God is Here

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The boy stood looking at the writing on the angry man’s poster: GOD IS NOWHERE. When the man laid down his poster to step into the nearby café, the lad turned the poster over and wrote diligently.  The man came back to his spot on the sidewalk and the boy said, “You had a mistake on your poster, but it fixed it. He picked up the poster to read what the boy had written: GOD IS NOW HERE.

That is the whole point of the Christmas story.  The Bible shows us that God has continually drawn near to man.  In the garden, He had close and personal fellowship with Adam and Eve, walking through the Garden with them in the cool of the evening.  But sin broke that intimate fellowship, and a barrier was placed between God and man.  God commanded the Israelites to make a Tabernacle that He might come and dwell among His people, and He did for hundreds of years until again, the sin of the nation of Israel became so great that God withdrew from the Temple.  The Old Testament records many visitations of God to Abraham, Jacob, Daniel, and others who were devoted to Him.  But these were brief occasions, to impart a message or empower His servant for a specific act.  God desired a deeper communion with man.  And God had a plan.

The angel recalled the prophecy: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him called ‘Immanuel*’ which means ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:23).  Jesus brought God near to us as a tiny baby in Bethlehem, as a man proclaiming the Good News, as the sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and as the risen Lord.  Then He gave us His presence continually in His indwelling Holy Spirit.  Immanuel is with us in storms and darkness and trial and suffering.  He is with us in our times of doubt and fear and loneliness and emptiness.  The joy of Immanuel is knowing that there is no place we can go and no circumstance of life we will face that God is as near as your whispered prayer.  Jesus made Himself one of us that we might be with Him now and for eternity.

Beloved, I pray that the Joy of Immanuel is with you this Advent season.

* Some translations spell this word differently, the NIV uses Immanuel, the KJV uses Emmanuel – either way God is with us.

Satisfied

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“If I only had a boyfriend, I would be so happy.” “If I were married, I would finally be content.” “Oh, if I could have a baby, my life would be perfect.” “I know if I could find a better job I would finally be satisfied.” Ever said one of these, or something similar? I’ve said all of them – and guess what – they didn’t deliver what I thought they would. The boyfriend was a jerk, the marriage turned sour, the baby cried. All. The. Time. And the job just meant more stress.

Isaiah 55:2 says, “Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy?” This was God’s call to the nation of Israel to leave behind all the things that had failed them and come to the only sure thing that could satisfy – Himself. They had wearied themselves trying to gain wealth and power, position and pleasure – but still, their lives were empty. The harder they tried to create a satisfying and fulfilled life, the further they got from it.

Does that ring any bells for you? It sure does for me. I’ve known moments of what I thought were satisfaction or Joy or peace, but they were only temporary and soon I was looking to the next thing/person for what was missing in my life. The truth is that I was not looking for what I needed, but for what I wanted. And my wants changed with the next commercial, the newest pair of shoes, or the next hunger pang. But then I met Jesus and I discovered what I was longing for in Christ.  No person can steal that satisfaction. No circumstance can take away that Joy.  No trial can shatter that peace.

Beloved, what are you relying on for satisfaction? Wealth? Status? Food? Perfection? People? Acceptance? None of these will fill that void inside you. It is only when you look to Christ to meet your desires that you gain a satisfaction that is eternal and unshakable. God said to the Israelites, “Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live” (v. 3). There is no need to look for the next thing because there is nothing more satisfying than Him.

Thus Saith the Lord

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This morning I was reading in Proverbs (a great source of practical and spiritual wisdom) and came to this: “Every word of God is flawless, He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him” (Proverbs 30:5). Immediately my mind went to the armor of God in Ephesians 6 and the Shield of Faith, and a light went off in my mind. I’ve always understood that the shield of faith is my confidence, my trust, my determination to stand strong behind my faith in God. Do you see the weak link in that chain – my. It’s all dependant on me. And I am not that strong. My faith is feeble on my best days, and I’ve had some pretty rough days of late.

But if my shield is God’s own words – what a strong and study defense I hold in my hand. If my confidence is in God’s promise to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Jos 1:5) and to “be with you where you go” (v. 9), the enemy cannot penetrate God’s faithfulness.  If I am clinging to His declaration that “You are my servant; I have chosen you and have not rejected you . . . I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Is 41:9-10), I know satan cannot defeat me. And if He said “Remain in me, and I will remain in you” (John 15:4), it’s His hand in my hand that is holding strong to that shield and nothing and no one can break His grip. When Jesus was in the wilderness, what was His response when the devil tried to tempt Him? “It is written . . .” (Matt 4:4, 7, 10).

Just a side note: did you notice the second part of Proverbs 30:5? Go back and read it again – I’ll wait for you. When your faith is crafted from the very Word of God, God Himself takes up the position of defense. He is YHWH Magan – The LORD the Shield. If that Shield of Faith is going to protect you it must be made of something stronger than steel – the mighty Word of the living God. Beloved, if you will put your faith in “Thus saith the Lord” you will see your Shield standing between you and the enemy (see 2 Kings 6:15-17). That’s a position of security and victory.

Treasures in the Darkness

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I am currently a graduate student at the Baptist College of Florida. I won’t lie, it is hard. I am older and I think many of my brain cells have atrophied. Still, for reasons I don’t know yet, God said “Go back to school.” He even gave me a job right here so that I could do it for free. But I am also working on my doctorate. Surprised? My Masters will be in Christian Ministries with a concentration in Biblical Studies, but my Doctorate will be in Life Lessons and I’m studying at the School of Hard Knocks. The truth is, in one degree or another, we all are.

The ancient Psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67). He emphasized this in verse 71 saying, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Though we’re not privy to the details, the Psalmist was clearly in some kind of distress – apparently self-inflicted (as are most of mine). From his struggles and the consequences of his actions, he came away with a hard-won wisdom and probably some battle scars as a continual reminder. I’ve got a few of those too.

While I wish I could just do the right things in life and not have to learn these hard lessons, I’m grateful that God doesn’t waste them. He said, “I will give you the treasure of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord” (Isaiah 45:3). He works in every difficult season with one objective in mind – that you may know Him better. What a treasure!

I don’t know what you’re struggling through right now. I don’t know how you came to be in this hard place. It may have been by your own hand or through the actions of another. But I know two things for certain: God is faithful and He will not waste a single tear. He will “bestow on you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). Beloved, that’s the treasure in the darkness.  

God, I don’t understand

There are many wonderful, hopeful, encouraging verses in the Bible and I love every one of them.  But my eyes fell on one this morning that speaks to my heart so well. The funny thing is, I found it compliments of my granddaughter who was sitting in my chair at my desk last night, thumbing through my Bible.  She left it open at John 13 when we called her to come to supper. It’s the account of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet just before his betrayal, trials, and crucifixion. When the Lord reached Peter with his bowl and towel, Peter protested. It was not right for the Teacher, the One Peter believed to be the Son of God, to wash his filthy feet. But Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7). Those words are like balm to my heart.

“Lord, I don’t understand this.” “God, why You are letting this happen?” “Father, this makes no sense to me.” Sound familiar? From world events to rampant evil in our nation, to job loss, sickness, relational strain, financial crisis, and on and on – it’s a confusing, overwhelming time. And we don’t understand. “God, how can this work together for good?” “Lord, how can this be part of your plan?” And the quiet whisper comes, “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me” (John 14:1)

The hardest thing I’ve ever been called to do is to trust and wait on God when I don’t understand, when the “logical” thing to do is counter to what God has said. When everyone is saying, “You have to do this now!” and God says, “Be still and trust me.” When the situation seems hopeless and I am weary and God says, “In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

Beloved, I don’t know your situation. I don’t know what hard thing God has permitted in your life, but I imagine your questions are the same as mine. “What are You doing Lord, and why?” And to our questions, the answer comes, “You do not realize what I am doing, but later you will understand. And when all the pieces come together, you will see what this was all about, and you will see My hand in it.” “Trust me.”

Heaven Awaits

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We had a problem with our copier at work this week and I needed to get the manual out of the little cubby space at the very bottom of the copier cabinet.  I asked my young co-worker for help and she got down on her knees and reached way back in the back and retrieved the manual. I am sixty years old. Things on my body hurt that never hurt before. My energy drains much quicker than it use to and I don’t have the strength to muscle things around anymore. And getting down on my knees on a hard floor is an impossibility. It would require a crane to get me back up again.  I’m trying to be wiser in the things I ask my body – and my brain to do these days.  I know medical science says that brains cells do not die as we naturally age – but I disagree. At least, if they’re not dying they must be getting tired, like the rest of me.  That’s why I am more discerning about what I put in them.  

I just want to know about the things of God. I want to know what He thinks and what He is doing. I want to know His ways and His purposes. I want to know Him. Because He is eternal. I want to fill my mind with His truth and His words because they will last long after The New York Post has ceased publication. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  And the more I read and study the Bible the more convinced I am that all of life is really about eternity. And you and I need to know eternal things. What will it benefit us to know all about this singer or that actor or the dirty details of our politicians when we stand before God?

What you put in your mind affects your behavior, your words, your actions, your mood, your relationships, and your sense of peace and security.  It determines whether you live with faith or angst. The Bible is a book of wisdom and truth and hope because it is the Living Word of the Living God. It is as eternal as God Himself. Beloved, why would you want to fill your mind with the trivial matters of this world when heaven awaits?

Dry Ground

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“O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

“Lord, I just feel so dry, like the cracked ground of a desert,” I wrote in my prayer one day.  It was the best description of my life. My soul felt dry and my body was weary.  My spirit longed for Living Water.  In my parched state, I pleaded with God to send relief.

As He so often does, the Holy Spirit sent me on a “Biblical scavenger-hunt” to see what the Word has to say.  He took me to Exodus 14 where Moses, through the power of the Lord, caused the sea to part and the people crossed over “on dry ground.”  He took me to Joshua 3 where again the Israelites crossed the Jordan (at flood stage, mind you) by way of a divinely dried-up riverbed. They didn’t slug through mud and muck but walked on firm, dry land.  Then He took me to Ezekiel 37, where the prophet spoke the Word of the Lord and dry bones came to life again, with tendons and flesh and the breath of Life.  Finally, He took me to Isaiah 53 and reminded me that Jesus was called “a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground,” (v. 2).

In all of these, He reminded me that dry seasons can be the gateway to the Promised Land.  They can precede a time of awakening and renewal, and they can actually become a place of growth.  I learned through these examples that surviving dry seasons requires perseverance, listening to the Word of God, and being humble and submissive before Him.  These are lifelines during these times when our hearts and our spirits are like a cracked desert.

Beloved, if you are in Christ, God will use even the dry seasons of your life to fulfill His plan and purpose.  You need not be afraid, but press in and press on.  There is Living Water in His Word and His Spirit.  He will send the refreshing you need.  Then “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  It will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for Joy” (Isaiah 35:1). God will bring beauty to the desert, the wilderness, and your dry heart.

Face to Face with the Father

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Many years and a lifetime ago, my ex-husband abandoned me six hours away from my family. I called my mom (collect) and cried. She said that she and my dad would be there at the end of the week to help me pack up and come back home. I called her every day that week, multiple times a day, and cried as she comforted me. I was so grateful for those phone conversations, but nothing could take the place of that moment when she stood with her arms around me and said, “We’re here. We’ll get you home.” I was glad for the assurance that she and my dad were there to help me but it was just her presence that gave me so much peace. That face-to-face moment is forever crystallized in my memory.  

There are two verses in Isaiah 41 that came together for me in a powerful way recently. Verse 10 says: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” That is awesome! God has taken hold of me with His right hand. But then I saw something in verse 13: “I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you.” Did you see it? God has taken hold of my right hand. With His right hand. The only way that works is if God and I are standing face-to-face.

I know life has been a struggle lately and you wonder if God cares or is even paying attention. Oh, Beloved, look up. See your Heavenly Father standing right in front of you. Feel the warmth of your right hand in His right hand. Hear Him as He looks into your eyes and speaks. “Don’t be afraid. I am here. I will help you.” He knows. He cares. He is with you. Face-to-face.

Does God Ever Get Tired of Me?

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Which is harder to deal with – a big storm in your life or lots of ongoing frustrations? On the Sea of Galilee, fishermen are constantly on guard for storms. A big storm raging on the lake can overwhelm the strongest fishermen and take out a whole fleet of boats. But equally destructive are the constant waves that are driven across the sea’s surface by the wind, slap, slap, slapping the side of the boat. They wear away the boat’s hull and can eventually bring the boat down.

Sometimes life hits us with an unexpected crisis – the sudden death of a loved one, a health crisis, a job loss, a betrayal – we are overwhelmed and shell-shocked. We need the support of our friends and family. We need prayer. We need help. And thankfully the Body of Christ meets those needs. I can’t imagine where I would be without my church family and Christian friends. But for many of us, the damage comes from a continual struggle, that long-term problem that slap, slap, slaps us day after day after day. The wayward child, an ongoing health issue, the juggle of too many responsibilities, financial struggles, or a frustrating work situation. We still need support and prayer and help, but we’re hesitant to keep asking – or maybe just too weary to talk about it anymore. We feel like we’re just a cumbersome weight. Oh, I know this one well.

But “The Lord will not grow tired or weary . . .” (Isaiah 40:28). His patience never wears thin. He never sighs when we approach His throne of grace with our hands full of needs. He doesn’t dodge us because He’s tired of hearing our woes. I have often come to him over an issue I’ve struggled with for many years, saying, “Father, I know You’ve heard this before . . .” and I sense Him saying, “Yes, but I don’t mind if you tell me again.”

The Bible tells us to “cast all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He will bear the weight of your burdens – and you. What concerns you, Beloved, concerns God because He loves you. He cares about the big storms and He cares about the constant daily battles. If you’re like me, that’s very good news.

Hebrews: Jesus, Man of Sorrows

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I’ve been told I am a “strong” person. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I appear strong because I do a pretty good job of hiding when I am falling apart, although some of you have learned to read between the lines. Like you, I have cried and yelled and begged God to change certain things in my life. Like you, I have struggled with depression and anxiety and despair.  But you and I are in good company.  Even the strongest person in human history came under the weight of emotional affliction.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death . . .” (Hebrews 5:7). If you didn’t know who Jesus was, you would probably think that this guy went into whatever he was facing kicking and screaming all the way. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Luke said, “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (9:51). Jesus walked toward the cross with determination. But the Scriptures are clear that it was a terrible strain on Him.

Of course, you know that this verse is speaking of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest. Jesus was “very sorrowful and troubled,” even “to the point of death” (Matt. 26:37, 38). He said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27). Luke said His anguish as He prayed produced “sweat like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).  He pleaded, Abba, Father, everything is possible for you Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). I’ve prayed much the same thing, and I am sure you have as well.  The difference is, you and I bear much smaller burdens compared to Jesus, who was feeling the weight of the sin of the entire human race being piled on His shoulders. Isaiah called Him “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). So when the author of Hebrews says that Jesus, our great high priest can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (4:15). it is because He also felt the weight of despair. It was one of the most “human” moments in Jesus’ life.

I’m going to leave you right here, Beloved, in the Garden with Jesus, watching Him cry to His Father. But know that He was not lost to despair, nor are you and I. When we return to Hebrews, we will see that this very human moment is also a moment of divine glory.