Just the Mention of Your Name

“Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love.” Psalm 143:8.

One of my favorite hymns as a child was In the Garden; I can still hear my Mother singing it while she and I made beds together in the mornings.  It has a beautiful melody, but the lyrics bring forth such a wonderful image:

I come to the garden alone; while the dew is still on the roses,

and the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses.

Refrain:

And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own;

and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.

This is written around the account of Mary Magdalene’s early morning encounter with the risen Jesus in the garden.  (The Story behind the hymn: In the Garden)  I have loved this beautiful story as long as I can remember, and recently, while taking a seminary course on the Gospel of John, this story came to life for me.  It is my habit, when I am studying a particular book of the Bible, to write out each verse as I study.  That’s how I learn best.  While writing the 20th chapter of John, of the account of Jesus’ resurrection, I found my heart racing in anticipation as I wrote John 20:10-18.  I knew what was coming, but it was as if I were there, in the garden watching it all unfold before me.  When I came to verse 16, my heart exploded in delight as I wrote: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’”. Such a powerful moment should not be overlooked, but savored.  Sit with me here in the garden for a moment and soak it in.

Consider with me too, that Jesus had spoken to her just before this saying, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” (v. 15). So we know it wasn’t the sound of His voice that caused her to recognize the risen Lord.  It was when He spoke her name.  You see, Mary Magdalene had been an outcast before she first encountered Jesus.  Luke tells us that Jesus has cured Mary of demon possession, seven demons in fact had been cast out of her (Luke 8:2) .  A demon possessed person was feared and loathed, an outcast in the community, and often cast out of the community altogether (see Luke 8:26-29).  Maybe, if they were lucky, their family might keep them locked up in a room at home, but no one went near them, no one sat with them, and certainly no one tenderly called their name.  This was Mary’s story before she met Jesus.

I wonder if you, like me, sometimes feel insignificant in this vast sea of humanity, and think “Does anyone notice me?  Does anyone know or care about me.”  “Does anyone know my name?” God does.

Psalm 147:4 says “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name,” and Isaiah 40:26 says “He [brings] out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name”. If He knows a billion stars by name, is it too difficult to believe that He knows you by name too?  His Word assures us that He does: “But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you . . . ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’” (Isaiah 43:1). He knows your name and my name because He is our Creator.

I love this very intimate promise from God: “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name” (Isaiah 45:3).

Jesus knew Mary’s name, but more than that, He knew her life, her loneliness and brokenness.  He knew her heart.  He knows you as well – every struggle, every tear, every time you fall and every sin you’ve ever committed.  Maybe you don’t have seven demons; maybe you have heartaches or failures.  Perhaps your life is marked with rejection or grief or self-inflicted wounds.  Know this: Jesus took on Himself all your sin and sorrow and shame and guilt, bore it on the cross where He died and buried it with him in the grave.  And when He rose again, he left it all behind – you don’t have to carry it any longer.

Jesus described Himself as “The Good Shepherd” who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).  Jesus wants to lead you out of bondage to sin and brokenness and loneliness.  He wants to give you freedom from whatever keeps you from living in His peace and joy and hope.  Surely, if He can free a lonely women from seven demons, He can set you free as well.

My friend, hear the voice of the One who loves you with an everlasting love – He’s calling you by name.

He speaks, and the sound of his voice, is so sweet the birds hush their singing,

and the melody that he gave to me, within my heart is ringing.[1]

Turn to the sound of that precious voice and run to your Savior.

Sweet Jesus, no other sound is a dear as my name on Your divine lips. Oh that everyone could have ears to hear your voice calling us by name.  Amen

Take a listen: In the Garden – Brad Paisley

[1] C. Austin Mile, In the Garden, (Hall-Mack Music, 1912).

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Just Tell Me What I Want to Hear

“You have wearied the Lord with Your words . . . by saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and He is pleased with them.’” Malachi 2:17

You just don’t want to hear the truth!” my friend told her teenage son. A long summer of rebellion had begun when he started hanging out with someone that had a very negative influence on him. Yet he believed this person was the ultimate, his soul mate and he was unwilling to hear anything to the contrary. Our culture has become very much the same. We are as the nation of Judah in the Old Testament, who told God’s prophets “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions” (Isaiah 30:10). Paul saw the same thing when he warned Timothy, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Can anyone doubt that “the time has come” (emphasis mine)? Our world today does not want to be told “this is wrong,” or “this is right;” “this is false,” or “this is true.”

There is a very interesting story in 1 Kings 22:1-28; the evil king of Israel, Ahab, and the godly king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, were preparing to join together in battle against Israel’s enemy. Jehoshaphat asked that they seek God’s wisdom on the matter before they set out. Four hundred ungodly prophets agreed that victory was guaranteed, but the godly king wanted a godly perspective, and so the prophet Micaiah was called up. He was advised to agree with the 400, but vowed to only speak what the Lord directed. At first, he sarcastically joined their proclamation, but when he indeed spoke the truth against Israel, and prophesied death for the king, Ahab was furious.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. Micaiah said that the Lord planned to entice the evil and godless king Ahab into war and to his death by “a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets” (1 Kings 22:22). Now, before you get worked up over God’s actions against Ahab, remember that Ahab had turned against God and followed his wife Jezebel to worship her pagan gods. Isaiah 21: 25 says “Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife incited him.” Ahab chose the evil ways of his wife, and now he must face the consequences.

Without question, we are living in a godless society. Our culture has no place or desire for God, but shouts at His prophets today “Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One.” (1saiah 30:11; emphasis mine). Rather, the world has exalted those who tell them “what their itching ears want to hear.” They endorse sin and every behavior that God’s word has called an abomination. As our key verse says, they approve of – and even celebrate – what is evil; and worse yet, claim that God has put His stamp of approval on it. They are putting godless words in the mouth of the Holy God. Jeremiah confronted it in his day saying, “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land; The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way” (Jeremiah 5:31; emphasis mine). The world today is looking for someone who will tell them what they want to hear. Unfortunately they only want to hear lies. “Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it” (Jeremiah 6:10).

Here’s the most shocking part of all of this: it’s not just happening “out there” – in the world. It’s happening in the churches, among people who have identified themselves as Christians. All of these verses were written to and about the nation of Israel who considered themselves to be God’s chosen people. They had decided that they could blend in other “gods” with the One True God; to continue to call on God for His provision and protection, while giving themselves over to idolatry and sensuous pagan worship. You know, make an offering to appease the Lord on the Sabbath and head to the pagan temple to “worship” with the temple prostitutes. God’s cool with that, right? Wrong.

God alone is the Lord. He is not be one god among many, not even the highest God among the lesser gods. He alone is God. Jesus is the one and only way to God the Father; not one way among many, or even the best way. He alone is the Son of God and the salvation of all mankind. He alone is “The Way, The Truth, and The Life” (John 14:6). God’s Word is the truth, not a good book of humanitarian wisdom among many books, not even the best among the rest. It is truth. And God’s truth is not subject to amendment by man. What God had declared to be right is still right and what he has declared to as sin is still sin, no matter what the culture decides.

My friend, I beg you, do not allow yourself to be deceived by the world, who has been deceived by Satan. Know God for who He has declared Himself to be. Know the salvation of the Lord, which comes only through His Son, Jesus Christ. Know the truth, His Holy Word. Don’t allow yourself to be lead into the darkness, but stay in the light of Christ. There is a way that is right and true, that leads to eternal life. Jesus is that Way. No other path will get you home.

Holy Father, my heart is so heavy for all those who have been lead away from You by the lies of the world and the enemy.  God, please make us people who know the truth that sets us free.  Please make us beacons of light in this dark world so that others may find their way to Jesus. Amen

Building a Wise Life

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.”  James 1:5-6a

Google the word “wisdom” and you will get more than 50 million hits.  A quick check on a Bible website shows almost 400 times the Scriptures speak of wisdom or being wise.  A Christian book distribution website lists over 2,000 current resources that promote wisdom.   There is a lot being said about wisdom – so why are we still doing so many foolish things?   I offer two thoughts I believe hold some answers, and they both follow Jesus’ teaching found in Matthew 7:24-27.

This is the parable of the wise and foolish builders.  We all know that a sturdy house needs a strong and sure foundation.  You can use the best materials to construct the house, but without the foundation, the building is susceptible to the shifting ground beneath it.  My son, who works in electrical construction, tells me that there are two components to a building’s foundation: concrete reinforced with rebar.

Jesus said “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24). Likewise, He says, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Matt. 7:26). Jesus is saying that there are two components to the wise life: His words – the whole of the Bible – combined with obedience. Together they become the sure foundation for the life of a Christian.

I love the Word of God.  It is my light and my life, my passion and my calling.  I study it all day long as a seminary student, and I teach the Bible in multiple weekly Bible study classes.  I am convinced to the marrow of my bones that the Bible is true, right and perfect, and is the complete revelation of the God of creation to man.  But I used to think if just studied the Bible enough, poured over it every day and memorized verses, I would be wise.  But for so long, I failed to put those words into practice in my life.  I wondered, how can I know so much Scripture and do the foolish things I do?  The Bible gives much wisdom about finances, yet I was always broke and drowning in debt.  God has volumes to say about relationships, but I did not have good relationships with my family, friends or co-workers.  The Scriptures are replete with constructive advice for avoiding sin, still I stayed in the sludge pit constantly.  Why?  Because, while I knew a lot of Bible verses, I wasn’t applying my life to what I knew.  I wasn’t following those Biblical principles for financial management or healthy relationships.  I didn’t look for the way out of temptation, but followed it straight into sin.  The words of Jesus – the Bible – is the rebar, and obedience is the cement in the wise Christian life.

Here again we look to James who says “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and . . . goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:23, 24, emphasis mine). You see, the Bible is the living, breathing, spoken Word of God, inspired by His own Spirit.  God does not speak merely to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed.  The first, and most important ingredient in the wise life is to hear the Word of the Lord – without it we have nothing to center our lives on; the second ingredient is obedience to the Word, otherwise we are just foolish people with our heads full of words that have no practical application to our lives.  Look at the other part of James’ teaching: “The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25, emphasis mine).

That is the truth behind our key verse today.  If we ask God for wisdom, He will give us wisdom – generally through His Word.  But if we receive His wisdom and don’t put it into practice – because of doubt or our own desires, we will be “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6b). We will do foolish things, and our lives will fall with a great crash.  The Bible is very practical to our daily lives.  There is nothing we will encounter in life that the Bible does not address, either directly or implicitly.  There are “do’s and do not’s” and there are teachings that guide us in the best way to live.  But they will just be words on a page to us unless we walk in obedience and submission to the God who created us and who loves us.

Is there a particular area of defeat in your life?  Look up Scriptures that address that area and ask God to help you put those words into practice.  Read and study the Word of God every day and consider how to bring your life in line with what He says.  You may need to make some changes and choices, but the blessings that come from walking in God’s truth are enormous.  Build a wise life on the Word of God and obedience to Him.  Then when “the rain comes down, and the streams rise, and the winds blow and beat against your house, it will not fall, because it has its foundation on the rock” (Matt. 7:25b, adaptions mine).

Holy Father, please give me wisdom from Your Word, and help me to put it into practice every day.  Storm clouds are building over the sea Lord; I need Your strong and sure foundation.  Amen.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

There is no one like the God of Jeshurun (Israel), who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in His majesty.” Deuteronomy 33:26

I grew up on fairy tales and stories of damsels in distress and spent much of my early life dreaming of my knight in shining armor. It’s such a romantic thought. I would be kidnapped and held captive by someone who was just mean and evil and wanted to defeat everything good. My situation would be so dire, but then, here would come my beloved hero, to defeat the enemy and rescue me. I would be swept up on his white stallion and we would ride off – of course into the sunset – to begin our “happily-ever-after” life together. Even as I grew older and left fairy tales behind, I still looked for that one guy who would right all the wrongs and make everything wonderful. I figured out that, no matter how wonderful he is, no man will every measure up to that expectation.

That is until I met the One Man who did. No, it’s not my husband, though he is a great guy. My beloved hero is Jesus Christ. And the scenario is not just my fantasy fairy tale; it’s really true, for me and for you. It’s true for every person that lives today, that ever lived, and that is yet to live.

There really is someone who is completely evil. His name is Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub, and he is the enemy of the One who is pure and good – God, the Heavenly Father. God created a perfect world (Genesis 1:1) and then perfectly created two beings in His image: man and woman – we know them as Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:7). Satan slid his way into this perfect place and took them captive to sin, and because of sin, to death (Genesis 3:1-6). This curse of death and sin has been passed down to every human being (Romans 5:12). We are all held against our will by Satan. You may find that strange given how humanity has chosen sin for thousands of years, but our true will – the soul which God placed in man at creation – longs for Him. But our feet are in the stocks, even as we roam the earth, bound by the enemy of God. Why us? Why does Satan attack man? Because we are God’s beloved creation, made in His image, and what God loves, Satan hates.

How it moved God’s great heart with compassion, to see us, His beloved creation bound in chains of sin and unable to rescue ourselves. So He sent us a Hero, a Knight in shining armor. He sent us a Savior, His own and only Son. In what is only a God-miracle, He set His glory aside and poured His divinity into a mortal shell. The perfect Son of God became the perfect Man, Jesus. He came, not on a great steed, but in a young woman’s womb. He came, not to brandish a sword and kill a mortal enemy, but to carry a cross up a hill and crush the head of the enemy of our souls (Genesis 3:15). He came to take on every sin of every person in every age – He came to bear your sin and mine (Romans 6:10). He suffered. He bled. He died a cruel and torturous death for one reason: because He loves you and me. He came to set us free.

He came to give us life –the life we were created for, before Satan and sin took us captive. This life is ours once again, because Jesus did not stay in the grave. God raised Him from the dead, and He is alive today (Ephesians 1:20). His death set us free from the curse of sin (Romans 8:1-2). His resurrection gives us life, eternal life, forever life (1 John 5:11). That “happy-ever-after”? It is a promise, not a fairy tale. Heaven awaits, the place of pure perfection, our forever home (John 14:2). One day, Jesus will come again to earth. He will come to finish the battle of good vs. evil. He will bring His enemy, our enemy, to his final destruction. And guess how He will come? Yep, on a white horse (Revelation 19:11). He will come as the Rider who is Faithful and True – the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And He will right every wrong, and put an end forever to evil.

This is not just a great fairy tale, though the world tries to claim it is. This is the true reality. This is the over-arching picture of God’s plan. He created us. He loves us. He saw us captive to sin and death and evil, and He sent His own Son to rescue us. I hope this is real for you. I hope you have received this gift of freedom and life that God has offered to you. For those without Jesus, the final fate of Satan in their eternal fate as well. The promise of forgiveness and redemption and eternal life is only for those who have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. If you do not know Jesus, please examine the evidence in the Scriptures I’ve highlighted. Ask Him to show you the truth. And pray the prayer at the close of this devotional. Please let me know if you do. I want to rejoice with you. If you already know Jesus, pray a word of thanks for what He has done for you.

This is real life. This is the only question that matters: What will you do with Jesus?

Dear God, I know that I am held captive by sin and my fate is death. I believe that Your Son, Jesus Christ, died to set me free from sin and death. I receive this wonderful freedom and the promise of eternal life. Thank you God, for saving me. Teach me to love you and walk in Your ways all my days. Amen.

Lord, Send a Revival!

Please forgive me for the length of this post, but this is a word God has burned into my heart for several years and I cannot contain it any longer.  Please read this in a sprit of prayer.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14

I am deeply concerned about my country, the United States of America.  I love America, I am grateful for the freedoms and the opportunities we enjoy here.  I love my country, but I am grieved by the depravity and sinfulness that has taken hold in America.  We live in an age when men “call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).  I love my country, but I am heartbroken over the direction our nation is heading.  But the truth is, I don’t believe all the blame lies in our nation’s leading men and women.  I believe much of the blame can be cast at the feet of the church in America.

Please understand, I love church.  I am a church-girl from the cradle-roll in my family’s Baptist church in Copperas Cove, Texas to now teaching Bible classes in several churches in North Florida.  I love the community in church, sitting in a Sunday School class learning together, singing hymns and praise songs with the congregation, and visiting together over a covered-dish meal.  I love to hear the Word of God from the pulpit, and the “Amens” across the sanctuary (and adding a few of my own).  I love church.  But somewhere along the way, churches in this country shifted their focus and their message, and the ripples have touched every aspect of society.  And what we didn’t realize until now is that the effects would be slow in coming, but they would come with a vengeance.

Look with me at a Bible passage that illustrates what I mean.  Please take a few moments and read 2 Samuel 21:1-14, and allow me to give you a little background.

When Israel finally came into Canaan, the Promised Land, God instructed them not to make a treaty with any of the neighboring tribes, but one group, the Gibeonites, put together a deceptive ruse and tricked Israel into making a treaty of peace with them, and they became a “vassal” nation, under the authority – and protection – of Israel.  It was a costly mistake, and a good post for another day.  What’s important here is that the first king of Israel, Saul, had “tried to annihilate them.”  This broke the word of Israel, which God took very seriously.  Fast-forward several years now to the reign of King David.  The passage tells us that a famine hit Israel, and after three long years, David finally inquired of the Lord.  The answer was that God was punishing Israel for Saul’s actions against Gibeon.  Here is one truth you can take to the spiritual bank: “We reap what we sow, more than we sow, and later than we sow.”[1]  The Gibeonites demanded seven of King Saul’s descendants, whom they hung in retribution.

I am not an expert, by any stretch, of how to manage a church.  I don’t pretend to have a lot of answers, but I have become a passionate student of the Word of God and of church history, and I know that somewhere the heart and mission of the church got lost in our attempts to be “all things to all people” and be “culturally relevant.”  Jesus Christ gave the church its mission: “Go and make disciples of all nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19).  The mission of the church is three-fold: make disciples, which comes from proclaiming the message of the Gospel; baptize, which is the outward evidence of an inward decision; and teach them to obey God’s Word, which is a life-long process.  Make no mistake, we need to feed the hungry, to care for the lonely, to protect the oppressed, because these are the things Jesus did when He walked this earth.  But His chief ministry was “to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” (Matthew 4:19). His mission was to “come into the world as a light” (John 12:46) and “to save [the world]” (John 12:47). This must be the focus of the church, to shine the light of Truth into a dark world, and show the Way to eternal Life (ref. John14:6).

There is no question, society has changed.  What once was an accepted biblical worldview, has become a self-centered perspective – a “what’s in it for me?” philosophy of life.  It has permeated the church and its teachings.  As society became more fixated on the psychology of life, the church’s message shifted as well. “Sermons stressed the Bible’s application to day-to-day life.”[2]  The focus became “right living” without an effort to “right thinking.”  Rather than teaching the undiluted Living Word of the Living God, the Bible is approached in a self-focused way, “What does this passage mean for me?   The church began to see the Bible as a “self-help” tool, rather than the Holy Word of the Divine God.  Slowly, imperceptibly, culture and society began to have more influence in the church than the Word and the Son of God.  Like the frog in the stew pot, the changes came so slowly- a compromise here, a minor re-wording there – the frog didn’t perceive the danger until it became too late.

But I don’t believe it is too late.  I believe there is still hope for the church. I believe the church can be restored.  And when the church once again becomes the Spirit-filled, biblically sound Body of the Lord Jesus Christ, I believe America can be healed.   Look at 2 Samuel 21:14 again: “After that, God answered prayer on behalf of the land.” God can do it again in America, but it will take a spirit of repentance in the church.  It will take Christians humbly confessing how far we have drifted from the center of God’s Word and His will.  It will require us to cry out in repentance and restore the Cross of Christ and the Bible to the heart of the church.  It will mean individual believers taking an honest look in the mirror and confessing our own self-centered lives and apathy towards the things of God.

The day is soon – very soon – coming when God’s people in America will face suffering and persecution, just as we see across the globe.  If the church is going to stand in the face of this persecution, Christians like you and me, must “humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways.” I want my country to know the God I serve, to know the Savior I love, and the peace, hope and purpose that can only be found through Him.  If I want to impact change in my nation, I have to start in my church, and in my own heart.  I am willing.  I am committed to pray, to confess my selfish nature, to encourage a spirit of repentance in my church and to pray for a true revival of God’s Holy Spirit to sweep through like never before.  Will you join me?  Will you humbly seek God’s face in confession and repentance and pray for revival in your church and in churches across the nation?  America will never know God unless the church once again shines His light into the darkness.

I pray, Lord Jesus, send a revival in the church.  Change your church today so that You can use us tomorrow.  I am the church Lord, start in my heart. I confess my sin and selfishness to You.  I confess my attraction to the world and how it has distracted me from Your mission.  I confess my willingness to settle for a “self-help” book rather than the Living Word of the Living God.  Begin a revival in me Lord.  Amen.

[1] Charles F. Stanley, The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, (La Habra: The Lockman Foundation, 2009), 388.

[2] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language; Third Ed., (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2008), 480.