In the Hard Places

“There you will be rescued. There the Lord will redeem you.” Micah 4:11

“How did I get here Lord? This is not where I’m supposed to be!”

Sometime we find ourselves where we don’t want to be. It may be in a physical place or a season of life, but it is unexpected, uncomfortable and, at times, even unbearable.   I have been in physical places that were so discouraging and depressing that I felt hopeless. I have been in seasons of my life that were hard, frightening, and lonely; I felt like Paul who said, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor.. 1:8b). I am sure that you have too. These places and seasons come to all of us.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve wondered, “Lord, how did I get here?” The Word of God gives us the answers. The Old Testament prophet Micah preached to the people of Israel and Judah some seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus. He proclaimed the judgment of God against the sinfulness of the people, and told them of coming disaster from the hand of the Lord. He identified some key issues that brought them to this place.

He rebukes them for their sin, proclaiming “All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sin of the house of Israel” (Micah 1:5). Sin separates man from God, and also separates us from God’s best for our lives. It has been rightly said that sin will take you farther than you meant to go, keep you longer than you meant to stay, and cost you more than you meant to pay.

Another reason for the places we find ourselves is deception. The people in the ancient world were dependent on the religious leaders, who often distorted the words and laws of God, leading many astray.   But we have Truth written for us in the Bible, and the Holy Spirit helps us to understand and apply those truths to our lives. If we are not studying the Word of God, if we let others define truth for us, we will always be led astray.

Micah also recognizes the problems we face when we forget who God is and what He has done. In Micah 6, God asks through the prophet, “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you?”(6:3), and then reminds them of His redemption, faithfulness and love. God is full of grace, mercy, compassion, tenderness and love so vast that we cannot fully comprehend it. When we forget that, when we doubt His love and care, we wander off in search of the things He longs to give us. We find ourselves in difficult places and seasons.

Stepping out of the book of Micah, we find another reason for the places and seasons of our lives Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers into a life of slavery, but God was always with him, and He used Joseph to save countless lives, including the lives of those same brothers, from a seven-year famine. Joseph recognized God’s hand, telling his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to…[save] many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Sometimes God allows difficult season and places to accomplish a much greater purpose that we can’t see in the moment.

But God is faithful to His children, and when we are lost, He seeks us out and brings us back home. That is the heart of our key verse. And that is the heart of our Heavenly Father, as Jesus demonstrated in a parable He told in Luke 15: 3-7. He tells of a shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine safe sheep to go after the one sheep who has wandered away. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (15:6). The shepherd had ninety-nine other sheep, but his heart would not let him abandon the one who was lost.

Your Heavenly Father has the same heart for you. Whether you are in a place you never expected nor wanted to be, or you are in a season of life that is hard, painful and seemingly unending, God has promised He will find you there and bring you safely home. In truth, He doesn’t have to look very hard, for He never left you, even when you wandered away. His promise is and always has been: “I will never leave you nor forsake you. Your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5, 9). Wherever you and I go, if we are God’s children, He is with us. Even if we are lost because of rebellion. Even if we are so far away from His fold that it seems impossible to get back. No matter where we roam, in physical places or seasons of life, God’s heart never leaves us. He never forgets about His children.

Are you in a difficult place? Are you in a hard season? Whether it was your own wandering or the providential hand of God, trust in His faithful love for you. Turn to Him and call His Name, then watch for His rescue. There is no place that His love will not reach.

Faithful Lord, my Good Shepherd, You have promised to always be with me. Even when I am in hard places and seasons, You are there. Father, help me trust in Your love and know that wherever I am, I am never far from Your heart. Amen.

Advertisements

Two Hearts at Calvary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes Life Stinks!

“But Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” John 11:39

 

“God, this stinks!” I cried one morning, as the alarm sounded and a fresh wave of despair washed over me. You know that feeling, when your mind awakens and recalls the pain and worry and fear all over again. Once again I felt the same cold knot in the pit of my stomach, the same pain like a knife stabbing my heart. Life had taken a sharp and unkind turn, and the situation was hard, painful, and more than I thought I could bear. I wanted to run away, to hide from the mess that surrounded me. I wanted to pull the covers over my head, bury my face in my pillow and scream or cry. But I had to face the day, and face the circumstances, so I got up, hit the shower and let the tears mix with the water running down my face.

 

I went into my quiet space and sat down with my Bible and my prayer journal. I tried to put on the “good Christian” attitude and “give thanks in all things” and “cast all my cares on God,” but my façade soon crumbled. “God, why did you let this happen?” “How can anything good come out of this?” I prayed. I wondered if He was really paying attention. I felt like the Old Testament saint Daniel, who prayed, “O Lord listen! O Lord, hear and act!” (Daniel 9:19). “God deal with this! Fix it! Make it go away!” Again I cried out – “God this stinks! It’s not fair!” And then my anguish gave way to the root of my question: “How can You say that You love me and let this happen?”

 

With those word still hanging in the air, I turned to the devotional reading for today and found the Scriptures, John 11:1-43. Take a few minutes and read this passage. I’ll wait for you here.  You might recognize the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, it’s a powerful story that showed clearly that Jesus was God and that He had the power of life over death. It also showed the love Jesus had for Martha, Mary and Lazarus. It was a message that I desperately needed that morning.

 

Martha’s words in our key verse caught my attention. Lazarus had been in the grave for four days, and by now there was a foul odor – the smell of rotting flesh. Jesus had told Martha just a few minutes before “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). But when He commanded that the stone that sealed to tomb, that sealed the stench of death, be rolled away, Martha protested, pointing out the obvious. I almost hear her saying “Lord, this stinks!”

 

Jesus’ answer to Martha began to seep into my heart, filling the places of fear and anxiety and soothing the deep pain I had been carrying around with me. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)?  “Child, haven’t I shown you my love in a thousand ways? Haven’t I rescued you from trouble again and again? Haven’t I always proven faithful to you?” Yes. Yes He had. So why would I imagine that He would fail me now? Why would I doubt His love for me? Why would I question His tender care and His constant presence? His affirmations of love and kindness, His grace and goodness began to wash away the fear and doubts and cleanse the wounds in my soul.

 

Jesus is not afraid to get in the middle of our messes. He doesn’t turn away from the stench in our lives. He is the Messiah and in the ancient Hebrew language “ah” was a designation that meant “Lord.” Look at that title again – Mess-iah – Lord over even our messes. He enters into the pain we bear and asks us to let Him carry the weight of our burdens. He left the heavens of perfect holiness to walk among the dust and dirt and filth of humanity. His great love drove nails into His hands and feet. His mercy bore every sin you and I would ever commit, and banished them to the grave that He left behind when He was resurrected in glorious power.

 

When life stinks, run to the Mess-iah. He receives us at our worst, messy and smelly and bruised and broken. He gives us His best-His very life. Oh my friend, He is so faithful. Won’t you invite Him to reign over your messy life?

 

Jesus, Messiah – my life is such a mess. In fact Lord, sometimes my life stinks! But just as Mary filled the room with the fragrance of oil, anoint your child with your sweet fragrance of love and mercy and grace. Amen.

 

Hosanna! Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!

Palm Sunday

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

The scene is just outside the city of Jerusalem, and the season is the “Passover Festival” – a week-long celebration commemorating the “passing over of the Death-Angel” prior to the Israelite’s exodus out of Egypt.
As was the tradition, thousands of Jews flocked to the city, and one major topic of conversation was on everybody’s lips: “Would Jesus come into the city for the Passover Feast?” The people were all abuzz with reports of His miraculous deeds – in particular, raising Lazarus from the dead. The Religious Leaders had given orders that anyone knowing His whereabouts should report it to them, for they planned to arrest Him on sight.

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

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

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

Interestingly, on the road outside the city, the people proclaim Him Messiah as they recall the prophet’s promise (Matthew 21:9). Once inside the city gates, as strangers gathering for the Passover asked: “Who is this?” the answer was different. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From Messiah to Prophet. First One who “comes in the Name of the Lord” – now one who comes from Nazareth-a city despised and disregarded by the Jews. (John 1:46)
Don’t we still do the same? In the Sanctuary on Sunday morning Jesus is Lord and we sing His praises with fine voice. But what happens we the crowd changes? Do we tuck Him inside the cover of a dusty Bible? How do we respond to the question? “Who is this?” Is He just a “good teacher, a man of peace”, or maybe even a fool?
He cannot not be Lord on Sunday and disregarded on Monday.

This week has, for centuries, been called “Holy Week” and “Passion Week.”
The church holds the remembrance of Christ’s death in highest esteem. Next Sunday is Easter, and we will celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection-our hope for eternal life.
The world looks to Easter as an excuse to shop for new clothes and to pay homage to a bunny who gives us baskets filled with decadence.

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

The Battle is On!

“I have hidden your Word in my heart,” Psalm 119:11

When Satan comes to pick a fight, you’d better have something bigger than a pocketknife in your hand.

Spiritual warfare. Not a phrase that makes us all warm and fuzzy, but we need to realize that spiritual warfare is very real, and as the end draws nearer, the battles will become more fierce. We have a cartoon image of the devil – red long-johns, a tail, horns and a pitchfork. We joke around that “the devil made me do it,” and we expect to flick him off our shoulder like a pesky fly. Dear friend, you and I need to wise up. We need to know that the devil is real, that he is powerful, and he hates us because God loves us. And we need to know how to fight him. Because whether you signed up or not; if you are a child of God, Satan has declared war on you.

If that thought makes you want to run and hide, let me assure you – the Lord God has not left you defenseless. First He has promised His presence to protect us, Isaiah 52:12 says “The Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” The Lord is both before you and behind you. The enemy will encounter Jehovah Gibbor Milchamah – the Lord Mighty in Battle, before he can reach you. And he cannot launch a surprise attack from behind, for he cannot get past Elohim Tsebaoth – God of the Angel Armies.

He has also provided us with His own mighty armor, found in Ephesians 6:13-17. “The belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place…feet fitted with the readiness that comes with the gospel of peace…the shield of faith…the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” We are going to study closely each piece of the Armor of God over the coming weeks, but today we are going to look at “the sword of the Spirit.” In the Sword of the Spirit, He has given you and me the weapon that causes Satan to tremble-the Holy and Mighty Word of the Living God. It was Jesus’ own weapon of choice when Satan came to tempt Him in the wilderness-every offer the devil threw at Him, Jesus countered with Scripture.

Did you notice that Paul called the Word of God the “sword of the Spirit”? Let’s see another passage that uses the same image. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword.” Want an even stronger picture? Revelation 1:12-16 describes the God-Man, Jesus Christ as He appears in John’s vision; verse 16 tells us “out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword.” Even in the heavens, Jesus still uses the Sword of the Spirit to deliver justice.

So where do we get this sword, and how do we learn how to use it? Our key verse gives us the answer – we hide God’s Word in our heart. Simply put, we memorize Scripture. Every verse, every passage, every promise and every truth adds to the weight and length and strength of your Sword. And the more you study the Word and meditate on it, the more adept you will be at using it. Is there a particular area of weakness or stronghold where Satan usually attacks? Look for Scripture that addresses that area. Read the verses aloud, write them on notecards and place them in areas like the kitchen, your desk, your bathroom mirror or bedside table. Get a journal and write the verses out, look up the words, consider how this verse applies to your life – these are all excellent “drills” to help you grow in knowledge and strength in the Word of the Lord.

Consider this, when Satan launches an attack against you, and all you know is John 3:16, (which is an awesome verse to know), you are trying to defeat the enemy with a pocketknife. But if you have been reading, studying, meditating and memorizing Scripture, when you reach into your heart where that Word has been stored and grab hold of those verses, you are going to pull out a SWORD that will send your enemy reeling and scrambling to get away. That’s how the child of God does battle with the enemy of our soul.

Dear friend, we cannot pretend that the battle does not exist, lest we do so at our own peril. Our enemy is very real, he is powerful and he is on the prowl. But you and I have the presence of God, the power of the blood of Christ, and the perfect Word of the Lord God Almighty. It is time to take up the armor of God, grab your Sword, and stand on the Name of Jesus and the Word of God. How about making this verse your starting point: “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

 

Mighty God, the enemy is real, the battle is real. But You have given me Your Armor and Your promise to stand with me against my foe. Make me strong in Your Word and in Your mighty Spirit. Amen.