The Measure of Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once and For All

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

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

Read Leviticus 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] American Folk Hymn

Anatomy of a Miracle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Looking at Life from Higher Up

earth-11014_640In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For 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 8:37-39).


In his great testimony Paul declared, “I am convinced . . . “– I ask you the same question I ask myself:   Does your life show that you are convinced of this too?  What difference would it make in your life if you knew beyond a shadow of doubt that God loved you?  Would your decisions and priorities change if you were certain of His love?  How might your relationships be affected if this one question were forever answered in your heart?  I believe we can answer this human dilemma, but it takes a change in perspective, and Paul has shown us the way.

When we look at life from our earthly perspective, life and death, angels and demons, the present and the future (and the past), powers and time and distance seem to be unsurmountable forces that indeed come between us and God.  Even if we’re not pondering the great matters of life, the demands of our own existence threaten us.  When we consider the daily struggles of life: bills and sickness, work and rebellious kids, marriage issues, difficult relationships, tragedies and disappointments, and every other thing that overwhelms us,  our hope and confidence in God’s love is shaken.  It’s easy to look at God as our loving Father when it has been a good day and things fell into place pretty well, but when storms come with lightning and thunder, God seems far away and His love is hidden by the driving rain. It is a very human reaction to living in this fallen world where the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin was separation from God.

But Paul is teaching us to look at life from a higher perspective, from the vantage point of eternity where the things that intimidate and overwhelm us in this life have no impact whatsoever.   This is the hope that believers have, that nothing, but nothing can separate us from God’s love. When we take an eternal perspective of life, we recognize that only that which touches eternity is of any value.  1 John 2:25 is our sure hope: “This is what He promised us – even eternal life.” Paul tells us that the things that seem so huge to us like life and death and those that are ethereal and terrifying like angels and demons and the vastness of the highest heavens and the deepest depths pose no obstacle to God’s love.  He reminds us that nothing in all creation has the power to affect God’s love because everything in all of creation is under the power and authority of the Creator.  And the Creator loves you, therefore His love is as sure as His name and His character.

On what does Paul base this conviction?  Look at the very last portion of this passage: “. . .the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.  Jesus Christ is the fulfillment and culmination of God’s love for humanity.  No greater love exists than the love of God that was shown on the cross.  No other love is as enduring and unshakable and indestructible as the love of God in the face of Jesus.  No other love transcends life and death than the love of Him who raised the dead to life.  What love is this that commands both angels and demons to do His bidding?  Only the love of God.  Only a love that reached down from the throne above the heavens to the depths of man’s sinful hearts to build a bridge for the created to have access to the Creator.

I invite you to personalize this passage with the struggles in your own life. What can separate me from God’s love?  Neither bankruptcy nor foreclosure, neither stupid decisions nor upheavals in life, neither struggles in marriage, struggles in finances, car accidents, infertility, depression nor anxiety can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  Let the reality of this promise envelope your life and your struggles.

If you are a Christian, you are inseparably joined to Christ Jesus and forever bound up in this amazing love of God.  This is your eternal promise, and it is a promise that can sustain you in this life through all the things that threaten to undo you.  Every trial and struggle and difficulty must submit to God’s love.  Everything in all of creation bows before the God of Creation, the God who has sworn His love for you with the blood of His one and only Son.

Holy Father, when I struggle through my days, remind me to walk in the knowledge of eternity and the promise of your eternal love. Amen.

On that Glorious Day

sunrise“The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers.  They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.  And they began to call out to him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’  Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him” (Mark 15:16-19)

The scenes are riveted in our minds having been played out over and over in countless passion plays, movies and church Easter dramas.  Jesus praying in the Garden, dragged before the High Priest, standing before Pilate, beaten and mocked, stumbling under the weight of His burden, then finally hanging on a cross.  While the events are staggering, they also offer a key prophetic glimpse into the future.  You probably know the story as well as I, but let’s revisit the final hours of Jesus’ life and see what awaits.

All four of the gospels record a similar account of the soldiers’ mocking of Jesus (Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-19; Luke 23:11; John 19:2-3). In each one, Jesus is held up to ridicule as the “king of the Jews”. Matthew, Mark and John also mention Pilate’s sign placed on the cross above Jesus’ head: “the king of the jews.” (The sign angered the chief priests, but Pilate refused to change its wording, perhaps an indication that he believed Jesus was indeed the rightful king of the Jews.) Both Matthew and Mark point out the soldiers’ actions as well as their words: they fell to their knees in false homage to Jesus. Little did they know that their mocking act was indeed a prophecy of what will come.

The Bible tells us that one day – very soon I believe – Jesus is coming again. One of the Old Testament prophets describes it this way: “On that day his

Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

Mount of Olives in Jerusalem

feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name” (Zechariah 14:4, 9). This prophecy declares His return will be an unmistakable spectacle, and the proclamation of His name of will heard throughout the world. Think the news media will notice? Do you believe the world leaders will be aware of this phenomenon? He will be on everybody’s radar. How different from His first visit to earth.

The world did not recognize Him when He came as a helpless infant, nor did they see His greatness when He stood and read Isaiah’s words proclaiming His mission. They did not see Him as the Messiah when He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead. They missed his majesty as He rode into Jerusalem on a lowly beast. They failed to perceive His righteousness when He stumbled under the burden of His cross on the Via Dolorosa. They did not know that the bloodied, battered man that hung on the cross bore the weight of every sin they ever committed. Even the disciples at first still did not quite understand His divine nature when they saw Him resurrected from the dead.

And today He is still mocked and scorned, His name often spat out as a curse soaked in venom. His story is held up as a fantasy and a lie. His teachings are misconstrued at best, dismissed, and even considered “hate-speech” today. His followers have been ridiculed, imprisoned, battered, beaten and martyred for His name. His church, His bride, is attacked from every angle, her wounded lay dying in the dust.   Even though His story has been told and retold throughout the ages, even though lives have been transformed and mighty things have been done in His Name, after more than two-thousand years the world still doesn’t recognize Him.

Oh, but one day they will.

John the Revelator penned these words: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him” (Revelation 1:8). Did you catch that? Even those who pierced him! All those who have mocked Him and ridiculed him will suddenly and clearly see Him as “the Lord of lords and the King of kings” (Revelation 17:14). And what will be their reaction? The Apostle Paul tells us “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10). Every knee. Every tongue. Do you see the irony of the soldiers mocking? Do you see how they were doing in jest what all of humanity will be doing on that glorious day? They will not have a choice. Every person will, out of the sheer power of His majesty and holiness, be compelled to fall to their knees, as if an unseen hand is forcing them to buckle under an irresistible pressure. Every tongue will proclaim His identity and His sovereignty, as if the words were being pulled from their very soul. Paul says even those under the earth will respond to His appearing. For those who reject Him in this life, it will be a moment of abject terror as they confront the truth they so long tried to deny.

But for those who have received Him, who have believed in His Word, who have stood fast in the face of persecution and endured the slings and arrows of the culture in which we live, our knees will gladly bow in honor of His grandeur and our tongues will joyfully confess the Name and praise of Jesus Christ who is forever exalted in heaven and earth. I bow before Him now and offer Him my praise, so that when that day of days comes, I am so well practiced that I slip into the posture of worship as naturally as drawing a breath.

I pray you know Him today as your Savior and Lord. I pray on that day you will greet him as your King and His Name will roll from your lips with delight. I pray that He is as real to you today as He will be when your eyes take in the glorious sight of His face. If you do not know this Jesus, please let this be the day that you say “Yes” to the king of Kings and the lord of Lords.


Jesus, my Savior and Lord, every day with You is filled with joy. Every thought of You draws my breath in amazement. And to think, one day I will see Your glorious face and bow before You as my King. Oh what a wonderful day that will be!

The Alabaster Jar

Alabaster Jar“Her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much . . .” (Luke 7:47)

She heard that the Rabbi was dining nearby at the home of one of the Pharisees, probably one of many who had sneered at her in the marketplace.  She hesitated for a moment as she reached for the alabaster jar sitting in the carved-out niche in the stone wall and cast a glance around the well-appointed room.  Her wanton life had afforded her many good things, clothes made of rich fabrics, fine jewelry, the best wine and food, and the beautiful, smooth jar that contained the finest perfume money could buy.  The value of that perfume alone would support her for the rest of her life.

But it wasn’t the money that made her hesitate, it was the place she was heading and the people she would face.  It was the hostile stares and abrasive words they would throw at her – a common, sinful woman daring to enter into the home of a powerful, religious man.  She wondered how many of those piercing words would be cast by men who had enjoyed her favors not too long ago.  Some of them were her best clients, but they would sooner cast her to the dogs than acknowledge their own guilt.

Still this rabbi – there was something about him – he carried himself in a way the Pharisees never did, with authority and dignity, yet without arrogance.  He spoke of the Kingdom of God as if he alone had the key to the gate. He treated common, everyday people like they were his friends.  He did not make a public display of the good things he did like the religious leaders – and he did incredible, amazing, miraculous things like healing the sick and casting out demons. Rumor said that he even raised the widow’s son from the dead right here in Nain.  And he was kind to the poor, gentle with the lame and actually compassionate toward the people who stumbled in sin. “People like me,” she thought to herself.

When he walked through the village that day she saw him surrounded by his disciples and the townspeople; she could have never gotten through that throng of people to draw close to him, even if she dared to try.  But when he looked across all those faces and saw her, she knew he saw straight into her heart.  He saw both her sin and her sorrow, and somehow, was not repulsed by either.  That one look had stayed with her since that day, and it changed her life forever.  It was a look of intimacy, but not the kind she was used to, if you could call her nightly visits intimate at all.  No, this look went to her very soul and shook loose some dark and oppressive thing that had bound her for years.  That evening, when she turned away one of her clients, she knew she would never go back to that life again. It was as if the power of her sinful passions had been broken forever.

She shook her head, grabbed the alabaster jar and slipped out of the house.  Her pace quickened, almost as if she were moving faster so she would not change her mind.  Breathlessly she approached the perimeter of Simon’s property where a crowd had gathered around the house, watching the festivities and craning to hear every word the Rabbi spoke.  She began to weave her way through the people, holding tightly to her precious jar and the offering it contained.  She didn’t understand why it was so important to do this strange thing but she was certain a force outside of herself was driving her on, thrusting her into the suddenly silent room.  As she knelt at the foot of his couch, tears spilled from her eyes, washing the Rabbi’s feet and cleansing her own soul.

What would make this woman who had been so sinful courageously enter the home of a religious leader and risk being scorned and berated?  Why would she, who had given up her lucrative lifestyle, pour out her most valuable possession on the filthy feet of a rabbi? What had possibly taken hold of her?  In the words of Jesus: forgiveness and love.

Do you hesitate on the edge of the crowd that follows Jesus?  Are your sins and failures so great you don’t dare come near Him for fear of being exposed and rejected?  Is your soul stained and your heart broken?  Then Jesus bids you come and let your tears fall on His feet.  Bring your alabaster jar full of sin and pour it out on His feet.  Hear Him say to you, “Your sins are forgiven.  Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”[1]

[1] John 7:48, 50.

A God Who Remembers

The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.”  Luke 1:13

 twilight-505849_640Have you prayed for something for so long that you finally gave up?  I confess that I have, but I’m so thankful that God remembers, long after my hope has faded.  We learn from the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth that God indeed hears our prayers and answers – but not always in the way or the time that we expect.  Their story is found in Luke 1:5-15 – take a few minutes to read this, I’ll wait right here for you.

This godly couple were said to be “upright in the sight of God” (v. 6), they were faithful and obedient in every way. Why, then, did God withhold the one thing that they desired – a child? Children were one of God’s greatest blessing to a Jewish family. Psalm 127:5 says “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of [children].” Shouldn’t they, who were upright before God, have more blessings than anyone else? We look at this from our human perspective and say “This is not fair,” but God has another perspective, a perfect and purposeful vantage point to this whole situation – one that would fulfill prophecy and bring Him glory.

I am sure that Zechariah, like Isaac may years before “prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren” (Genesis 25:21). Doubtless they both prayed, and their families likely prayed, but to no avail. After many, many prayers over many, many years, it seems they accepted reality and adjusted their expectations to what would never be. They ceased praying for a child, because after all, “they were both well along in years” (Luke 1:7).  I mean, logically, isn’t there a time to give up on wishes and get on with life as it is?

Ah, but God had heard those prayers, and He was about to turn their lives joyfully upside down!  Zechariah was about the have the wildest meeting of his life.

In accordance to the Lord’s command, incense was offered morning and evening and the priestly ranks was so large that a priest could only make this offering once in his lifetime.[1] Lots were cast to determine who would be so privileged, but most priests never got the chance. On this particular day, Zechariah “was chosen by lot”.   But he was not there by “chance.”  Consider what Provers 16:33 says: “The lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  His presence in the temple was less about the incense and more about what God wanted to do for him. The old priest was there because, in His perfect order of time, God had answered an old, forgotten prayer for a child.

I wonder if, when the angel spoke the words of our key verse, Zechariah thought, “What prayer?”  It had been so long, and they were “well along in years,” “surely,” he might have said to himself, “he can’t mean that prayer.”  But that was indeed the prayer that the Lord had set in motion.  At this one moment in time, on the cusp of the greatest event in history, God was saying “Yes!” to this simple couple’s heartfelt prayer – their lives – and the world would never be the same.

My friend, God hears your prayers.  He hears with the heart of a Father who loves you deeply, and He hears with the power of a God who can move heaven and earth to answer you. Does that mean that every prayer we utter is a “Yes” from God?  No – and that is a hard thing to hear when your heart aches before Him.  For reasons we are not always privy to, God sometimes says “No,” or “Not yet.”  But it is always spoken from that Father-heart that wants only the best for His child.  God does not withhold from us anything that is for our good according to His purpose in our lives, He is more than generous in His good gifts.  But when He must say “No,” He reveals that to us, so we do not have to pine and agonize over that which cannot be.  I know this to be true from very personal experience.

Is there something for which you have prayed for a very long time?  Is there a prayer that you once presented fervently in daily petition to God?  If you do not have a clear word from Him to lay that prayer down, then do not give up.  Don’t assume that God has forgotten about you and that prayer.  Keep your hope and trust in Him alive and remember that He is faithful and loving and always working for your good and His glory.  Who knows when an angel of the Lord will greet you and say, “Your prayer has been heard!”

Holy, faithful, loving Father – You have heard the prayers of your children, and You keep them before you, to answer in Your perfect time, according to Your perfect plan.  In fact, the only thing about your children that You ever forget is our sin.  Help us keep our eyes on You and wait for Your “Yes.” Amen.

[1] Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2012), 1061-2.


When Sin Can’t Hide

cat-393294_640You may be sure your sin will find you out.  Numbers 32:23

The Christian community has been rocked in recent weeks (months, years) with the revelation of several people who profess Christianity yet have acted in the most un-Christlike ways.  Almost all of these have been caught up in some form of sexual sin.  The media have jumped on these incidents and made them into six-inch headlines.  Anti-Christian activists parade these moral failures in their continuing effort to discredit Christianity.  Their comments are full of hate and venom.  The name of Jesus Christ is being publically dragged through worse than mud – more like stable muck, all because public (and non-public) Christians say one thing and do another.  The shame of it is the message they are espousing is valid and necessary, and in the case of the gospel, life-changing.  But the message is lost in the actions of the messenger.

Paul spoke a warning that rings true today: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24).  The name of God, the Son of God, the Church that He established and the faith that carries His title are blasphemed, derided and mocked because Christian integrity has gone out the window.  Integrity in the Bible is defined as blamelessness, innocence, soundness and purity.  Jesus was a man of integrity; He was true, genuine, reliable, and trustworthy, and what He spoke was valid.  By definition, the opposite of biblical integrity is to keep secret and hidden, to escape notice.  But sin will not go unnoticed by the One who sees everything.  God declared, “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17). One of the greatest heroes of the Bible found that out the hard way.

David was the king of Israel, a position given to Him by Jehovah God, who brought him from the sheep-folds to the palace in Jerusalem.  David was a man of God, He knew the Lord intimately and knew all that he was and all that he had came from His hand.  But David wanted one thing God forbade, Bathsheba, the wife of one of his officers.  Despite his power in Israel and his relationship with Jehovah God, the king took the path of sin and entered into an adulterous relationship with the woman.  When Bathsheba learned she was pregnant, David sent orders for her husband, Uriah, to be killed in battle so that he could marry her.  Bathsheba gave birth to David’s son, and for a while all seem well hidden.  David continued to observe the practices of the Jewish religion, all the while stuffing his sin deeper and deeper into a pit.  But God saw, and God confronted David through the prophet Nathan, who upon telling a fictitious story of one man’s sin, pointed his finger at David and declared “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).  David was overcome with grief over his sin and prayed for cleansing, but the end result of his actions was the death of his and Bathsheba’s child.  (Read the whole account in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:18.)

The consequences of David’s actions were the same as the consequences of the sinful actions of those in the public eye who have been caught in child abuse, pornography and marital scandals – devastation. The Bible assures us that the consequence of a lack of integrity is destruction. Marriages have been destroyed, families have been ripped apart, children harmed in horrific ways and reputations have been ruined forever. In addition to these, the Christian witness has been made a thing of ridicule and spite. The consequences in some instances are eternal. Many will reject any thought of Christ and salvation because of the sinful actions of Christians, in the public eye as well as in the house next door.

Solomon wrote: “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes a crooked path will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9).  Trust me when I say, you cannot hide sin deep enough.  God can see through every shovelful of dirt you try to pile on top, and in this day of media investigation, your secrets won’t stay secret very long.

How can believers in Christ counteract this trend? We must become people of integrity, and of genuine faith, committed to uphold the name and reputation of Jesus Christ. We must surrender our sinful, lustful desires and lay hold of the power of the Holy Spirit to live godly, pure lives so that no one can point a finger at us and ridicule the entire Christian faith. Peter wrote: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). That is the kind of people we must be. We must determine to live in such a way that no accusation can be made against us and there is no hidden sin to be revealed. Let us commit to be Daniels in our generation, people of whom it can be said “No corruption could be found in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Daniel 6:4). Integrity will always shine forth in this dark world. Let’s be people of light and illuminate the way to the Savior.

Holy Father, I am not a perfect person, but I desire to be a person of integrity, a follower of Christ in word and deed and an example of holiness in my generation. Amen.


In the Wineskin of Suffering

communion-wineI am in the middle of packing and moving, so I am re-posting a devotional I wrote two years ago.  I pray these words may bless and encourage you.

“Those who suffer He delivers in their suffering.”  Job 36:15

 Why must we endure suffering?

The question of suffering has plagued mankind since the days of Adam and Eve, and the answers we have crafted vary far and wide, often raising even more questions.  Why do some suffer and others seem to live a life of ease?  What possible good can come from suffering? Why would a loving God let His creation suffer? How can we avoid suffering?  Should we avoid suffering?

I have had seasons of suffering, and so have you.  At times I thought I would not survive those sufferings, the depth of pain and struggle was more than I could bear.  I have prayed for people I love in their times of suffering.  I have looked around at the ease of others, and questioned God’s fairness is allowing me to suffer while He showed His favor to someone else.  At the same time, someone else has considered my life one of ease and comfort in comparison to their own sufferings.  We will all encounter trials and troubles – no one, no matter how wealthy, brilliant, beautiful or godly, will be exempt from suffering.  I have wrestled for some kind of understanding in the matter of suffering.  By no means do I think I have all the answers or have figured out God’s mind on the subject, but I have found tremendous insight and comfort in His Word, and I hope it will be a blessing to you.

I find that suffering is one of God’s most effective tools in shaping us.  Like a sculptor with a chisel, sometimes God must use His tool of suffering to “chip away” at those things in our lives that would mar His finished masterpiece.  His plan is to make us like His Holy and Perfect Son, Jesus Christ, and He must remove anything from us that is not Christ like.  It is a lifelong and often painful process.  We can take comfort in knowing that the Father also allowed His Beloved Son to suffer.  The writer of Hebrews identifies two reasons for the suffering of Jesus.  Hebrews 2:9 says that “he suffered death so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” In His great mercy and grace, God allowed His Son to suffer that we might be saved from eternal death, that is, eternal separation from Him.  This thought completely fills me with awe: Jesus Christ endured separation from His Father so that we would not have to.   He endured tremendous suffering for you and me.   Amazing!  Hebrews 2:10 follows by saying, “It was fitting that God should make the author of [our] salvation perfect through suffering.” If Jesus was made perfect through suffering, and God’s purpose for us is to be like Jesus, we will also endure suffering as God’s means to achieve His end.   This is why Peter wrote “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1: 6-7)” The good that comes from suffering is that our faith is being perfected and we are becoming more and more like Christ.

As I was reading recently in Jeremiah, I discovered something I had never considered before.  Jeremiah 48 is God’s message of coming destruction against the nation of Moab, one of Israel and God’s many enemies.  Jeremiah 48: 11 says “Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another-she has not gone into exile.  So she tastes as she did and her aroma is unchanged.”  You see, in making wine, the grapes are first crushed to extract the juice which is placed in bottles or wine skins and allowed to ferment.  During fermentation, the dregs, or sediment, settle at the bottom of the container.  After forty days the wine is poured into another container to allow the dregs to be removed.  If the dregs remain, the wine becomes too sweet and thick and it is spoiled.  Moab had always been largely at peace, and their turmoil-free life had made them spoiled.  The Lord gives the same description of the city of Jerusalem when he says, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think the Lord will do nothing, either good or bad. (Zephaniah 1:12)”

Sometimes God has to “shake” us out of our complacency.  I know that this has been true for my life.  God has used times of suffering to pour me from one container to another so that He can remove the dregs, and keep me from become thick and spoiled in the syrupy sweetness of complacency. If you find that hard to believe, consider that the Gospel of Christ and the Holy Spirit are the most powerful and effective in countries where Christianity is prohibited and Christ-followers are persecuted.  The suffering they are enduring for the Name of Jesus Christ strengthens their faith in ways the Western Churches do not see, because – at least for now – we do not endure real suffering for our faith. We have become satiated and complacent, and our witness as the Body and Church of Christ has become thick and sweet on its dregs.  Is it any wonder our nation has such disregard for God – as if to say “the Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.”?

Suffering in the life of those who claim the name of Christ is not without purpose.  Suffering shakes us out of our settled complacency, and removes the influences of the world that threaten to spoil our witness.   Suffering makes us more like the One who suffered for us, perfecting us to fulfill God’s purpose and will.    Revelation 2:10 is a powerful message to all of us as we endure suffering: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…Be faithful, even unto the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Holy God, I do not want to be complacent in a world of people who think “the Lord will do nothing…”  Shake me up that I may be a witness for Jesus Christ.  Amen

While You Wait

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Psalm 130:6

I sat in the doctor’s office and grew more frustrated every minute I waited past my appointment time. “Why do they schedule me for 2:00 if they’re not going to call me back before 3:00?” I fumed in my head. I had things to do, important things, yet there I sat seething inside and  impatiently flipping through a 3-year old issue of People magazine. After I was finally called back, it was another 45-minute wait in a lovely paper gown before the doctor breezed into the room. I am a pretty patient person most of the time, but long drawn out waits really do me in. Whether we’re waiting for an appointment, for a job to open up, or your kid to come back home, or waiting for a long and painful season to end, waiting is hard.   I think what makes it hard is how we wait.

Genesis 16 tells us the story of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who was unable to conceive a baby. In the Ancient Near East, children were the mark of a man’s strength and a woman’s worth. A woman who could not bear children was disgraced in that time and culture. And as a woman who battled infertility for seven years, I can tell you the cultural disgrace was nothing compared to the agony in the heart of a woman with empty arms. To add to her despair, the Lord had promised them that Abram would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12:2). Twelve years had passed and there was still no baby. Tired of waiting, Sarah determined Abraham should father a child with her handmaid, and when Hagar learned she was pregnant, everything went sour. Sarah was jealous, Hagar was arrogant and Abraham was caught in the middle.   God permitted this act, but assured Abraham that this son, Ishmael, was not the heir He had planned. Sarah did have a child some thirteen years later, Isaac, who was the child of the promise. There was tremendous tension between the two half-brothers. The conflict between Ishmael and Isaac still rumbles today in the constant battles in the Middle East, all because a woman grew impatient with God.

By contrast, look at Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah, who was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. While in prison, “The warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in prison . . . because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Gen 39:22, 23).   One day, he thought he had found his ticket to freedom.  He interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, one of release and one of death. The cup-bearer who got the better interpretation promised to speak on Joseph’s behalf, but forgot his promise upon his release. For two more years, Joseph remained in prison. But the Bible gives no indication of resentment or despair on Joseph’s part.  In his youth, God had made promises to Joseph in dreams that showed him lifted up in a position of authority and status, and Joseph trusted the Lord and was sure those promises would prove true – which they did. When the cup-bearer finally remembered his promise, Joseph was released at just the point in Egyptian history that he could be used by God to save his family and the entire Israelite race – the people from whom our Savior, Jesus Christ would come.

You see, how we wait is as important, if not more so, as the act of waiting itself. And whether we wait patiently or impatiently has everything to do with our vision of God. For Sarah, God was not trustworthy and she took matters into her own hands to force God’s promise to come to fruition. But Joseph believed God to be faithful and trustworthy, a God of His Word. Joseph waited for God to act on his behalf and in the waiting he faithfully served and ministered right where he was – in a prison. He did not continually query the jailer to learn how close his release was. He didn’t sit and sulk and become embittered. Sarah failed to trust God and the result was disastrous – and has kept the entire world in turmoil ever since. Joseph trusted in God and as a result, his family was saved from famine, and salvation came to the entire world through one of Abraham’s descendants – Jesus Christ.

Our key verse comes from Psalm 130, a cry for the Lord to rescue and redeem His people Israel. The Psalmist says “my soul waits for the Lord,” and this is not just aimless waiting, it is from a Hebrew word that means “to hope in, to look for, to expect (emphasis added).” It’s the difference between waiting with doubt and fear of disappointment and waiting for something you are certain will come.   Notice that the Psalmist twice says he waits “more than watchman wait for the morning.” Have you ever gone outside before dawn, while the night was still black to see the sun rise? Would you have been out there if you didn’t think the sun would actually come up? We watch for the sunrise because we know it will come, and when it does it will be a glorious sight. The watchman stood guard through the night, scanning the inky horizon, knowing that when the first rays of light hit, he could go home to rest.

When we are in a position of waiting, whatever we may be waiting for, we must adopt the attitude of the watchman and trust that when the waiting is over, the sun will shine in a glorious light and our rest will come. We must follow the model of Joseph who waited, confident that what God had promised him would come to fulfillment, and in the waiting gave himself to serve and minister wherever he was.

The biggest difference between Sarah and Joseph was that Joseph knew God to be trustworthy and Sarah did not. Sarah assumed that God had forgotten them and had forgotten His promise. Joseph knew that God had not forgotten him and He would be faithful to His promise. Perhaps it was a hard-won lesson that Sarah passed down to her great-grandson, but it was a lesson that brought God’s salvation not just to a family, but to an entire nation and to the entire world.

So I ask you, what has God promised to you? Do you trust Him to fulfill that promise? Then spend your waiting season serving wherever God has placed you for the moment, and know that when the waiting is over and the promise comes, it will be more glorious than you ever imagined.

Holy Father, it has taken me many, many years, but I am slowly discovering that You never forget your promises. You are forever faithful, even more dependable than the sunrise! Amen.