Don’t Give Up!

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The weary Jews had returned to Jerusalem after seventy years of captivity in Babylon. They found the city in ruins, the temple destroyed, and the protective wall a pile of rubble. The priests immediately set to work to rebuild the temple and Nehemiah took up the task of rebuilding the wall. It was a monumental effort – a work that was completed in an astounding fifty-two days! But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. There was tremendous opposition from the neighboring enemy nations – outright hostility, intimidation, and ridicule. The threat was so great that the people “did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other” (Neh. 4:17). Still, they would not be deterred. They “prayed to our God and posted a guard . . . and worked with all their heart” (4:9,6).

Like their enemies, your enemy is fighting a losing battle. Satan has no authority where God has called you. The truth is – he’s trying to intimate you because you intimidate him. If what you are called to do is so threatening to the enemy that he must try to make you quit, then it’s that much more important that you don’t. God has entrusted you and me with important Kingdom work; work that will be opposed by God’s enemies. We need to adopt Paul’s attitude: “I will stay on . . . because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9).

I don’t know what God has called you to do Beloved; maybe to preach His Word, teach a class, sing in the choir, or just be devoted to Bible study and prayer in your daily life. Maybe it’s something more challenging, like loving a difficult person or enduring through a health crisis in a God-honoring way. I do know that whatever God has called you to do, the devil wants to stop you from doing it. He will try his best to intimidate you and wear you down so that you will give up and walk away. I am here to tell you – don’t let him. Whatever God’s work and purpose for you is, know that He always fulfills His purpose. You have His assurance that, despite the enemy’s best efforts, you can – and will – succeed, if you don’t give up. To those who trust in the Lord and don’t back down, He will “not grant the wicked their desire [nor] let their plans succeed” (Psalm 140:8); and He will “work out His plans for [your] life; He will fulfill His purpose for [you] and perfect that which concerns [you]” (Psalm 138: 8 – TLB, NIV, NASB respectively).

The Truth is . . .

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Has anyone ever lied to you?  Ever listened to a politician? Ever asked a toddler, “What have you got in your mouth?” I know people have lied to me. And if I’m truly honest, I’ve lied to people too – but not intentionally. Well, maybe sometimes intentionally. Like that time as a teenager when I . . . on second thought, I’d better not divulge that. Most of the time, the lies I told were when I said I would do something and failed to follow through. That usually comes when I over-promise. I have every intention of doing the thing, but for a variety of reasons, I just can’t pull it off. I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie in my life admitting I fell short of my promises.

Hebrews 6:18 tells us “it is impossible for God to lie.”  God is truth, and everything He says is true. You and I can take it to the proverbial bank. The Bible is God’s Word, thus, whatever the Bible says is the absolute truth.

When the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), we can trust that is true.

In the Bible, God said, “I will be with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Jos 1:5). That’s a true and trustworthy promise.

When the Bible says that God is your shield (Ps 7:10), your strength rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, stronghold, and salvation (Ps 18:1-2), you can be assured that you are safe in His arms.

When the Bible says that God sees your trouble and grief and listens to your cries (Ps 101:14,17), you can rest your weary head on His shoulder and pour out your heart into His ears.

When the Bible says that God has good plans to give me a future and a hope (Jer29:13) and that He will fulfill His purpose for me (Ps 27:2), I need not fear the days ahead.

And most of all, when the Bible says God loves you, you can know without a shadow of a doubt that it is the truth, no matter what your feelings or the world may say. Beloved, the God who is the Creator of the universe loves you. And that’s no lie. It’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear.

Why Christmas Belongs to Shepherds – and to You.

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I remember an evangelist who told the story of being in the Miami, Florida area to do a revival.  He and the local pastor were driving around inviting people to the revival and witnessing to anyone who would listen.  They found themselves in a very affluent neighborhood with massive houses and expensive cars.  They spied a man out in his front yard and stopped to visit.  After speaking to him of the need for salvation, the man spread his arms in a grand gesture of all that he owned and said, “Saved from what?”  Then he dismissed them with a laugh. That man was Jackie Gleason – famed radio, television, and movie star. 

Perhaps that is why the angels came to lowly shepherds rather than the kings and religious leaders of the day.  People who think they have everything also think they have no need of a Savior. They have so much wealth or power or acclaim that they have no room for faith. Shepherds, especially at the time of Jesus’ birth, were the lowest of the low.  Scholars tell us that these shepherds were likely watching over sheep that would be used in the Passover sacrifice.  Their job was nasty, smelly, grueling, and demeaning.  But they were humble because of their lowly position.  These shepherds were just the kind of people God was looking for – people who would receive the Good News with faith. 

The Bible tells us that when the shepherds heard the angel’s announcement, they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15).  They believed the message and set out to find the baby – not because they wanted proof of what the angels said, but because they had faith that it was true.  And when their eyes saw what their hearts believed, they couldn’t help but “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (v. 17)

Do you have faith Beloved?  Do you believe that what God said about the Baby in the manger is true?  Then you can also have faith that this Child is your Savior, your Redeemer, your Hope and Peace, and Joy.  Have faith in what God has done and you will see what your heart believes.

Yeah, Right, a “Virgin Birth”

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Wrap your head around this: the baby in the manger was the son of a virgin and the Son of God. The Scriptures say “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son . . . “ Matthew 1:23/Isaiah 7:14.  I know – you’ve heard this scripture a hundred times at least. But have you stopped to consider what it really means? The Protestant Church refers to it as “the virgin birth.” The Roman Catholic church calls it “The Immaculate Conception.” We tend to fly over it but we need to give it some time and attention because it is important.

The word “immaculate” means spotless, without flaw or error, stain or blemish – perfectly pure. That could never happen with two human parents. Joseph was a righteous man, but he had a sin nature like every other human being. Mary was a virgin and she was“highly favored” by God, but she had the same sin nature. Joseph would be Jesus’ earthly father, but not his “biological father.” Mary, however, would be His biological mother – therefore she had to be a virgin – sexually pure. The Scripture said that Mary was “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit as the “male party” to conception. More importantly, He provided spiritual purity so that the child would be the only human born without a sin nature. Now I am a Bible teacher. I like to make difficult things understandable. But I cannot explain how this occurred. It was a divine action that we must accept with wonder.

Why does this matter? Because you and I are unholy people in need of a holy Savior. Only holy blood  – divine blood – could save the human race. There’s just one problem: God cannot die. That is why Jesus had to be both divine and human. It was the only way to provide the perfect blood sacrifice required to redeem mankind from their sin nature. It is the only hope you and I have.

Beloved, I encourage you to slow down through the familiar Christmas account. Take in every scene and ponder every word. This is not just a warm, fuzzy story to tell around the tree. This story is life. Eternal life. It is wonder and awe. It is Jesus – the God-man who came to save you. Indeed it is good news.

On God’s Side

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Like the rest of the world, this year has been rough for me. Sometimes life happens that way, one problem piled on top of another. The question now becomes, how will I react to it? I’ll be honest and say I haven’t always been the paragon of faith I hoped to be. At first, I got upset, even got angry, then I settled into a spirit of discouragement.  Of course, I prayed – sort of. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I whined. “God just look at this – what am I going to do? I can’t take this anymore!” And yes, I am the one who writes constantly about having faith and trusting God in our difficulties. Sometimes it’s had to take your own advice.

Recently, as I whined and cried to God, a verse come to mind (see that’s why we need to be students of the Bible). 2 Chronicles 20:12: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” Immediately the question came to my heart, “Child, where are your eyes?” My eyes have been on me, on my problems, on my fears, and what I have to do to fix the situation. They certainly haven’t been on God. All through the Bible, when difficult times came to God’s people, the difference between victory and defeat came down to whether the people were looking at their enemy or their God. David is the perfect example. Goliath was harassing the army of Israel, “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (1 Sam 24). When David saw him, the shepherd-boy advanced with his sling and five stone and declared, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty!” (v. 45). The others saw the giant and ran away from him. David kept his eyes on God and ran with the Lord.  Who do you think won that battle?

Looking back at 2 Chronicles 20, the Lord’s answer to Jehoshaphat’s prayer comes in verse 20—“have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld.” Beloved our only hope in these difficult days – whatever they may be – is to turn our eyes from the things that worry us and turn them to God who cares for and is able to help us. God’s never lost a fight. You’re on the side of victory.

God, I Have a Question . . .

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Doubt and unbelief are part of human nature in the presence of the supernatural. In reading the Gospel accounts of the resurrection I discovered a lot of unbelief. Matthew 28:17 says that, when Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples, “they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted.” The word used here comes from a root that means to take a second look. Luke gives us better insight into their doubts. He reports that when they saw the resurrected Lord, “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement” (Luke 24:41). They were overcome with the unexplainable truth standing before them: Jesus, who was dead just days ago, was alive!

Sometimes our doubts and questions can be a powerful tool of spiritual growth if we allow them to make us look again, look deeper, and look for truth. I know that has been the case many times in my life. When I have had questions, and I took them to the Scriptures and to the Lord, I came away with answers that were solid and sure. I nailed down some important points of my faith.

Beloved, if you have questions, if you have doubts, take them honestly to God and ask Him to show you the answers. Dig deeply into the truth of the Word and seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit. The Lord says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). God is not offended by your questions. He wants you to seek the truth. He wants you to seek Him. He promises: “I will be found by you” (v. 14). That’s a promise worth searching out.

All Tangled Up

tangled Christmas lights - a photo on Flickriver

It’s almost that time! Thanksgiving is only two days away and many people are already decorating for Christmas.  In this year from . . . well you know – lots of folks are making ready for the holidays early to lift their spirits and bring some much-needed Joy to their homes. You know what that means, don’t you? The annual untangling of the Christmas lights. How many hours have we spent trying to turn that snarl of wires and bulbs into a smooth strand? “Pull that end through this loop. No! THIS loop! Wait, the bulb is stuck. Why didn’t you put them away right last year?” How many times did we chunk them and go out and buy new lights?  More than I want to confess.

Tangled lights are frustrating.  Tangled lives are heartbreaking. You didn’t mean to get so deep into that sin, that relationship, that dark situation, that addiction, but here you are and you can’t figure out how to get free.  I know of a few people in the Bible that would understand. Like the man in Mark 5 who lived in the tombs in the Gerasenes. He was possed by multiple demons – so many that they called themselves “Legion.” The townspeople tried to chain him, but he broke free of them every time. Yet he could not free himself from the demons. Or a woman named Mary (probably) from Magdala who was also possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). Or an unnamed woman from Samaria who had been entangled in sin with multiple men (John 4). Or a little man named Zacchaeus who was tangled up in greed with the Roman rulers (Luke 19). Or a very religious man named Saul who was so caught up in self-righteousness that he set out to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 9). Jesus set each one of them free from the things that bound them.

Or if you need a more recent example, look at the one who is writing these words right now.  Oh, the chains that Christ has broken in my life! He has set me free from a life tangled up in sin, selfishness, depression, fear, self-hatred, unforgiveness, abuse, anxiety, foolishness, and so much more. Beloved, whatever you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in – God can unravel your mess. It’s why Jesus came. So that you might know the truth – that God loves you – and be set free (John 3:16, 8:32).

Praying for Rain

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I’ve been praying for something (someone) for a long time – at least 15 years. I’ll be honest and tell you that I gave up on those prayers for a time.  I saw no way that God could work in this hard-headed, hard-hearted person’s life.  But in reality,  I had not given up on them, I had given up on God. James said that “the fervent prayer of a righteous man (or woman) is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Do you believe God will answer your prayers? Acts 2:5-17 illustrates how often we pray without faith in God to answer.

The apostle Peter was in prison. His fellow apostle James had been beheaded by the evil King Herod, and now Peter, under the careful guard of sixteen soldiers (v. 4), was set for the same fate. The situation was very grim. Verse 5 says, “Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Oh, the power of praying friends!

An angel of the Lord awakened the sleeping apostle, and hustled Peter out of the prison, miraculously passing all the guards and the iron gate, which opened by itself (v. 10). Peter quickly made his way to the house where his friends were gathered, praying for him. His knock was answered by a servant girl named Rhoda, who recognized his voice and ran to tell the group of prayer warriors. What was their response? “You’re out of your mind, they told her, It must be his angel.” (v. 15) But wait, for what had they been praying so fervently? God had answered their prayer and they didn’t believe it? They finally opened the door and were astonished. Jesus promised that God honors “faith as small as a mustard seed.” (Matt. 17:20)

Do you base your prayers on the person or situation for which you are praying? Or do you believe the One to whom you are praying? Beloved, the next time you pray for rain, don’t forget to grab your umbrella on the way out the door.

Do You Believe God or Just Believe in Him?

“In God’s kingdom, you get what you believe.”

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I love this quote by the great preacher and writer, T.W. Hunt.  It has challenged me over and over to believe God. Not just believe in God – the demons of hell believe in God. James said it this way: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (2:19).  The writer of Hebrews said that faith – the kind of faith that pleases God – “must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek him” (11:6).  In other words, belief in God means lifting our needs to Him and watching with great expectation for Him to respond.

If you look at prayer in the Bible you’ll notice that people didn’t call to God and then walk away despondent because they assumed He wasn’t going to answer. They believed God heard and would act. How could they be so sure?  Because their prayer was based on God’s nature, and they trusted Him to respond out of that same nature.  That’s the “secret” to effective prayer.  It must be built on the foundation of God’s character: His holiness, love, mercy, faithfulness, trustworthiness, and sovereignty.  Bill Bright said, “Believing is at the heart of answered prayer. God does not require you to have great faith. You simply are to have faith in a great God.”

And, yes, I know, just this week I wrote about “unanswered prayers” and how God is not obligated to everything that we ask of Him.  This sounds like I’m contradicting myself.  But I think belief allows God to be God and still trusts Him to act in a way that is in line with His character and purposes.

If you pray to God yet do not believe He will care for your needs, you are saying you think God is not trustworthy. Isaiah declared: “You will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: ‘Here am I.’” (Isaiah 58:9) If we truly knew the God to whom we pray, the God of the Bible, we would say with Andrew Murray: “I know what I have asked from my Father, and I expect Him to answer.”  I expect Him to be God.

But Can I Trust Him?

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Today I came across a Scripture that is bittersweet to me: “Therefore I [Jesus] tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Matthew 11:24).  Today of all days it touches a deep place in my heart. Today is my Mom’s birthday. No, this is not a “Happy birthday to my Mom in Heaven” post. If heaven really is heaven, God has banned social media completely. She will never see it. She doesn’t need to. I’m pretty sure they don’t celebrate earthly birthdays in heaven. My Mom was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1982. After all kinds of treatments, the doctors told her there was nothing left they could do for her. Matthew 11:24 came to my attention so I boldly asked God to heal my Mom. And no one on the face of the earth ever believed more than I did. As she grew progressively worse, I didn’t allow myself one single doubt. I knew my Mom was going to be okay. She died on April 5, 1987.  So who failed – me or God? Jesus said, “ask and believe” and I took Him at His Word. I believed with every fiber of my being. For more than thirty years, every time I come across this verse, it takes my breath away.

Every syllable of God’s Word is true. My belief that God would heal my Mom was as well. How do I resolve this?  I don’t. But here’s what I’ve come to understand. God is sovereign and reserves the right to answer my prayers according to His will, even when it differs from mine. I do not always understand His will. But He is God and I am not.  I could have let my Mom’s death push me away from Him. Instead,, it pushed me closer, because, despite missing my Mom for thirty-plus years, I know that my Father is still trustworthy and loving and good and He is perfectly faithful to His Word. I wish I could wrap this up in a nice, neat bow of encouragement. This is not that kind of devotional. I don’t have any profound words today. This is just the heart of a daughter who misses her Mother and trusts her Heavenly Father.