Protecting the Promise

I promised this yesterday, and yesterday went sideways on me so here ‘tis. 

Abraham – originally Abram – was a regular guy living a regular life in the ancient near east when God stepped in. Promises were made for “a great nation” (Gen 12:2) and land. Promises that would change the course of world history. But first God would have to guard those promises from the man’s foolishness.

Over and over Abraham put those promises in jeopardy. He went to Egypt and claimed that his wife, Sarah was his sister (a partial truth – but still a lie). He went to Gerar and made the same statement. In both instances, his wife was taken into the harem of the Pharoah and the king (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Both times God interrupted the setup and protected Sarah – and the promise of a child – by not allowing her to be taken into the royal bed.  Abraham wasn’t the only one who acted faithlessly. Sarah, believing it was up to her to fulfill God’s promise (doesn’t that sound familiar), gave her slave-girl to Abraham to produce an heir – but not the heir of the Divine promise. Once again, God had to step in and send Hagar and Ishmael away to protect the promise.

Abraham eventually figured it out. After Sarah died he realized that it was time for his son, Isaac, to marry. But he must not marry a woman from the surrounding people – the Canaanites – a wicked nation who did not worship God. They would surely lead Isaac away from God. He sent his servant back to his own people to get a wife for his son. The servant asked, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?” (Gen 24:5).  Abraham declared, “Make sure that you do not take my son back there” (v. 6). Why? The Lord had said, “To your offspring I will give this land . . .” (v. 7). The promise was tied to the land. Abraham knew if his son went back to his family the promise would be in jeopardy. This time, Abraham was protecting the promise. His son could not leave “The Promised Land.” There was too much at stake.

What does this mean for you and me today? God still makes promises and He still works to protect those promises. And so must we. Guard your steps. Guard your life. Make God’s promises the beat of your heart, Beloved. All the way to The Promised Land.

Hebrews: The Joy of the Cross

I always thought my mom was super-human. She could power through any sickness and keep going and going and going. Even when she was undergoing cancer treatments. I hardly slowed her down – until the end. Either she had an uncommon strength – or she was a mom.

I always imagined Jesus facing the cross with His divine strength in full force. Surely the Son of God just shut out the pain and powered through. But the writer of Hebrews refutes that thought. He said that Jesus, “for the Joy set before Him,  endured the cross, scorning its shame . . .” (Heb 12:2) Endurance implies difficulty. Jesus endured the difficulty of the cross. It was all very real to Him. He felt the nails rip through His flesh, crush His bones, and tear His veins open. He felt the sharp points of the thorns dig deeply into His head. He felt the whip shred the skin on His back. His shoulders screamed with firey pain every time He took a breath. Jesus felt it all. He suffered.

He also suffered shame. The cross was a disgraceful way to die in the first century. But the shame that Jesus endured wasn’t personal embarrassment; the writer said that He “scored the shame” of the cross. He didn’t consider it as humiliation, though it was. He endured the cross with Joy because His suffering meant our freedom. The shame He experienced was bearing all the sins of all mankind throughout all the ages. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. Cain’s sin. David’s sin. Hitler’s sin. My sin. Your sin. It was the shame of the Father’s face turning away from the Son because He can not look on sin.

But I found something mind-blowing when I dug into the words used in this verse. Jesus endured it all. But He didn’t have to. The secondary meaning of the word “endure” means “to remain, to not flee.” Jesus could have ditched the cross and escaped the physical, emotional, and spiritual agony. Then I understood His words when He was arrested: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). Jesus could have escaped it all but He stayed. He suffered. He died. Why? To save you, Beloved.  The Joy set before Him was seeing your face in heaven. That’s how much He loves you.

All In

A hen and a pig were looking at the farmer’s breakfast plate, with toast, grits, eggs, and bacon. The hen strutted around saying, “Look at the hen’s contribution to this fine breakfast – see those eggs there on the plate!” The pig looked at the hen and said, “You hens make a contribution, but for us pigs, it’s an all-or-nothing commitment.”

“Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus has very high expectations for His followers. He doesn’t just want contributors, he wants people who will surrender it all to Him. People who will Joyfully “lose their life” for the Kingdom.

What does that really mean? When I study His Word – and look at the world – I realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I researched the words Matthew recorded and He said that those who deny Him are more concerned with keeping their earthly lives safe and sound and free from suffering and danger than they are with His Kingdom. (Have you noticed a “suffering” theme in my devotionals lately? That’s not my choice. I believe that God is preparing us for something.) And the life we lose – or destroy according to the Greek – is our souls. When we chose our lives over the Kingdom of God we throw away eternal life with Christ in heaven.

I’ve always heard to lose your life for Christ’s sake means letting go of everything that the world tells us life is all about. Certainly, it’s recognizing that whatever reward this temporal life offers – pleasure, fame, wealth, power, status, or intellect – cannot compare with all Christ offers. But losing our life literally means being willing to die for His Kingdom. We have the examples of the apostles and the martyrs of the faith who died with the name of Jesus on their lips. It’s not only about denying worldly attractions, but it’s being ready to face lions and swords and all manner of suffering – even death. It is trading the small sphere of this world for the much bigger eternal Kingdom of God. So I ask you, Beloved, are you making a contribution to the Kingdom of God or are you all in?

Hebrews: Your Cheering Section

When I finally pulled the trigger on college I was blessed with a great support system. My husband was my #1 cheerleader and was so patient with the time I spent on my studies. My best friend covered me in prayer all the way through. But there was one particular friend who was the most helpful because she had just completed the same course of study at the same school. She was a Godsend, full of experience and wise counsel. I called her with a thousand questions and more than a few panic attacks. She knew what I was dealing with and how I could get through it. She shared her wisdom and kept me going when I wanted to quit. I am so grateful to you, Merideth Middleton.

That is the same spirit behind Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” For several weeks we have studied the “greats of the faith” – Enoch, Noah, Moses, Abraham, and even Rahab – a prostitute.  They are all part of the “great cloud of witnesses” who serve as encouragement and inspiration for us today.  Add to that list Peter, James, John, and Paul, plus the martyrs who stood in the face of torture and death and praised the Name above every name. It is indeed a “great cloud” of faithfulness.  They are models and examples to us and they are cheering you and me on in our Christian journey.  They paid the price for being a Christ-follower and they want us to know that it is worth it.

There is another in that great cloud who is particularly watching and encouraging us.  Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is praying for us; He is asking His Father to give us faith that will not fail (Luke 22:31, Romans 8:34).  He is speaking to our hearts through His Spirit.  And when the battle is the hardest and we think we have been forgotten, He who sits at the right hand of the Father stands to bless and encourage us (Acts 7:55, 56).  You have all the saints of the ages cheering you on.  You have brothers and sisters in Christ to support and encourage you.  And you have the very Son of God praying for you. Keep running, Beloved, victory is ahead.

Surrounded

One of my favorite Bible accounts is in 2 Kings 6. The prophet Elisha and his aide were pinned down by the Aramean army. Through God’s secret wisdom, Elisha had been giving away Aram’s location to the king of Israel, giving Israel a decided advantage in the war. The Arameans had surrounded the city and were preparing to rush in and capture Elisha. The prophet’s aide saw the army with its horses and chariots and soldiers and cried to his master “O my Lord, what shall we do?” (v. 15).

Ever been there? Me too. The money won’t stretch. The doctor said there’s nothing more he can do. You just got laid off. You watch your spouse walk away. You hand your rent money over to the mechanic. Your kids are hungry and your pantry is empty. “Oh my God, what am I going to do?”

I’ve walked with God long enough to know that that’s the heart of anxiety: What am I going to do? Like it’s all on your shoulders. Child of God it’s not. Let me suggest a different question: “Oh, my God, what are You going to do?”

Elisha told his aide, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). Then he called on the Lord to give the man spiritual eyes to see. “The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v. 17). He was seeing the army of the Lord that had encircled Elisha and stood between him and the enemy. The man of God – and his aide – were completely safe and secure.

God has promised to care for you – but it requires spiritual eyes to see Him surrounding you. Listen to His own Words: Deuteronomy 31:8 says “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Isaiah 52:12 says “The God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Psalm 32:10 says, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in Him.” Beloved, whatever you are facing right now, your Heavenly Father is there with you, before you, behind you, and all around you. Just open your eyes.

Hebrews: Be Faithful

The Bible is the perfect, infallible Word of God. It is complete and lacks nothing. But we’re going to add something. Hear me out before you hang me as a heretic.

For several weeks now, we’ve been studying the Hall of Faith in Hebrews, the stories of men and women whom God found faithful. I hope it has been as rich and encouraging to you as it has been to me.  But here’s my question: did faith end with these ancient saints? Is there room for your name and mine on this list?

Maybe we haven’t built a massive boat or nearly sacrificed our children or led two million plus people out of slavery. I suspect none of us have witnessed the seas part or shouted down a stone wall or defeated your nation’s enemy with a sling and a stone. I don’t believe we’ve faced off against hungry lions or walked out of a fiery furnace. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been faithful.

If you’ve trusted God in hard circumstances, you’ve been faithful. If you endured insults for being a Christian, you have been faithful. If you have resisted temptation or been truthful when a lie would have been easier, you have been faithful. If you’ve wept on your knees and got up and pressed on, you, my friend, have been faithful. If you’ve been gentle in the face of anger or loved the one who hated you, or been patient with the grown kid who keeps failing over and over, you have been faithful. If you’ve kept at your calling, even if no one else notices, you are faithful. If you’ve walked into unknown territory because God said go, if you’ve gone the extra mile (or several miles) – you’ve been faithful. If you have looked into an empty pantry or an empty gas tank and said, “God I will trust you to provide” – there’s no doubt you are faithful. If you’ve gotten up early to spend time in the Word and prayer – you have been faithful.

I want you to do something this morning. Open up your Bible to the end of Hebrews 11 and write (yes, it’s okay to write in your Bible) “By faith (your name) . . . ” then ask Him how you have been faithful and how you can be even more so. Beloved, it’s time to add our names to the Hall of Faith and continue the legacy of God’s faithful people.

Get Ready!

I’m sure you’re familiar with Ephesians 6:10-18 and the Armor of God:

The Belt of Truth is a foundational garment that provides support and bears the weight of the Sword.

The Breastplate of Righteousness covers the heart – the seat of our emotions, thoughts, and affections.

The Shoes of the Readiness of the Gospel of Peace enables us to take the Gospel with us everywhere we go – spreading it like holy seeds.

The Shield of Faith protects us from the fiery darts of the enemy – darts of doubt, temptation, fear, self-defeat, anger, bitterness, hatred, and animosity.

The Helmet of Salvation covers our minds where the enemy battles us most fiercely.

The Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – is the only defensive piece of the Armor.

And prayer which is our source of power, strength, and discernment.

My sister-in-love is always reminding me to “Pull those straps tight every morning!” And she’s right. But here’s something I had not noticed before now: “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground . . .” (v. 13). Every day is a spiritual battle. Every day we face off against the devil. Every day he lobs his darts and tries to take us out. But there is a “day of evil” coming when the battle will be like nothing you or I have ever experienced. We have no way of knowing when that will be, so we must be prepared for it every day.

Do you remember the story of “David and Goliath?” When David told King Saul that he would take on Goliath, Saul dressed David in his own tunic, armor, and helmet. “David . . . tried walking around” and said, “I cannot go in these because I am not used to them” (1 Sam 17:38-39). Fellow soldier, you and I have to get used to wearing the armor now, so that when that day comes, it is as natural to us as our favorite pair of jeans. We have to strengthen our arms to hold up that Shield and know how to use that Sword to its fullest advantage. We can’t be clunking into war in uncomfortable battle gear.

Beloved, the day is very near. Put your armor on. You need to get ready.

The King Has Come!

It is a familiar scene in movies set in medieval times. The battle is fierce and the warriors are weary, many of their comrades have fallen on the blood-soaked field, and the few that remain try to swing their swords with leaden arms.  Then the cry rings out “Look! The king has come!”  Eyes scan the horizon to see a bright flag with the king’s crest lifted high above the ridge.  All is not lost!  Their king has come to aid them in the fight.  With renewed vigor, the men cheer as their sovereign wades into the sea of battle and leads them on to victory.  They did not see him at first; they only saw his standard rising high into the sky – but it was all the assurance they needed.  The king’s banner was the promise of his presence.

You and I fight a battle every day – we are at war against the enemy, satan, the lord of darkness, the devil himself.  He is a fierce foe and he fights dirty.  He has no mercy. My arms are weary, and my energy is spent.  I look over at you and see the same – as if you are my reflection.  There are tears in my eyes that match your own. It seems we’re just about done in. But all is not lost, my friend. Look! Our King has come!  There, on the horizon – don’t you see it?  It is the standard of our Sovereign rising high above the world. Though we do not yet see Him, His banner – a blood-red flag lifted high atop a cross – is our assurance that He is here in the fight.

He is Jehovah Gibbor Milchamah – The Lord Mighty in Battle (Ps 24:8). He is Jehovah Chereb – The Lord . . . The Sword and Jehovah Magen – The Lord . . . The Shield (Deut 33:29). He brings all His mighty angels as Jehovah Tsebaoth – The Lord of Hosts (1 Sam 1:3). The enemy is no match for Jehovah Maginnenu – The Lord our Defense (Ps 89:18).  Renew your strength, Beloved, the victory is sure.  We have seen His standard. His banner over us is love (Song of Songs 2:4).

Hebrews: How to be a Hero in God’s Eyes

What makes a person a “hero?” That word is thrown around these days without any concept of heroism. I always think of military men and women when I think of heroes. Or teachers facing a battlefield every day. I consider missionaries as heroes and anyone who braves oppression and persecution to preach the gospel. Merriam-Webster says that a hero is a person with “heroic conduct especially as exhibited in fulfilling a high purpose or attaining a noble end” (www.merrian-webster.com). There is no higher purpose or more noble end than bringing people to Christ.

The author of Hebrews grouped together several people that are considered heroes to the people of God – “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Heb 11:32). I’m going to ask you to stop right here and read Hebrews 11:32-38. Don’t skip it.

Talk about some heroes! These are the Bible stories we tell to children – their feats are renowned and their names are synonymous with courage, valor, bravery, and victory. They faced lions and giants and flames and swords. They fought and won in the power and Name of the Lord. Well not all of them won. Some of them were tortured to death, imprisoned, beaten, impaled, beheaded, and lived destitute lives of abuse and poverty. And the author said they were just as heroic and valued as the warriors.

It’s one of the great conundrums of the Christian faith – why do faithful obedient people face abuse and struggle? Isn’t life in Christ supposed to be goodness and blessings all the time? Let’s ask Him – the one who said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty (Matt 5:3-6). He said their reward is comfort, filling, even earth and the kingdom of heaven.  Check out what he said about those who endure persecution and insults and character assaults: “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven (v. 11-12).

Suffering is the norm for the Christ-follower, not an easy-peasy life. I wish I could say I have some magic ball into all the reasons for it. What I do have is faith that God will keep His promises. You can too. Beloved, it’s faith, not heroics that God is looking for. 

Hebrews: Extraordinary Faith

God has moved and worked in my life for many years now and I don’t think He’s ever done anything “normal.” He doesn’t follow conventional wisdom, doesn’t act according to my expectations, resists my good advice, and doesn’t even obey His own laws of nature. But I’m not the first person to witness His extraordinary ways – and I doubt I will be the last. The writer of Hebrews highlighted two instances in the Scriptures.

“By faith, the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned” (Heb 11:29). The Israelites were trapped. The sea blocked their way forward and Pharaoh and his army pinned them in from behind. They faced either drowning or defeat. The Lord had But the Lord knew right where they were and exactly what was happening. And He had a plan. A strong wind blew across the sea and the waters parted. Picture old men tapping their walking sticks on the sea bed expecting mud and marveling at the dry ground beneath their feet.  Watch curious children poking their fingers into the side walls of water, as bewildered fish watch the strange creatures passing by. See Mothers and grandmothers pulling youngsters back from those walls and scooping up little ones to get quickly across. As the people stepped onto the shore and watched the sea swallow up their enemies, I’m sure they shook their heads in amazement (Exodus 14).

“By faith, the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (v. 30). Joshua led the people toward Jericho when the “Commander of the army of the Lord” came to him with the strangest battle plan in history. But he followed it to a T. For six days the entire nation walked silently outside the walls of the city as the priests blew the trumpets. On the seventh day, they marched again and then the command was given to SHOUT – and the walls came tumbling down (Joshua 6).

It had to take some extraordinary faith to step out onto the riverbed where the water once flowed or to walk silently around the city walls, trusting that they will fall. The same kind of faith it takes to trust God in the everyday trials and struggles of life you face today. You can have that same faith because you have the same God. Walk through Beloved. March on. Their God proved faithful. And so will yours.