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.

Change Your Perspective

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“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to try to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down onto to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.

Life is hard. But you don’t need me to tell you that. After a year and a half of a pandemic and social and political unrest, many of us are just worn out. And to add to the stress, many of us are carry some heavy personal burdens too. You may be dealing with a scary diagnosis or a financial crisis. You may be trying to work through grief or disappointment or a difficult relationship. Maybe there’s upheaval at your job. Or you’re just carrying more responsibility than your shoulders can bear.

So how do we deal with it all? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. We can choose to see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening our faith. We have to choose whether we will roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all.

Believe me – I haven’t always been a shining example of faith in the hard times I’ve encountered. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I’m learning that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.

Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. Beloved, know this – God is with you and me in the hard stuff. He is faithful. We can trust Him. He will not fail us. He is our Rock – a high place on which you and I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

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.

For the One Who is Losing Hope

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It’s been such a hard year and a half for the world. So much tragedy and pain and loss and anger. So much despair and hopelessness. I see you, friend – struggling to hold your head up. This message is for you – the one who is losing hope. I know how that feels. I have been there. When you think that these hard days will never end, the pain will never stop, the sin will never leave you, the loneliness will never go away. When you wonder if there’s any point in going on.

Please hear me: there is a reason to keep going – you are only in the middle of your story. When I read a book, and the plot twists put the heroine in a desperate situation, I know there are more pages and chapters for the story to turn around. But when we are in the middle of our life story, we think this is all there is, and this is how it will always be. But there are more pages and chapters to come. And with them comes hope. Because the Author of your story is the God who loves you, and He is writing a glorious turnaround for you. He sees your story from beginning to end. He sees you in the middle, where the struggle is now – and He sees you on the other side, whole, stronger, at peace.

Psalm 33:11 says “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” He has a plan and a purpose for your life – and for this present season that seems unbearably hard – and He has the power to fulfill His plan. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). He never leaves anything unfinished. And that includes you and me.

If life is hard right now, remember that this is one page in the story of your life – but it’s not the whole story. The struggle, the pain, the ache you’re feeling now is not the final word. Let God keep writing your story. Trust Him to turn the plot around. Beloved, as long as there is breath in your body, your story is not done – there is hope. Please keep reading – the best is yet to come.

Losing Hope

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“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more” (Psalm 71:14).

Something really painful happened this week that hit me like a dagger to my heart. I was blindsided. I was stunned and hurt. I felt like a kid watching their balloon float away. Except it was my hope drifting off. But it was only for a moment.

It made me think of two of Jesus’ followers who were walking on the dusty road to Emmaus when they encountered a stranger.  They tell him about a man named Jesus and sadly said: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).  They had believed that this Jesus was going to make right everything that was wrong. I get it. I also found myself wondering why Jesus wasn’t fixing a very big wrong in my world.

Part of the problem is our understanding of the word “hope.”  We say, “I hope it doesn’t rain out the picnic today.”  “I hope he asks me to the prom.”  “I hope you feel better soon.” – but these are spoken like “wishful thinking.”  That’s a “cross-your-fingers” kind of hope.  The Bible portrays hope as “an attitude of confidently looking forward to what is good and beneficial.”  It’s a hope that serves as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).  It’s not a hope in circumstances, but rather hope in the One who called us and sustains us and guarantees a good outcome.  It’s a hope that we can carry with us no matter what twists and turns life takes.  Better yet, it’s a hope that carries us no matter what.  That’s the kind of hope you and I need.

Remember those disciples on the road to Emmaus – the ones who had lost hope? Their story didn’t end there.  At the end of the Emmaus road was the joyful realization that the stranger in their midst was the resurrected Lord Himself.  In the end, their hope was renewed – it was even stronger than before. One of my favorite verses in seasons like this is Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy.”   God expected that unexpected turn, even if I didn’t, and somehow, I know He will right what is wrong. And when He does there will be life. And Joy.  And hope.

Are you sorry for your sin?

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The Apostle Paul had such a heart of love for his fellow believers. He prayed for them continually, asking for God’s blessing, favor, light, peace, Joy, hope, wisdom, and power. He encouraged them in the face of great opposition and persecution, even from his own prison cell. But one thing Paul did not do was coddle them in their sin. He called out their squabbling, arrogance, greed, gluttony (ouch), selfishness, and especially their sexual immorality. He would have none of it among God’s people. He was quick to chastise the Corinthian church for tolerating – and even applauding – gross sexual sin among the believers (1 Cor. 5).  He would be appalled at the church today. He later wrote, “I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance” (2 Cor. 7:8-9).

Paul boldly pointed out their sin in all its ugliness and they were deeply convicted and greatly sorrowed. Have you ever been truly sorry for your sin? Have you ever let the Holy Spirit convict you to the point of grieving for your offense before God? Or have you let the world soothe you with mushy half-truths about love and tolerance? Let me give this to you straight – God loves you, but He does not tolerate sin. He convicts and chastens His children (Hebrews 12:6). That’s how you know He is your Father. The point of this chastening is not just to make you feel bad about yourself (which is how the world spins it). God calls out our sin so that we will turn away from it and turn back to Him. “Godly sorry brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (1 Cor. 7:10).

Let me get very personal. Is there a cherished sin in your life – one you just don’t want to let go of? It may be something “big” like stealing from your job or sexual sin, or it may be something “small” like bitterness or – gulp – gluttony. Take off your worldly glasses and listen to what the Spirit says about it. Beloved, the tug on your heart is godly sorrow. It’s your Father calling you to repentance. Calling you to wholeness. Calling you to Joy.

2020 From Higher Up

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to struggle to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.

This has been a hard year for all of us, full of change, frustration, and disappointment.  We hate the masks.  We miss hugs. We want to get together with friends and family. Kids are isolated, trying to learn from a computer screen. Many people have lost their jobs and businesses because of shut-downs. We are sadly watching our seniors wilt away from loneliness. Fear and fatigue have gripped the world. For me, the hardest part of this year was knowing my brother died alone in a hospital after a motorcycle accident; we were not permitted in the facility to be with him. Many shared the same heartache.

How do we deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair or approach it from a higher perspective. David’s Psalm speaks volumes to us: “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). David wanted to view his circumstances from a higher perspective – from God’s vantage point.  What a difference it makes when we do the same. Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of this. But I learning more and more to climb up on the Rock that never fails.

I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your ability to face it with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near or distant, as caring or unconcerned. Beloved, God is in this with you. He is faithful. You can trust Him. He is you Rock – a high place on which you can stand. Climb up and watch Him work wonders.

Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes, part 1

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This will be a little different. Once a week over the next couple of months, we’re going to study the Sermon on the Mount. While this devotional is not written specifically as encouragement, studying the Word of God always encourages us. The focus of the Sermon on the Mount – in fact, Matthew’s focus for his Gospel – is the Kingdom of God/Heaven. Matthew wants to prove that

Jesus is the long-expected King in the line of David and the promised Messiah.Jesus opens with what we know as “The Beatitudes,” nine times that He describes people who are “blessed” in the Kingdom. The first four, vs 3-6, turn the idea of blessing on its head.

Jesus said blessed are “the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” But these are people who are nobodies in the world. But remember, we’re dealing with Kingdom values, not the world’s values.The poor in spirit are those who realize that they have nothing to offer God for their souls. They have no hope in themselves for eternal life. Their hope is in the promises of God. They will receive the Kingdom. Those who know they have nothing are given everything.

Those who mourn are mourning their sin. Jesus said they will be comforted. How? Paul said that “godly sorrow” for our sins “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Those who mourn are comforted when their sorrow turns to repentance then forgiveness and the burden of their guilt is lifted.

The meek are not the weak. Meekness is the fine art of being kind and gentle towards others, especially those who “do not deserve it.” It’s how God treated us. The meek, Jesus said, will “inherit the earth.” Now honestly, who would want this earth? But wait. Rev. 21:1 says that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” A new earth would be a truly blessed gift.

Then, “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.” How do you know that you’re hungry? You have hunger pains. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness feel genuine pain at the unrighteousness in the world. If you don’t, you may need to check your relationship with God. Unrighteousness breaks the heart of God. It should break our hearts as well. How do we deal with hunger? We eat. This unrighteous world is hungry for God. Let’s feed them the Gospel. We – and they – will be filled, satisfied, beyond measure.

What does all this mean for you? Unless I miss my guess, you, like me, are not great in the world’s eyes. But God has great things in store for those who trust in Him. Beloved, are you blessed by the world’s standards, or by God’s?

It Came to Pass . . .

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“So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made” (Genesis 8:6)

When my son was a baby, a friend gave me some great advice: “Remember, the Bible says, ‘It came to pass,’ not it came to stay.” You can bet I passed it on to my daughter-in-law when my granddaughter was born. Those long sleepless nights will eventually pass and she will sleep through the night. Teething and colic eventually pass. When I spend a couple of hours holding her while she sleeps I remember that these days will pass all too quickly and I’ll miss watching her peaceful face. It’s good parenting advice, but it’s also good life advice.

We will all face difficult days and seasons. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that those days come and go – they are not forever. In those times I look back at Noah’s story and remember that after many, many days aboard the ark, it came to pass that the waters began to recede and Noah opened the window to let out the dove and let in the fresh air and sunshine. My troubles will pass and so will yours.

Another way to look at this is that the days of our lives come to pass not to stay and the opportunities before us and the people around us are also not permanent.  I have many regrets over things I knew the Lord wanted me to do that I thought I could get around to later. But later never came and the window closed. This past year has taught me, as it has so many of us, that the people we love cannot stay in our lives forever. I never dreamed my big brother would be in heaven before the year’s end. I know many friends for whom COVID has caused great grief. Jobs and business were shown to be temporary, and even the highest office in the nation passed from one hand to another this year.

So here is my advice: Don’t fret the sleepless nights of parenthood, nor the difficult days of life. It does not seem so in the middle of it all, but they will pass. And don’t waste the opportunities God gives you, nor time with the people you love. Life on earth comes to pass, not to stay. Make it count Beloved.

A Word for the Weary

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David and his men returned home to Ziklag after a three-day trek to find the Amalekites had raided the region, burned their homes, and took their families captive. They did what you and I would do: “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Sam 30:4). Ever been there? I know I have. But after the weeping, he did something else, “David found strength in the Lord his God” (v. 6).

This morning as I sat down to my prayer journal, I wrote my usual greeting: “Holy Father,” then I stared at the empty page.  Some mornings that about all I can muster – just to call His name.

Because I’m weary.

Because I’m overwhelmed.

Because I don’t know what to do.

Because I don’t see any way out of my circumstances.

Then I remembered David and I determined to follow his good example.

Because the Lord said, “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Because the Scripture says: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7).

Because He promised: “Whether you turn to the right or to the lift, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Is 30:21).

Because He acts on behalf of his people: “The Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and . . . the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground” (Ex. 14:21,22).

Just like David, I found strength in the Lord my God. His Word refreshed me and encouraged me. The Scriptures remind me of His unfailing, never-ending, always faithful love. His promises give me hope.

Beloved, what has you weary this morning? Grief? Despair? What is overwhelming you? Needs? People? Are you at a loss to know what to do? Do you feel like there’s no way out of your circumstances? There is strength and encouragement and peace in the Word of God. From Genesis to Revelation, you will find hope to refresh your soul and Joy to fill your heart. God has a Word for you today.