Do not be Afraid

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As an aged priest performed the ritual of burning incense, an angel of the Lord appeared and spoke the first words that heaven had uttered in four centuries: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:13). God knows His creation so well. He knows that, because of the curse of sin, we live with fear. Fear makes us run. Fear makes us hide. Fear makes us cry out. Fear makes us worry.  So the very first thing God said after 400 years of silence is “Do not be afraid.”

I wonder this morning who needs to hear those words. I know I do. Every day the media bombards us with murders, hate, riots, and disease. Every day it seems evil becomes stronger and good withers away.  Every day satan stokes the fires of fear with his lies.

When fear tries to overtake me, I do two things. First, I ask God to flood my mind and heart with His peace. I don’t mean peace that sticks its head in the sand and ignores the realities of life. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and [here it is again] do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Then He gave us the basis for this peace: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). We can have peace in this world because Christ has overcome the world and all the things that make us afraid. Trouble is a reality, but trouble cannot defeat the Lord Jesus Christ nor His people.

The second thing I do is remind myself of the wonderful, all-consuming, love of God. 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out fear,” and the love of God is a perfect love. Maybe that’s why the angel spoke those words as his greeting to Zechariah. Perfect love was coming from heaven to the earth.

Beloved, whatever fear has gripped your heart, grab hold of these two things: Jesus has overcome the world and God loves you. That ought to fill your heart with peace.

I Believe

The elders of Israel were invited up the mountain to worship God. The scripture twice says they saw God, even eating and drinking with Him (Exodus 24:10,11). The disciples saw the risen Jesus. They touched the marks of their salvation. We count them as remarkably blessed. We somehow think we would have greater faith and confidence if we could only see Him with our physical eyes. Yet when the elders came down from their mountaintop experience, after waiting forty days for Moses to return, they gave up the glorious vision and pressed Aaron to make them a god they could see and touch. And Luke reports that despite seeing Him in the room with them and even after touching His hands and feet, “they still did not believe.”

Jesus said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:21). I’ve never seen God physically. I’ve never seen nor touched Jesus. But I believe. I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Resurrected Savior, the KING OF KINGS, and the LORD OF LORDS. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the second member of the Trinity, the Alpha and the Omega, the One who was and is and is to come. And He is my Redeemer, my Savior and my Lord.

No, I don’t have the advantage these men had. But I don’t need to see Him with my eyes to believe. I’ve already seen Him with my heart. #Ibelieve

Jesus

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This semester I’m studying the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I’m planning to do an in-depth study of John over the summer to round them out. I love the Gospels because I love learning about Jesus Every time I read even one of them, I am amazed at all Jesus did. That’s as it should be. Jesus was (is) amazing. As a man, He did the impossible. As God, He did the unimaginable.  He performed miracles and turned the order of things upside-down and inside-out. He left His throne in heaven and gave His life to save His creation – you and me and every human being ever born. All of this is reported by the four evangelists of the first century. It is enough to convince me He is God.  But John’s very last verse always grabs me. “Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Wow! Just imagine if we had a written record of everything He did! It would take a lot of coffee to read through them all.

In the past 2000+ years, man has had a variety of reactions to Jesus. Some have denied He is the Son of God and say that the reports of His miracles and resurrection were all fabrications. Some disregard Him altogether and claim He has no impact on their lives. Some have never heard His name at all. Some have laid claim to His name for their own glory and power and wealth. Some made it their mission to figure Him out – as if they could. And some have just fallen at His feet in worship, grateful for His mercy and grace and overwhelmed by His love. I am one of those. I have devoted my life to studying the Scriptures to know Him better. The more I know Him the more I love Him. And John says that I’ve barely scratched the surface.  I suppose if I knew it all, my heart would burst with affection and adoration.

Jesus is everything He claimed to be. Miracle worker. Teacher. Son of God. Savior of the World. The First and the Last. And He is so much more. Oh, Beloved, I pray you know Him and love Him. He is everything to me.

When Life Stinks

“God, this stinks!” I cried one morning. Why did you let this happen?” I wondered if He was paying attention. I felt like Daniel, “O Lord listen! O Lord, hear and act!” (Daniel 9:19). “God deal with this! Fix it! Make it go away!” Again I cried out – “God this stinks! It’s not fair!” Finally, my anguish gave way to the root of my question: “How can You say that You love me and let this happen?” With those words still hanging in the air, I turned to the devotional reading for the day and found the Scriptures, John 11:1-43 where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Martha’s words caught my attention. “But Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days”( John 11:39). Jesus had told Martha just a few minutes before “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). But when He commanded that the stone be rolled away, Martha protested, pointing out the obvious – her brother’s flesh was rotting away. I almost hear her saying “Lord, this stinks!”
Jesus’ reply to Martha began to seep into my heart, filling the places of fear and anxiety and soothing the deep pain I had been carrying around with me. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)? “Child, haven’t I shown you my love in a thousand ways? Haven’t I rescued you from trouble again and again? Haven’t I always proven faithful to you?” Yes. Yes, He had. So why would I imagine that He would fail me now? Why would I doubt His love for me? Why would I question His tender care and His constant presence? As I remembered those times, peace settled in my soul. I could trust Him. Yes, my situation stunk, but God had never run from my messy, smelly life. He always received me at my worst and gave me His best.
Beloved, you may be in a mess today. Life stinks and you don’t see any good outcome. I understand, I’ve been there too. May I encourage you to trust God even in the middle of it? He has this wonderful way of bringing freshness and hope into our smelly, chaotic, desperate messes.

You’ve Been With Jesus!

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There’s a verse in Acts 4 that has been on my mind lately. It comes in the narrative of Peter and John before the religious leaders. They had been arrested and were being questioned by the ruling Jewish council. Luke said that these fishermen turned preachers astonished the learned and (self)righteous men and “they took note that these unschooled, ordinary men had been with Jesus” (v. 13). How do people know that you and I have “been with Jesus?”

This story says the council “saw the courage of Peter and John”  who had just boldly declared the name of Jesus of Nazareth before them. Boldness and courage were the tell-tale signs for the Lord’s disciples. You and I are going to need their boldness and courage in the days ahead. We get that when we spend time with Jesus.

Peace is also another way that others can see that we have been with Jesus. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). When you and I can face the challenges of life with peace others will notice. They will want to know how, and we can tell them, “I’ve been with Jesus, the peace-giver.”

Probably the most definite sign that we have been with Jesus is love. He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love is the hallmark of those who have been with Jesus. You cannot be around divine love without it “rubbing off on you.” Love one another.

Then there is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus prior to His death. She came with her alabaster jar of perfume “which she poured on His head” (Matthew 26:7). As I meditated on this scene, it occurred to me – now Jesus smelled just like her and she smelled just like Him. She brought her love and worship to Him. He welcomed and received her fragrance – and her – and in return He shared with her His grace. She was there to pour out her worship on the Lord and when we worship Him, He joins with us and we share in His sweet fragrance.

That, Beloved, is how the world will know that we have been with Jesus.

Godly People in an Ungodly World

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“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the internet and you are face-to-face with evil. You don’t even have to look for it; it’s on roadside billboards, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news. Satan rules the world – for now. Yet believers are called to live godly lives in an ungodly world. How?

Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). I love this verse and the two contrasting words. “Shrewd” means “wise, sensible” and comes from “thinking and understanding.” Simply put, we need to think, then make a wise determination. Let’s be honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told. If you don’t believe me, spend a day on Facebook. We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in. Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”

In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent which means pure, not mixed with evil. His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God. They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord. Despite what the bumper sticker claims, God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness. It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for you and me.

We must let the Word of God be the determining factor in everything we do and say and think. The world will not tell you the truth. The Word will never tell you a lie. Beloved, be wise – consider everything through the lens of Scripture. It will never steer you wrong. Be innocent – keep your mind and heart pure from the world’s philosophies and attitudes. It might help to turn off the T.V., put down the newspaper, and log off of the internet. That’s how we live “in the world,” but not “of the world” (John 17:15-16).

Bible Study

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You’ve heard me say this before, and I’ll say it to my dying day – one of the most important Bible study lessons I’ve learned is to not take any Scripture out of its greater context. That is crucial to understanding the text and making the right application.  When we isolate a verse or passage we can make it say pretty much anything we want. I’ll give you just one example.

Two points are always taught from the miracle story in Luke 17:11-19. Jesus met ten lepers who cried out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (13) And He did. He told them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” which the Law demanded. The first point is that the lepers didn’t wait around until they saw their flesh restored but immediately did what Jesus said, and “As they went, they were cleansed” (14). The lesson is drawn that obedience proceeds blessings. The second, and you’re probably familiar with this one, is that only one of the ten healed men returned to thank Jesus – and this brings the lesson of gratitude.

But the point of this miracle story is not just a reminder to be obedient to God’s commands nor to be grateful for what God has done for you, although these are both important lessons and life habits that we should adopt. They are secondary to the miracle-working power of Jesus which added evidence to His claim to be the Son of God. That is Luke’s point throughout his entire gospel – the greater context. Luke stated his purpose for writing in 1:1-4. He wanted to assure “Theophilus” of “the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Now we don’t know who Theophilus was, but we know what he was taught. The heart of the gospel is in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Everything in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, points to Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. Without that firmly fixed in our minds, Bible study misses the point.

Beloved, I am passionate for you to get into the Word and get to know God’s heart for you – it begins and [never] ends with Jesus.

Deep People

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God is looking for deep people. No, not intellectual people but . . .

people with deep conviction—1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says  “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”  People who are convinced that Jesus Christ is exactly who He claimed to be. They are people who . . .

take “hold of the deep truths of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:5).  The bulk of the New Testament is made up of Paul’s replies to people who were not content with a surface knowledge about Jesus but searched the Scriptures for Him and wrote to Paul seeking clarification. These are people the Lord can entrust with . . .

 “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).  That’s not knowledge outside of the Bible, but it is “spiritual truths . . . taught by the Spirit . . . in spiritual words” (2:13). In other words, people who are walking with and listening to God’s Spirit expressing the deep things of God’s Word. They are also people . . .

 with deep love.  Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers would be “rooted and established in love, [and have] power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [they] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19) Paul is not trying to put parameters around God’s love, but rather to express its greatness and better understand its limitlessness. Then, from the deep love of God comes . . .

deep love for one another. Peter added: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). This is how we obey Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We can’t deeply love people until we deeply love God.

Oh, Beloved, I pray you are stirred with a yearning to go deeper with God. What better time than the Easter season to set your roots in the depths of His love.

A Safe Place in the Storm

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A storm is raging outside my window this morning. Thunder rumbles a warning as the wind howls and the rain beats down. In the next county, a tornado warning has sent people scurrying for their safe place. Farther up the state, families are trying to recover from this same system that has destroyed homes and neighborhoods. We really shouldn’t be caught off guard by them; it’s spring in the South and we know every year that these storms are coming. They’re still frightening to go through though.

Storms are raging in the world around us. Not storms with rain and wind and tornadoes, but storms of hate and anger and oppression. These storms are the work of the devil, God’s enemy and the enemy of everyone who loves God. We should not be taken by surprise when they hit because Jesus warned us this was coming. He said that the world (who operates under the influence of the devil) would hate us and persecute us because we belong to Him. He told us, “If they persecuted me [and they did], they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-20). It’s still frightening though.

I have a good, sturdy house that has weathered storms and a recent category 5 hurricane. I have confidence that it will protect me and my family from this morning’s wind and rain. Jesus didn’t offer you and me a safe house to ride out the cultural storms. But  He said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). How did He overcome the world? By His presence in it. Jesus came bringing light to this dark world, and John declared that darkness cannot overcome the Light of Christ.

I have confidence in this Light and I trust the Lord Jesus’ power over the darkness in the world. Everyone who puts their faith in Him lives in His Light; the darkness has no power over them. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that the devil stops trying, but he cannot win against those who are covered by the blood of Jesus. You need to know that Beloved. Jesus has overcome the darkness and evil and death and the devil. You couldn’t find a safer place to be.

Have Faith

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What does it mean to “have faith?” And in what is our faith to be placed? In a culture with a thousand different philosophies, how can we know what to believe?  For the Christian, faith is what we believe about God and about what He has said through His Word, His Son, and His Spirit.  God spoke two distinct things about Jesus: that Jesus is His Son (Matthew 3:17), and that God has given us eternal life through Him (1 John 5:11).  Faith that honors and pleases God holds those two professions as truth. True faith stakes everything on them.

When I say I have faith in God, I am not making a statement about my assent to the truths of Christianity; I am making a statement about the truthfulness of what God has said about Jesus Christ.  I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth, lived a perfect life, died bearing my sins, was buried, and rose to life.  When I say that I believe in Jesus, I am putting all my hope and confidence in God’s power to save me as He has promised.  That is why “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).  I cannot see Jesus with my own eyes, nor have I ever seen heaven.  But I believe that He is the risen Lord and that His sacrifice is sufficient to save me and give me eternal life.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are blessed in every way; for this life and life eternal.  You are blessed because you stand on the confidence of God’s testimony, not on the traditions of men.  You are blessed because “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:10). But for us who believe, “we will see the glory of God” (John 11:40).  Our faith will be made sight and our hope in Christ will be confirmed.  In the chronicles of heaven, our names will be recorded among the great saints of human history, and we will be commended with those who pleased God by their faith.  Oh, what a blessing it is to believe!