Storms

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It’s easy to trust God when things are going well and life is easy. But, it’s harder to trust Him when storms – literal or figurative – are raging around you.

Like when Jesus and His disciples were crossing a lake. “A furious squall came up and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:37). A squall was a hurricane-force wind on the lake, and it was terrifying – even to seasoned fishermen. But Jesus was with them. He was probably helping them bail water or fight with the sails, right? Nope. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (v. 38). The terrified disciples woke him crying, “Teacher don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). Yes, Jesus cared. “He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 39).

Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Why would Jesus chastise these men for a normal human reaction to a life-threatening situation?

I think there are at least two reasons. First, Jesus was with them. He had protected them before (John 17:12). Yet they doubted He would save them now. They thought He was “asleep in the job,” but He never lost control of the situation. Then, look back a bit at verse 35: “He said to His disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.” He had already told them that they would reach the other side but they forgot His words when the storm rose. Don’t we do that too? Sunday morning we nod when the pastor reads, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Then when the storm comes up on Tuesday, all we hear is the wind and the crashing waves. As if He had never spoken at all.

I’ve been through more than a few “squalls” in my life. Jesus has never failed me. He won’t fail you. He’s not asleep. He’s not forgotten you. Beloved, God has promised you a hope and a future. He cares about you. That’s a promise you can take with you to the other side.

Hebrews: No Sting in Death

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My mom passed away 34 years ago at the very young age of 57. In her last months, I was able to spend almost every day with her.  We talked about so much – sewing projects and her flower garden and recipes and memories. We talked about my friend who was expecting a baby. But we didn’t talk about heaven or Jesus or eternal life.  There’s no doubt in my mind and heart that my mom was saved and I believe I will see her – and my brother – in heaven someday. But she tried to keep our conversations light and I didn’t have the courage or knowledge to broach deeper subjects with her. After she died, I cleaned out her room – my last act of service from a daughter to her mother, I found a poem she wrote. The only line I remember is: “I looked into the darkness and no tomorrow could I see. . .” There was so much sadness in those words. She knew where she was going, but she also knew what she was leaving behind.

The author of Hebrews highlighted yet another reason why the Father would send His Son to earth to take on human flesh: “ . . . so that He might . . . free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).  Who it is that fears death? The one who believes that life ends. The one who believes that there is nothing beyond this life. But for the believer, life doesn’t truly end. We simply change addresses – an earthly zip code for a heavenly one. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (KJV).” And in the presence of the Lord is eternal life.  Jesus declared, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul asked, “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).  It has lost its prick in the promise of eternal life. Even though my Mom didn’t want to leave her loved ones, she was not afraid to die. There was sadness in her poem, but the sting of death was gone. She may not have had another earthly tomorrow, but she has an eternity full of them.

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.

Selah

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“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint . . . I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” (Psalm 6:1-4 selected).

Perhaps you’ve seen the odd little Hebrew word scattered throughout the Psalms – Selah – and wondered what it meant.  This word translates the phrase “Pause and calmly think about that,” and is a beautiful reminder that God has filled the Bible with promises, assurances, hope, peace, redemption, joy, comfort – and yes, even chastisement and words of discipline; and they are all meant for us to read and contemplate. Perhaps we need to add a few Selahs of our own to the words we read.

To those who grieve: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Pause and think about God’s comfort.

To the prodigal who has wandered far from God: “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,” (Luke 15:20). Pause and turn back home.

To the lonely: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Pause and sense His presence.

When you are worn and weary: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Pause and be refreshed.

When the enemy is pressing in on you: “You are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:3). Pause and pick up your shield of faith.

Every endearment, every promise, every warning, word of instruction, or chastisement is meant to be examined, pondered, and remembered.  God intends for you and me to take His words and think about them, commit them to memory and live by them.  The Scriptures are more than a 5 minute devotional for the day, “they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). 

Jesus spoke “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  He told His disciples, “Consider carefully what you hear” (Mark 4:24).    I think He was saying to them and us – Selah – pause and calmly think about that.”

Hebrews: Am I a Child of God?

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The humanity of Jesus has long been a point of contention among scholars, theologians, and skeptics. It is difficult to grasp the idea that Jesus is God. A man. The divine in human flesh. It raises so many questions. Why would God subject His one and only Son to the frailties of a human body?  Why would He send Him away from perfection in heaven to walk with sinful men? Why would He impose death on His own Son for such sinful, ungrateful creatures? The author of Hebrews gives us several points in these next eight verses.

We’ll start here: “In bringing many sons to glory . . .” (Hebrews 2:10a).

God’s plan was to “bring many sons to glory,” to bring lost human beings into His eternal family. You have probably heard someone say “We are all God’s children.” It’s a nice sentiment, but it isn’t true. We are all God’s creation, but only those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior are God’s children. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister . . .” (Matthew 12:50). What is the will of the Father?  “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life . . .” (John 6:40).  The children of God believe in the Son of God. God’s desire is not to build a household of servants or an army of soldiers or a cult of mindless followers, but a family. Jesus’ death and resurrection are His means to accomplish that goal.

How do you know if you’re a child of God? If you “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). If you “obey His commands” (2:3; 5:3). If you “walk as Jesus did” (2:6). If you “love your brother” (2:10; 3:10, 11; 4:21). If you do not “love the world” (2:15).  If you “do what is right” (3:10). If you “love with actions and in truth” (3:18-19). If you “acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come from God” (4:2). If you believe “that Jesus is the Christ” (5:1). If you “do not continue to sin” (5:18).

The only question then is, Beloved, are you a child of God?

Hebrews: Jesus – Son of God, Son of Man

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 “But we see Jesus . . .”

Surprisingly, after speaking of Him from the opening of his message – after identifying Him as the Son of God, the eternal King, the Creator, the Lord – this is the first time the author identifies Jesus by name. But there is no doubt that the recipients knew exactly whom he talking about. There is only one Son of God who was also “the Son of Man.” There was only one who could fill every role perfectly. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

Adam was God’s special creation, His pièce de resistance. He was meant to carry the image of God and give his Creator glory. He was meant to rule the created world in peace and productivity. But he fell from his lofty status and brought chaos and rebellion and condemnation to the human race. There should have never been wars or poverty or abuse or neglect or hatred or corruption. There should have never been earthquakes or hurricanes or tornadoes or enmity between man and animals. There should have never been sin and death. But there is. Everywhere we look we see repercussions of Adam’s sin. But, thanks be to God, we also see Jesus who was God’s answer to man’s dilemma before man ever existed.

Jesus, who was “made a little lower than the angels” in a human body. Jesus, who willingly bore all of mankind’s sin and shame. Jesus, who “suffered death” – but only for three days – He only “had a taste” of it. Jesus, who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. Jesus, who is now and forever “crowned with glory and honor.” We see Jesus, the Creator who became a man to redeem His creation, to set right what Adam turned upside-down. Why?

“To bring many sons to glory . . .” Beloved, the struggles in your life, the pain and heartache, are all the result of your fallen condition as a human being. That’s not to say that everything is necessarily your direct fault, it’s just part of living in a sinful world. But it wasn’t meant to be this way. You were meant to bear God’s image and bring Him glory. Jesus came to give it all back to you. Will you let Him?

Hebrews: Don’t Ignore Jesus

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Have you ever received a message and found another message lurking “between the lines?”  Sometimes reading the Bible is like that. That’s why careful observation is vitally important in Bible study. Hebrews 2:1-4 is one of those message-behind-the-message texts. You recall from our last devotional when the author of Hebrews cautioned his readers to “pay more careful attention . . . to what [they] have heard” because they were in danger of drifting away from the truth. They were about to forsake Jesus for a false “salvation.” He wanted them to think about the reality of their salvation in Christ and stand firm in the truth. The underlying message throughout Hebrews is a warning not to abandon faith in Christ.

“For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation” (Heb. 2:2-3a). The “message spoken by angels” was the Old Testament Law, which carried tremendous weight. Violation of even a single command brought punishment and demanded an elaborate system of sacrifice and atonement. What’s more, those who deliberately violated God’s Law faced death (Num. 15:30).  The gospel story is that a new covenant is now in place and Jesus has taken on the punishment we deserve, even to the point of death. If we ignore this great salvation Christ offers, we will not escape our due punishment. What a terrifying prospect to face a holy God without the blood of Jesus!

If, the author continues, the old covenant that came via angels was binding and every sin was punished, rejecting the salvation of the new covenant carries an even higher penalty – eternal condemnation – because it came through the Lord Himself. He added, “God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will” (v. 4). It’s as if he said, “Don’t take my word for it, look at the evidence of all Jesus did and all His followers did through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The message of salvation through Jesus alone has the weight of heaven behind it, the authority of Christ within it, and the power of the Holy Spirit Spirit through it.  Beloved, I implore you – do not ignore Jesus. “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

What Is a Christian?

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How do others know you’re a follower of Christ? Is it your “Daughter of the King” T-shirt? Maybe it’s the fish on your car or posting Jesus memes on social media. Perhaps it’s how you rail against sins you would never commit. Do these things say you are a Christian? No more than sitting in a garage says you are a car. There are three things that Jesus identified as marking His followers.

Love – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Twice: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” ((John 15:12). And again: “This is my command: Love each other” (15:17). Three times Jesus said, “Love one another.” And this is the only time in all four gospels that Jesus called His words a “command.”

Fruit – “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Fruit is the evidence of what something or someone is. A peach tree bears peaches. A banana tree bears bananas. A Christian bears the fruit of the Spirit: love (there it is again), Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Persecution – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). If you belong to Christ, you have a target painted on your back.

The church wants to say it is all about doing and saying the right things. The world says it is approving all kinds of sin for the sake of “love.” But Jesus said the mark of a Christian is love for the Body of Christ, producing fruit, and being hated by the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little uneasy right now. Beloved, what is it about you that tells the world you belong to Jesus?

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.”

Wherever God is . . . There is Life

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Since I was a little girl, I have known and loved the story of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-42 – for obvious reasons. This was “my story” because, in my childish mind, she was me. I loved to tell about Dorcas, a kind and generous woman who loved the Lord and loved people.

Dorcas’ story has become mine for more reasons than just a shared name. Dorcas was a seamstress and I have also done a good deal of sewing. She used her talent to benefit her neighbors, and I have also sewed to bless others. And Dorcas died and was restored to life through the prayers of Peter. “Now, wait a minute,” you may be saying, “you have never died.” Well, I haven’t in the literal sense of the word, but I have in other hard ways.

Dorcas died a physical death – I died emotionally and my very spirit became lifeless and gray. She was laid on a bed in an upstairs room. I have laid before the Lord in deepest pain and soul-rending anguish. When she died, Dorcas’ heart stopped beating and her breath ceased. I have had seasons of brokenness where my heart lay in shards and splinters around my feet and the simple act of drawing a breath was more than I could manage. Dorcas entered the darkness of death. I have been in the darkness of depression and despair – surrounded by the deepest hues of black.

But God restored Dorcas to life – and He has graciously restored me too. He heard my prayers and my cries and sat with me in the dark and gloom. His Spirit spoke life to my spirit. His tender mercies restored all the pieces of my heart and He breathed hope and peace into my lungs. He restored my soul. He brought light and He brought Joy.

This is for the one who feels dead in your soul today. You have cried an ocean of tears and you given up on ever feeling alive again. Beloved, please hear my words and my heart: God will restore you back to life. That is His specialty. Bringing life from death. Making broken hearts whole. Breathing hope and peace and joy into your soul. Bringing light into the darkness.

Please do not give up Beloved. I died. God restored my life. He will restore you too. I am living proof.