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.

Photo: https://pixabay.com/en/twilight-alone-sunset-dawn-nature-505849/

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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.