Separation

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“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”                (Matthew 27:51).

I recently started reading the Bible again from the very beginning. I’ve read it through many times, and with each reading I gain some new understanding or insight.  This time it came in the very first chapter.  In the Genesis account of creation one thing stood out to me: separation.   Over and over, the author of Genesis either used the word separate specifically or by implication.

He separated the light from the darkness (v. 4).

He separated the waters above from the waters beneath (v. 7).

He separated the land from the seas (v. 9).

He separated the day from the night (v. 14)

He created plant life and animals: birds, sea creatures, livestock, wild animals, even reptiles according to their kinds – an implication of separation (vv. 21, 24, 25).

Then He created man – after His own image, separated from all the other life forms (v. 27).

From the very first day of creation, God established this principle of separation.  He maintained this principle consistently.  When Adam and Eve chose to sin, He separated them from their perfect home—and from Himself.  He called Abraham to separate himself from his ancestral home and practices (Gen. 12:1).  Then He commanded the people of Israel to remain separated from the nations around them (Ex. 34:10-17; Deut. 7:1-11).  And most significantly, when giving Moses the directions for the Tabernacle, He commanded that a curtain would shield the Ark of the Covenant—separating the people from God.  When King Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, a curtain again stood between God and man.

For centuries the Hebrew people were required to keep distance between themselves and God’s presence.  Only the high priest could enter, only once per year, and only by way of a blood sacrifice.  No common person dared draw near.

Until that dark Friday afternoon.

Until the day Jesus died.

Jesus – the God-man – hung on a cross bearing the sin and condemnation for every human that ever lived.  He took your sin and mine upon His own shoulders.  He bore the weight of His Father’s rejection, crying out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt. 15:34). Jesus was now separated from His Father.  And as death begin to crush the life out of Him, an unseen hand reached down from heaven, into the Temple, and tore the tall, heavy curtain in two – from the top down (Matt. 27:51).  The perfect blood sacrifice had been given and man was no longer separated from his Creator.

Jesus’ death closed the chasm that stood between us and God.  We no longer have to stand apart from His holiness because Christ’s blood makes us holy.  We are free to enter into God’s presence through the sacrifice of the His one and only Son.  Paul confirms that we have been reconciled to God in his great doxology:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution

or famine or nakedness or danger or sword. I am convinced that neither death nor life,

neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,

neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation

will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”

(Romans 8:35, 37-39).

God began creation by separation, and for centuries He maintained a distance between Himself and man.  But through the blood of Jesus, God threw the barriers aside and He now invites us to “draw near” and to “approach the throne of grace” (James 10:22; 4:16).  When He tore the curtain God said, “No more separation.”  He declared “You are welcomed into My presence.”  We are no longer sinful creatures on the outside looking in; we are dearly loved children of the King of the Universe.

Holy Father, it staggers my mind to think that I can draw near to You.  I am in awe that You made it possible through the death of Your Son.  Now nothing stands between You and me, not a curtain, not a power, not anything in creation—not even my sin—because of Jesus.  Thank You Lord for loving me so much!  Amen.

Be an Everyday Christian

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“There is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work” (Ecclesiastes 3:22).

I’ve been thinking about how to live my everyday life as a believer. It’s easy to focus on Jesus on Sunday morning, singing and hearing the Word, but come Monday I don’t have a praise team going to work with me. So what does it look like to “live as Christ” every day?
My job is in the floral department of a busy grocery story. As I clean the cases each day I try to imagine Jesus walking into my area, so I want it to look its best for Him. While I replenish the water for the plants and flowers I remember that He is “the Lily of the Valley” and “the Rose of Sharon.” When I create an arrangement I do so with the idea of presenting it to my Lord and Savior – it has to be the best! As I greet customers I remember how valuable and precious they are to God and I try to share the love of Christ with a smile and a “Good morning!” When I blow up balloons (lots of balloons!) I image the celebration that awaits me in heaven. I greet children and offer free balloons remembering that Jesus welcomed the children with joy. Plus I often get sweet hugs in return! I also help out in produce, cutting fruit for fresh fruit cups. The Lord reminds me every day that I am to present “the fruit of the Spirit” to my coworkers and customers.
I don’t know what your everyday life looks like. Maybe you are wiping little noses (and bottoms :o) all day or trying to get a room full of bored teenagers to learn algebra. You might be caring for people who are sick and hurting, working in a factory, serving food or answering phones. But I know that “whatever you do, [you can] work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). It starts with your mindset and shows up in your hands and face. Let’s be “everyday believers” in our everyday lives.

Holy Father, I am thankful for my job.  Some days are hard and long, but everyday is an opportunity to work for You.  I want to serve You in everything I do.  Amen.

Who God Made Me to Be

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“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

“Lord, I wish You had given me a beautiful voice. I would love to sing like her.”  “God why do I have to be so short?”  “If only I had so-and-so’s creative talents, I could make so many pretty things.”

I know you’ve said something similar and so have I.  We look at others who sing or play or create or have some other seeming advantage over us and wonder why we are the way we are.  Too short. Too tall.  Shy.  A little rough around the edges.  I want to be someone else – someone better.  But I’m just plain ole’ me.

I thought that way once too.  I’m rather loud and, as a former boss once said, “she doesn’t suffer from a lack of self-expression.” I was a chatterbox when I was a little girl and that never changed.  I was often told, “You need to talk less and listen more.”  But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t change.   Oh how I longed to be like those quiet, dignified ladies who always spoke with an “inside” voice.  They didn’t burst out with laughter.  They listened patiently to others.  They didn’t always have to express their thoughts and opinions.  They were everything I was not.

A while back I had the opportunity to attend a nationally-known Christian women’s conference.  I wasn’t planning to go.  It had been a very difficult year for my family and I just didn’t have the money for such a luxury, but my dear friends pitched in and provided for my ticket, hotel and meals, plus a little spending money too.  It was an unexpected blessing.  We had snagged seats on the floor in the very front row, nothing between us and the stage but a few feet of open space.  I sat near the end of the row and had a bird’s eye view of the platform where the other speakers sat waiting their turn and listening to the person on stage.  I had a blast.  The speakers were both profoundly spiritual and hysterically funny.  I listened and I laughed.  No, I howled.  I roared with laughter.  I nearly fell in the floor a few times with my sides splitting.  I so needed this event; it fed my spirit and released a lot of tension.

Before the final speaker we all took a break (picture 14,000 women running to the bathrooms!).  I stood in the line beside a new friend I’d seen at church, but never took the time to get to know.  We shared the hotel room with two other women that weekend and we just clicked.  As we waited I told her, “I’m so glad to get to spend this time with you.  I’ve always admired your quiet, gentle spirit and I hope some of it has rubbed off on me.” She turned to me with a puzzled look and said, “I’ve always admired your bold, fun spirit, and I was hoping the same thing for me.”  We laughed and hugged, finished our business and went back to our seats.

As I was putting my purse back under my seat, I felt a hand touch my back. I stood up and turned to face the president and emcee of the conference.  She told me, “I just wanted you to know how much the speakers have enjoyed watching you having such a good time this weekend.  It really blesses them to see you respond to what they are saying.”  I thanked her and shared with her that this weekend had been a gift from my friends and she said, “Clearly God had a reason for you to be here, if nothing else to be a blessing to our team of speakers.”

I sat down in stunned silence – one of the few times I’ve ever been that quiet.  As I thought about what she said and the conversation with my friend during the break, I heard that “still, small voice” speak to my heart.  “Child, don’t you realize – your mouth and personality are not a character flaw. It’s how I made you. I gave you that big mouth because I intend to use it.  You’re going to be my voice in the world.”

Precious friend, it’s time to stop looking at who you aren’t and focus on who God created you to be.  Maybe you don’t have a soaring soprano voice, but no one can build a better stage than you.  Your gift is important in the Kingdom of God.   Perhaps you stumble and stammer as a public speaker, but you are able to build one-on-one relationships that lead to changed lives.  I have a friend who is quite short and is able to relate well with children because she can literally get down on their level.  If you wish you could create something beautiful but you keep hot-gluing your fingers together, don’t fret.  God has created you for a special purpose that is unique and specific.  Paul says that you are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [you] to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  It’s an important work and something only you can fulfill.

You are exactly who you are because God created you with a unique plan and a specific purpose in mind –be thankful that you are one-of-a-kind and let your light shine for the Lord.

Holy Father, I’ll never forget Your words to me that day.  I am who I am because You made me this way, to do Your good work.  My voice, my hands, my feet, my smile, my gifts and talents – it’s all Yours.  Use me Lord.  Amen.

(If you want to learn more about your unique spirit gifts, I recommend https://gifts.churchgrowth.org/analysis/index.php as a good spiritual gifts inventory resource.)

The Path at the Edge of the Sea

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God said, “This is My path for you. 

   It will take you far and wide. 

Will you walk the road I give

   and trust Me with your life?”

“But Lord,” I said, “Where could it lead?

   The path ends at the edge of the sea.”

“My child,” He said “You’ve not reached the end;

   just trust yourself to Me.”

I walked the long and difficult road,

   and watched the horizon to see,

Would bridge or boat be waiting

   at the end of the road for me?

I came to the shore and stood on the beach,

   no boat or bridge in sight.

“Lord I followed the path you gave,

   trusting with all my might

That you would make a way for me,

   yet here I stand tonight;

With neither boat nor bridge

   to cross the ocean wide.”

Tears fell across my face,

   my heart broken to see

That I had trusted in my God

  and He had forgotten me.

Then I saw my Savior,

   His hand stretched out to me;

“Do not doubt our Father’s heart,”

  He spoke so patiently,

“Come beloved and I will teach you

  how to walk upon the sea.”

Trusting God with Eyes Wide Open

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“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:20

Sunday at church, we sang a song that was new to me.  It was a powerful praise of the living Lord Jesus Christ and how He saved me from my sins.  My heart leapt within me and I sensed the Holy Spirit calling me to lift my hands in praise.  Now I am not shy about lifting my hands, but I’ve always done so with my eyes closed in worship.  “Lord, I don’t know this song.” I said, “I have to keep my eyes on the screen to see the words.”  I sensed Him saying, Child, I want you to worship me with your eyes wide open.

We’re often told that we are to believe in Jesus with “blind faith,” and not look for evidence that the claims of Christianity are true.   But I don’t believe that faith is closing my eyes and jumping off a theological cliff.  Mind you there is a huge difference in demanding proof and asking for assurance of your faith.  The first is an arrogant insult to the Lord, but the second is the cry of a heart that wants to believe.  God invites us to “come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).  He encourages us to look for evidence of His existence and to believe because we see.  Placing my faith in Jesus Christ is both an act of faith and a wise and conscious decision based on solid evidence.

No other event on the stage of world history is as important or as divisive as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Skeptics have long sought to discredit Christianity’s claims with attacks on the foundational truth of the gospel.  One of the foremost apologetics experts, Dr. Gary Habermas[1] offers many historical facts about Christ’s resurrection that provide evidence of Christianity’s claims.  Those facts include  Jesus’ death by crucifixion and his burial; the reaction of his distraught disciples; the empty tomb; the disciples’ belief in the literal appearance of the risen Jesus; their sudden transformation from hopeless, fearful doubters to emboldened witnesses; and the testimonies of skeptics turned apostles such as James, Jesus’ own brother, and Saul of Tarsus, known as Paul. [2]  These facts are not mere Bible stories, they are recorded in the secular history of the time.

The Jewish and Roman historical records note that a man named Jesus, from Nazareth, was crucified at Golgotha and buried in a garden tomb.  The grave was sealed and Roman guards were posted to prevent the theft of the body.  This is a historical, recorded fact.  History records that the condemned man’s tomb was found empty three days later, despite the extreme measures the Romans took to secure the grave.  Jewish records note the claims of Jesus’ followers that their Lord had been resurrected.  Historical writers of the time frequently mention eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus, just as Paul spoke of Peter, the Apostles, more than five hundred brothers, James (Jesus’ own doubting brother), and finally Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  In these verses Paul reminds the believers of the gospel message “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scripture” (v. 3-4).  These verses are almost certainly a creed that was well established in the ancient church and based on the testimonies of the very ones who firmly and emphatically believed they saw the literal resurrected Lord.  These are men who had been transformed from terrified, despondent fellows cowering behind locked doors (John 20:19) to bold witnesses willing to die for their faith, confident in what they saw (Acts 4:1-20).

The gospel message – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – is strongly supported by men and women who had an encounter that transformed their lives and the landscape of world history.  The evidences are clearly shown in their testimonies and the traditions that found their foundation in their words.  The eyewitness’s accounts of Peter, James, John and Paul and hundreds of others, combined with the early creedal statements of the church provide good support for the claims of the resurrection of Jesus.  Generations of believers whose have also experienced this life-changing Jesus provide further proof that the claims of Christianity are true.

Still facts alone cannot convince anyone of the reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It is important that we know the truth, but it is even more important that we believe the truth.  Faith still requires an element of trusting in something we cannot physically see.  But the eyes of our hearts can pierce the darkness of doubt and focus on the truth of Jesus Christ as Savior and His promises of eternal life.

I want to encourage you to examine the evidence, look carefully at the Scriptures, especially Paul’s epistles, research the historical records.  Know for sure that what you believe is true.  God does not demand blind faith; He wants us to be confident in what we believe.  Trusting in Jesus is the most intelligent decision you will ever make.

Lord Jesus, I’ve believed in You since I was a child, but I didn’t understand the basis for my faith until I examined the evidence.  You are everything You claimed to be: Son of God, Savior, and Resurrected Lord.  Give us eyes to see and hearts to believe.  Amen.

[1] Dr. Gary R. Habermas, is a Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University.

[2] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity, Southeastern Theological Review, 3.1, (Summer 2012) 15-26, http://garyhabermas.com/articles/southeastern_theological_review/minimal-facts-methodology_08-02-2012.htm, 17.

I Can Do It Myself

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I felt the soapy dishwater drip from my fingers as his words cut into my heart.

“I don’t need you anymore.”

The cool November breeze floated through the open door as he turned and walked away.

Not need me anymore? How could he say that?  

I looked out the window watching those brown boots carry him across the yard.  My shoulders rose – then fell as a sigh escaped my lips.  I knew the day would come, but I didn’t know how much it would hurt.  It was just an innocent comment from my then four-year old son, but it stabbed my heart like a dagger.

“Mama! Mama!  I can swing by myself!  I don’t need you anymore!”  For this mother, it was one more sign that my job was changing every day; and this was a good change—he was showing independence, something we all work towards for our children.  Almost as soon as he could talk I heard, “Me do it! Me do it!”  He wanted to be his own (little) man.

Independence is a good thing; it’s a healthy goal as we raise our children.  But it’s not the goal of God for His children.  In fact, the opposite is true – God desires greater dependence, and less independence.  Unlike human parents, He measures our growth by how much we rely on Him.

Throughout Scripture we find man trying to run ahead of God, trying to establish his own autonomy, trying to distance himself from his creator.  Isn’t that the idea behind Satan’s lies in the Garden?  By promising Eve “wisdom and knowledge” he was telling her she could be independent from God; she could make up her own mind about what was good and evil and determine her own destiny.  She could get out from under God’s thumb.

The Bible shows the nation of Israel’s constant attempts to go their own way, make their own rules, and live by their own authority, and over and over we see them fail because God did not call them to independent greatness.  He called them to be His people, in a covenant relationship with Him where He provided and guided and they relied and followed.  When God led them out of Egypt and started for the Promised Land, He meant for them to trust and rely on Him.  But when they came to the edge and saw the size of the enemy they balked and determined to strike out on their own back to Egypt.  The result was hardship and death.  God called them into a covenant relationship that required their complete dependence, but they would not humble themselves before Him. They exemplified the heart of disobedience – prideful independence.  The last verse in Judges gives a chilling report:  “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

The Christian faith is built on this same dependent relationship.  We depend on Christ for our salvation. We depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom.  We depend on our Heavenly Father for our “daily bread,” for our future, for strength, and for eternal life.  We don’t “stand on our own two feet,” as believers we stand on the work and worth of Christ.  We stand on God’s faithfulness.  No, scratch that—we rest on the work and worth of Christ and the faithfulness of God, and that is what the people of Israel – and you and I – miss when we struggle to be independent of God—we miss His rest.  For those who give up their “right” to autonomy and depend on God there is rest.  Physical rest.  Emotional rest. Spiritual rest.  And isn’t that what we really want?

Perhaps you’ve heard the “verse,” “God helps those who help themselves.”   Friend, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over—trust me when I tell you, it ain’t in there.  From Genesis to Revelation I find no place where God chastised people for depending on Him too much, but I do find over and over that He rebuked them for trying to live independent of Him.  God wants—demands our reliance.  There’s no other way to live in relationship with Him.

It’s true that Scripture tells us to “grow up in the faith” (Ephesians 4:15), but the mark of maturity in Christ is greater dependence on Him.  Just as the branch relies on the vine for its nourishment and fruit, believers in Christ are to remain attached to our Life-source for our every need.

Let’s declare this our DEPENDENCE day in Christ.

Holy, gracious and wonderful God, it’s not that you want to rule over me: You want to love me, care for me, provide for me and guide me.  Lord help me to rely on You for every need in my life.  I’m so grateful that I can always depend on You.  Amen.

Thinking about the Words of God

Bible-reading*Note: Because of a heavy school-load, I am reposting this devotional, with some updates.

“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 that this word translates the phrase “Pause and calmly think about that.” John Phillips says it can be rendered: ‘There! What do you think of that?’”[1] The word and these translations intrigued me, so I began hunting through the Scriptures for the occurrences of Selah.

Generally when 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 came out to deliver Your people; You crushed the leader of the [enemy]” (Habakkuk 3, selected).   Then he pronounces the Selah – “Pause and calmly think about that.”

For a 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 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: “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,” (Luke 15:20). 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 you are worn and weary: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Pause and calmly think about that.

When the enemy is pressing in on you: “You are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:3). 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.

Overcoming Evil

img_warrior“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

We are surrounded by evil.  It plays out every evening in the newscasts and in our morning paper.  Evil runs rampant down our streets and through our neighborhoods.  Every act of hate and violence has its roots in evil.  It is a word we need to use again, because it is a reality in this fallen world.  You might want to check out my thoughts on the subject of Evil from a post just a few months ago.  So this morning as I came to my devotional time, my heart was heavy with all the evil we have seen in recent months.  In this nation and all around the world, evil is everywhere.  Who can save us from the presence and power of evil?

The past few weeks I have been doing a personal study of the titles of Jesus in the Bible, and this morning I thought, I need to find a title that reminds me that Jesus is the victor over evil.  When I looked at the next title on the list, I thought, this one is perfect for this evil world:  Jesus is the Son of God.  The Son of God is perfect because it encompasses every facet of Jesus’ character.  It expresses the power of Jesus, the holiness of Jesus, the perfection of Jesus, the eternal nature of Jesus, and the sovereignty of Jesus.  The Son of God fills our need in this evil world, because the Son of God is also the Overcomer.   He declared it to be so saying, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As the Son of God, Jesus overcame evil when He resisted Satan’s temptations in the desert.  He overcame evil when He stood in the presence of the demons and they had no choice but to acknowledge and obey Him. And above all, He overcame evil by His resurrection from the dead.  He shattered evil’s hold on men, declaring that all who believed in Him would be free from its power.  Evil could not overcome the Son of God.

Jesus overcame evil by divine power.  Paul said, in our key verse, that we can overcome evil by good.  Mind you, not by “being good,” for only Jesus is good.  You and I can never be good enough to overcome evil.  But there is a way, and we find it in the last book of the Bible.  Standing in heaven, watching the end unfold, John heard a “loud voice” proclaim: “They overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the world of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).  There are only two things that will guarantee our victory over evil and the evil one: the blood of the Lamb, which is salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ and our testimony.  But what testimony overcomes evil?  John knew.  “Who is he that overcomes the world?  Only he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5).

Jesus, the Son of God, who overcame the world, is our good testimony.  God the Father proclaimed it at Jesus’ baptism, when “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 4:17); and again at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).  The disciples declared it when they saw Jesus and Peter walking on the water, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). Peter pronounced it in his confession saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  Jesus built His church on that very confession.  Even the Roman centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” when the ground quaked the moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:54).  Paul repeatedly preached that Jesus was the Son of God.  The martyrs of the ages past died with the good confession on their lips—“Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

As this world becomes more and more evil, only the good confession of the Son of God will sustain believers.  It has for centuries and it will not fail us in this generation.  We will be branded as fools.  We will be oppressed and persecuted.  It will cost you and me our very lives, but we too will overcome by the declaration that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

The world doesn’t need to hear Christians making accusations and pointing fingers.  They don’t need to know our thoughts on current affairs or politics or even morals.  In fact, the world is sick to death of hearing our opinions, however good they may be.  The world needs to hear the Gospel that has been our witness for more than two thousand years:  “Jesus Christ is the Son of God!”  It is the core truth of the Christian faith.  Everything else comes from that good confession.

All evil bows to the divine Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Will you?

Oh, Lord Jesus, You are the Son of God, the Holy One, the only One who can overcome evil.  I claim the good confession as my own and I will live—and die—by it.  Amen.

The Desire of the Heart

follow-your-heart“Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  James 1:14-15

I used to work in a church office and we were often contacted by prisoners in jail who wanted us to visit and usually to try to intervene with the law on their behalf.  They almost always gave the same story, “I found myself in jail.”  As if they were innocently living their lives and suddenly looked up to see bars all around them.  It’s just one example of the human mantra, “It’s not my fault!”  And it’s as old as humanity itself.  In the Garden, at the scene of the first sin, Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve and even God.  But the Lord knew the truth then, and he knows the truth now.  As our key verse clearly says, we are tempted by our own evil desires.  No one ever just wakes up unexpectedly in the pit of sin.  There is a progression and we are wise to recognize where it all begins.

James lays it out:

Man’s own sinful desire

The lure of temptation

Taking the bait

Sin is born

The final outcome: Death

At the heart of all sin is our innate sinful nature and our own sinful desires.  Paul explained it in Romans 8:5 saying, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.”  The Bible offers us countless examples of this truth. King David showed a previous bent toward lust with many wives, and when he was tempted with the beautiful Bathsheba, he answered that call.  The same was true of his son, Solomon, who “loved many foreign women” (1 Kings 11:1). He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines – that’s a thousand women – and “his wives led him astray” (1 Kings 11:3).  In fact, sexual lust was, and continues to be, the most “popular” desire among human beings.

Judas was tempted by wealth; the gospels reported that he was stealing from the funds for the poor even before his betrayal of Jesus (John 12:6).  When the temptation was offered to earn thirty silver coins, his desire overwhelmed him and he turned on his Friend.

Satan goes for our desires, which are often our weaknesses.  Money, sex and power are the usual enticements into sin and death, but there are more than we can conceivably count.  Every person has their own desire, their own personal lure, and be assured Satan knows it.  He has devised a scheme just for you and just for me, tailor made to match that craving inside us.  We answer to the temptation that calls out to our innate desires. If your desire is for material possessions, he will pull you into the mall, or entice you with advertisements for the newest shiny thing.  If your desire is lust, every TV commercial for lingerie will catch your attention and he will make certain you get plenty of pop-ups for sexual sites on your I-phone.  Want power, prestige, fame, a high?  He’s got just what you’re looking for.

But Satan is not the one that God will hold responsible. We are all held accountable for our own desires.  King David warned his son Solomon, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9).  He knows that while Satan sets the trap and pulls the string, you and I are to blame for crawling in to take the bait.  Our hearts – our desires – will deceive us and lead us into self-destruction (Jeremiah 17:9).

Our only way of escaping his trap is to have but one desire: God.

God wants to be the desire of your heart and mine.  Nothing can drag us away into sin if the desire of our heart is to please and honor the holy, sovereign Lord of the Universe.  We will still face temptations, but if our one and only desire is to be like Christ, those temptations will fail to entice us.  Jesus resisted temptation because He had no evil desires.  His desire was only to do the will of His Father, therefore He had no pull to the temptations of the devil.

One of the church’s favorite verses is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.”  I have it highlighted in my Bible too.  But we tend to overlook the first part in favor of the second.  We hone in on “He will give you the desire of your heart,” but rush past the requirement expressed just before it: “Delight yourself in the Lord.”  In other words, if your heart yearns for God alone, He will give you your heart’s desire.  And after that desire is met in all His fullness, any other gift He chooses to give to you is “icing on the cake.”

If we are serious about living pure and holy lives, especially in this culture, we must adopt the attitude of Asaph who proclaimed: “Earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25, 26).  When God is our heart’s desire, He will make sure we have the desire of our heart.

 

Holy Father, I know my desires are not often pure and the enemy know it too, as he casts his temptations before me.  My only hope is for you to be the sole desire of my heart.  I can’t do that on my own Lord, I need you to change my heart.  I want you to be my heart’s desire.  Amen.

But I Don’t Feel Like Praising the Lord

Praise-08-782013“Keep your eyes on Jesus . . .” (Hebrews 12:2 The Message)

All around the sanctuary, hands were being lifted as the song proclaimed the goodness and majesty of the Lord.  Usually, my hand is one of the first to raise, but today, I’m just not feeling it.  The past several months have been difficult for my family.  The stress we are under is draining my energy and my joy is just about gone.  I want to feel the swell in my heart and the lift in my spirit, but my hand hangs by my side.  I listen to the music, watch the faces lift to the heavens, the hands swaying in the air and I wonder, “What do I do when I don’t feel like praising the Lord?”  As if he heard the question in my head, the worship leader softly spoke into the microphone, “Just focus on Jesus.”

What excellent advice.  So I did.  I paid attention to the words of the songs we were singing, songs that spoke of His love and His sacrifice.  Songs that reminded me of my helpless state before He rescued me, and of the hope and glory that is mine now in Christ.  My heart began to open is I focused more on Jesus, who left the glory and perfection of heaven for me.  I considered this One who paid the debt for every sin I ever committed and who shed His holy blood to cover my unrighteousness.  I joined in singing about the glory that awaits because of all that Jesus has done for me.  My mind was now engaged in praise, my worries—at least for the moment—slipped away and my hand lifted into the air.

Oh how can I not praise this One who died for me?  How can I withhold my heart from exalting my wonderful Savior?  How can I let the worries of life crowd out the honor and majesty of the King of the Universe who gave Himself for me?  I cannot.  I must not.  He is too precious.  He is too wonderful.  He is too worthy.

What struggle of mine is greater than His struggle on the cross for me?  What burden do I bear is heavier than the weight of my sin on His holy being?  What trouble in my life can diminish His majesty?  What need do I have that He has not promised to meet?  He has given me His own peace and joy.  He has given me His righteousness.  He has given me an eternal home – His home.  He has broken my chains and set me free – what momentary trouble in this life compares?

So I will focus on Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame.”  I will “Consider him who endured . . . so that I will not grow weary and loose heart” (Hebrews 2,3)  I will remember what God has done and I will “put my hope in God, and I will praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).  And I will “lift my heart and my hands to God in heaven” (Lamentations 3:41).

Holy Father, when I focus my mind on my troubles and my heart is weighed down with burdens it is hard to find reasons to praise You.  But when my focus moves to the cross and to all that Jesus has done for me, praise takes over my mind and heart and sets me free.  Lord, help me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and my mouth filled with praise.  Amen.