Child of the King

The Queen knew that her people were in danger and only the king – her husband – could undo the evil plan against them. But no one dared to approach the throne without a summons. Not even Esther. If she did, and it displeased him, she would be put to death. It was a risky proposition, but it was necessary. She prepared herself and put on her royal robes and when the king saw her standing in the court, he welcomed her. Esther’s bravery (and her God) saved the lives of all the Jews in Persia.

I’ve often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest. I see myself dressed, not in royal robes, but in the torn, tattered rags of my sinfulness. I come with a heavy burden and a desperate need that is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to Hebrews 4:16, that is exactly what I am invited to do. The author said, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16). With these shakey knees? Yes. Because the confidence I have to come before God isn’t something inside of me, but it is because I am accepted in the blood of Jesus. While I see myself clothed in dirty rags, God sees me clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I see the mud of the world clinging to my hands, but God sees the “clean hands and pure heart” (Ps 24:4) of one who has been redeemed by His Son and cleansed from sin. I may see myself as a stumbling, sinful woman, but He sees me as His beloved child. Imagine that. I am a child of the King of the universe. Timothy Keller said: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

What do you need today? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended? Beloved, lift up your head and step into your Father’s presence. He will not only receive you but He will throw open His arms wide to you. That’s His promise. That’s your confidence. That’s your place as a child of God.

Mountain-moving Faith

“Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). If faith is what pleases God, I want faith. Many claim to have faith in doctors, in science, in their fellow man, and even in politicians (I can’t figure out why), but that is not the kind of faith of which the Bible speaks. Jesus talked about faith that can move mountains (Matt 17:20-21) – that’s the kind of faith I want because I’ve got some mountains that need to go.

Merriam-Webster defines faith as allegiance, loyalty, or sincerity. The “archaic” definition is trust in the traditional doctrines of a religion, and firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Mountain-moving faith isn’t built on doctrines or traditions. It’s not archaic, but eternal. And if you need proof, just go look at the stars. But I digress.

Faith as the Bible defines it is different. The Greek word for faith is pistis and it means belief or trust  – simple enough, right – but there is more that sets biblical faith apart. It also means that actions based on that trust will follow. Let me give you an example.

There’s an old story about a tightrope walker who strung his rope across a tall and dangerous cavern and 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.

Faith is not just sitting around thinking good, faithy thoughts. Real faith, sustaining faith is faith that moves you to obedience. It looks at the impossibility of the situation and steps forward anyway. It submits to God’s will even when it’s hard. Mountain-moving faith trusts that when the Lord says “Let us go to the other side” (Mrk 4:35) you will indeed get to the other side – despite the storm on the way.  That’s the kind of faith you and I can have because that’s the kind of God He is.

So, Beloved, are you ready to get in the wheelbarrow?

Hebrews: Grace to the End

And so we come to the end of Hebrews and fittingly the author says, “Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter” (Heb 13:22). It may have been “a short letter” (I’d hate to see his long letters) but we’ve been working through this book for 19 long months. We’ve examined Hebrews like a jeweler turning over a gemstone, marveling at its every facet. We’ve discussed a lot of deep doctrines and theology. We’ve pondered the humanity and deity of Jesus and His role as both our Great High Priest and the perfect sacrifice for our sins. We spent a lot of time in the Old Testament, looking at the law, the temple, and the lives of God’s faithful heroes of the past. We’ve covered some difficult passages, even some very controversial texts, and I’ve upset a few folks along the way. We’ve had our toes stepped on so much we wear boots every time we open our Bibles.

But like the unknown author, my intent with every devotional has been to give you a “word of exhortation” – to encourage you in your faith journey. Remember that the original recipients of this letter were Jewish believers who had transferred their confidence from the law to Jesus Christ. They trusted in the better sacrifice that came through the blood and body of the Son of God. But their faith put them under attack and some abandoned Jesus and returned to the law that could never save them. It was easier that way. Just like those who compromise their faith to get along with the culture today. But easier isn’t always best in the long run. And the long run is eternal.

After the good news of Timothy’s release and the author’s pending visit with their beloved brother, and after passing greetings back and forth, he writes a closing word that I offer to you as well. “Grace be with you all” (v. 25). Grace. The mercy and kindness of God which draws lost souls into an eternal love relationship through Christ Jesus. Grace saves us and keeps us. Grace strengthens us, and grows us up in faith, knowledge, and love. Grace moves us to live as Jesus lived and walk in all His ways. The grace of God brings us Joy, peace, hope, and sweetness. May His grace claim you, fill you, hold you, and delight you, Beloved. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Hebrews: Yes, God

My granddaughter loves to do “hidden picture” puzzles. These are scenes with small things drawn to make them blend into the other elements of the picture, essentially hiding them in plain sight. For instance, a banana becomes the bill of a cap or a ruler sits among the rails of a fence. She’s gotten quite good at finding the prize amid all the rest of the picture.

The passage we’re considering today in Hebrews is like that. “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.” Amen. (Heb 13: 20-21).  There are some deep doctrinal truths here: God is the source of peace and He imparted that peace to us through Jesus Christ, His Son, who signed the eternal covenant with His blood and sealed it with His resurrection. He has taken up His position as our great Shepherd as we – His sheep – follow Him. You could fill countless theology books with just verse 20. But for the purpose of our study, we’re going to set the descriptive text aside to get to the point. We’re not changing the Scripture, we’re just zeroing in on the hidden nugget. “May God . . . equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him . . .” There it is! A prayer that God will equip us to do His will and work in us the things that please Him.

This verse echoes Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:8). This is a promise that if God calls you to it He will equip you for it. When God called him to rescue the Israelites, Moses pointed out his stuttering problem (Ex 4:10). And God said, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (v. 12). And He did. And God was pleased with Moses and called him His friend (Ex 33:11).

Yes, the calling is bigger than you but you have the promise of God – the God who brings peace through Jesus Christ – that He will help you do it. Say “Yes” to God’s call Beloved and discover what He will do through and in you.

Hebrews: Pray for Me

Pray for me. Yes, that is a request, but I’m also quoting the author of Hebrews as he nears the end of his letter. He asked his readers: “Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” (Heb 13:18). Scholars believe that the unknown writer may have been falsely accused of something that cast a shadow on his integrity and testimony. He wanted his readers to know without a doubt that he had “a clear conscience” and a heart to live for Christ. He had been separated in some way from his beloved friends and hoped to return to them. It was a matter he wanted to be covered in prayer.

Paul’s letters are filled with pleas for prayer for himself – and his prayers for others.  If you need some suggestions for how to pray for others, you would do well to search out his writings. Here are a few that I like to use:

I pray that in Him you will be enriched in every way and not lack any spiritual gift. I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will keep you strong and blameless to the end (adapted from 1 Cor 1:4-9).

“I pray that God will fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, so that you may have great endurance, patience, Joy and gratitude” (Col 1:9-12).

And my favorite: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).

The Bible is filled with good words that can be turned into good prayers. Many of the Psalms are the prayers of David and the Levites. God declared, “My word that goes out of my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). Praying His Word back to Him has His divine power and authority behind it.

So pray for somebody today, Beloved. If you don’t know their specific needs, pray one of these Scriptures over them. Who knows what God may do in someone’s life through your prayers?

Hebrews: The Pastor/Shepherd

I spent much of my career serving in administrative roles in churches. I’ve seen churches and pastors with wonderful relationships and I’ve seen churches and pastors with unpleasant relationships. Rarely was the problem with the pastor. Most often the tension arose from within the church and usually involved a handful of people and a power struggle.  The author of Hebrews said, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a Joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17). He was writing about the structure of the church. He was calling the Body of Christ to proper order starting with submission to the leadership.

All through the Bible – particularly the New Testament – God lays out a hierarchy. In the home wives and children submit to the husband and father. In the church, members submit to the pastor/elder whom God had placed over them. The pastor/elder submits to Jesus Christ, the head of the church (Eph 1:22-23). Scripture also says that Christ submits to His head, which is God (1 Cor 11:3).

The godly pastor/elder serves the church by caring for and about its members. The Bible called church leaders “shepherds” over a flock of sheep. A shepherd’s priority is no how much the animals will bring at the market but the well-being of the flock under his care. The same is true of the shepherd of God’s flock. He provides for the sheep. He comforts the sheep. He guides the sheep. He walks beside the sheep through dark valleys. He sets the righteous of God always before them. He fights the enemy on their behalf, prepares them for serving, and blesses them in the name of the Lord. (Reference Psalm 23). He warns the sheep of danger. He even points out their sinful and self-destructive ways. And, the writer says, the Lord who appointed him holds him accountable for how he tends the sheep under his care.

A submissive church is a Joy to her pastor. Barna recently reported that 42 percent of pastors are considering leaving their ministry. The pressures and demands and struggles of pastoring often outweigh the benefits. As church members, you and I play a big part in whether the Pastor’s work is a Joy or a burden. This verse says submission and obedience make the relationship work for everyone. Beloved, will you be a blessing to your Pastor?

Hebrews: The Hands and Feet of Jesus

Photo Credit: Ashley Andrews

Now that the Advent season is done, it’s time to finish up our study of Hebrews. We’re in the last half of the final chapter. Since we’ve been away a while, let’s review a little. Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who were under tremendous persecution to abandon their faith in Jesus Christ. The writer wanted to encourage them to stay true to the Lord. He showed them how Jesus was superior to every aspect of Judaism because He is the Son of God and equal in divine power and authority. Yet Jesus was also a man who suffered for the sins of humanity and fulfilled the demands of the Mosaic Law.

He also used the example of the heroes of Jewish history to prove that faith, not adherence to rules, made them righteous before God. He encouraged them to persevere despite their suffering because suffering was God’s tool for perfecting His children. Here at the end of his message, the writer exhorted his readers to live in a community of love, purity, contentment, faithfulness, diligence, and praise.

So we pick up where we left off with a good word in verse 16: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” For the past month, my church family has lived out this verse. You may be aware that, in September, my son and his family – including my granddaughter Joy, moved from our home to live with other family several hours away.  You may not know that they came back to us at the end of November. It has been a sweet reunion, but it’s also been difficult financially. We’re trying to stretch our very meager income to cover all five of us until my son goes to basic training for the Army National Guard in a few weeks. And in all that to give Joy a good Christmas.

Our church family and friends have exemplified our focal verse. They have stepped in and blessed us incredibly with food, funds, and so many gifts for Joy that we can’t stop shaking our heads in amazement. There is no doubt that God is well-pleased with their generosity and love. And here’s the amazing part – we didn’t tell anyone that we were struggling. But God did. And they listened and acted on it.

Jesus said whatever you do for the least of His brothers, “you [do] for me” (Matt 25:40). Somebody has a need that you can meet. Beloved, will you bless them – and Him – today?

The Truth is . . .

Has anyone ever lied to you? Ever listened to a politician? Ever asked a toddler, “What have you got in your mouth?” Or asked your teenager, “Do you have homework tonight?” Yep, you’ve been lied to. I know people have lied to me. Some were “white lies” and some were “indiscretions.” And there’s the occasional covering up a birthday surprise. Few things will draw my ire more than a bald-faced lie – when someone lies to my face and we both know it. 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 Scripture, 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 you a future and a hope (Jer 29:13) and that He will fulfill His purpose for you (Ps 27:2), you need not fear the days ahead.

And most of all, when the Bible says God loves you – that He lavishes His love on you (1 John 3:1) – you can know without a shadow of a doubt that it is the truth, no matter what your feelings or the devil, or the world may say. The Creator of the universe loves you. And that, Beloved, is no lie. It’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear.

Advent 2022: Jesus Came for You

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)

Why would the God of Glory send His Son to be born of impoverished parents, in a mean stable among filthy animals? He is the Son of God, should He not be born in a palace befitting His supreme identity? Should His birth not be hailed by princes and royal guests and feasts and celebrations in the grandest style? Should His mother not be cared for by the best physicians in the land? Perhaps that is the way we would have written the Christmas story, but that’s not how the original Author presented it.

He was born in a stable, on loan for the night. His mother had only her frightened husband, Joseph to aid her in delivery. He was greeted by cattle and sheep and all the filth that comes with them. And rather than a soft bed of luxurious silk, He was laid in the animal’s feeding trough, on a bed of scratchy, rough hay. Is this any way to bring a King into the world?

Maybe God sent His Son in this way so the child born in a tiny tin hut in Haiti or on the filthy floor of a crack house in New York would identify in the most basic way with Jesus. Maybe it was so those who have nothing can find a connection with the God who wants to give them everything. Jesus’ birth is God coming to the forgotten, the lonely, the impoverished, and the lost on common ground. He wanted to reach the “poor in spirit, the meek, the hungry and thirsty” (Matthew 5:3-10). I don’t know if you are rich or poor, living a life of advantage or hardship, sleeping in a mansion or a homeless shelter. I do know that Jesus was born for you. And He died for you. The Christmas story is your story too. Yes, Beloved even – especially – you.

Hebrews: A Sacrifice of Praise

Several years ago I had a serious mental and emotional crash. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. I descended into a pit of depression and despair that was so deep I thought I would never see the sun again. Oh, I continued to go to church every Sunday and stood with the congregation during praise and worship. But I couldn’t sing. I wept. One day as I was driving, Crowder’s song, “Oh Praise Him” came on the radio. I felt a nudge in my spirit, “Sing child.” “I can’t” I replied, as tears began to burn my eyes. “Sing anyway.” So I choked out the first chorus, “Oh, praise Him. O praise Him. He is holy. He is holy.” I kept singing – or croaking – to be honest. But by the end of that song, I was singing clearly, “Oh, la, la, la, la, la, la” with tears streaming down my face. That was the day my healing began.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name” (Heb 13:15). I understand this verse. Sometimes praise is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Remember, this was written to Jewish believers in Christ who were facing extreme oppression and persecution for their faith. Many were turning away from Christ and abandoning the faith because it was just getting too hard. The author implored them to instead offer praise to God in their suffering, even if it came at a high cost.

I won’t deny that life is hard and pain is real. But God is still worthy of praise. He is still good. He is still sovereign. He is still awesome in power. He is still holy. And He is with us in our pain. David said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted . . .” (Ps 34:18). If that’s you today, let me assure you that God is near. He has not abandoned you in your heartache. He has tenderly drawn you close. If you’re still you can feel His breath ruffling your hair. If you listen you can hear His heart beating. Then you may hear Him say, “Sing, child.” I know. It’s not easy. But sing anyway Beloved, even if all you can do is whisper through your tears. He’ll hear you. He’s not listening to your words; He’s listening to your heart.