Jesus Loves Sinners

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In the days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples wondered what they should do. Jesus had appeared to them and they recognized that He was the living Son of God. But what now? They had received no direction from the Lord at this point. Was their ministry season over? Peter, carrying the additional weight of his betrayal, decided to go back to doing what he knew best, fishing. I understand him. I’ve been in a season where my life was full of ministry, then a fall in my character took it all away and I wondered if God was done with me. Just like Peter, I discovered that the Lord doesn’t give up on His people.

After a night of futile fishing, Peter and the disciples who had joined him headed toward home. A man stood on the shore and called out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (21:5) “No.” they replied. He then directed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, where they caught more fish than they could manage. That struck a memory in John. He knew that man on the shore! “The disciple whom Jesus loved said, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).

Peter, the impetuous one, jumped out of the boat and into the water. The shame of his betrayal must have nearly drowned him. But to Peter’s credit, he didn’t try to dodge Jesus. He was oblivious to everything else but his Lord.

It is so easy to fall into sin; even the greatest saint is one temptation away from the pit. What do you do when the dust clears and you’re standing there in the aftermath of your failure? Judas refused to come to Jesus for forgiveness. But Peter splashed his way to Him. We don’t have a record of those few private moments before the rest joined them, but I have this picture of a repentant Peter standing on the shore, dripping with water and tears. Oh, the blessed, tender heart of Jesus. He forgave His rebellious disciple and restored him fully.

Beloved, have you fallen into sin? Have you stumbled in your walk? Do not sit in your guilt. Do not run away in your shame. Run to Jesus. He has promised, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). He stands on the shore waiting for you with forgiveness and restoration in His hands.

Change Your Perspective

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“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to try to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down onto to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.

Life is hard. But you don’t need me to tell you that. After a year and a half of a pandemic and social and political unrest, many of us are just worn out. And to add to the stress, many of us are carry some heavy personal burdens too. You may be dealing with a scary diagnosis or a financial crisis. You may be trying to work through grief or disappointment or a difficult relationship. Maybe there’s upheaval at your job. Or you’re just carrying more responsibility than your shoulders can bear.

So how do we deal with it all? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. We can choose to see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening our faith. We have to choose whether we will roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all.

Believe me – I haven’t always been a shining example of faith in the hard times I’ve encountered. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I’m learning that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.

Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. Beloved, know this – God is with you and me in the hard stuff. He is faithful. We can trust Him. He will not fail us. He is our Rock – a high place on which you and I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

Hebrews: Perfection

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Many profess Romans 8:28 as their favorite verse: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But what is God’s purpose? That we would be “conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Our purpose is to be like Jesus.

In our ongoing study of Hebrews, we’re looking at several reasons why the Father sent His one and only Son to earth to die for humanity.  One of those reasons also answers the question – “How does God accomplish His purpose?” Hebrews 2:10 says “. . . it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Jesus was made perfect through suffering.

Now wait just a minute, you’re thinking, Jesus was always perfect! What does this mean? The word used here is teleioo and it means “to accomplish, bring to a planned end.” Its root word is telos. Another word that shares that root is in Jesus’ last words on the cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  Jesus was “made perfect” in that His purpose for coming to earth was accomplished – it was perfected.

But back to our question: How does God accomplish His purpose? Through suffering. Through the cross. Through beatings and a crown of thorns and nails through His hands and feet. Will be any less for you and me? Suffering is the hammer and chisel He uses to shape us into the very image of His Son. This was important to the Hebrew recipients of this letter who were undergoing intense persecution for the name of Jesus. They were contemplating giving up. The author was encouraging them to stay firm in their faith because their suffering had a purpose to make them perfect. Just like Jesus.

The same is true for you and me Beloved. The “all things” from Romans 8:28 includes suffering. But the teleioo – the perfection is worth it. We will be like Jesus! Beloved, suffering means that God is perfecting you, just as He did His Son. Oh, but when He’s finished you won’t believe how good you’re gonna look!

Does God Even Notice Me?

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When her cousin Elizabeth blessed the Baby in her womb, Mary broke out in praise. Luke 1:46-55 is called “The Magnificat for the first words of her song: “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” – “My soul glorifies the Lord.” Her reasons run from individual to worldwide – all declaring His faithfulness.

She said, “He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant”. (v. 48) The NLT renders this “He took notice of His lowly servant girl.” Mary was just one more girl living in a poor Judean village – she had no wealth, no status, no theological or religious education – but the Lord God of Heaven and Earth “took notice” of her.

I wonder if you feel unnoticed, overlooked, or disregarded. Day after day you do the thing – care for your family, work a long day at your job, pour over the books as you study, sit with sick loved ones (or maybe not-so-loved ones), wipe noses and bottoms (your own littles or someone else’s), clean floors and dishes. Maybe you come home to a quiet empty apartment every day, or to kids looking to you alone to meet their wants and needs. You are probably wondering how to stretch a little money a long way and when you will ever get a break. Does anyone see you? Does anyone care?

Yes, Beloved – God sees you and God cares. Mary could praise the God who took notice of her – a lowly servant girl in a poor village. This is the same God who was named “El Roi” – the God who sees me – by a pregnant Egyptian slave girl on the run in the desert. She named her son “Ishmael,” which means “God hears.” And He is the very same God who sees and hears you – every tear, every sigh, every lonely, exhausting night, every whispered prayer for help and strength. You are not unnoticed dear one – the God who created you, who sent His Son to die for you, is mindful of you. He loves you. You are precious in His sight.

For the One Who is Losing Hope

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It’s been such a hard year and a half for the world. So much tragedy and pain and loss and anger. So much despair and hopelessness. I see you, friend – struggling to hold your head up. This message is for you – the one who is losing hope. I know how that feels. I have been there. When you think that these hard days will never end, the pain will never stop, the sin will never leave you, the loneliness will never go away. When you wonder if there’s any point in going on.

Please hear me: there is a reason to keep going – you are only in the middle of your story. When I read a book, and the plot twists put the heroine in a desperate situation, I know there are more pages and chapters for the story to turn around. But when we are in the middle of our life story, we think this is all there is, and this is how it will always be. But there are more pages and chapters to come. And with them comes hope. Because the Author of your story is the God who loves you, and He is writing a glorious turnaround for you. He sees your story from beginning to end. He sees you in the middle, where the struggle is now – and He sees you on the other side, whole, stronger, at peace.

Psalm 33:11 says “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” He has a plan and a purpose for your life – and for this present season that seems unbearably hard – and He has the power to fulfill His plan. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). He never leaves anything unfinished. And that includes you and me.

If life is hard right now, remember that this is one page in the story of your life – but it’s not the whole story. The struggle, the pain, the ache you’re feeling now is not the final word. Let God keep writing your story. Trust Him to turn the plot around. Beloved, as long as there is breath in your body, your story is not done – there is hope. Please keep reading – the best is yet to come.

Hebrews: Adam, David, and Jesus

In our ongoing study of Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is the Son of God, superior to the angels, worthy of worship and service, and is the eternal King of heaven and earth. Now the author of Hebrews is going to show us a different and unexpected side of Jesus – His human side.

Hebrews 2:5 says, “It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.” Angels have an important place in God’s hierarchy, they have power and authority in the present world, even over men. But in the world to come, that will change. He goes on to quote David from Psalm 8. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.”

I suggest that you read the entire Psalm to understand that David is speaking in tones of awe. Even though God would not permit him to build the Lord a temple, He promised to “build a house” for David, meaning his son would follow him to the throne and build God’s house and his descendants would always rule in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:11-16). In Psalm 8 David is amazed at the goodness of God to him personally and to mankind generally. After God had created the heavens and the earth, He fashioned a man – Adam and set him “a little lower than the angels” with glory and honor. But sin brought him crashing down. Still, God loves His fallen creatures and works in and through them to accomplish His will. Throughout this Psalm, David marvels at the majesty of God.

Coming back to Hebrews, the author noted that “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” (v 8 ). This has a dual understanding. First, God had given man dominion over everything He had made. Man was to rule over the created world. Earth was intended to serve man, but since the fall the physical world is under a curse and nature is often man’s enemy (see Romans 8: 19-22). Then, God’s plan of the ages will bring everything under the authority of His Son. Oh, what a day that will be when everything is set right again! But we’re not there yet. We’re still in the grip of a fallen world. It’s easy to lose hope and think that evil will always have the upper hand.

“But we see Jesus . . .” (v 9)

From Broken-down to Beautiful

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The white car sat forlornly on the side of the road, pushed out to the edge of the property. The tires were missing and its front end was buckled from some sort of impact. I passed it every morning on my way to work – it’s wasn’t a pretty sight. That is until one midsummer morning when I noticed that green vines were beginning to curl out from the crumpled hood and around the back end. Day by day the vines progressed taking over more and more of the broken-down car. Then came the flowers – bright blue blooms swarming over the vines and covering the car until it became a mound of morning glories. That old broken-down wreck was now a beautiful sight to behold. Every morning as I passed that spot, I looked over at the lovely mound of flowers, their faces lifted to the sun and I smiled.

Your life may feel like a wreck today. It may be a series of circumstances you couldn’t control or choices you made yourself, but there you sit – broken, pushed aside, going nowhere. Oh, my friend, God specializes in bringing beauty from ashes – (Isaiah 61:3). I know it’s true because He did it for me. He took this broken-down woman with nothing to offer but pain and foolishness and made my life “a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor” (61:3b). He took on all my sin and shame and gave me His holiness. He washed me clean, dressed me in robes of righteousness, and gave my life meaning, hope, peace, and Joy.

If you will allow Him, He will do the same for you. He will cover you with the precious, blood of His Son Jesus and His love will turn your broken-down life into a garden of splendor – a thing of beauty.  And every time you look at yourself you’ll smile at what God has done.

Romans 8:28 – But Wait -There’s More!

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I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve turned to the Bible for encouragement and hope and help and wisdom. The Word of God is the only thing that can soothe my sometimes weary, broken heart. One verse I and many others turn to often is Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” When everything is falling apart around you, that’s a good, solid rock on which to stand.  God works in all things. Good things and bad things. Happy things and painful things. Exciting things and mundane things. There’s great comfort in that. But is that all this verse offers? No my friends, in the words of Billy Mays Hayes, “But wait! There’s more!”

I’m going to skip over the part about “those who love Him” – we’ll pick back up on that in a couple of days. I want us to zero in on the end of this verse: “who have been called according to His purpose.” For me, this is the most hopeful part of this verse because it tells me that my life and all its struggles are not a haphazard crazy quilt of circumstances. There is purpose in everything God does and allows, things that work toward the purpose for which He created and called me. Now there are many things I am called to: wife, mother, grandmother, employee, friend, student, Bible teacher, writer – and all of these are important. But they are not God’s purpose for me. That’s in the next verse.

“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son . . .” (v. 29). God’s purpose for me – and for you – is to be like Jesus. It’s His purpose for all of His children. There are things we are called to do, but God is most concerned with what we are called to be. The power God exerts in my life is not about making me a good teacher or grandmother or any of the other roles in my life. It’s about making me His daughter. Who looks like His Son. Who looks like His Father. That what “all things” are working toward in my life. And yours too, Beloved.

When it seems like the sky is falling, know that God is perfecting you into the image of His Son. On purpose

What if God said, “No.”?

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I had a burden – a heartwrenching, sleep-stealing, desperate burden. I prayed. I called friends and asked them to pray. And God came through. In a big way, as only He could do. He worked beyond my expectations. I thanked Him profusely, proclaiming His goodness, kindness, and faithfulness. Days later, as I was again giving Him thanks and praise for His hand in the situation, I sensed His question, “And what if I had said, ‘No.’ Would you still praise me?”

The Spirit led me to Daniel 3, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. You know this one – King Nebuchadnezzar had commanded all the leaders of Babylon to bow down before his golden image. But the three Jewish men would not worship anyone or anything but the God of Israel. They proclaimed His power to deliver them, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand O king.” (Dan. 3:17).  There was no question of their faith in the power of God. But they also declared that “even if He does not we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (v. 18).  The question rang in my heart again: Would I still praise Him if He had not come through for me?

Ten years ago I probably would have said, “Maybe.” My relationship with God was largely about what He could do for me. But after all we’ve been through together, after all He has taught me about Himself, I can say that regardless of what He does or doesn’t do for me, I will always praise Him. Not because of His actions, but because of who He is. He is worthy of praise and worship and wholehearted love because He is God. If all He ever did was exist, He would still be worthy of praise.

Beloved, I pray that you will love and worship God for who He is, and not just for what you hope He will do for you. He has never been less than everything He claimed to be. And He never will.

Even if the answer is “No.”

Do You Measure Up?

When I post my devotionals every morning to this blog, I have to go into the admin page. This page contains a bar graph showing how many people have visited each day.  I try not to look because I used to get really excited when the bar went high and really discouraged by low numbers, thinking I should just quit since no one wants to read what I’m writing. The ego is a very fickle thing, even for people in ministry. Yesterday I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the bar graph was all the way to the top of the chart. Wow! That’s gotta be some pretty high numbers. So I looked. And sure enough, I had hit at or near the highest line on the chart. The number thirty. The graph adjusts itself based on the past ten days. Well, that’s kind of deflating.

But it made me think about a verse in one of Paul’s letters: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corin. 10:12). In the church, we tend to compare ourselves with others – discouraged (or jealous) when we don’t measure up to the most “devout saints” and a bit smug when we think we are more righteous than someone who struggles with things we don’t. Paul said such comparisons are not serving the Body. Because there is only one standard to measure up to – that of Jesus.

I may think I am holier-than-thou, but am I as holy as Jesus? You may consider a woman’s outfit inappropriate for church, but are you wearing robes of righteousness? I may not string together a chain of profanities, but are my words always light and life? Your faith may be a little stronger than mine, but can you go willingly to the cross like Jesus? For my sins?

We are all struggling in this life. None of us will reach the top of the bar like Jesus – at least not this side of heaven. Instead of measuring ourselves against other fallible human beings, we need to make Jesus our only goal. Beloved, I am not better than you and you are not better than me, but we can help each other be more like Jesus. I’m willing – are you?