The Voice of the Lord

My voice is naturally loud, especially if I’m excited – like when I’m teaching about the Bible. Sometimes I want to type in all caps when I’m writing a devotional so I can pump up the volume. Voices communicate more than words. Our inflections reveal what’s happening in our hearts. The tone and timbre of my voice change when I talk to Joy depending on what I’m trying to relay to her. If we’re playing together, I will use a silly, happy voice. If I’m comforting her my voice is soft and gentle, and if she has picked up the cat for the third time, my voice is firm and somewhat sharp.

In Psalm 29 David was meditating on “The voice of the Lord.” He said the Lord’s voice “thunders over the mighty waters” (v. 3), it is “powerful” and “majestic” (v. 4). “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars” (v. 5), “strikes with flashes of lightning” (v. 7), shakes the desert” (v. 8), “twists the oaks and strips the forest bare” (v. 9). Those are frightening images of the fierce power of God’s voice.

But God also speaks with a softer voice. The prophet Elijah was at his lowest point, running from the wicked Queen Jezebel who wanted to kill him. He was worn out and worn down. He told the Lord, “I have had enough” (1 Kings 19:4). He was hiding out in a cave when God called him. Elijah listened for the Lord, expecting to hear Him in “a great and powerful wind,” an earthquake, and a fire. But God was in none of these. He came to Elijah in a “gentle whisper,” in “a still, small voice” (vs. 11-13).

I have not always walked faithfully and obediently. I have made some big, ugly mistakes and fallen into sin. God has never once yelled at me or spoken to me in anger or disgust. He has always spoken in a gentle voice, especially when I am broken. Just as He speaks to you, Beloved. Even if he has to chastise you He speaks with grace. Those harsh voices that shout at you are never God. If you listen closely you will hear that the voice of the Lord is always the voice of love.

Know Thine Enemy

Sun Tzu, a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher in the early 6th Century wrote the classic, “The Art of War,” From which we have taken the phrase “Know thine enemy.”  Paul cautioned believers with similar words saying that satan will not outwit us if we are aware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11 paraphrased). We need to know our enemy to the degree that we recognize his evil hand in situations we face.

I thought of this yesterday as I was writing out a passage from Job. “God has found fault with me;” Job 33:10. This is one of Job’s detractors summarizing Job’s lament. Yet in the very beginning of his story, God said of him: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8; 2:3). The truth is, God didn’t find fault with Job. Satan did.

One of Satan’s favorite schemes goes like this: he presents a temptation, dangling the carrot of pleasure or power or wealth before us, enticing us until we bite. And as soon as we do he changes his tactic from temptation to condemnation. “Look at you! You call yourself a Christian? God is disgusted with you! He will never love you after what you’ve done!” Pretty soon we’re crying, “God has found fault with me.”  Sound familiar?

You and I need to know the difference between satan’s guilt trips and the Spirit’s conviction. When the Spirit speaks to us about our sin he does so with the goal of restoration. Conviction from the Holy Spirit brings “godly sorrow [which] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. But satan brings “worldly sorrow [that] brings death”  (2 Cor 7:9-10). Satan just wants to tear us down and bury us under a load of shame. Here’s how you can recognize one from the other. Satan’s attacks turn our attention to ourselves and what horrible creatures we are. The Spirit will always turn your attention to God and His mercy, forgiveness, and grace. And love.

In heaven, satan is called “the accuser of [God’s people], who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev 12:10). But God’s not buying it. And neither should you Beloved. If you are in Christ, God sees His Son when He looks at you. Not your sin. And so should you.

Hebrews: How to Bring People to Jesus

I knew a man who believed his mission in life was to point out people’s sins. He would stand outside the local bar and berate people coming out the door and tell them they were sinners and were going to hell. Strangely, he never won a single convert to the Lord. I know a young man who brought many people to Christ when he was in college, but he never pointed a finger at anyone. He just lived his life well.

What does it take to win the world – or just your neighbor – to Christ? While it’s true that we need to tell the whole gospel – that Jesus died to save them from their sins,  is it necessary to berate them for their late-night drinking binges? Should you shame the single woman next door when her boyfriend spends the night? The author of Hebrews pointed to one person who was a witness to God without saying a word to his sinful neighbors. “By his faith [Noah] condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7b).

Previously we looked at Noah as a man whose faith was proven by his obedience.  But there is more to Noah’s story – and his testimony – than the ark. Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” Noah lived like a man of God and his righteous life was enough to convince them that they were sinners in need of grace.

I lived next door to the single woman and most weekend mornings her boyfriend’s truck was in our shared driveway.  I never said anything to her about it, but one Monday morning I saw her name on the visitor’s register for the church I worked at. Later I said, “I hope you enjoyed your visit to church yesterday.” She said, “I expected you to tell me how bad I was for letting him stay on the weekends, but you never did. I saw how you live and I knew I wanted something you have.”  We had many good conversations and when we moved away, she was attending church regularly – with her boyfriend. What you do is just as important as what you say. Maybe more so. Especially in a culture that is seeking authenticity. Beloved, you don’t have to point your finger of shame at anyone to make a gospel impact. A righteous, holy life will speak for you.

You can be Free from Shame

If your life has always been sunshine and rainbows, you can skip it today. But if you have scars on your body or on your heart, if you carry a backpack of sorrow and shame, please stay. God has a word for you.

Isaiah prophesied the coming Babylonian captivity. Why was all this happening? Because they were a “sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They [had] forsaken the Lord; they [had] spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him” (Is 1:4). They were steeped in sin and idolatry. Judgment was coming.

Can you relate? I sure can. I have a past filled with regret and shame. I have been places, done things, and been with people I should have given a wide berth. I have made some foolish, disastrous decisions. I hurt people. I hurt myself. You may be nodding your head right now. You understand. You’ve done the same. Maybe you’re still doing it.

But maybe your past wasn’t your foolish actions, but someone else’s. You were abused, misused, rejected, stepped on, then stepped over. I understand that too. Mixed in with my own sin is the stain of others’ sins. A counselor once told me that my actions were a reaction to others’ actions against me. If you hear, “You’re so stupid!” enough you start to act stupid. If you’re treated like you’re worthless you believe you’re worthless and you act like you’re worthless. This is my life story, but I bet I’m ringing some bells.

However you got your backpack of shame, I want you to listen to God’s words: “Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace, you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth” (Is 54:4). “How?” you ask, “it’s a huge, heavy burden”. Jesus. Jesus is how you can be free from shame. Because Jesus took it all to the cross. And to the grave. And when He rose to life three days later, He left it all in the ground. God declared, “The former things will not be remembered; nor will they come to mind” (Is 65:17). In Jesus you are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). That’s your story now, Beloved. Set your backpack down and go live like who you are. Forgiven and free.

When Misery Becomes Ministry

“Lord, why do I have to go through this? It is awful. It is painful. It is scary. Why?” Ever thought that? Yeah, me too. More than once. And recently. I’ve also wiped tears from someone’s face who said much the same. The question looms large in our minds: “Is there a purpose for all this pain?” Let me encourage you friend – I believe there is. Paul put it this way, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).

Alcoholics Anonymous understands that a recovering alcoholic is uniquely qualified to help another find sobriety. Bosom Buddies brings a breast cancer survivor alongside one who is newly diagnosed. I have a dear friend who has a powerful ministry to post-abortive women because she made that same choice years ago. Because of my past experiences, I can sit across the table from a someone dealing with childhood bullying, sexual abuse, divorce, rejection, ridicule, depression, self-esteem issues, financial failure, a wayward child, uncertainty, and the fallout of their own sinful and foolish choices and say, “Been there, done that, and let me tell you how God got me through it.”

Paul continued his thought saying: “For just as the suffering of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” ( 2 Cor 1:5). It’s like that old game of “Barrel of Monkeys,” where you link the arms of plastic monkeys to see how many you can pull out of the barrel in a conjoined string. All these things I’ve been through make me uniquely qualified to link arms with another and help them out of the barrel. In the end, we hopefully become a long string of survivors pulling more and more people out of despair, depression, and hopelessness.

One thing of which I am certain to the marrow of my bones: God wants to take your misery and turn it into ministry. He wants to use you and your story and your scars to speak hope and life into another suffering soul. You can sit and stew in your pain or you can help Him pull monkeys out of the barrel. Beloved, which will it be?

Hebrews: By Faith – Abel

We’re now entering the “Hall of Faith” – the eleventh chapter of Hebrews that lists the heroes of the people of God. You know these stories well they are a staple of Bible teachers because they lead by example. Their examples were not their exploits. Over and over and over it was their faith.

First up: Abel. “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (v. 4). Every sermon I’ve heard on Cain and Abel was about Cain’s actions and how God told him that “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (v. 7). Thus, Cain becomes a lesson in self-control.

But the writer takes an entirely different approach. In fact, he makes no mention of how Abel died. He said that Abel’s faith was evidenced by the offering he brought. Cain brought “some” of the produce from his fields while Able brought “fat portions from the firstborn of his flock” – or the best of the best. Did God just want a good steak dinner with no salad that day? No. The point was and is Abel’s faith. By definition, faith here is “the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ”  (blueletterbible.com). Abel believed that God was real, that He was everything He claimed to be, and that He was worthy of the very best that Abel had to offer. Abel’s offering reflected how He saw God. And so did Cain’s.

What are you bringing to God and what does it say about how you see Him? I once heard a story about a little boy who, when the offering plate was passed at church, took the plate, set it on the floor, and stood in it. His embarrassed mother jerked him back in his seat, and hissed, “What are you doing?!” He loudly replied, “I don’t gots no money, so I want to give Jesus myself.” He was right on target. God doesn’t want your money – though tithing is one part of our giving. He wants you. All of you. Heart. Mind. Soul, Strength. So, Beloved, what is God worth to you?

Hanging by a Thread

I was standing in the kitchen, begging the coffee maker to hurry up when my son walked in to get something to drink. I heard him behind me – “HIC!” “HIC!” “HIC!” He said, “I don’t think there’s anything worse than waking up with the hiccups.”  I answered him, “There is – waking up and being sick to your stomach is worse.” And I playfully growled at him and said, “I know from experience – and it was all your fault!” Of course, I was referring to the morning sickness I endured when I was pregnant with him. But our conversation made me think – what would be the worst thing to wake up to? I could list a lot of things – I’m sure you could too. Waking up to pain or sorrow or loss or violence or loneliness or heartache would be hard to face first thing in the morning. Then I thought, the worst thing to wake up to is hopelessness. That feeling that life is awful and it’s never going to get any better.  I’ve had seasons like that and I know that you have too. You may be there now. When all those hard things feel like permanent fixtures in our lives, we wonder if there’s any point in waking up at all.

A few thousand years ago, a prophet was waking up to the reality that all of his efforts to turn the nation of Israel back to God were useless. Jeremiah watched helplessly as the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem – under God’s judgment. He said, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord . . . my soul is downcast” (Lamentations 3:18, 19). He had hoped to save his people. He had hoped God would stop the invasion. But his hopes were not to be. He wept bitterly for the rebellious children of God.

But he did not give up. He declared “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I HAVE HOPE: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vs. 21-23, emphasis added). He still had a thread of hope that was tied securely to the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God. And that was enough. It’s enough for you too, Beloved. Tie your last thread of hope to the goodness of the Lord. He will never fail you.

Real-Life Wisdom

What do we do with the failures of our past? Now that we have survived some of the trials and struggles of life, now that we have lived through the results of our own mistakes, now that we have found that sowing wild oats doesn’t bring much of a harvest—what do we do with all that hard-earned wisdom?  Paul offers the best advice: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  We reach back and help someone else who is struggling in the same manner.  Why is AA so powerful? Because it is built on experience and a shared struggle.  It is one person who has found freedom from addiction walking alongside someone who is trying to break free. The best counselors (either formal or informal) are the one who have “been there, done that, and have the T-shirt to prove it.” 

I have a lifetime of experience with the consequences of my own foolishness. But I also have a lifetime of experience with God’s faithfulness and mercy. The Lord has rescued me many, many times and now I am able to offer a hand up and a bit of wisdom and encouragement to someone else in the same kind of pit.  When God rescues us and we in turn lead others to Him for freedom, we have turned the devil’s handiwork against him.  We can say with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). 

Dear friends, this is how we redeem our foolish past—we take our experiences, our failures, and our sins to the table and say to another struggling soul, “I know where you are, I understand what you’re feeling and I will take you to the One who rescued me. I will walk the whole way with you until you are free.”  Beloved, don’t let the enemy bury you in shame.  Let God use you and your scars to turn mistakes into ministry and heartbreak into hope.

The Journey

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The Spirit brought a verse to my attention this morning. “Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord” (Micah 6:5b). He asked, “What’s so important about Shittim and Gilgal?” And the dig was on.

Shittim is where the Israelite men fell into sexual immorality and idolatry with the Moabite women who worshipped Baal, even bringing one of the women into the camp. This was a slap in God’s face and because of their sin, 24,000 Israelites died at Shittim (see Numbers 25).

Gilgal was the first city the Israelites came to after crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It was here that the entire nation took a (painful) step of obedience to the Lord by circumcising all the males in the camp. This is where the Lord declared, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Joshua 5:9). This was the place of a new life for Israel. Gilgal was also where the Israelites celebrated their first Passover in the Promised Land and where the manna they had eaten for forty days finally stopped.

Shittim represents the lowest point in Israel’s history when they were captivated by sin and idolatry. Gilgal represents the redemption of God when the Israelites finally submitted to the Lord and received His blessings. This verse is your story and mine. We all have a Shittim, a place in our lives where we were held in the grip of sin. But God’s grace is the way to Gilgal, the place of surrender and obedience and blessing. The place where we find the righteousness of God.

One other word jumps out at me: “journey.” It’s 276 kilometers (170 miles) from Shittim to Gilgal. It took the Israelites 40 years to make that trek. It is a journey from the place of sin to the place of righteousness. We’ve all walked it.  But we don’t walk it alone. From the day they walked out of Egypt to the day they walked on the dry ground of the Jordan, God was with them step-by-step. And He is with you and me.

Where are you on the journey from Shittim to Gilgal, Beloved? Take one more step. And another, and another. God is with you. The saints are cheering you on. You’re going to make it. You have God’s Word on it.

Hebrews: Don’t Reject the Living God

I really didn’t want to belabor this point any longer in our study of Hebrews, but the author does, and so, then, will we. What point? The danger of rejecting God. And he’s not speaking to the lost world, he’s talking to those who have professed Christ then turned away from Him. This is not exactly a pleasant passage and I’m sure you’re tired of this topic, but it was an important message for first-century Christians and even more so for us in the twenty-first century. The number of “Christians” who are denouncing and “deconstructing” their faith is astonishing – and it’s exactly what the Bible says we can expect as the end draws near.

The writer first pointed back to the law of Moses which was a non-negotiable for God’s people. A Jew who was convicted of rejecting God’s law was subject to death without mercy. Do we think He will be any gentler with those who reject His Son? He asked, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him?” (Hebrews 10:29). They despised the grace of God in Christ and threw it out as if it was nothing more than dung. As you might imagine, that “insults [or grieves] the Spirit of grace.”

The writer then pointed to the judgment of God. His people will be received into His presence. His enemies will face judgment and wrath. Who is God’s enemy? Anyone who rejects His grace. The author said, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v. 31). The hand of God can be a soft and gracious thing, or it can be as hard as steel – the choice is yours.  God’s grace is free, but it wasn’t cheap – it cost God His one and only Son. Please, Beloved, don’t throw it all away. Without Jesus, there’s nothing left.