Don’t Drift Away from God

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Words fascinate me. The Holy Spirit knows this about me and so often when I am reading my Bible, He will draw my attention to a word and ask me, “What does that mean?” – and I am off on one of my favorite digs. Yesterday I was reading in Hebrews 2 and He did it again in the very first verse: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The phrase “drift away” became my holy grail. This is one word in the Greek: pararreo – and it means to glide by, to be carried away, and you would use it to say something “slipped my mind.”. We’ve all missed appointments because they slipped our minds. That’s why we jot them down on our calendars or put a reminder in our phone. Likewise, the writer was saying, don’t let the message of the gospel slip from your mind. That’s easy to do when life is hard, when tragedy strikes, when you’re weary, when the whole world is caught in a pandemic. It’s easy to forget about the hope we have in Christ. But this dig continues.

This morning the Spirit highlighted another phrase for me: “careful attention.” These two words perissoteros and prosecho mean in great abundance, above all else and to hold or possess. Simply put, this means above every voice and every worldview, take hold of this gospel and let everything else go. That’s the key to not drifting away.

The message of the first chapter was that Jesus is the Son of God – He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, we need to get a firm and secure grip on the truth. In a world that is full of evil and darkness, where death runs rampant and people are scared out of their wits, we need to wave the banner of the gospel and the hope of salvation and eternal life.

Beloved, what are you paying careful attention to? The news? Facebook? The opinions of others? These will cause fear, confusion, and doubt. They will cause you to drift away. Let them go. Pay attention to the truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save you and give you eternal life and hope for today. Hold on to that and never let go.

 

But I Don’t Feel Forgiven

 

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Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.” The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today. What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore? Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins. Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists. But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.” Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible. One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexual promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down. Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.” This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling. Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you.

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself. God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing left to forgive. Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

Why?

Reading in Acts 16 this morning where Paul and Silas are in prison for preaching the Gospel. There are a lot of why’s in this story. At the beginning of Acts 16, Paul wants to go to Asia, but God wouldn’t let them. Why? They were stripped, beaten, severely flogged, thrown in prison, and fastened in the stocks (vv. 22-24). Why? Despite it all, in the middle of the night, our boys “were praying and singing hymns to God. Why? But wait, it gets better. A violent earthquake shook the prison and “all the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chain came loose. But they all stayed. Everyone. Why?

Why did all this happen? So the jailer would see and believe in the power of God and so that he and his family would hear the gospel and be saved. I suspect a few prisoners also believed that night.

I take tremendous hope in this story because it tells me if God would go to such lengths to bring the man and his family to salvation, He will move mountains to save my loved one too. I have no doubt that when these new believers came up out of the baptismal waters, Paul and Silas realized all their suffering was worth it. God had directed every single thing to save this family.

Beloved, I know that you are suffering. I know that you are asking “Why?” I know it’s hard and painful. Believe me, I know, because I am there too. But I’m going to pray and praise God in the suffering because I believe He will use it to show His power. And He will break the chains that bind my loved one and throw open the prison door and set them free. It’s going to be worth it all one day. Suffering in God’s hands always – always – brings Joy. Just ask Paul and Silas. And Jesus.

Against All Hope

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“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

If I were Abraham I would gather up my son and run screaming in the other direction. But the very next morning he set out to do what God had commanded him to do. I never understood how Abraham could just willingly sacrifice his beloved son until I studied his story alongside two other Scriptures. Hebrews11:19 says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” And Romans 4:18 and 20 says “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God

The Spirit showed me that the reason Abraham believed that the Lord would raise his son from the dead is because of God’s promise to build a nation through Isaac (Genesis 17:19). He knew that Isaac would have to live for the promise to be fulfilled. But God had told him to kill the very same son the promise was built upon.  Dead men can’t father children. Yet he reasoned that somehow God would keep His word. Abraham’s faith was in the Promise-keeper, not in the promise. I don’t know about you but needed that reminder again today.

No matter how impossible the situation looks our hope must always be in God, not in an outcome. He is always good and will always do what is right. He is perfect in wisdom and knows what you and I don’t. Beloved, don’t hope that God will do thus-and-so. Trust that God will be God.

It’s Time to Put Christmas Away

 

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I’ll be taking down our Christmas tree today. Packing away the ornaments, wrapping them carefully so they won’t get broken and schlepping them back to the storage shed in the backyard. I’ll throw the tree on the burn pile and sweep up the pine needles and try to restore my home to its normal disorder. We also have to get the house ready for a mobile baby so she can roam safely to her little heart’s content. Christmas has to give way to everyday life.

But I’m not going to pack away the essentials of the holiday. I’m keeping out the hope and peace and faith and Joy and love. I liked focusing my mind each day on the good stuff, and I think you did too. I think we have to keep those things front and center every day in every season least we lose them – and lose our way. Do we need a refresher?

Hope – the confident expectation we have as we look for God, always considers His faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, and lovingkindness. Peace – the quiet assurance we have in God – is the fruit of hope– and it grows in the soil of faith – which is stepping out on His promises and knowing our feet will meet His hand. It blossoms into Joy – an unshakable sense of cheer even when there’s little to be jolly about, all of which find their strength in the love of God – the wide, long, high, deep and perfect love of God.

The calendar may say that Christmas is over, but your heart doesn’t have to surrender the experience of the holiday. Hold tightly to everything you received this Christmas Beloved – no, not the stuff that was under your tree – but the true expressions of the season. Hope. Peace. Faith. Joy. Love. You’re going to need them all year long.

Why Should I Read the Bible?

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“They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

When I study the Bible, I like to do so slowly and deliberately, digging in deep, examining details, context, and words, asking questions of the text, cross-referencing Scriptures and consulting resources for a better understanding. Like a jeweler turning a diamond over and over in his hand, I look at a verse from different sides to see what new facets I can find. What’s amazing is, no matter how much I look, I can never see it all. It’s a living Word and is constantly producing truth and wisdom. Not new truth or new wisdom, but more of what it has faithfully said for thousands of years.

Yet for all my digging and study, there are things about the Bible that I cannot make sense of. Not all of my questions about the text have nice, neat answers. Maybe I should stop reading the Bible. Come to think of it, God has yet to answer a lot of my questions about life. Maybe I should stop believing in God.

Or maybe I should have faith. Maybe I should believe that God is good and His Word is true, even though I can’t resolve every issue with the Scriptures or with life. Maybe I should trust that things will make sense – in another time and another place. Maybe I should take Jesus’ words to heart: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:12).

Beloved if you’re approaching the Bible for the sole purpose of finding answers to all your questions, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. The Bible isn’t a life-answer book or a self-help book. It’s not just a book of wisdom or direction – although those are all there. It is the testimony of Almighty God – His autobiography you might say. When you approach the Bible as anything less you miss the point entirely. And you miss God. If you come to the Bible to know God you will find Him on every page in every word. Let’s make 2020 the year we study the Scriptures and believe what God has to say.

Real Faith

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Merriam-Webster defines faith as allegiance to duty or a person, sincerity of intentions, belief, trust in, and loyalty to God, trust in the traditional doctrines of a religion, and firm belief in something for which there is no proof. But faith in the Bible is different – deeper, stronger, longer-lasting. The Greek word for faith is pistis and it means belief or trust with an implication that actions based on that trust may follow. There’s an old story about a tightrope walker who strung his rope across a tall and dangerous precipice then asked the crowd, “Who here believes I can walk across this rope and back without falling?” Many applauded their approval and so he stepped up and made the trip across and back with ease. Then he set a wheelbarrow on the rope and asked, “Who here believes I can push this wheelbarrow across this rope and back without dropping it or falling off?” The crowd, encouraged by his previous success, agreed that he could. And so he pushed the wheelbarrow across and back without a hitch. When he returned, the crowd whistled and clapped with delight. “Now,” the man said, “who’s willing to get in the wheelbarrow?” That’s what the Bible means by faith.

Christmas is many stories of faith. The shepherds had faith and went to see the Baby in the manger. Joseph had faith and took Mary to be his wife despite the scandalous circumstances. Mary had faith and humbly surrendered to the will of God even though it put her in a very difficult situation. The Magi had faith and traveled for two years to worship a King who didn’t rule their country. Elizabeth restored Mary’s faith by reminding her that there is a great blessing in believing God. Simeon and Anna had faith in God’s promise to redeem Israel, and their faith was rewarded in the face of the infant Son of God.

Faith is not just sitting around thinking faithy thoughts. Real faith, sustaining faith is faith that moves you. It looks at the impossibility of the situation and steps forward anyway. It submits to God’s will even when it’s hard. It makes the difficult journey of life an adventure and it never loses sight of the promises of El Emunah, the Faithful God.

Beloved, do you have real faith?

The Blessing of Believing

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“Did that really happen? It must have been a dream. I have been so anxious over all the preparations Joseph and I are making – it must have caused me to have this strange dream.” Mary was traveling through the hill country of Judea on her way to visit her dear relative, Elizabeth. The angel had said something strange about her too – that she was going to have a child – in fact, he said she was in her sixth month. Elizabeth – of all people. She and Zechariah were too old to have a baby. Yes, this had to have just been a dream.

But what if it wasn’t.

Could she really be with child – with THE child – the Messiah? Why would he have chosen her? She was nothing special, wouldn’t God have chosen the wife of the high priest for such an honor? Someone in a lofty position in the temple, someone more mature, more wealthy, more righteous. No. She shook her head as if to shake loose the crazy idea. This was just not possible. She saw the familiar house and spied her relative in the doorway with her back turned toward the road. “Elizabeth!” Mary called out and gasped as the older woman turned to face her. The smile on her face was warm and welcoming, but the bulge under her dress was a shock to Mary’s heart. It was true! Elizabeth was pregnant! If that were true – then . . .

“Mary! Dear Mary!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and then as if from deep within her spirit she began to speak. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Oh, it was true! It was all true! Elizabeth was pregnant. That meant she really was pregnant too – with the Messiah!

Then, as if reading the thoughts the younger woman had carried with her along the journey, Elizabeth took Mary’s hands in her own and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (v. 45).

Beloved, faith is the sweetest blessing of all.

Joseph’s Christmas Story

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Of all the people in the Christmas story, I think Joseph is the one whom I most admire. He was just a simple carpenter from Nazareth, diligently preparing the home that he and Mary – and hopefully sons and daughters – would share. All was coming together as they had planned – until the day he saw her strained face. Something was troubling her, something that would turn his life upside-down.

“With child? Mary, how can this be? Who Mary? Why Mary?”

She began to spin this fanciful tale about an angel named Gabriel and the Holy Spirit and Jesus. It was all too much to understand. He was heartbroken, dumbfounded, shocked, and shaken. She cried as he walked away from her, but what else could he do?

Then in the night – a dream and an angel and a message just for him. “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20-21).

I admire Joseph not because he stepped in to raise a child that was not his own – millions of men have done the same. I don’t even admire him for making himself part of the scandalous situation Mary was in – a situation not of his making. I admire him because of his faith. He believed – not Mary; Joseph believed God and he acted in obedience and “took Mary home as his wife” (v. 24) and become a father to her son. It takes a very humble man to forgive a seemingly unfaithful woman and love her child as his own. And it takes great faith to believe that God is in the middle of such a big mess. Joseph had great faith and a humble heart.

This Christmas season may find you in the middle of a mess – perhaps not of your own making. I’ve been there. So was Joseph. Beloved, humility and faith will carry you through. Humility lets you enter into another’s troubled world. Faith believes that God is in the midst of it all. Is He calling you to be Joseph to someone you love?

Why Christmas Belongs to Shepherds not Kings

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I remember an old evangelist who told the story of being in the Miami, Florida area to do a revival. He and the local pastor were driving around inviting people to the revival and witnessing to anyone who would listen. They found themselves in a very affluent neighborhood with massive houses and expensive cars. They spied a man out in his front yard and stopped to visit. After speaking to him of his need for salvation, the man spread his arms in a grand gesture of all that he owned and said, “Saved from what?” Then he dismissed them with a laugh. That man was Jackie Gleason – famed radio, television and movie star.

Perhaps that is why the angels came to lowly shepherds rather than the kings and religious leaders of the day. People who think they have everything also think they have no need of a Savior. They have so much wealth or power or acclaim that they have no room for faith – which is this week’s Advent focus. Shepherds, especially at the time of Jesus’ birth, were the lowest of the low. Scholars tell us that these shepherds were likely watching over sheep that would be used in the sacrifices at the Temple, especially the Passover sacrifice. Their job was nasty, smelly, grueling and demeaning. But they were humble because of their lowly position. These shepherds were just the kind of people God was looking for – people who would receive the Good News with faith.

The Bible tells us that when the shepherds heard the angel’s announcement, they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15). They believed the message and set out to find the baby – not because they wanted proof of what the angels said, but because they had faith that it was true. And when their eyes saw what their hearts believed, they couldn’t help but “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (v. 17)

Do you have faith Beloved? Do you believe that what God said about the Baby in the manger is true? Then you can also have faith that this Child is your Savior, your Redeemer, your Hope and Peace, and Joy. Have faith in what God has done and you will see what your heart believes.