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.

Solid Rock of Love

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It was a very draining weekend– physically and emotionally. I’m struggling to be spiritually insightful this morning. I really just want to sit on my back porch swing and listen to the birds greet the morning sun. My dad’s health is failing. I’m fighting to stay motivated in school and especially to finish my final paper. A friend and spiritual mentor is struggling in her faith. We endured a lot of drama with a loved one yesterday. I had to fold our campus Bible study for lack of participation. Finances are very strained. And I miss my granddaughter. I told God, “I don’t just need you to speak through me this morning – I need you to speak to me.” As I skimmed the Psalms – that’s a great place to go when you’re down – God gently pointed to a verse.

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ Your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought Joy to my soul” (Psalms 94:18-19).

Yes, it feels like I am slipping. So much has been shaken in my life recently – except God’s love. As I lean my weary self against Him, I find strength. He embraces me with His goodness, kindness, and grace and braces me with His never-ending, never-failing, ever-faithful love.

Yes, anxiety has nearly beaten me up lately. I know, I’m supposed to be “anxious for nothing,” but I confess that I’ve been anxious for a lot. But God hasn’t berated me. Instead, He has comforted me through His Word and through dear brothers and sisters in Christ who have reminded me that He is still very much in control of all these things that worry me. And then we got to Facetime with Joy and that did my heart so much good.

Yes, I desperately need God’s love and consolation. I’ll bet you do too. Life gets hard sometimes. God knows that. He cares about what you care about because He cares about you. Beloved, when everything around you is shaking, He is the solid rock of love.

I love you God

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“I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Psalm 18:1)

I recently came across boxes with 25 years of prayer journals. The boxes are very heavy, but it’s not just the physical weight of the notebooks and binders and pretty journals. It’s the weight of my life, my heart, my burdens, my fears and sins and questions and raw, honest emotions.

I found a box with the earliest years and I was struck by how often I told God “I love you.” And I did, but as I read those entries, I realized my love for God was all about me. That He saved me and helped me and blessed me – not that there’s anything wrong with that. God loves to love on His children. But the truth is, I loved God because He loved me.

Then I found a box from some hard, dark, painful years and I learned to love God for His presence and grace and comfort and strength. I learned that difficulties don’t mean that God doesn’t love me, they just mean that He draws even closer to me. His love was more palpable and the roots of my love for Him began to go deeper.

Then I packed away journals from the last 7 years. These also held some strong memories – times of great uncertainty, of excitement and promise mixed with being overwhelmed and frustrated. These journals are also full of rainbows and new adventures and Joy. And grief. And a deeper love for God that has grown as I’ve come to know Him more.

Today when I say “I love you God” it’s a love that has grown through years of hard times and good times and times when I felt I was soaring and times when I thought the pain would kill me. It’s a love built on sweet communion and honest conversations. A love that is measured not by a yardstick but by width and length and height and depth (Eph. 3:18) that never ends.

Beloved, I pray your love for God grows deeper and stronger as you come to know Him more through the good days and the bad days and all the days in between. Because to know, know, know Him, is to love, love, love Him. And I do.

The God Who Loves to Give

“Please sir, I want some more.” Oliver Twist

In Dickins’ classic tale, Oliver warily approaches the master and makes his plea, and we see the cruel irony of a hungry orphan being rebuffed by the well-fed headmaster. Yet how often do we approach God with the same trepidation as Oliver Twist?  As if He is a harsh master who will refuse us even the humblest request?  Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible reveals God as a generous Father who loves to give good things to His children.

2 Peter 1:3 says He “has given us everything we need for life and godliness.”  Like our daily bread (Matthew 5:11), clothes on our back (Matthew 6:30), and “all these things” that are necessary for life (Matthew 6:33).  I’ve been the recipient of His practical generosity and kindness many, many times. 

Even more than our physical needs, Peter said our Father will give us everything we need for a godly life: chiefly His Word (John 17:8) and His Spirit (John 14:16).   God provides with a generous heart and an open hand.

I love John’s affirmation in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: That if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”  The writer of Hebrews echoes the same thought: “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  That is an invitation we should jump at!

You do not have to come to your Heavenly Father with a sense of apprehension as if you are asking for more than God is willing to bestow.  He has so much he desires to give you—till your cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).  Don’t come crawling to Him with a little teacup in your hand. Come running to your Father with the biggest bucket you can find, and He will fill it till it spills over and you can’t contain it all.  He is a God who loves to give!

God is . . .

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“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” Psalm 62:11.

David identified God as his Shield, his Refuge, his Rock and Fortress, his Shepherd, and so much more. He used so many beautiful and powerful expressions to describe his God. Yet in these two simple words, I believe David paints a picture that comes the closest to the true essence of who God is. Strong and loving.

God is strong. Not strength that lifts massive barbells.  This is strength that breaks the power of sin, overpowers the enemy of our soul, and raises the dead back to life – and not just life, but eternal, everlasting, unending life!  It is a strength that overcomes our weaknesses and lifts the weight of all our burdens. I don’t know about you, but need a God who is strong, because my burdens are heavy and my weaknesses are many.

David also said that God is loving. Do you believe that God loves you? Over and over in God’s Word proclaims His love for you and me. His is

  • Unfailing Love – “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10).
  • Loyal Love – “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
  • Devotion – “By day the Lord directs His love, a night His song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8).
  • Mercy – “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Numbers 14:18).

Paul said, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). That is the kind of love that I need. A love that never turns away never dies, and never gives up. A love that lasts for all eternity. This is the love that God has for you and me. His love is steadfast and sure – you can’t make Him love you more, and you can’t make Him love you less. He loves you because He is love. His is perfect love because He is the perfect lover.

God’s love was perfectly expressed at the cross of Jesus Christ. His power was perfectly revealed at the empty tomb, through the resurrection of His Son – our Savior. We can never know all there is to God, for He is holy and righteous and beyond our finite understanding. But we can know this about God: He is strong and He is loving. And that’s a very good place to start.

Roots and Fruit

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It’s the twenty-first century and everybody has an opinion and a platform from which to share it. Which is good because all opinions are equally valid – even if they contradict one another. (Except Christians of course.) How do we know who’s right and what’s wrong? Jesus has some pretty sound advice for us in the Sermon on the Mount. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). He said a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. It’s a horticultural fact: the fruit proves the root. The Bible even tells us how to discern the difference between good and bad fruit. Ready to go to the orchard?

Bad fruit is full of false hopes and self-made visions; good fruit offers real hope and visions from God. Bad fruit is heretical, denies the sovereign rule of God, leads many astray, questions the truth, and exploits believers. Good fruit is truthful, submits to God, leads by following Christ, upholds the truth, and builds up believers. Bad fruit is the product of liars who walk in darkness. Good fruit is truthful because it grows in the light. Bad fruit hates fellow believers. Good fruit “loves one another.” Bad fruit denies that Jesus is the Son of God and rejects the truth of His human nature. Good fruit acknowledges that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Bad fruit rejects the message of God and speaks from a worldly viewpoint – and the world listens. Good fruit listens to God, speaks from His point of view, and those who love God listen. John summed it all up this way: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Righteousness and love are the good fruit. You can trust that tree. You can trust that person.

When it comes to your faith life you need to be certain the messages you are hearing are right and true. You need to be sure you are chewing on good fruit that comes from good trees. Who is feeding your mind and heart? Beloved, you need to be a fruit inspector.

Child of God

My son and granddaughter ages 28 and 6 months.

“ A voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:11).

I didn’t hear it much growing up so I made sure to tell my son, “I love you” multiple times a day.  And I constantly tell my granddaughter, “You’re Nana’s girl and I love you.” So I always thought the Father’s words at Jesus’ baptism were just a tender moment between Father and Son.  But it was more – it was a moment of preparation for what was to come when “the Spirit sent him out into the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan” (v. 12). 

Jesus faced enormous temptation but was able to resist and reject Satan because the Father’s words were still ringing in His ears. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” He knew who He was and whose He was.

God speaks the same affirmation over you and me: “You are my son, you are my daughter, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” We are adopted into the family of God when we believe in Jesus. We become sons and his daughters. We are as loved by the Father as was Jesus (John 17:26). Our faith is pleasing to Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Every day Satan dangles temptations before us to drag us into sin. What if, before your feet hit the floor every morning you remind yourself, “I am God’s son, I am God’s daughter, my Father loves me, and He is well pleased with me.” Would that make a difference in how you respond to temptation? I believe it would.

Beloved, if you are in Christ, you are a child of God – it’s not something you have to earn or measure up to – it is your place. You have every benefit and blessing of being part of His family. That includes the right to claim your Father’s love and His pleasure over you. Don’t let the enemy shake you – stand firm in who you are and Whose you are.

Hope

I love Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. It is chock-full of truth, wisdom, conviction, insight, and encouragement. And hope. Check this out from Romans 5: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (1-5)

Did you notice the repeated references to hope? That’s not by accident.  Paul wanted believers to grab onto hope. They needed it and so do we. And what is the source of our hope? The glory of God (v. 2) and the love of God (v. 5). As believers in Christ Jesus, we hope in the person of God and His never-failing love.

From the day of our conversion, we are never without hope because we are never without God. He lives in us through His Holy Spirit. The Spirit helps us to see God in His glory – in the beauty of His holiness and majesty. He helps us to know and rely on God’s love through the ups and downs – especially the downs – of life. Glory and love – the twin sisters of hope.

There is one more thing I want you to see. Paul said, “Hope does not disappoint.” I’ve had people let me down. I’ve had jobs that turned sour. I’ve had high expectations that burst like a balloon. But God has never disappointed me. Not. One. Time. Not that He always does what I expect. He does better than I expect.

Beloved, when you hope in God, your hope is well-placed. He is faithful and He loves you. And there is nothing more sure than that.

A Song of Love

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On the weekdays when Joy stays with us, she goes to a terrific babysitter while I am at work. I know she is getting good care, but when I pick her up every afternoon she is tired and not too happy. I can relate. Yesterday was one of those days. She fussed as soon as we started driving away. She had a fresh cup of milk and a snack, and her favorite musical toy. Nope. Not what she wanted. The fussing got louder until her favorite song, “Good God Almighty” came on the radio. I turned it up and started singing along with Crowder. Almost immediately the fussing stopped and I heard a new, sweet sound from the backseat. Two little chubby hands clapping her delight. The rest of the ride home the car was filled with her happy chatter. It filled my heart with – you guessed it – Joy!

One of my favorite verses is Zephaniah 3:17. Let me give you some context. Zephaniah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah, just before the nation would fall to the Babylonians. The people had been under a great deal of oppression because they had turned away from God to worship idols. Their sin had caused them great misery. That sounds all too familiar to me. God declared that He would bring punishment on them—and He would also bring gladness to them again. For a season, they would be removed from their beloved Jerusalem, but God promised to take away their chastisement and fear and to bless them once again with His presence. He said, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Now, I’ve never heard His audible voice, but I always feel His love and comfort in songs of worship and praise. And yes, I’ve even sensed His delight as I lift (and clap) my hands in glad adoration.

Some days are just hard. God knows that. But He wants you to know that He is always near to you, always working on your behalf, lavishing love on you to quiet your anxious heart and rejoicing over you with songs of delight. Beloved, get still and quiet and see if you don’t hear the faintest melody in your spiritual ear. And maybe clap your hands to the rhythm of Joy.

Do You See the Man in the Middle?

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“Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left” (Matthew 27:38)

All four of the gospel writers note the presence of two others with Jesus when He was crucified.  They were thieves – most likely “career criminals” to be put to death for their crimes.  Jesus was the “Man in the middle.” Matthew tells us that these thieves joined in the crowd’s mocking and jeering against Jesus; they “heaped insults on him” (Matthew 27:44).  But at some point, something changed for one of the men.

Luke reports that “one of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!’” (23:39). But we see that the other criminal had a change of heart saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what we deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong” (23:40-41).  This enlightened criminal realized that Jesus was an innocent man, falsely accused, and wrongly crucified.  That in itself would be an amazing turnaround, but he understood even greater things than that.

He tells the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (23:42).  He recognized, by divine knowledge, that Jesus was, in fact, a King who could give him eternal life.  He also knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus in return for this gift of eternal life – but he asked anyway.  “Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43). 

I don’t know what was happening in the mind and heart of this man, but I believe, as he turned his head to gaze upon Jesus, his eyes were supernaturally opened to the Truth.   I believe he witnessed the intensity of Jesus’ suffering under the weight of mankind’s condemnation – including his own.  I believe he heard Jesus’ plea to His Father for forgiveness for the ones who nailed Him to the cross.  I believe he saw past the blood-matted hair and bruises and looked beyond the skin shredded to ribbons and saw a glimpse of who this Man in the middle truly was.  And a divine glimpse is all he needed.

Oh, Beloved, will you open your eyes to the Man in the middle and receive eternal life?