For the Name of Jesus

She looked at me with disgust, “Keep that stuff to yourself” she snarled. “God bless you!” I called out to her as she stormed away. I was young in my faith and bold – maybe brazen is the better word. I was sitting in the food court of the local mall with a friend who was giving witness to God’s work in her family. I raised my hands and shouted, “Wooo! Praise God!” That’s when the woman at the next table picked up her bags and launched her bomb at me. I wasn’t fazed. In fact, I wore it as a badge of honor. I counted it as “religious persecution,” and for the time and the culture, I suppose it was.

But what I called persecution was not even a slap on the wrist compared to believers in China, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria, Cuba, and dozen more. There the threats are not merely verbal but physical, economic, and relational, and often end in violence and death. I dare say their faith has been forged in the fire. Just as the apostles’ was.

Even after being ordered to stop preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus, His followers didn’t quit. The religious leaders were filled with jealousy and ordered them to be arrested (Acts 5:17-18). They responded by escaping jail with the help of an angel who said, “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life” (v. 20). After being brought again before the Sanhedrin – the ruling council of the Jews – they declared, “We must obey God rather than men!” (v. 29). In return they were flogged and the Bible says they “left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (v. 41).

In our modern, western culture, religion is regarded as a personal preference, not a life-giving entity.  It is kept private and should not be allowed to spill over onto others.  In schools, workplaces, among our peers, and even in the food court at the mall we are told to keep our religion to ourselves, or “save that stuff for church.”  And we do because we don’t want to rock the boat.  But true Christianity – the kind that changes the world – is all-or-nothing. Beloved, it’s time for you and me to not only rock the boat but get out of it and walk on the water.

Exercise Your Faith

I had a conversation with my chiropractor about trying to get off the couch and get moving.  In my defense, I’m not on the couch but I spend my days in office chairs working or studying and in the recliner, rocking my sweet Joy. I know I need to get some exercise but, I complained, “I am so drained. I have no energy!”  He told me that when we only use a small amount of energy every day, our body gets accustomed to that and eventually doesn’t demand any more of us.  That is how a “couch potato” is created.  But if we push past that low physical bar we have set, our body will begin to respond to the demand for additional energy and will build a greater energy reserve.  That drives us to move and the more we move the more energy we gain. But we have to be determined to break the low-energy barrier. 

In the same way, if we allow ourselves to become satisfied with just a little bit of God, we will never want more of Him.  But if we push past that low spiritual bar we have set, everything changes. If we devote ourselves to studying His Word and fellowship with Him in prayer each day our hearts will begin to respond to Him more and more, and we will find that we can never get enough of Him.  We will be filled with His love and His Spirit will give us new life and spiritual energy.

The Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon. He promised to return them to their homeland and restore what had been taken from them. Jeremiah 29:13 my life verse: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” The secret to overcoming those low spiritual reserves is to seek after God with our whole hearts. That’s not a quick glance in God’s direction. The words the prophet used are of the mind, will, and emotions fully dedicated to knowing and worshiping God. The beauty of this verse is in the promise in verse 14: “I will be found by you.” When we set our hearts to seek Him, He sets Himself in our path where we can’t miss Him.

Have you settled for a “couch-potato faith?” Are you ready for more? Put your whole heart into seeking God. He will move you into a deeper, richer, stronger faith. Come on, Beloved, let’s get moving!

Protecting the Promise

I promised this yesterday, and yesterday went sideways on me so here ‘tis. 

Abraham – originally Abram – was a regular guy living a regular life in the ancient near east when God stepped in. Promises were made for “a great nation” (Gen 12:2) and land. Promises that would change the course of world history. But first God would have to guard those promises from the man’s foolishness.

Over and over Abraham put those promises in jeopardy. He went to Egypt and claimed that his wife, Sarah was his sister (a partial truth – but still a lie). He went to Gerar and made the same statement. In both instances, his wife was taken into the harem of the Pharoah and the king (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Both times God interrupted the setup and protected Sarah – and the promise of a child – by not allowing her to be taken into the royal bed.  Abraham wasn’t the only one who acted faithlessly. Sarah, believing it was up to her to fulfill God’s promise (doesn’t that sound familiar), gave her slave-girl to Abraham to produce an heir – but not the heir of the Divine promise. Once again, God had to step in and send Hagar and Ishmael away to protect the promise.

Abraham eventually figured it out. After Sarah died he realized that it was time for his son, Isaac, to marry. But he must not marry a woman from the surrounding people – the Canaanites – a wicked nation who did not worship God. They would surely lead Isaac away from God. He sent his servant back to his own people to get a wife for his son. The servant asked, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?” (Gen 24:5).  Abraham declared, “Make sure that you do not take my son back there” (v. 6). Why? The Lord had said, “To your offspring I will give this land . . .” (v. 7). The promise was tied to the land. Abraham knew if his son went back to his family the promise would be in jeopardy. This time, Abraham was protecting the promise. His son could not leave “The Promised Land.” There was too much at stake.

What does this mean for you and me today? God still makes promises and He still works to protect those promises. And so must we. Guard your steps. Guard your life. Make God’s promises the beat of your heart, Beloved. All the way to The Promised Land.

Do You Love God?

I may have given you the impression that my granddaughter Joy is perfect. She almost is . . . but she has just enough of me in her to spoil perfection. She has trouble sometimes obeying. She knows she is not allowed to climb on the back of Poppy’s recliner, but she does it anyway. She knows she is not allowed to get out of her seat at the table without permission, but she does it anyway. She knows she is not allowed to touch Nana’s laptop, but – well you know. We know she knows the rules because she says, “don’t climb on Poppy’s chair,” “ask permission before you get down,” “don’t touch Nana’s laptop,” but she does what she wants.

I said that is her Nana coming out, but really that is just human nature. We want what we want. Even when we know what we want is against the rules. Satan convinced Eve that God was withholding some good stuff from her. Like tasty, pretty fruit and knowledge that would make her like God Himself. Yet, God had said explicitly, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . .” (Gen 2:17). His reason was for their preservation – if they ate the fruit they would die.  But there was a bigger reason for them to avoid the forbidden fruit. God had spoken and they were obligated to obey.

James said if we know what we ought (and ought not) do and we disobey, we sin (James 4:17). And we do know because we have God’s Word. Many of us can quote what we ought and ought not do. But we disobey anyway. Obedience matters to God and it should matter to us.  Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). He said our obedience proves we love Him. So what does it prove when we are disobedient? He made it very clear, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching (v. 24).

We know Joy loves us and this is her immaturity (and her Nana) coming out. Our job is to direct her to grow in obedience. As God’s children, we ought to be obedient. Beloved, what does your life say about your love for God?

All In

A hen and a pig were looking at the farmer’s breakfast plate, with toast, grits, eggs, and bacon. The hen strutted around saying, “Look at the hen’s contribution to this fine breakfast – see those eggs there on the plate!” The pig looked at the hen and said, “You hens make a contribution, but for us pigs, it’s an all-or-nothing commitment.”

“Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus has very high expectations for His followers. He doesn’t just want contributors, he wants people who will surrender it all to Him. People who will Joyfully “lose their life” for the Kingdom.

What does that really mean? When I study His Word – and look at the world – I realize that Jesus meant exactly what he said. I researched the words Matthew recorded and He said that those who deny Him are more concerned with keeping their earthly lives safe and sound and free from suffering and danger than they are with His Kingdom. (Have you noticed a “suffering” theme in my devotionals lately? That’s not my choice. I believe that God is preparing us for something.) And the life we lose – or destroy according to the Greek – is our souls. When we chose our lives over the Kingdom of God we throw away eternal life with Christ in heaven.

I’ve always heard to lose your life for Christ’s sake means letting go of everything that the world tells us life is all about. Certainly, it’s recognizing that whatever reward this temporal life offers – pleasure, fame, wealth, power, status, or intellect – cannot compare with all Christ offers. But losing our life literally means being willing to die for His Kingdom. We have the examples of the apostles and the martyrs of the faith who died with the name of Jesus on their lips. It’s not only about denying worldly attractions, but it’s being ready to face lions and swords and all manner of suffering – even death. It is trading the small sphere of this world for the much bigger eternal Kingdom of God. So I ask you, Beloved, are you making a contribution to the Kingdom of God or are you all in?

Hebrews: Be Faithful

The Bible is the perfect, infallible Word of God. It is complete and lacks nothing. But we’re going to add something. Hear me out before you hang me as a heretic.

For several weeks now, we’ve been studying the Hall of Faith in Hebrews, the stories of men and women whom God found faithful. I hope it has been as rich and encouraging to you as it has been to me.  But here’s my question: did faith end with these ancient saints? Is there room for your name and mine on this list?

Maybe we haven’t built a massive boat or nearly sacrificed our children or led two million plus people out of slavery. I suspect none of us have witnessed the seas part or shouted down a stone wall or defeated your nation’s enemy with a sling and a stone. I don’t believe we’ve faced off against hungry lions or walked out of a fiery furnace. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been faithful.

If you’ve trusted God in hard circumstances, you’ve been faithful. If you endured insults for being a Christian, you have been faithful. If you have resisted temptation or been truthful when a lie would have been easier, you have been faithful. If you’ve wept on your knees and got up and pressed on, you, my friend, have been faithful. If you’ve been gentle in the face of anger or loved the one who hated you, or been patient with the grown kid who keeps failing over and over, you have been faithful. If you’ve kept at your calling, even if no one else notices, you are faithful. If you’ve walked into unknown territory because God said go, if you’ve gone the extra mile (or several miles) – you’ve been faithful. If you have looked into an empty pantry or an empty gas tank and said, “God I will trust you to provide” – there’s no doubt you are faithful. If you’ve gotten up early to spend time in the Word and prayer – you have been faithful.

I want you to do something this morning. Open up your Bible to the end of Hebrews 11 and write (yes, it’s okay to write in your Bible) “By faith (your name) . . . ” then ask Him how you have been faithful and how you can be even more so. Beloved, it’s time to add our names to the Hall of Faith and continue the legacy of God’s faithful people.

Hebrews: The Faith of a Harlot

I have a list in my Bible taken from the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel of the most unlikely people God chose to use in Israel’s history. Abraham was a liar, twice putting his wife’s life in danger to save his own skin. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson followed in his footsteps as a liar, a thief, and a cheater. Judah cheated his daughter-in-law Tamar out of her rightful place in the family. Tamar tricked Judah into sleeping with her (which he willingly went along with) and impregnating her with twin sons, one of whom, Perez, is in the lineage of Jesus. There is Ruth, a despised Moabitess (a people of mixed heritage), David, an adulterer and murderer, and Solomon, the product of David’s affair, who was a womanizer and idolator.

And let’s not forget Rahab, whom the author of Hebrews identifies as “the prostitute [who] welcomed the spies” (Heb 11:31). Some have tried to clean up her reputation and claim she was “an innkeeper,” and she may have been, but it was a side gig to her regular job as a prostitute. Why, if we’re talking about the Son of God, would the Bible include such unsavory characters? Because liars and adulterers and thieves, and cheaters, and murderers, and womanizers, and idolators, and – yes, prostitutes need Jesus. Just as drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, abortionists, abusers, war-mongers, and rapists do. So do housewives, company presidents, preachers, police officers, school principals, grandparents, farmers – well I think you get the picture. There’s not a soul alive that doesn’t need Him. And the beauty of it is he will never refuse anyone.  He said, Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). That’s good news for those of us with a “colorful” past – or present.

I think there is another reason for including these people. It’s in the introduction the writer used for every person in this chapter. “By faith  . . .” Rahab was everything God’s Law stood against, but Rahab had faith in God. And faith changes everything. Rahab the prostitute (and Gentile) became the heroine of the Jewish nation and the great-great-grandmother of King David. Faith turns the unlikeliest sinners into saints – even better – into the image-bearers of Christ (Rom 8:29). Rahab assures us that no one is too far gone for God. Not your spouse, neighbor, or hard-headed kid. Not even you, Beloved.  All it takes is faith.

Hebrews: Extraordinary Faith

God has moved and worked in my life for many years now and I don’t think He’s ever done anything “normal.” He doesn’t follow conventional wisdom, doesn’t act according to my expectations, resists my good advice, and doesn’t even obey His own laws of nature. But I’m not the first person to witness His extraordinary ways – and I doubt I will be the last. The writer of Hebrews highlighted two instances in the Scriptures.

“By faith, the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned” (Heb 11:29). The Israelites were trapped. The sea blocked their way forward and Pharaoh and his army pinned them in from behind. They faced either drowning or defeat. The Lord had But the Lord knew right where they were and exactly what was happening. And He had a plan. A strong wind blew across the sea and the waters parted. Picture old men tapping their walking sticks on the sea bed expecting mud and marveling at the dry ground beneath their feet.  Watch curious children poking their fingers into the side walls of water, as bewildered fish watch the strange creatures passing by. See Mothers and grandmothers pulling youngsters back from those walls and scooping up little ones to get quickly across. As the people stepped onto the shore and watched the sea swallow up their enemies, I’m sure they shook their heads in amazement (Exodus 14).

“By faith, the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (v. 30). Joshua led the people toward Jericho when the “Commander of the army of the Lord” came to him with the strangest battle plan in history. But he followed it to a T. For six days the entire nation walked silently outside the walls of the city as the priests blew the trumpets. On the seventh day, they marched again and then the command was given to SHOUT – and the walls came tumbling down (Joshua 6).

It had to take some extraordinary faith to step out onto the riverbed where the water once flowed or to walk silently around the city walls, trusting that they will fall. The same kind of faith it takes to trust God in the everyday trials and struggles of life you face today. You can have that same faith because you have the same God. Walk through Beloved. March on. Their God proved faithful. And so will yours.

The Man (or Woman) God Uses

“Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said, ‘Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?’” (2 Samuel 7:18).

Think you have nothing to offer to God and His kingdom? Do you believe that you’re too young or too old or have no gifts or talents? Sure you want to do great things for God, but you’re just a mom wiping dirty noses or a regular guy at a regular job, or a college student trying to get through finals. You’re in very good company, my friend!

A young woman had nothing to offer God but a loyal heart. She followed her mother-in-law home and did the most normal thing – she went out to gather grain to feed them both. But God interceded and Ruth became the great grandmother of God’s anointed King of Israel and part of the lineage of Jesus.

Esther had no influence in the politics of Persia – but she had courage. Because she stepped up and stepped into the King’s court, the Jewish people throughout the Persian empire were saved.

A young captive in a foreign land, Daniel had nothing of value. But he did have integrity. God used him to show His sovereignty and power to two of the greatest rulers in history: Nebuchadnezzar and Darius.

Jesus called twelve men from fishing boats and tax booths and used them to turn the entire world upside down.

Two women did what women throughout the ages have done – raised children and grandchildren. God used Lois and Eunice to shape young Timothy into the Apostle Paul’s right-hand man and true son in the faith.

You may not be in a position of importance, but you are important to the Kingdom of God. You may see yourself as small and insignificant or past your prime, and that’s just fine with Him. He likes to use the least likely people to accomplish the most amazing things. That way He gets all the glory.

If you think you have nothing of value to offer God, you’re wrong. You have yourself. That’s all He needs. He will take you and use you in the most ordinary – and yet extraordinary – ways. I’m living proof of that. Beloved, He’s got an important task, and you’re just the person He’s been looking for. Just be available and watch Him work.

Hebrews: The Blood of the Lamb

As a Christian, I am fascinated by the history of Israel and the people of the Jewish faith – after all my Savior was a Jew. Every person God used in Israel’s history has an important story to tell. Like the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the great kings, David and Solomon. And don’t forget the rescuer of the Hebrew people. Every Jewish person knows the story of Moses. Christians who want to know the Lord better should too because he was a “type” of Christ, an early example of Jesus and His ministry. Maybe that’s why the writer of Hebrews devoted so much of “the Hall of Faith” to telling his story.

One point of Moses’ story that most parallels Jesus is in the Passover – an eight-day festival that celebrates the Jews’ escape from Egypt. It especially remembers the protection of the Lord from the tenth plague when God sent the death angel to every house in the land, and every firstborn son was slain – unless the mark was present. This is where Moses stood tall. “By faith, he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel” (Heb 11:28). It’s not just a dramatic story for Cecil B. DeMille’s movie. It is the most powerful, important truth in human history: personal deliverance only comes through the blood of the Lamb.

The Passover (pesach) lamb, a spotless, yearling, was slain and the blood was applied to “the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses” (Ex 12:7). When the “destroyer of the firstborn” went through Egypt, he “passed over” the Hebrews’ homes where the blood was applied. Consider the placement of the blood – on the top and sides of the door frame. Think about the cross where Jesus’ bloodied head and hands were positioned. The blood on the door frames foretold the blood of Jesus – the Lamb of God – on the cross.

What does all this mean for you? It means that if you have been covered by that blood, you are spared the condemnation due all sinful people. Moses had faith that the blood of the paschal lamb was enough to save the people. You and I can have faith that the blood of Jesus is enough to save us. God has made the way through the blood of the Lamb. He did it for His people. He did it for you, Beloved.