Becoming Like Jesus

See the source imageI asked God to teach me how to love people as Jesus did. He brought people into my life who were hard to love. I asked Him to help me trust Him and He took away everything else I trusted in. I asked Him for peace and He set me in a storm – then sat with me as it raged. I asked for greater faith and He put mountains in my path. I asked Him for wisdom and He set challenges before me. I asked Him to give me a kind and gentle heart, and he allowed me to face heartbreak and disappointment. I asked Him for joy and – well – He sent Joy!

I thought He would just make my heart grow three sizes, and make trust and faith shoot up like a well-watered plant. I thought He would just infuse me with peace, and give me a shot of wisdom. I thought he would just change my nature from grumpy to kind and gentle. I thought it would be easy.

Maybe it’s been different for you, but God and I have always had to do things the hard way. I don’t think I’ve learned a single life-lesson without some blood, sweat, and tears along the way. Even the Joy in my life came with a struggle.

We love to quote Romans 8:28 in times of trial and trouble: “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 His purpose? Read on. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Everything in your life is designed to make you more like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said that God made Jesus “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Why, Beloved, do you think becoming like Him would be any different?

Not Your Warm and Fuzzy Devotional

See the source image

There is a lot of hero-worship in the church. There are “rock-star” pastors with thousands of followers and Bible teachers who sell out auditoriums around the country. Jesus had quite a crowd that followed Him and hung on His every word. Take the fellow in Luke 9: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you where you go.’” (v. 57). He wanted to be part of Jesus’ entourage. But Jesus didn’t encourage this would-be fan. His response: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (v. 58). I believe Jesus was saying, “This is not going to be the high-life you’re expecting. I don’t have a multi-million dollar mansion to put you up in. I walk hot, dusty roads and sleep where I can.”

What did you expect from Jesus when you chose to follow Him? A solution to all your problems? A good reputation in the community? A full life with heaven thrown in after it’s all over?

Just a few verses before this scene, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (v. 23) Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. He might have also told the man, “Don’t hook your wagon to me unless you’re prepared to die.” There is a war going on between good and evil, between light and darkness. Evil and darkness have the upper hand at the moment. God’s people are the enemy of the present ruling authorities who are bent on destruction. If you choose Jesus, you need to know that you are also choosing self-denial, persecution, rejection, and suffering. That is what Jesus endured. Why should we expect any less?

But then, I look at the modern church, so comfortable in our air-conditioned sanctuaries. Where is the suffering? Where is the persecution? Where are self-denial and the cross? Maybe the enemy’s strategy against the church today is not a full-on battle, but just to make us relaxed and contented. Just before he hits us with an all-out assault.

Here’s a thought: If Christianity is comfortable, maybe we’re in more danger than we know.

Jesus is . . .

Image may contain: text

Studying in Matthew 13 today and something struck me. Check out Matthew 13:53-58. Jesus is teaching in His hometown – His messages are full of divine wisdom and His miracles display divine power. The people, verse 54 says, “were amazed.” I’m sure I would be too. I love to listen to a good Bible teacher. I love preachers who bring the Word with passion. I think the best Bible communicators are the ones who believe with all their hearts the truth of what they are saying. No wonder the people were amazed at Jesus – He taught with the intimacy of the author. He knew and believe what He was saying because He was the originator of the message. But I digress.

Look back at the passage. The people began to consider who Jesus was – as far as they knew. Mary’s son. James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas’ big brother. Just one of the many kids that grew up in that town. Nobody more special than any of the rest. Just who did he think he was to speak so high-and-mighty? Now, these same people “took offense at Him” (v. 57). From amazement to offense. Why? Because they lost sight of who He was. It reminds me of another time when the people shouted that He was “the King of Isreal who comes in the name of the Lord!” (John 12:13) then rejected Him and shouted, “We have no king but Caesar, crucify him!” (John 19:15).

Humans are fickle. And we’re forgetful. When we forget who Jesus is we miss Him entirely. When we reduce Him to a good teacher and humanitarian, we disregard His message and His saving work. If we do not see Him as the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Savior of the World – we do not see Jesus at all. Oh, Beloved – with all my heart I plead with you – know Jesus in all His divine and saving glory. Know Him and you will know hope. You will know peace. You will know Joy. And You will know eternal life.

Don’t Drift Away from God

See the source image

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.

 

Prescription for Peace of Mind

If I’ve learned anything at all about the Bible, it is that this is a practical book with real-life answers for real-life needs. The Bible doesn’t just give us wise philosophy – or as my grandmother called it – “pie-in-the-sky thinking.” So when a friend came to me recently to talk about her constant negative, anxious thoughts, I offered her the Bible’s prescription for the mind.

“First, you have to get rid of those negative thoughts,” We talked about 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” “You have authority over what goes on in your head,” I said. “You must claim that authority and banish negative and anxious thoughts.” I showed her how I make a grabbing motion over my head to “take captive” my thoughts, then a motion of flinging them aside – literally casting them at Jesus’ feet. I’ve done this with thoughts of doubt and fear and sin. It may look kinda silly, but the physical acting out of it is powerful. I believe it also puts the devil on notice that I’m taking charge of my mind.

I continued, “Then immediately fill your mind with Philippians 4:8: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’” “What do you know is true?” I asked her. “God is in control.” “Yes! And God loves you.” “And God is good.” “Exactly! And God has a plan and a purpose.” Her face began to relax. “What do you know that is praiseworthy,” I asked. “Jesus!” she replied. “What can you praise Jesus for?” “He is my Savior. He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords.” “What do you know that is lovely?” I said. “My daughter,” she answered with a smile. “And when you memorize scripture,” I reminded her, “you have a ready supply of ‘whatsoever is right.’ For every negative thought satan plants in your mind, you need a positive Word from God to counteract it.”

May I offer the same prescription to you, Beloved? Your thoughts are just that—YOUR thoughts. You have authority over them. You can make them obey you – but it takes effort and repetition. What is the result of this practical exercise? “The God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9b). Do you need some peace of mind?

For The One Who Thinks God Could Never Love You

See the source image

“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I asked her to tell me about her son. “He’s a smart boy, really smart. He can add stuff in his head faster than I can write it out on paper.  And oh, he can sing – he has such a good voice.  I think he could be a singer if he tried. But he gets bored easy.  That’s why he gets into trouble at school.”

We met for coffee so she could talk through some difficult things she was facing, largely brought about by this boy.  But before I asked about her son, she told me about herself. She told me that she didn’t believe God could ever love her. She had done things that she was ashamed of.  She was pretty wild in her youth, disrespectful to her parents, and teachers.  She got drunk the night of the prom, slept with her boyfriend, and became pregnant.  She and the baby’s father tried to make it right by getting married, but now – 17 years later – she was three failed marriages down and living with a man she met at a bar.  She had started coming to our church a few months ago in a last-ditch effort to straighten her son out.  That is until the deacons told her the boy was not welcome after he played too rough with some of the younger students and somebody got hurt.  The very next day the police were at her house with a report about her boy and the neighbor’s little girl and the latest nightmare unfolded. Yet, as much as her son’s actions weighed on her, I could tell something else was even heavier on her heart.

“How could God love me?  I’ve made a mess of my life and I’ve even screwed up my kid.”

“So you probably don’t love your son anymore after all the trouble he’s caused you.”

“What? Of course I still love my son! That’s crazy!  Why would I stop loving him just because he’s made some mistakes?”

“I just thought – since you believe God quit loving you because you messed up, you must have quit loving your son too.”

She looked at me as if an entire block of lights had gone off in her head. The weight of so much guilt and fear disappeared from her eyes while tears dripped off her chin and onto her sweater.

Beloved, I don’t know what you’re carrying around today. I don’t know your past. I don’t even know your present. But there is one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  If Christmas is about anything at all, it is about God pouring out His unfailing love on messed up people.

Real Faith

See the source image

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

See the source image

“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.

Seeing the God Who Sees Me

See the source image

The angel of the Lord found Hagar…” Genesis 16:7

You know the story of Abraham and Sarah – childless and old, God promised them a son, but in the waiting, they grew impatient and Abraham slept with Sarah’s maid Hagar, and she conceived. But their act of faithlessness caused tremendous grief for the Egyptian slave-girl. Twice Hagar wound up in the desert, weary, hungry and frightened. On her first excursion, Scripture tells us “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert” (Gen. 16:7). The Hebrew word for “found” means “to cause to encounter.” God purposefully put Himself in Hagar’s path to cause her to have an encounter with Him. He set Himself right where He knew she was going because His heart was tender to her.  Hagar gained precious insight into who God is.  Realizing that the God of her master was very much aware of her and her plight,  She named the Lord El Roi – “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13).

After the birth of Ishmael (which- by the way – means The Lord has heard – Gen 16:11) Hagar and her son were forced to leave their home with Abraham and Sarah.  When their meager supplies of food and water ran out, Hagar recognized their inevitable deaths.  She put Ishmael under a tree and walked away, so as not to watch her weakened son die.  She and the boy were both crying, and God once again came to Hagar and assured her that He was aware of their plight.  Genesis 21:19 says, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.”  Oh, do you see the beauty of this passage? El Roi – the God who saw Hagar, now opened Hagar’s eyes so she could see.  He showed her a well of life-giving water that would minister to their bodies and to their spirits.

You may find yourself in some difficult places and very hard circumstances, but I can assure you that you have never been out of your Heavenly Father’s sight.  There is no place you can go that God will not be.  Whether they are physical places, emotional pits, and spiritual dark caves – God has promised, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) The truth is, it’s often in those hard places that we see the God who sees us. Had Hagar not been lost in the wilderness, running from the hard hand of her mistress, she would have never encountered the Lord and come to know Him.  I know this to be true in my life.  So often I have discovered aspects of God that I would have never known had I not been in difficult circumstances.  When I was unable to put food on our table, I discovered Jehovah-Jireth – the Lord who Provides (Gen. 22:8). When I was desperately ill I found Jehovah Rapha – The Lord our Healer (Ps. 103:3). When I was discouraged and fearful, Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is Peace (Jud. 6:23-24) and Yahweh-Tsuri – The Lord my Strength (Ex. 15:2) came to encourage and strengthen me.  If you are in a difficult season, look for God to reveal Himself to you in a new and encouraging way.

Beloved, if He was faithful to a frightened, lost Egyptian slave girl, and He will surely be faithful to you.

It’s Time to Trust God

Image may contain: text
I stood in the shower this morning, hands full of shampoo suds before I remembered – today was supposed to be a skip day. My hairdresser (who is also my sister-in-law) told me to skip the shampoo every other day to preserve my color (what – you thought this was natural?). But I get in the shower, half asleep, and go through the same routine I’ve followed since I was a kid. It’s so ingrained in me that I don’t even think about what I’m doing – I just operate on automatic pilot. I’d have to actually wake up and pay attention to do it differently. My morning shower routine is not the only habit I need to change. My thoughts – especially in difficult seasons – tend to follow a well-worn path that leads me into negativity, anxiety, and discouragement.
Over the past few months, a series of bombs – mostly financial – have gone off in our life and put us in a very hard place. My “default” line of thinking is to worry, to agonize and fret. As my thoughts roll into that familiar negative rut, doubts start to fill my mind about God’s faithfulness and love. He was so good to us last summer, will He help us again? Is He weary of our neediness? Have we reached the limit of His goodwill? Will He give up on us and leave us to figure it out on our own?
I know I’m not alone in this habit of negativity. You have shared your own struggles with me and I’ve tried to encourage you when you’ve said the same things.
Beloved, it’s time for you and me to say “Enough!” It’s time to wake up and shake off the habit of negativity and start a new habit of faith. As Paul said, it’s time to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). It’s time to remember God’s rock-solid faithfulness and never-failing love. It’s time to turn our minds to “what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8). It’s time to intentionally take control of our run-away thoughts and redirect them to trust in the goodness of our Heavenly Father. It’s time to believe that the God who parted the Sea and walked through the fire and shut the mouths of lions is still in business today. It’s time to expect God to act on behalf of His children.
I’m starting a new habit of positive faith today. I’m not going to give in to worry and fear any longer, Not while I know my God is still on the throne. It’s time. Who’s with me?