“By faith Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19).
What has died in your life? Your marriage? Your future goals? Your plans? Your hopes? Your dreams? Your faith? You sit there staring at this thing that you built your life around as its heart slowly stops beating. What do you do now? Where do you go from here? Why should you even bother to do or to go anymore? I’m not talking about simple everyday disappointments; I’m talking about those soul-crushing desperations that drain your hope and leave you empty. I’m talking from experience. I’ve been in those places, I’ve felt the heart-rending pain. I’ve buried hopes and dreams – and yes I’ve even buried my faith.
But the God who created me is also the God who brings life from death. Abraham understood that – God had made promises to him that centered on his son Isaac, then God asked him to put his son on and altar of sacrifice. Abraham didn’t understand God’s plan, but he knew God would never make a promise He didn’t intend to fulfill. He knew that whatever God had in mind by making this request of him, He would still be faithful to the promise of descendants – coming from the very son over whom he now held a knife.
I’m sure you know the story, and if not check out Genesis 22. God stayed Abraham’s hand and brought Isaac from the brink of death. God fulfilled His good promise. The thought that runs through my mind over this account is not that Isaac had to die, but that Abraham’s dependence on Isaac had to die. Abraham had to put all his hopes in God, not in Isaac. Now, the question for you and me is, what are we depending on? A hefty bank account? A great job? A college degree? (That one is for me.) Who are we depending on? A spouse? Children? Parents? A significant other? God had to put some things to death that I was building my life around. He had to break my dependence on things and people so that all I had left to depend on was Him. It wasn’t just to bring me pain; it was to bring life out of death. It was to let the perishable die so that the imperishable could live. Beloved, in God’s hands is life – everlasting and abundant. You can trust Him to resurrect what you have buried. You can trust Him with your heart.
“Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy?” Isaiah 55:2
“If I only had a boyfriend, I would be so happy.” “If I were married, I would finally be content.” “Oh, if I could have a baby, my life would be perfect.” “Lord, I don’t need a mansion, but if I could just have a home of my own, I’d be satisfied.” Ever said one of these, or something similar? I’ve said all of them – and guess what – they didn’t deliver what I thought they would. The boyfriend was a jerk, the marriage turned sour, the baby cried. All. The. Time. And the house ended up in foreclosure.
Our key verse is part of God’s call to the nation of Judah to leave behind all the things that had failed them and come to the only sure thing that could satisfy – Himself. They had wearied themselves trying to gain wealth and power, position and pleasure – but still their lives were empty. The harder they tried to create a satisfying and fulfilled life, they further they got from it.
Does that ring any bells for you? It sure does for me. I’ve known moments of what I thought were satisfaction or joy or peace, but they were only temporary and soon I was looking to the next thing/person for what was missing in my life. But the truth is that I was not looking for what I needed, but for what I wanted. And my wants changed with the next commercial, the newest pair of shoes or the next hunger pang.
Beloved, what are you relying on for satisfaction? Or maybe the better question is what is it you want? Wealth? Status? Food? Ministry? Perfection? People? Acceptance? None of these will fill that void inside you. It is only when you and I look to God to fill our wants that we gain a satisfaction that is eternal and unshakable. There is no need to look for the next thing, because there is nothing more satisfying than Him.
Sunbaked Mud in Desert ca. 1990s Death Valley, California, USA
“The desert and the parched land will be glad: the wilderness will rejoice and blossom” (Isaiah 35:1)
I’ve been in a bit of desert lately; work and school and other responsibilities have sapped my mental, physical and spiritual energy and drained my joy. Yesterday was the first Sunday I’ve been able to attend church in 4 weeks. I expected to be like a sponge and just soak it all up, but I felt more like a rock that sank to the bottom of the sea. What is happening and why Lord? This morning when I came back to Mark chapter 1 (God has kept me here for weeks) I read that after Jesus’ baptism, “the Spirit led Him out into the desert . . .” (v. 12). So I began searching for other “deserts” in the Bible and I found that, despite what I expected, most of the desert experiences in Scripture were not times of punishment or even rebellion. They were encounters with God and seasons of preparation.
The first mention of a desert was when Hagar was running from Sarah. There she met God – El Roi – the God who saw her in the desert. Later she and her son were rescued by a miraculous well of water in the desert, by the God who heard her son’s cries. David wandered in the desert wilderness for several years before he gained the throne of Israel. And even though their 30 years of desert wandering was punishment for Israel’s rebellion, it prepared them for the Promised Land. If we need any more evidence that God works in dry places, don’t forget about the dry bones the Lord brought back to life in Ezekiel. In the desert, Jesus faced His enemy and came through victorious, and when He left that desert His ministry began. I’ve decided that this dry season I’m in is preparation; it’s about staying true to God and watching for Him in the desert. My friend remember that the desert is not your dwelling place – it’s the path God has chosen for you and me on the way to the Promised Land.
“I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Mark 1:24
Do you know (without looking at the reference) who spoke those words? Not Peter or John. Not the wise and righteous spiritual leaders of Israel. Those words were spoken by a man possessed by an evil spirit, a demon of hell. Someone who certainly had no affection for Jesus, but recognized His divine nature as God in human flesh.
The world is filled with people who refuse to acknowledge Jesus for who He is. They deny His divine nature and His resurrection. But Paul declared in Philippians 2:10-11 that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The evil spirit in our key verse is the proof of Paul’s words. The day will come – very soon I believe – when every human from Adam to the last man standing will kneel and profess Jesus as Lord – the Son of God – the Holy One. We will have no choice in the matter. Just as the demon declared it, the words will be pulled from our mouths as we acknowledge Him. But for those who rejected Him that confession will be made with deep anguish, because they will realize that in rejecting Jesus Christ they have condemned themselves.
Beloved, you and I have a choice to make today that will determine how we respond in that glorious moment. We can reject Jesus and make that confession by force, but if we bow our knees and our hearts and acknowledge Jesus as Lord today, that great confession will be spoken with joy. Don’t wait to proclaim the Name of Jesus – He is Lord!
“We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom” 2 Corinthians 1:12.
Grace – unmerited favor, a gift undeserved but desperately needed.
I failed my algebra test this week – made a 46. Since returning to work a couple of months ago, I’ve been struggling to keep up with my schoolwork. Mind you, I’m no different than any other working student, but the strain is showing up most in my Algebra class, my absolute worst subject. I was a day late , which means an automatic deduction in points. I panicked out of exhaustion and couldn’t process what I had worked so hard to learn and ran out of time, thus the 46. But when I checked my email, my instructor had noticed the test was late and without me asking, granted me 2 extra days. I thanked her and explained about the struggle I’m having juggling work and school, especially this course, and I told her that I had failed the test. She wrote me back to say I had a second chance to take the test and she was confident I would do better. Grace.
If you are a Christian, you know about God’s grace to you through the cross of Christ. You know that you are saved by faith through grace, not anything you have done or earned. At least I hope you do. But so many of us live like grace ends at salvation and our lives are one big God-test that we are failing. We wear ourselves out trying to accomplish all we believe God requires of us and come skidding into church out of breath from trying to keep up with it all. And we fail. And in doing so, we pile more condemnation and guilt on ourselves. But God’s grace extends beyond salvation; His grace is a daily, undeserved gift as He says, “Come on child, you’ve got a second chance, a fresh start. I am confident you will do better today.” My friend, God’s grace is sufficient for salvation and for every day of your life, for every failure and misstep, and for a lifetime of do-overs, given freely and lavishly. Do you need a second chance today? Beloved, you’re covered in grace.
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die” Revelation 3:3
I love the cruise control feature on my car. I get my car moving at the posted speed limit, pop that little button and just enjoy the ride. With my cruise control set I don’t have to worry about keeping an eye on my speedometer. I’m especially grateful for it when I pass a law enforcement vehicle looking for speeders. “Yep, got my cruise set, I’m good here.” I’ve often wished I could set my Christian life on cruise control. You know, work really hard to achieve the posted standard for Christianity and just ride. “Yep, got my Christian cruise set, I’m good here. Just enjoying the ride till I get to heaven.” Wouldn’t that be so much easier?
Jesus had some pretty strong words for the church in Sardis in Revelation 3. This is a church that felt they had achieved some great level of Christianity and they were just cruising along, business as usual. But Jesus said they had “a reputation of being alive, but [were] dead” (v. 1). He said their deeds – indeed their own selves – were incomplete, meaning they were not fulfilling God’s purpose for them, neither as a church nor as individuals. He commanded them to “Wake up!” and to stand firm with resolve to keep their faith alive.
My friend, it is so easy to get into a Christian rut – to set the cruise and feel pretty safe in our Christianity. But when we do, our zeal for the Lord begins to die and our faith becomes business as usual. I know this one well. Jesus told the church in Sardis: “Remember what you have received and heard; obey it and repent” (v. 3). Remember your salvation. Remember your calling. Remember who you are and Whose you are. Beloved, is it time to wake up?
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one come to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).
I’m so thankful that there is no algebra entrance exam to be accepted by God – I would be out in the cold. Right now you’re probably thinking, “What a crazy thing to say, of course we don’t have to take an entrance exam for God to accept us!” You’re right – that’s a really crazy idea. So let me ask you, what test do you think you have to pass for God to accept you? The perfect-parent test? The never-think-bad-thoughts assessment? The serve-till-you’re-exhausted exam? Or maybe, like me it’s the Bible-teacher-with-all-the-answers quiz. Most of us have an unwritten and personal level of expectation we think we have to meet to be acceptable to God. If we fall below the standard we berate ourselves for our failure. My friend, God didn’t set that bar – you and I did.
The Bible says, in very clear language, only one thing is required to be acceptable to God – to know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Romans 10:9 says “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.’” It really is that simple. Confess and believe. No hoops to jump through. No standard to meet. No test to pass. Salvation equals acceptance. If you have bowed your heart and your knee to Jesus Christ, God has accepted you and welcomes you. Yes, be the best person, parent, servant you can possibly be – but never forget that your relationship with God doesn’t hinge on how well you do it. It all rests on Jesus. Maybe you and I should too.