Show Them You Love Them

I prayed for someone dear to me: “Jesus, he needs You. His life is such a mess. He is so angry and he makes so many foolish choices. Lord, he just needs You to straighten his life out.”

Very quickly the impression came upon my heart, “He needs Me for salvation not just to change his behavior. He needs me for eternal life, not for a better life.”

Paul declared, ” . . . but we preach Christ crucified . . .” (1 Cor. 1:23). But are we? Are we preaching the Gospel – or “Your best life now?” Are we concerned because our loved ones are making wrong decisions or because they are heading in the wrong direction? Are we telling them they need to “straighten up” – or they need salvation? This one hits home for me: Are we praying for our sons and daughters and grandchildren to behave or be saved? Do we want an easier relationship with them or a right relationship with God? Are we offended by their language or grieved because they are lost? Let’s branch out wider: Are we praying for revival in our nation because we don’t like the way it’s being run or because people are lost and bound for hell?

Maybe the reason evangelism is waning is because we are not drawing lost souls to Jesus, we’re telling people to change their ways. We are preaching a “gospel” of behavior modification, not salvation and eternal life. And maybe that’s the reason so many reject the message – in their estimation, they are behaving just fine thank you. But Jesus didn’t die so that we would be better people – He died so that we would be saved people – redeemed sinners bound for heaven.

At the heart of the Gospel is the honest truth that we are all condemned sinners separated from God and destined for hell, not because of our behavior but because of the sin nature we inherited from Adam and Eve. Jesus – the Son of God – shed His blood to cleanse us of our sin nature – and make us acceptable to God. That is the Gospel.

Your lost loved ones need a Savior, not a divine life coach. Beloved, what will you tell them about Jesus?

The Scent of Christ

I sometimes help my granddaughter with her nightly bath. We use a “calming lavender” scented shampoo and my hands carry the smell on them for several hours afterward. I put my hands to my nose and breath in her sweet fragrance and it always brings her face and her smile to my mind. I offered my hand to Poppy one day so he could get a sniff and he smiled and said, “That’s my Joy-Joy!”

Paul said that believers are “the aroma of Christ’ and we “spread everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him” (2 Corinthians 3:15, 14). Just as my hands bore the scent of my sweet Joy, the life of the Christian should always bear the scent of Christ. When we come close to people they should be able to say, “That’s Jesus!” This is not like perfume we dab on ourselves and it doesn’t come in a pretty bottle. It’s not something you spray on for special occasions. You can’t wash it off or mask it with Chanel No. 5. It is the ever-present aroma of the believer and is part of our witness wherever we are.

The perfume of Christ will not be sweet to everyone. “Among those who are being saved . . . [we are] the fragrance of life. But to those who reject Him, “to those who are perishing . . . [we are] the smell of death” (v. 15,16). How can two people inhale the same aroma and have such different responses? Because the olfactory receptor in the believer is the Holy Spirit who recognizes the fragrance as life. Those who do not have Jesus do not have the Holy Spirit and it is a noxious odor that points to their condemnation before God. Believers love to be reminded of the gift of eternal life. Unbelievers do not want to be reminded of the death that awaits them.

That begs two questions I’ll leave you to ponder today. What fragrance are you bringing to those around you? What does Jesus smell like to you?

Hebrews: Yes, God

My granddaughter loves to do “hidden picture” puzzles. These are scenes with small things drawn to make them blend into the other elements of the picture, essentially hiding them in plain sight. For instance, a banana becomes the bill of a cap or a ruler sits among the rails of a fence. She’s gotten quite good at finding the prize amid all the rest of the picture.

The passage we’re considering today in Hebrews is like that. “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.” Amen. (Heb 13: 20-21).  There are some deep doctrinal truths here: God is the source of peace and He imparted that peace to us through Jesus Christ, His Son, who signed the eternal covenant with His blood and sealed it with His resurrection. He has taken up His position as our great Shepherd as we – His sheep – follow Him. You could fill countless theology books with just verse 20. But for the purpose of our study, we’re going to set the descriptive text aside to get to the point. We’re not changing the Scripture, we’re just zeroing in on the hidden nugget. “May God . . . equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him . . .” There it is! A prayer that God will equip us to do His will and work in us the things that please Him.

This verse echoes Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:8). This is a promise that if God calls you to it He will equip you for it. When God called him to rescue the Israelites, Moses pointed out his stuttering problem (Ex 4:10). And God said, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (v. 12). And He did. And God was pleased with Moses and called him His friend (Ex 33:11).

Yes, the calling is bigger than you but you have the promise of God – the God who brings peace through Jesus Christ – that He will help you do it. Say “Yes” to God’s call Beloved and discover what He will do through and in you.

Hebrews: Pray for Me

Pray for me. Yes, that is a request, but I’m also quoting the author of Hebrews as he nears the end of his letter. He asked his readers: “Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” (Heb 13:18). Scholars believe that the unknown writer may have been falsely accused of something that cast a shadow on his integrity and testimony. He wanted his readers to know without a doubt that he had “a clear conscience” and a heart to live for Christ. He had been separated in some way from his beloved friends and hoped to return to them. It was a matter he wanted to be covered in prayer.

Paul’s letters are filled with pleas for prayer for himself – and his prayers for others.  If you need some suggestions for how to pray for others, you would do well to search out his writings. Here are a few that I like to use:

I pray that in Him you will be enriched in every way and not lack any spiritual gift. I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will keep you strong and blameless to the end (adapted from 1 Cor 1:4-9).

“I pray that God will fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, so that you may have great endurance, patience, Joy and gratitude” (Col 1:9-12).

And my favorite: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).

The Bible is filled with good words that can be turned into good prayers. Many of the Psalms are the prayers of David and the Levites. God declared, “My word that goes out of my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). Praying His Word back to Him has His divine power and authority behind it.

So pray for somebody today, Beloved. If you don’t know their specific needs, pray one of these Scriptures over them. Who knows what God may do in someone’s life through your prayers?

Hebrews: The Pastor/Shepherd

I spent much of my career serving in administrative roles in churches. I’ve seen churches and pastors with wonderful relationships and I’ve seen churches and pastors with unpleasant relationships. Rarely was the problem with the pastor. Most often the tension arose from within the church and usually involved a handful of people and a power struggle.  The author of Hebrews said, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a Joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17). He was writing about the structure of the church. He was calling the Body of Christ to proper order starting with submission to the leadership.

All through the Bible – particularly the New Testament – God lays out a hierarchy. In the home wives and children submit to the husband and father. In the church, members submit to the pastor/elder whom God had placed over them. The pastor/elder submits to Jesus Christ, the head of the church (Eph 1:22-23). Scripture also says that Christ submits to His head, which is God (1 Cor 11:3).

The godly pastor/elder serves the church by caring for and about its members. The Bible called church leaders “shepherds” over a flock of sheep. A shepherd’s priority is no how much the animals will bring at the market but the well-being of the flock under his care. The same is true of the shepherd of God’s flock. He provides for the sheep. He comforts the sheep. He guides the sheep. He walks beside the sheep through dark valleys. He sets the righteous of God always before them. He fights the enemy on their behalf, prepares them for serving, and blesses them in the name of the Lord. (Reference Psalm 23). He warns the sheep of danger. He even points out their sinful and self-destructive ways. And, the writer says, the Lord who appointed him holds him accountable for how he tends the sheep under his care.

A submissive church is a Joy to her pastor. Barna recently reported that 42 percent of pastors are considering leaving their ministry. The pressures and demands and struggles of pastoring often outweigh the benefits. As church members, you and I play a big part in whether the Pastor’s work is a Joy or a burden. This verse says submission and obedience make the relationship work for everyone. Beloved, will you be a blessing to your Pastor?

The Eternal Way

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

“I need a bigger map than this,” I complained. “I need to see my whole route.”  The image on my GPS only showed the next several hundred yards in front of me.  But I wanted to see my present location in relation to where I wanted to end up.  I needed a bigger picture. 

We live in the moment, in the hours of our days, looking at our weekly schedules and our monthly calendars, planning for college educations and retirement, and think we’re wise in our future forecasts.  But life isn’t just about our plans for the here and now.  Real life is eternal.

I’m learning to evaluate every situation and circumstance for its eternal impact.  Paul said, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Though our struggles don’t feel “light and momentary,” in the reality of eternity, they are just one tick on the clock of forever. 

I’m also learning to let the words I say pass through this eternal filter.  Several years ago, God gave me a verse to motivate me toward my calling: “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman,” (Jeremiah 15:19).  I’m making an intentional effort to speak and write “worthy words” that have an eternal purpose.   I ask myself, “How will my words impact someone’s eternity?”

This eternal perspective affects my desires too.  When I start to feel the pinch of envy, I remember that Jesus is preparing an eternal place for me that rivals any earthly mansion.  I will wear a robe of righteousness that no fashion designer could ever create.  I will have a perfect body that doesn’t require hours in a gym.

When we have an eternal perspective of life we understand better the journey we are on.  Twisting roads, sharp turns, long stretches, and detours cannot stop us from reaching our final destination – heaven and the presence of God forever.  Beloved, I encourage you to widen the view before you and trust the One who is leading you.  This life with all its pain and struggle is part of the journey to your perfect eternal destiny.  Let’s travel on together with our hearts set on forever.

Jesus is in it for the Long Haul

Do you ever feel like a heavy weight on your family and friends? I know I have. In long-running seasons of difficulty, I have had friends turn away from me because they just couldn’t deal with me and my problems. It’s a hurtful thing, but honestly, I get it. They have their own struggles and responsibilities, and they can’t be expected to carry the extra weight of me. If I’m honest, I’ve done the same. We all have limited energy and resources, and we can’t allow one person to drain us dry.

I’m so glad that God has no such limitations. Isaiah said, “He will not grow tired or weary” – in fact, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (40:28-29). God’s compassion is endless. He has boundless energy and ceaseless love. “His compassions never fail. They were new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22,23). As the God-man
Jesus, He bore the whole weight of all your sins and mine on the cross. Surely, He can bear the weight of our “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Charles Spurgeon said, “If Christ were only a cistern, we might soon exhaust His fullness, but who can drain a fountain?” He is a continual source of love and help in our time of need. His goodness toward you and me overflows and we will never use up His kindness. You can come to the well of His mercy over and over and over again. There’s no bucket big enough nor a rope long enough to drain His grace.

Whatever struggle you are in, He is in it with you – for the long haul. Others may not be able to bear the weight of your burdens, but He willingly carries you the full length and depth of it all. He is strong and He is compassionate. He is your Father, your Shepherd, your Forever Friend. He will never give up on you, Beloved. I’m living proof.

Consider it Pure Joy (part 1)

Check this out – James says that as believers we are to greet every trial as a cause for Joy.  “Consider it pure Joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Excuse me? Joy is not my default reaction when life gets hard. I don’t like trials and I’ll bet you don’t either.  But the Bible says that we can have Joy because our trials are not without purpose.  God has a reason for every trial we face.

James follows up our key verse by saying, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3-4).  We know that we become physically stronger when we work our muscles, and any trainer will tell you that resistance training is the best strengthening exercise.  Our faith becomes stronger when we have opportunities to exercise it as we strain against some resistant force – like a trial.  How will you know that you can trust God if you never have to?  Trials strengthen our faith and lead us into spiritual maturity.

Trials also accomplish God’s wider purposes.  Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and unjustly imprisoned.  But all of those very hard things positioned him to be in the right place at the right time – God’s place and God’s time.  Joseph was used in Egypt to save thousands of lives during the famine, most importantly the life of his own people – the Jews, through whom our Savior, Jesus, would come. Through some pretty hard trials in our life, God moved us back home positioning us for many good blessings including placing me in a great job with the opportunity to further my education – for free.  Trials often become the catalyst for a God-ordained redirection into His good plan.

Our trials prepare us to minister to others.  Paul said, “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I have benefited greatly from the wise counsel and comfort of others who have “been there, done that” and survived.  Their testimony brought me hope and confidence in God and they gave good advice drawn from their own experience.  Perhaps your trial today will give you the wisdom to come alongside someone in a similar situation one day and offer them hope.

This is part one. Part two will post tomorrow.

Hebrews: “Strange Teachings”

Was Jesus some kind of space alien? Is there really power in sacred underwear? Check out my latest devotional in the series: "Hebrews: Strange Teachings" at Deeper Roots.

If ever there was a word for the church today, I believe this is it: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Heb 13:9). The writer was referring specifically to dietary regulations to which the Jews strictly held. “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col 2:21). Paul had adamantly preached that “Food does not bring us near to God” (1 Cor 8:8).  Nor did food make them unclean before God. Our writer went on to say, “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them” v. 9). Jewish believers were torn between trusting in their ability to obey all the rules and trusting in the grace of God through Jesus Christ. That’s so foreign to us in the twenty-first century in the west.

But boy, do we have some weird stuff of our own in the world today – and sadly in the church too. Google “strange religious teachings” and you’ll see all sorts of things from snake handling to sacred underwear that protects believers from spiritual contamination, fire and speeding bullets. You’ll see the prosperity gospel, the humanitarian gospel, the social gospel, the gay gospel, and the feminist gospel – none of which resemble the true gospel at all. You’ll find Bibles that are gender-neutral and exclude certain portions of clear truth so as not to offend. There are so many different religions in the world, it’s impossible to keep up. And so many blatantly unbiblical teachings expressed on social media, published in “Christian” books and “Bible” study resources, and even preached from pulpits.

Is there any doubt that we are the generation of which Paul spoke when He warned Timothy, “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).  The church today resembles what he called: “infants tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14). That is why way back in chapter 6 he said, “Let us leave the elementary teaching about Christ and go on to maturity” (v. 1) – which is a very nice way of saying “GROW UP!”

Strange teachings, whether about dietary regulations, Kabbalah, or sacred underwear, will always grab those who prefer to be spoon-fed. If all you know about the Scriptures is what you’re told, how can you know you’re being told the truth?  That’s why personal Bible study is like oxygen to a Christian. I love teaching you, Beloved, but I want you to dig into the Word for yourself. Then we can have some incredible conversations over a cup of coffee and the Words of Life we both love.

Look How Much You’ve Grown!

Joy has grown so much this last year. It’s obvious when you look at her. She’s taller and stronger. Her legs and arms are longer. Even her hair is longer. Her vocabulary is incredible, she doesn’t use baby talk and she annunciates her words very well. She can do more things for herself like spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. And she’s learning how to calm herself when she gets upset. (I hope she will teach me.) Potty training is still a work in progress, but I know she will get that too. One thing hasn’t changed – that mega-watt smile can still melt Nana’s heart. She’s a growing, beautiful, amazing little girl.

Which makes me wonder, how do we know that we’re growing spiritually? We don’t get taller, but we should see signs that mark spiritual maturity. Like Joy, our speech is a clear indication of growth. Jesus said it’s in our words. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matt 12:35). We talk about God and the things of God. We reject profanity and gossip and complaining (Eph 4:29; Phil 2:14).

It’s also seen in what we desire. Growing in God means we want the things that He wants and we are repulsed by the things that offend Him (Ps 40:8; Col 3:5). We look and act more like Jesus, which is God’s goal all along – “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Rom 8:29). We are compassionate (2 Cor 1:3-4), kind and gentle (2 Tim 2:24-25), loving (1 Cor 13), self-controlled (1 Pet 1:13), and “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (Jas 1:19).

Perhaps the most visible sign of spiritual maturity is how we deal with sin in our lives. As spiritual babes, we sin and the Spirit convicts us of our sin. We confess, repent, and receive forgiveness. But we go back to it again. And we repeat the cycle, sometimes multiple times. The true evidence of spiritual growth is when we stop going back to our sin. When the Spirit helps us recognize the pattern and break the cycle, we’ve made a major step in spiritual maturity.

I look at myself and see some signs of growth as well as places where I’m still a toddler in Christ. You too? Growth comes when we take in the things that nurture our spirit, like God’s Word, fellowship with other believers, prayer, and resting in the Lord. And trust. Paul said, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Phil 1:6). God’s not going to give up on you, Beloved. Don’t give up on yourself.