He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

Sam Carries Frodo

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2.

I love the Lord of the Rings movies. I read the books by J.R.R. Tolkien when I was much younger, but the Peter Jackson directed movies left a deep impression on me. One of my favorite scenes is in the third installment, The Return of the King. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee have made their way to Mordor and are climbing up the side of Mount Doom to destroy the ring and free Middle Earth from Sauron’s control. Frodo is worn and weary, battered and beaten and falls nearly dead from the oppressive weight of this small ring with such evil power. His faithful friend comes to his side and tries to encourage Frodo by reminding him of how good and right life in the Shire will be when the ring is gone. But Frodo is completely spent and can no longer go on. Knowing that only his friend can destroy the ring, Samwise, with tears streaking his grimy face says, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” With that he lifts Frodo across his shoulders and continues to climb the side of the mountain, carrying his friend while his friend carries his burden.

I’ve always thought that was the perfect picture of Christian friendship and beautifully fits our key verse. One of the sweetest blessings of being part of the Body of Christ is the relationships we share in the church. The best friendships I’ve ever had – and still have – were born in the church. There is a bond between brothers and sisters in Christ that is unique and special. It is the Spirit of Christ that dwells in us as believers and, like David and Jonathan “knits our souls together” (1 Samuel 18:1). I have laughed with my Christian friends and cried with them. I have studied the Word of God with fellow believers and mingled my voice with theirs in songs of praise and worship. I have shared the bread and wine of communion, then shared bread and a bowl of soup together after the service.

But the blessing of having someone help you carry your burden is the most precious of all. Like most people, my life has been a series of “ups and downs” – and some of those downs can swing pretty low. My Christian friends have come through for me time after time. There has been food when we faced illness or surgery, funds when the transmission went out on my car, notes and calls and cards of encouragement, even a roof over our heads for a season. There have been gallons of coffee and hundreds of prayers that have kept me going when, like Frodo I thought I could not take another step. I only pray I am as faithful to my precious friends as they have been to me.

Notice Paul said that helping carry one another’s burdens, “fulfills the law of Christ.” What does that mean? It is the command Jesus gave His disciples before His death on the cross when he said “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). In fact, He said that our love for one another would be the distinguishing mark of a believer, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). And He showed His love for you and me and all of humanity by carrying our burden – our sin – all the way to Calvary. That love and devotion and caring for one another was the one of the hallmarks of the church in the first century.

There is an Old Testament story that I think also displays this idea of carrying one another’s burdens. It is found in Exodus 17:8-16. The Israelites have just escaped from Egypt and are making their way toward the Promised Land with two million plus people when they are attacked by the Amalekites. Moses tells Joshua to pull an army together and engage the battle, meanwhile he will stand atop the mountain and hold “the staff of God” high above his head as a sign to the Israelite army that God is on their side. Now if you’ve ever tried to hold anything over your head for very long you understand how tiring that can be, and Moses was no exception. When he dropped his weary arms, the tide of the battle turned and the Amalekites got the upper hand.   No one else could hold that staff up – it was Moses’ God-given responsibility. But others could help him bear his burden, and a rock was placed behind him so he could sit down and “Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his arms remained steady till sunset” (v. 12). The result? “So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (v. 13). Joshua fought the battle, Moses held the staff and Aaron and Hur held Moses’ arms till the enemy was defeated. That is how the church works when it is at its best. Holding one another up till the battle is over and Christ has claimed the victory.

Do you know someone who is carrying a heavy burden? You can come to their side and – while they bear the weight of their burden – you can bear the weight of love.

Holy Father, love means bearing one another’s burdens, even if it means carrying one another. Thank you for the many times my Christian friends have carried me through difficult times. Help me be a friend that loves like Christ loved me. Amen.

Beautiful Feet

jesus_feet2“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation” (Isaiah 52:7).

On Holy Thursday I wrote about washing the feet of Jesus and I have not been able to shake that thought nor the image of Jesus’ feet since. I’ve thought of those feet carrying Him away from a quiet life in Nazareth and into a mission that would change the world for all time. I’ve envisioned His dusty feet on the streets of Jerusalem or wet from standing at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. In my mind’s eye I see Him with children gathered all around him, sitting on the grass beside His feet. I think of John the Baptist who said he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, and Mary of Bethany who anointed his feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair, later sitting at His feet to hear Him teach.

Those feet carried Him into the lives of sick children, and broken, sinful women, demon-possessed men, and to the grave of his dear friend Lazarus. At least seven times the gospels record people falling before the feet of Jesus to plead for healing for themselves or someone they loved. Matthew 15:30 says that crowds of people came to Jesus, “bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them.” In every instance, Jesus responded with compassion and love. He never walked away from those who needed him.

His feet carried him to dine in fine homes and to break bread for thousands of hungry people. Countless times He walked the streets of Jerusalem to the temple that was built for his glory. His feet walked through the home of the high priest where He stood trial and through the halls of the palace of Pilate who sentenced Him to death. His feet carried Him up to Golgotha where Roman soldiers nailed them to a cruel, wooden cross. His nail-scarred hands and feet were the proof of His resurrected body before His disciples.

All His glory was bound up in that human body, those human feet carrying Him to souls in need of mercy, freedom, grace and life. He walked into my life with those beautiful feet bringing good news, peace and salvation to this weary sinful woman.

There is one more place in Scripture where the feet of Jesus are seen. Zechariah 14:4 says “On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be spit in two from east to west.” When Jesus Christ returns to earth in all His glory, His feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives – the place where He surrendered His will to the will of the Father – and His glory will be so great that the mountain will split in two. Those beautiful feet will stand atop the mountain, and those scars that spoke of the humble servant of God will now shout of the mighty King of kings. “The Lord will be king over the whole earth” (Zechariah 14:9).

The feet of Jesus bring us healing, wholeness, freedom and life. The feet of Jesus bear the marks of His great love for you and me. His feet that once bore nails will one day bear power – earth shaking, mountain breaking power.  And at His feet all of humanity will fall in worship and proclaim that He is Lord.

Have you invited Him to walk into your life?

Lord Jesus, Yours are the beautiful feet bringing good news of peace and salvation. You walked into my life and left Your footprints on my heart and I have never been the same. Amen.

Two Hearts at Calvary

good-friday-hd-pictuer“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

In the midst of the crowd of people at Golgotha that day stood a mother with a broken heart. In the halls of heaven, amid the angels and the saints, the Father’s heart surely broke as well. As the soldier’s sword pierced the side of Jesus, a sword of grief and pain pierced the heart of Mary as she watched her son die. Though the face of God the Father turned away from Jesus, I suspect the same sword that pierced Mary’s heart likely pierced the great heart of God. A mortal woman and an immortal and eternal God, bound by the love only a mother and Father shared over their son. A life’s journey that began before time, in the heart of God. A life’s journey that began in a stable in the heart of a young woman.

Jesus the son of Mary. Jesus, the Son of God.

In the Gospel of Luke, within the familiar Christmas story of angels and wise men and shepherds, we learn something about the mother of Jesus. Luke 2:19 tells us that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Every mother understands, to a degree, how we treasure the sight and sound and smell of our newborn baby. But for Mary, this was so much more than just the birth of her son. This was wonder. This was awe. For she had been told that her baby was to be the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God. Angles proclaimed His birth. Shepherds left their flocks and came to see this newborn King, then joyfully spread the news to everyone they met.

We find Mary again, tucking away treasures about her son in her heart, in the account of the boy Jesus in the temple. Frantic worry and fear about His absence from their group gave way to that same awe and wonder at the wisdom of her child, and His passion to be in the house of His Father. Luke repeats the phrase, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”   I imagine that, through the years, Mary added more and more to the treasury in her heart.   She knew her son was more than a flesh-and-blood man-child. The Son of God. The Messiah. The Deliverer of God’s people.

And what can we say about the heart of His Father? Can anyone describe the heart of God? A mother’s heart I can understand. Even the heart of a human father is not unique to us. But the heart of the God of Heaven and Earth? Vast. Eternal. Unyielding. Yet still, this was His Son. Surely we can say that the love God held for Jesus must have been beyond the scope of human comprehension. If the love God has for us, His creation is more than we can fathom, how much greater His love for His Son? He did not have to tuck treasures away in His heart, for He had perfect knowledge and remembrance; yet I image – just me thinking mind you – that He rejoiced over every moment of Jesus’ earthly life.

Until now. Until the cross. Until His mother and His Father witnessed the gruesome and cruel death of the son they both loved.

I wonder if Mary, watching her son’s life ebb away, took out those precious treasured memories of angels and shepherds and wonder and awe and tried to understand how this infant she bore could now be the hated, dying criminal hanging before her.   Was this really her child? Did she look at his hair, matted with blood from the thorns and recall pushing that same hair from His eyes? Did she remember how those hands held tightly to hers as they went to the market together?   The hands that were now nailed to the wood? Did she wonder, “How will he save anyone now?” The Son of God, the Messiah – battered, broken and bleeding. The light in His eyes dimmed as He surrendered His Spirit and died.

How much more was the Father’s heart in heaven breaking? If the love God had for His Son was multiplied to the nth degree, how much more His grief? And then, the Father did the hardest thing imaginable. He turned away from the sight of His Son, for in that moment, all the sin and shame and filth of mankind was cast upon Jesus. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. David’s sin. Peter’s sin. Your sin. My sin. The sin of the generations yet to come. The sin of all humanity for all time was heaped upon Jesus, and the Father turned away. Matthew 27: 46 records Jesus’ mournful cry: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet Jesus knew why. It was the plan of the ages to redeem mankind from sin and death. They had prepared for this from before time began. Prepared, but still shattered by grief.

Mary grieved for her son. Surely God grieved as He turned away from the sin His beloved Son bore.

Two broken hearts, forever entwined by love for the God-man who died at Calvary that day.

To Wash my Savior’s Feet

Jesus-washing-feet-12“Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” John 13:1 NKJV

Jesus gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room to observe the Passover Feast, as other Jewish families were doing. It was to be His last meal with those He had supped with for more than three years. He knew this, and He knew the fate that awaited Him in the next twenty-four hours. Surely His heart was already heavy with the weight of the coming cross, but our key verse says He bore something more than grief. He bore a heart of love for these men who followed Him. He had laughed with them, taught them, chastened them, worked miracles with and through them, and opened their minds to amazing things of the Kingdom. And now it was the end, and He had one last expression of Himself to show them.

This passage in John 13 is where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet before the meal, a job usually done by a servant or other “lesser” person. It was not a pleasant chore, but a necessary one and a traditional sign of welcome. Yet there was no servant to wash the men’s feet, and clearly all of the disciples thought themselves above such a menial and distasteful task. No doubt they all looked at the others and thought, “You should be the one to wash our feet.” They never imagined who would.

Their Lord rose from his place, removed his outer garments and took the towel and basin to the pitcher of water and poured. Imagine the shocked silence that filled the room at the sight of their beloved Teacher, kneeling before the first man, removing his dusty sandals and touching the filthy feet before Him. Surely all that could be heard was the splashing of water as He moved around the room. Peter wanted to spare His Lord such humiliation, and drew back his feet, but Jesus refused to pass him by.   When the task was done, Jesus told them to take His example and live by this expression of humility and service.

I have pondered this scene in my mind the past several days, and something strikes me about it. John (who was the only gospel writer to record this scene) never says that anyone washed the feet of Jesus that day. Perhaps one of them did, but surely John would not leave out such an important detail.

There will come a day – sooner or perhaps later – when I will see Him face to glorious face. When I bow before Him in grateful adoration, I want to wash my Jesus’ feet.  I want to hold those beautiful feet in my hands. I want to splash water from the River of Life (Rev. 22:1) on His feet.

The gospels record two occasions when women washed and anointed Jesus’ feet. But the feet they caressed did not bear the scars from the cross. Those precious marks would come after their acts of love.   They washed the feet of Jesus their Teacher; I want to wash the feet of Jesus my Savior. I want to touch the imprints left by the nails and kiss the scars that bought my redemption. He bears the marks of His love for me on His body, on His hands, His feet, His side and His brow. I want to show Him “the full extent of my love” (Jn 13:1 NIV), that I will love Him forever – “to the end” (NKJV).

I want to wash my Savior’s feet. The feet that kicked against the swaddling clothes in the manger. The feet that carried the Teacher to the shores of Galilee. The feet that walked the dusty road of the Via Dolorosa. The feet that bore the weight of His body and the weight of my sin on the cross. Those beautiful, glorious nail-scarred feet that speak of this sinner who has been set free.

My Savior, my Jesus, on your perfect body remain the scars of my redemption. I pray for the privilege of washing Your feet to show you my love – to the end. Amen.

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