross so that no one is “offended” by it.   (That’s a whole other blog post!)

So I told him, “Son, we don’t hide the cross when we stumble and sin; that’s when we need to grab hold of the cross all the more and draw on it’s strength to help us.”

Listen to Peter’s words about the cross: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree [cross], so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis added). There are two important things we find in this verse.

First, the cross is for sinners. The cross is for those of us who make mistakes, for the ones who are weak, for those of us who do foolish things, who fall into pit of sin and walk in the wilderness of the consequences. The cross is the place where Jesus took on all our sin and shame, our profane mouths and promiscuous acts, our greed and selfishness, our lies, our addictions, our lustful thoughts, our rebellion and disobedience.  Jesus didn’t die for those who have it all together. He died for those of us who are falling apart in our own human sinfulness. He died that we might be set free from the punishment of sin, but also the power of sin.   We are not helpless against sin. If you are in Christ, sin no longer has authority over you. Through the cross, Christ enables us to die to sin.

Second, and this was the point I was making to my son – the cross helps us in our weaknesses.   By holding fast to the cross of Jesus, we draw strength to enable us to overcome our un-Christ like habits and attractions. When I look to the cross, I am reminded again of what Jesus did for me, and I find strength to fight against the enemy and to flee from temptation.   I’m not implying that the cross is some magic talisman; but it is a symbol of the transforming power of Christ – a power we are encouraged to call on every day and every moment.   My son won’t be able to “clean up” his language, but Christ can.   I can’t undo the consequences of my actions, but Christ can work them all out to my good and His glory.   You will not be able to control the sinful desires of your flesh, but Christ can help you stand strong in godliness. Through the cross, Christ empowers us to live for righteousness.

I advised my son to wrap his hand around his cross when those words started to form in his mind, and remember that Jesus died to enable him to live a righteous life, language and all.

Have you chosen to hide the cross instead of letting it do its transforming work in your life? My friend, the cross is meant to be seen, by you and me and the whole world. Let’s put the cross back in our churches, in our hearts and in our lives.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the Cross, the symbol of my freedom from sin and shame and death. Thank you for dying that I might live. May I esteem Your cross and hold it high every day. Amen.

Jesus, Bless This Mess!

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:21).

I am not the best housekeeper. It’s not that our small home is filthy, but mostly cluttered, still, I’m embarrassed to have anyone come in. Shoes kicked off in the living room, my crocheting projects and books piled on the table, my husband’s college football devotion adorning the room. Suffice to say, I’ll never be featured in the home issue of Southern Living. I’ve decided to get a porch swing and chairs to keep on the front porch to visit with folks and keep them from seeing the inside. Heaven help me if they need to use the bathroom!

As much as I want to hide my messy home from others, I sometimes want to hide my messy life from Jesus. Maybe you can relate. We tend to welcome Him as far as the front porch, but we really don’t want to invite Him in.   “Now Jesus, just sit down right here; I’ll give you the swing, it’s so comfortable, and I’ll bring a glass of sweet tea right out to You, then we can ‘visit’!” I’ll even go the extra mile and bring out some of those cookies I’ve been hiding from the rest of the family – it is Jesus after all! Anything to keep Him outside – to keep Him from seeing the clutter, the dust and the unswept floors.

Here’s the problem with that – our key verse says that unless we open the door to Jesus and allow Him entry into our lives – yes our messy, un-Jesus-looking lives – we don’t really have a relationship that will sustain us. Tea and cookies on the front porch won’t feed our hungry souls. Jesus desires a full, deep and abiding relationship with you and me. The kind of relationship that dips into the same dish together and shares, not just a meal, but our hearts.

What will He think when He steps over the threshold and enters our tattered, cluttered, dirt-encrusted lives? What will he say about the dust on our Bible and the stack of fashionable clothes piled up on the chair from which we said we’d pray every morning? How can we ever explain to Him the mud and the muck that has crept into our hearts?   I cringe with anxiety and hang my head in shame just thinking about all the junk and trash He will have to walk over to sit at the table of my life so we can eat together.

But here’s what I know about my Jesus – wherever He is allowed to enter, He brings His transforming power with Him.   Somehow, when His feet step over the welcome mat of our heart, His robes sweep away the dirt and dust. He brings with Him the cleansing we so desperately need. By His blood we are washed, and, to our astonishment, our hearts become pure and fit for the presence of a King – King Jesus. I believe as He nears the table, which has suddenly been laden with the richest feast you could ever imagine, He pulls out a chair – for you – and bids you come and dine with Him.

Oh my friend, Jesus does not come to condemn you for the state of your heart. He does not glare at the mess in your life and order you to clean yourself up before He will come in. He comes to make you clean, to make you whole; to transform you heart, your life and your world into a place of order and beauty. Do you hear Him knocking? Won’t you let Him move from the front porch and into your heart?

Dear Lord Jesus, I hear you knocking at the door of my heart. My life is in such disarray Jesus, will You come in with Your cleansing power and make my heart Your home? Come and be Messiah over my messy life. Amen.

Ain’t Backing Down!

“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed’ (Nehemiah 6:9).”

He was a formidable opponent with his huge, snarling face and quick, elusive ability to move with me in any direction. He intended to block my path, and he was bringing all his strength to hold me back. But I was even more determined to get by him and do what I knew I had to do. I darted – first to the left, then quickly jumped to the right and hurdled over his arm sweeping at my legs. I touched down again and pounded my feet on the ground, running with all my might. TOUCHDOWN! I glanced back at him, lying on the ground with a look of shock on his face as my cousins erupted with shouts and laughter. I rarely got the best of him, but this one glorious moment is etched in my memory – little sister had beaten big brother.

As kids growing up, my older brother often tried to intimidate me; big brothers can be a kid sister’s worst enemy. But lest I paint him badly, he also spent one Saturday cutting lawns in our neighborhood to buy me a sock monkey when I was sick and staged a “stuffed animal” musical with Monkey and all my “babies.” (I also have another older brother who was my frequent defender.)

Intimidation is nothing new. There will always be someone who is bigger or faster or meaner that will try to stand in someone else’s way.   The story that revolves around our key verse is set in the ancient Middle East, right after the Israelite captives were released from Babylon to return to Jerusalem. The bedraggled remnant found their city in ruins, the Temple destroyed, and the wall that protected their homes in rubble.  In the book of Ezra which preceded Nehemiah, the returning Israelites had faced great opposition in rebuilding the Temple of God. Ezra 3:3 says, “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offering on it to the Lord.” Later Nehemiah led the people to restore the wall to the displeasure of their neighbors, who “became angry and greatly incensed [and] ridiculed the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1, 2). “They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it” (4:8). Despite their own fear and their enemy’s threats the Israelites “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (4:9) and “returned to the wall, each to his own work” (4:15), and “rebuilt the wall . . . for the people worked with all their heart” (4:6).

The Israelites had a word from God to rebuild and restore their city, their place of worship and their protecting wall. The neighboring pagan communities opposed and tried to intimidate them, to cause them to cower in fear and abandon their work. But they refused to bow and stuck with the task and they completed the wall in a remarkable fifty-two days. Listen to what Nehemiah records of those who opposed them: “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that his work had been done with the help of our God” (6:16).

God called me to the ministry of the Scriptures; to, in the call of Ezra, “study the Word, live the Word and teach the Word” (Ezra 7:10 paraphrased). My enemy, the devil, is “angry and greatly incensed.” He has lobbed threats at me, shouted words of condemnation and failure at me and set people in opposition against me, trying to discourage me and cause me to give in, give up and abandon the call. My big brother learned that when I am determined, I am not easily intimidated. The devil is learning that too. He can throw his best efforts at me, but I know what God has called me to do and I will not be intimidated. God has called me by His Word and His Word never fails.

I don’t know what God has called you to do; maybe to preach His Word, teach a class, sing in the choir, or just be devoted to Bible study and prayer in your daily life. Maybe it’s something more challenging, like loving someone you’d rather not or enduring through a health crisis in a God-honoring way. I do know that whatever God has called you to do, the devil wants to stop you from doing it. He will try his best to intimidate you and wear you down so that you will give up and walk away. I am here to tell you – don’t let him.   Whatever God’s work and purpose for you is, know that He always fulfills His purpose. You have His assurance that, despite the enemy’s best efforts, you can – and will – succeed, if you don’t give up. To those who trust in the Lord and don’t back down, He will “not grant the wicked their desire [nor] let their plans succeed” (Psalm 140:8); and He will “work out His plans for [your] life; He will fulfill His purpose for [you] and perfect that which concerns [you]” (Psalm 138: 8 – TLB, NIV, NASB respectively).

Like the enemies of the Israelites, your enemy is fighting a losing battle. Satan has no authority where God has called you. The truth is – he’s trying to intimate you because you intimidate him. If what you are called to do is so threatening to the enemy that he must try to make you quit, then it’s that much more important that you don’t. God has entrusted you and I with important Kingdom work; work that will be opposed by God’s enemies. Let’s keep Paul’s attitude in mind: “I will stay on . . . because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9).

Holy Father, You have called me to great things in Your name, and our enemy is infuriated. Give me the strength to stay the course, to keep my eyes on You and never, never, never give up. Amen.

To the One Who Seeks

“You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12

Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell, when once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on the judgment day and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God!  Not enough evidence!'”[1]

I recently completed a seminary course in Christian Apologetics – which is not “apologizing for being a Christian” – but rather the defense of the Christian faith. It was a very difficult course because I had to read and listen to messages that rejected the truth of God and of Jesus Christ. Their words in no way diminished my beliefs; if anything they strengthened my faith because I was forced to address these statements of disbelief and find reasonable and true answers I could embrace. As I confronted these counter-claims, the truths of the Bible and of the doctrines of Christianity began to take a firmer root in my heart. And as I found more and more evidences and reasons to believe with confidence, I began to “own” my faith like never before. I no longer believe just because of what I’ve heard all my life. I believe because, in seeking out the truth, I found it.

We so often hear the complaint that Christianity is just “blind faith,” and many simply refuse to believe without “proof.” Even in the church we are taught that we must never ask questions of God. But that is not what the Bible indicates. God invites us to step into faith with our eyes wide open. He issued the invitation many, many years ago, when the Israelites had fled Egypt – “If . . . you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him, if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). God does not require mindless devotion to an unseen, unproven entity. He has gone to great lengths to make Himself known.

On the night of Jesus’ birth, God announced the way for those who would accept it and seek this blessed Child. Luke’s account includes the chorus of heavenly hosts who appeared to the shepherds in the fields – and they told them exactly where to find this Baby – “in the town of David” (Luke 2:11) and how they would recognize Him – “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v. 12). I love the angels’ words in our key verse – You will find a baby . . .” (emphasis added). And they responded to God’s revelation – “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see . . .” (v. 15). Let’s follow the evidence that God has given to us. Let’s seek Him whom the angel said we would find.

Matthew records another visible and powerful proof of Jesus’ birth as the Magi from the East declared “We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2), and he continues: “The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9). God not only gave directions, He led the way with a star in the sky. They were overjoyed – they sought the King with a desire to find Him, and their search was rewarded.

There is another path that God has clearly provided for man to find his Creator. That path leads up a hill in Jerusalem, to Calvary and to the Cross. God made this way clear and unmistakable when He covered that path with the blood of His one and only Son, Jesus. He has declared that this is the way to find Him – the only way. To all who will accept it, God has promised not only to reveal Himself but to claim the seeking soul as His own.

We all have questions, whether we want to admit it or not, and God does not resist our questions; but He does resist our motivations for asking them. He has provided the evidence and the way that we might find and know Him, but Mr. Russell and others like him demand proof on their own terms. God is not obligated to meet man’s demands for proof. He expects us to seek Him by following the way He has provided. He is not playing some cosmic “hide-and-seek game” with us. You see, the difference between Bertrand Russell and those who have chosen to believe is that Mr. Russell posed his questions with an arrogant and unbelieving heart trying to disprove God; for those who receive Christ, their questions flow from seeking hearts that want to find Him. God receives those who seek Him with a heart to believe. Remember what He said – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).

Holy God, on this Christmas Eve, I am so grateful that You showed me the way to the manger and the cross and You let me find You. “He has said to my heart, ‘Seek My face!’ Your face Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8).

[1] William Lane Craig, “The Evidence for Christianity” be thinking, http://www.bethinking.org/is-christianity-true/the-evidence-for-christianity (accessed December 24, 2014).