Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

You are winner. Smiling man looking in mirror and pointing on himself with help of his index fingers.

“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill'” (John 6:26).

Yesterday we sang one of my favorite old hymns, “It is Well With My Soul,” and it moved me profoundly. The story behind this precious hymn is part of the reason why it touches my heart every time I sing it. Horatio Spafford, following the devastating loss of first his son, then his business, sent his wife and four daughters ahead by ship to Europe. On the way the ship sank and his daughters all perished. As he sailed to meet his grieving wife, Spafford wrote these words as the ship passed over the watery grave of his beloved children:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

I compared it to modern Western Christian music and found today’s offerings wanting. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in Christian media – music, books, articles, and messages – over the past few years.  It’s all becoming less about who God is and more about who I am in Him, and it places God in a secondary role.  The result is, rather than worshiping God, we are worshiping who we are because of God.  And rather than presenting God as one who is worthy of worship in His own right, we claim His worth is seen in our worth.  In the current “Christian” culture, the theme is, “No matter what happens, it’s all about who I am in Christ.”  And honestly, that’s what sells today.  But Spafford, with a broken heart said, “When sorrows like sea billows roll . . . It is well with my soul.” His sole focus was the eternal state of his soul, not his identity.  Reading the full song, he found all he needed in the rock-solid assurance of his salvation, in the sweet forgiveness of his sins, and the glorious promise of Christ’s return. Despite his hardships and grief, all that mattered was that it was well between himself and God.

Modern Christianity in the West has become self-absorbed and consumed with what God has done/can do for me, just like the crowd in John 6:26.  They were part of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-13) and they wanted more.  Not more of Jesus, but more of what He could do for them.   In verse 27 Jesus told them essentially, don’t focus on what you want or need, but focus on “eternal life.”  Focus on Me.  Again, they came back with, “what will you do for us?” (v. 30).  He responded, not by telling them He would give them more bread, but by telling them: “I am the Bread of Life” (v. 35).  We are no different when we fail to see past what He can do for us to see who He is.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fuddy-duddy who wants to spoil the celebration.  It is right to praise God’s faithfulness and goodness to us, but I find our acclamations seem to always turn the spotlight on ourselves and God becomes second to our “worth and identity.” The best-selling Christian books and “Bible” studies are written with a definite self-focus – all about finding “my worth, my value, my identity.”  We’ve begun to use God like a divine mirror, looking to Him to gaze on our own reflection when we should be so blinded by His brilliance and beauty that we can’t see ourselves at all.

I fell in love with Lauren Daigle’s song “You Say,” but I began to look closely at the lyrics and realized it’s completely “me-centered.” Over and over she says, “I believe what you say . . . about me.”  Look at the second verse:

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
Cause in You I find my worth, in You I find my identity

That honestly disturbs me – but it follows the trend of the day – the only thing that matter is who I am, not who God is.  (And I still love Lauren Daigle.)  Friend, we need a refresher course in humility and in the greatness of our God.  We need to realize that what matters is not what God thinks of me nor is it my worth and identity – it is God – only God, and His worth and identity. We need to hold Him up for the world to worship and adore, not to be the reflection of our own faces.

Beloved, who is God to you?  Is He the one who is worthy of worship and adoration?  Or is He the one who makes you worthy?  Is your life a reflection of Him, or is He a reflection of your identity?  Who does the world see when they look at you? May we seek to be nothing more than mirrors that reflect His beauty and His worthiness.

 

Check out this video of the Issacs singing, “It Is Well With My Soul”

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The Day Between Death and Life

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“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.  The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it.  Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”  Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross.   They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet.  They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender.  They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit.  They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body.  They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross.  They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection.  But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters.  To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story.  He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women?  Were they numb with grief?  Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones?   This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief.  How could this be?  Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!”  As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty.  We know this is only the day between death and life.  But they didn’t.  In their world, death was final.  It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .

Is That What the Bible Really Says?

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One of my responsibilities is to help my sister-in-love create a bulletin board in the church. The Lord gives her the image and I craft it. She is in charge of inspiration and I am the perspiration. This month, we naturally did an “Easter” theme – based on the song, “Love Grew Where the Blood Fell” and on Luke 22:44: “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” My husband crafted a wooden cross and we mounted it to the board. Because we wanted to emphasize the Lord’s prayer of surrender in Gethsemane, we talked about adding the “rock” upon which Jesus prayed. But something stopped me. I went to the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of the anguished prayer in the garden, but there is no mention of a rock; rather, the Scriptures say “He knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41) and “He fell with His face to the ground and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). No rock. But, the prayer on the rock is entrenched in our memory of the story. So where did the rock come from? From the 1886 painting, “Christ in Gethsemane” by Heinrich Hoffman. This classic work of art has become part of the story, just as the “Three wise men” have become part of the Christmas story. But read Matthew’s account again – there were three gifts, but no mention of the number of wise men. John Henry’s 1857 song, “We Three Kings” cements the idea in our minds.
I share this to warn you and me – don’t let side stories and paintings and songs and culture add to or take away from the Word of God. Sure, there’s no harm in having a rock in Gethsemane or three kings in the Christmas story (who, by the way, did not come to the manger, but to the holy family’s house about 2 years after Jesus’ birth). But there are other false teachings that slip in just as easily and can do great harm to your faith and mine. Even if it is something you are sure of, go to the Scriptures and verify it. Our own thoughts and recollections can be colored by something as simple as a children’s nativity play. Friend, we need to be like the Bereans – who listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts17:11). I’ve been a Bible teacher for 20+ years, and my sister-in-love has studied the Bible even longer and we both had a rock in Gethsemane. We were both surprised to discover that there ain’t no rock. Beloved, don’t take anyone else’s word for what God said but God Himself. Even mine. Go get your Bible right now and check it out.

Holy Week


“When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 HCSB).

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week – which marks the days leading up to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  Some denominations don’t make as big a deal over the traditional Holy Week events as others.  For 18 years, I was the Admin Assistant at a United Methodist church and Holy Week meant extra work for me. Bulletins had to be prepared for all the services: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Sunrise Service and Easter Worship. For two of those years I also doubled as the custodian and Holy Week meant extra hours scrubbing and polishing to make the facilities shine. By the time Easter Sunday rolled around, I was exhausted.
Since leaving that position, I’ve been able to approach Holy Week with more reflection and worship – and rest. But it makes me think of the Lord throughout that week, how His mind, body and spirit must have been strained to the breaking point, even before the nails tore through His hands and feet. There was no rest for Jesus. There was no shopping trip to buy new shoes and a spring outfit. No day off for Good Friday. No Easter basket piled high with chocolate bunnies. Jesus’ experiences the days between the triumphal entry and the empty tomb were grueling, and they are what make the week truly Holy.
I want to encourage – maybe even challenge you to spend this coming week studying Holy Week in all four of the Gospels – stopping short of the resurrection passages until Easter Sunday. Take note of all that Jesus did and endured in the span of 7 days – and try to envision the physical, emotional and spiritual toil it took on Him. Those passages are: Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 19:28-chapter 23; and John 12-19.

Then come to the resurrection.

 

Answered Prayers

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The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.”  Luke 1:13
 
Have 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 Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story in Luke 1: 5-17 that God indeed hears our prayers and He answers – but not always in the way or the time that we expect. 
 
This godly couple was “upright in the sight of God” (v. 6),  faithful and obedient in every way. Yet God withheld the one thing that they desired – a child.  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. I mean, logically, isn’t there a time to give up on wishes and get on with life?  Ah, but God had heard those prayers, and He was about to turn their lives joyfully upside down! 
 
I wonder if, when the angel spoke the words of our key verse, Zechariah thought, “Surely he can’t mean that prayer.”  But that was indeed the prayer that the Lord had set in motion. 
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.
 
Is there something (or someone) 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!”

This is My Passion

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“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly hands the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

I’m taking a writing course and the first lessons are on understanding my “writing style” and my passion. As I’ve pondered the passion question: “What burns in my heart?” the answer always comes back to “rightly dividing the word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

In the modern Western church, we are taught the Christian faith in “soundbites,” a story here, a parable there, Noah and David and Jesus. But those disjointed Sunday School lessons fail to teach the beautiful continuity in the Bible and the seamless work of God throughout human history. Worst of all is a verse pulled from it’s neighbors, sitting out all alone. It makes for a nice wall plaque, but do we know why this verse matters. What is its context? What is its backstory? What is the heart and principle within?
Jeremiah 29:11 is the “graduation verse” in every church, but do we understand its context? Do we know why God spoke those words and to whom? Do we understand the history of Israel and how that verse was such a source of hope to them and how it can be for us as well? It’s a great verse, but it’s even better taken in its full context.
John 3:16 speaks eloquently of God’s gracious love, but the greater context in chapter 3 also speaks powerfully of the condemnation of the human race and the reason why God sent His one and only Son. It’s the breadth and width of the gospel and it makes the truth of His love shine as brightly as a diamond on black velvet. We need to know the whole Bible, not just a verse here and a passage there.
That is my passion. That is what I long to give to the church. That is the seed God planted in my heart. It’s why I write and teach. It’s who I am.

You Are Here

You are here

Continuing in our study of Luke . . .

Before introducing Jesus, Luke sets the stage with the story of the Lord’s cousin, John, and the wondrous way in which he came into this world.  John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were both descendants of the first high priest, Aaron.  The Scripture says they lived upright and blameless lives – yet the Lord withheld the blessing of children from them.  It doesn’t seem fair, does it?  Sometimes the best people get the worst breaks.  Ah, but there is still more to their story.

Luke 1:8-9 says that Zechariah was “chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord to burn incense” (v. 9). There were so many priests at this time that they could only perform the morning or evening burning of incense once, to allow each to participate.  For any other priest, this was a simple “roll of the dice,” but for Zechariah, this was a divine set-up.  Proverbs 16:33 reminds us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  The “lot” fell exactly as God planned for Zechariah to receive the most important message of his life.

Throughout Scripture, God is seen orchestrating events to accomplish His purpose.  In the lovely story of Ruth, we learn that the young woman went out to glean in the fields and “As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz” (Ruth 2:3).  This was not happenstance; this was God working behind the scenes to bring a needy widow to her kinsman-redeemer and future husband.  Remember when Mordecai told Ester: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).  Because of divine placement, Esther was instrumental in saving her people from annihilation.

Friend, I don’t know where you find yourself today, but I know it was not by chance.  You are in your neighborhood, in your job, in your church, in your school because God has brought you there.   It may not be where you think you want to be, but you are there by the hand and will of God.  It may be a place of great ministry.  It may be a place to grow.  It may be a place to learn some challenging life lessons.  Paul said the Lord “Determined the times set for [men] and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26).  It is true for me and for you.  Listen carefully for His message.  Look intently for His hand.  You are exactly where you are “for such a time as this.”

The post “You Are Here” first appeared on Deeper Roots.

A Deep Dive into the Gospel of Luke

Bible is life
I’m going to do my favorite thing – a deep dive into the Gospel of Luke.  I love to study whole books of the Bible, digging in and chewing on the text.  There is so much below the surface of Scripture that broadens our understanding and adds color and texture to the inspired Word of God.  I hope it’s okay that I share some of my gleanings with you. It’s a slow process – I’ve only gotten through the first four verses of the first chapter of Luke this morning, but already find a wealth of treasure.
Luke was a physician, a companion of Paul and scholars believe he was a Gentile (a non-Jew) and likely a Greek.  Taken together, both of his books, Luke and Acts, are a primer and an apologetic for the Christian faith and the growth of the Gospel.
Though he was a disciple of the Apostles of Christ, (v. 2) he was not satisfied to just receive stories about Jesus.  He “carefully investigated everything from the beginning,” and put together “an orderly account” of Jesus’ life, teachings, and ministry.  He wanted the recipient of his writings, “most excellent Theophilus” – and you and I – to be “certain of the things you have been taught.”
That begs the question: Are you certain of the things you have been taught about Jesus?  Or are you just passively listening to Bible stories?  That will never stand up under the opposition of the world and the persecution that is coming to believers.  Beloved, you need to know what you believe so that you can believe what you know.  Do your own “careful investigation.”  Don’t skim over three chapters a day on your way to the end of Revelation. Take as long as you need “to be certain of the things you have been taught.”   Study the Scriptures like a man seeking buried treasure.  Chew on the text like a dog with a bone.  Follow cross-references, look up words, read it in different translations, take notes.  Ask questions of the text: “Who, what, where, when, why, how?”
The Bible is a living Word, inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God.  You and I need to know it intimately.  Moses said it perfectly, “These are not just idle words for you – they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). Are you ready to dig in to the life-giving Word?