All Things for Good

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“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

It is one of the most quoted verses to encourage others in difficulty. You’ve probably heard some variations of it:

“God works all things to good.”

“God makes all things good.”

“It’s all good.”

I know that might seem helpful in hard times – but if we’re going to quote the Bible, we need to quote it correctly.  For at least two reasons: because it is God’s holy, living Word and because it has a far greater and more encouraging word than we are offering.  Well, three reasons: when we misquote it, we misunderstand it and we misapply it.

When Paul says that “God works for the good” he isn’t saying God’s going to make all bad things good.  He is saying God is working for the good, even in the bad things. He may not change the bad thing to a good thing, but He will ultimately bring something good from it.  Just a side note: that almost always takes time. Sometimes a long time.  And sometimes when the good comes, so much time has passed that we don’t make the connection – and we don’t see that God was faithful all along. That why the Bible says “remember” so frequently.

Back to our verse.  Don’t miss the qualifier: “God works for . . . those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  God works on behalf of His beloved.  Does that seem unfair?  Hold that thought for just a minute – I’m coming back to it.  It’s important to know that when Paul wrote this letter, he did not divide it into chapters and verses, so when we isolate this one verse, we lose his point.  Let’s read a little farther: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29).  Now I’m not about to get into predestination – that’s way too deep for Facebook, but I will draw your attention to three words in these two verses: purpose, conformed, and likeness.  God works all things for one good purpose: that His beloved child would be conformed to the likeness of His Son. That explains the qualifier – God cannot fulfill His purpose in someone that does not love Him.  Surrender is the mark of love – and God can only work in those who have Surrendered to His Son. That’s what it means to be a child of God.

Do you see the greater picture and how it applies to your life?  God is working in and through those bad things to bring about His one good purpose for you as His child – that you might look just like Jesus.  Like a master sculptor, He looks at His Son and applies the hard blows of the chisel to shape and mold you into the image before Him. God is not just working to make all your bad things into good things, He is working to make a you into a beautiful reflection of perfection.  That’s the bigger purpose He has for you Beloved.  Now that’s an encouraging word!

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Amazing Grace

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Meditating this morning on Luke 1:26-30 and Gabriel’s words to Mary: “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (vs 28) What was it about Mary that make her “highly favored?” Was it that she was a virgin? Hardly – there were many virgins in Israel. Was she somehow superior to other young women? The Scriptures don’t support that, even though the Roman Catholic Church teaches that she was.
Here’s the point we struggle with in the 21st century – it wasn’t about Mary at all. When we read the Bible we tend to focus heavily on the characters in the story because we are looking for something in them with which we can identify. “My favorite Bible character is Peter, because I can identity with him; we’re just alike.” I’ve said it myself about certain Bible people with whom I feel a “connection.” In the same way, we look at God and identify characteristics that highlight how He relates to us. And again, I’ve done it – my favorite attribute of God is His faithfulness, because He has been so very faithful to me. That is not wrong in and of itself, but it’s miss-focused. You and I need to see God for who He is, not who He is “to me.”
The Greek word “favor” means “grace.” Favor is a gift, a kindness, a blessing and it says nothing about the recipient, and everything about the Giver. When Gabriel spoke his greeting he wasn’t exalting Mary, he was highlighting the undeserved grace of God to her. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around that because we are a merit-based society. But there was really nothing special about Mary – God’s favor was purely His own choice. She received it in the same manner – praising Him for His grace, mercy and power (vs. 46-55). It is the same with our salvation. Despite what the church teaches, we don’t “choose to receive Jesus” – He chooses us to receive His grace – our only part is to respond in faith.
What’s your story with God Beloved? Do you recognize that you were chosen by nothing more or less than His grace? If we are in God’s blessed family it is all His doing, not yours or mine. Let’s refocus our spiritual understanding on this gift. It’s not about who we are – it’s all God’s Amazing Grace.

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.”

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A Deep Dive into the Gospel of Luke

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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?

Martha, Martha or How to be a Joyful Servant


 

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42)

Where are all my Marthas?  Raise your hands.  You can’t, you’re in the kitchen up to your elbows in flour.    Let me say that I don’t think being a Martha is a bad thing – I am also a Martha, to a certain extent.  I mean somebody’s gotta make sure people are fed, right?  There is a lot packed into this account, and we can draw many applications from it.  I just want to offer one observation today.
I want to look at two words in this story.  First is “distracted” from verse 40: “But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”  The word distracted comes from a root word combination meaning to worry and to draw (as in drawing a sword).  Hold that thought.
The other word we want to examine is “upset” in verse 41.  This word doubles back to “distracted,” but has a very interesting root: meaning an uproar, riot, commotion, disturbance.  Recognize that feeling of being frustrated with a smile on your face?  You’re doing the good things and all the while your spirit is in an uproar and there is a riot going on in your head.  You are screaming at the top of your lungs on the inside, all the while portraying a calm servant disposition on the outside.  I see you nodding your head.
For Martha, this commotion in her heart and head caused her to “draw a sword” against her sister – and if we’re being honest, against Jesus too.  Check it out: “She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!” She went on the defensive and the Lord called her out on it.
I believe there are two things in particular we can take away from this:
1. Don’t fret about the work that needs to be done – just come for a bit and sit with Jesus.  Yes, people need to be fed, so let ’em make sandwiches.  Don’t let serving the Lord become a burden or a cause for resentment.
2. If you do chose to serve, don’t get resentful toward those who chose otherwise.  Humble servants are happy servants.  If you’re serving for a pat on the back, go sit down.  If you’re serving out of love and the joy of blessing others – you can stay in the kitchen, but stand near the doorway so you can still listen.

There is work to be done in the Kingdom, but we want to glorify Jesus in it.  Resentment leads to internal warfare and  stomping our feet and eventually drawing swords.  Let’s be humble and gracious in all we do.