Hebrews: A Forever Home

I don’t own a home. We rent a very nice house and love where we live, but now and then I wish I owned a place of my own. Homeownership is the “American dream.”. Renting seems like throwing money away, but really – all I need is a stable roof over my family’s head, and I have that now. And years of moving around as a military brat make me want to put down deep roots. But the truth is, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.” The author of this song is unknown, but it could have been Abraham. 

Hebrews says that “By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents . . . For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11:9, 10). Abraham had the promise from God of a land – “All the land that you see I will give you and your offspring forever” (Gen 13:15). It was a physical place, real ground he could set his feet upon, a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 33:3). But for Abraham, it wasn’t “home.” Nor is it for those who follow Christ.

Philippians 3:20 reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.” And Peter said we are “aliens and strangers in this world” (1 Pet 2:11; also Heb 11:13). “Home” for the believer is nothing less than heaven. Jesus said because we belong to Him, we “do not belong to the world” (John 15:19).

He also said he was going to prepare a home for all who will believe and trust in Him.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). You can bet it will be better than any house man could build. And did you catch the reference to “foundations?” John’s description of heaven in Revelation 21 noted that our heavenly home has a twelve-layer foundation – each one of precious stones (vs. 19-20). You can’t get more stable – or opulent than that.

I’ve seen some pretty impressive homes and I confess to a twinge of jealousy. But then I remember that “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop.”* My forever and ever home. (*Ira Stanphill – 1949)

Say It Again, God

“When God repeats something, He’s making a point and we need to pay attention.” My seminary professor’s words stuck with me as I sat before my Bible the next morning reading the day’s Scripture. I had been working through the Psalms for several months and was sitting in Psalm 136. You need to read this for yourself, so go grab your Bible (or look the verses up here) and read through this chapter. I’ll wait for you. What did you notice? Every verse ends with the refrain: “His love endures forever.” Twenty-six times. Do you think God is trying to make a point? Do you think you and I need to pay attention?

If there is one persistent theme in all of the Bible it is the love of God. God’s love often comes in different ways and the Psalmist points many of them out to us – His great wonders (v 4), His creation (vs. 5-9), salvation (v. 10-12), miracles (vs. 13-15), guidance (v. 16), protection (vs. 17-20), goodness (vs.  1, 21-22), faithfulness (v. 23), redemption (v. 24), and provision (v. 25).  God’s people in every generation could add to that list. God’s love is extraordinary and indescribable, through writers of books and songs and scripture (and blogs) have attempted to put it into human words. And they’ve all fallen short. There is a great old hymn, “The Love of God,” written in 1917 by Frederick. Lehman and Claudia Mays, that I think comes as close as anyone ever could. The third stanza is my favorite:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.[1]

This psalm is full of beauty and majesty and wonder. But the point God was making over and over and over  – the thing that He wants you to grasp with all your heart, Beloved, is that He loves you and His love will endure forever. And that is something to repeatedly thank God for (vs. 1-3,26).


[1] The Love of God  (1917) by Frederick M. Lehman, 1917, har. by Claudia L. Mays, 1917, v. 3 by Anonymous/Unknown, copyright status is Public Domain.

How to Make the Devil Run

Is there anything more precious than the “Cherub Choir” – those little preschoolers singing “Jesus Loves Me,” and “This Little Light of Mine” (won’t let Satan blow it out-whoosh!)? Precious to you and me, but a sight and sound that makes satan tremble. That’s why I love these words from the quill of King David: “From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2).

It is a sweet image with a powerful truth: Praise silences the enemy!

What is the devil’s most powerful weapon against us? Verbal abuse. He throws a constant barrage of words, thoughts, doubts, fear, condemnation, lies, lies, and more lies at us. Jesus said that lies are satan’s “native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) This verse gives us the secret to disarming the devil and shutting down his lies: Praise the Lord! Praising God puts Satan in his place by reminding him that he is a defeated foe and that Jesus will soon return to complete his destruction.

It seems too easy to be real, but it works. Just open your mouth and pour forth praise. Search the scriptures, especially the Psalms where expressions of praise abound. Write them out so they will be handy. Better yet, commit them to memory. Let your praises drown out the lies of Satan. And surround yourself with songs of praise and worship. I know this works because I’ve experienced it in my own life. Several years ago during a deep and serious bout with depression, “After All/Holy” by Crowder came on the radio. I tried to sing, but all I could do was sob until the 2nd verse and slowly words began to replace my cries, and by the end of that song I was singing with full voice and a face full of tears. It was the turning point in my depression. 

When the enemy of your soul is berating you, when he’s pouring condemnation and doubt into your mind,  resist him with songs and words of praise. Not only does it stab at satan’s evil heart, but it refocuses your mind and lifts your own heart.  And the best reason of all to praise God? Because He is worthy. Beloved it’s time to stand on the Name and the Praise of God Almighty and make the devil run!

Rejoice!

See the source image

Repetition is important in studying the Scriptures. When God repeats a word we should pay attention. One particular word is used 154 times in English translations of the Bible. That’s a lot. God is serious about this. It is a word that should mark our lives as His people and followers of Christ. No, the word is not holy or obey or pray or repent – though those are all important words that God wants us to know. See if you can discern what word I’m talking about in this verse:

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!” (Phil 3:1a). Hopefully, you picked up on the word rejoice. Rejoicing should be what makes us stand out as Christians in the world because we are the only ones who have a reason for Joy.

We rejoice because the Lord has blessed us (Deut 12:7). We rejoice because we have a great reward waiting in heaven (Matt 5:12). We rejoice that our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20). We rejoice because we were lost, but Christ has found us (Luke 15:6). We rejoice because we have hope (Acts 2:26). We rejoice because we know the truth (1 Cor 13:6). We rejoice because the God of love and peace is with us (2 Cor 13:11). We rejoice because the gospel is going out into the world (Phil 1:18). We rejoice because we are giving our lives for the Kingdom (Phil 2:17). We rejoice in our sufferings because they identify us with Christ (1 Pet 4:13). And one day we will rejoice together at the wedding feast of our faithful and true Bridegroom (Rev 19:7).

There are blessings and benefits to rejoicing. It lifts our spirits, gives us strength, keeps us focused, opens doors to gospel conversations, and makes the devil mad. Paul highlights another benefit of rejoicing that we need to know: rejoicing “is a safeguard for you” (Phil 3:1b). Rejoicing guards our hearts and our faith. When days are hard and depression begins to raise its dark head I turn on praise music and rejoice in song. When my heart is heavy, I fill my prayer journal all those reasons I have to rejoice. Every time I turn my mind to rejoice in the Lord, my heart follows. And one other benefit is that rejoicing is contagious. It spreads to other heavy hearts and acts like medicine for the soul.

Beloved, I think it’s time we start a movement of rejoicing in the world. Will you join me?

Simple Blessings from My Father

I am so happy to be using my favorite blue pen this morning. I used up my last blue pen last week. It’s not like I don’t have any pens – I have a box full of them but I have one style that I like (Pilot G2) and I prefer to write in blue ink. That’s pretty silly I know when there are so many more important things. But I was honestly a little giddy when I pulled my pen out of the package and touched the tip to the paper in my prayer journal. As the blue ink flowed across the page I thought about Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:11: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”  Now I realize Jesus is not talking about blue ink pens – or is He? Is God only concerned about “spiritual” matters? Does He care about the mundane things of my life? He does.

Why would He make the world so beautiful and colorful and breathtaking? He could have just made a functional, utilitarian universe that would meet all our basic needs but instead, He scattered stars across the night sky to wink at us and created glorious sunsets and spectacular sunrises and painted sweet faces on pansies. He added fragrance to the roses and gave the magnolia tree those creamy, sweet-smelling flowers. Why would He put such effort into the world? To draw our hearts to Him as David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1). All of the good things God gives us – sunshine and music and sweet little arms around our neck – and blue ink pens – are meant to turn our attention and affection to the Giver.

Paul said, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Indeed, God is concerned about my spiritual well-being. He sent His Son to redeem my life from sin and give me eternal life.  But He also wants to show His love in tangible, simple ways. Like giving me my favorite blue pen. Beloved, how is God showing His love to you? I’d love for you to share the sweet, simple ways your Father is blessing you.

A Song of Love

See the source image

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.

Shut up, Satan!

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants, You have ordained praise because of Your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. Psalm 8:1-2

I have always read this verse with the image of the “Cherub Choir” of little children gathered in front of the church, singing (and wiggling and giggling and waving) to the delight of the congregation. It’s such a sweet vision. But God gave me another perspective of this verse as I wrote it in my prayer journal this morning.  “Ordained” jumped out at me, like the Spirit turned a spotlight on that specific word. Oh, the dig is on! This word means “to lay a foundation, to establish,” and as I researched farther I found a slightly different version of verse 8: “Through the praise of children and infants You have established a stronghold against Your enemies.” I got glory goosebumps as the Spirit turned that Cherub Choir into a fortress, a strong tower against the enemy that God and I – and you – share.

I have studied the Names of God for many years and one name that I use often is The Lord my Stronghold. When I call on Yahweh Metsudhathi He surrounds me and protects me from our enemy. This verse says that what builds that stronghold, that protective wall, is praise. That is why I always try to start my prayers – written or spoken – with praise. It’s not that God needs an ego boost, but I need to look at my struggles and trials and challenges in the shadow of the One who is greater than all of them. There is a bonus to praise that verse 2 presents. Read it again. Do you see how the praise of little children “silences the foe and the avenger.”? When you and I praise the Lord, the enemy shuts his lying mouth! Yes!! That’s the power of praising the mighty Name of God! Have you ever wanted to stop satan’s taunts? Praise the Lord!

You have a real enemy and you will never get through this battle without a strong tower, a fortress, a place of defense, and protection. Beloved, God is your Defender, and praise is your defense – it is your shield of faith. Tell the devil to shut his mouth by filling yours with praise!

Home Sweet Home

See the source image

One of my favorite hymns is “Mansion Over the Hilltop.” Written in 1949 by Ira F. Stanphill, the song is a great, bouncy tune and it is right in my range. I love it because it speaks of a permanent home, of being settled forever. As a military brat, we moved every few years and I longed for roots. My parents bought a house and we finally settled down in my high school years. Then I got married and moved again – in fact, we moved a lot, usually when the rent got several months behind. After the divorce, I moved again – back home. Married again. Moved again. And again. And again. We’ve not owned a home in fifteen years. I still don’t have roots. So a mansion – or even “A Cabin in Gloryland” (Curtis L. Stewart) sure sounds like heaven to me.

Maybe that’s also why John 14:2-3 has such a sweet spot in my heart: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” A place of my own. A place I’ll never have to move from. A place to call home. While I long for roots, I am content knowing I have a “forever home” waiting for me.

You were created for heaven, for eternal life, for God. Sin took all that away. But Jesus came to give it all back. He took on all your sins and died to bring you forgiveness. Three days later He rose to give you eternal life. He’s done all the hard work. All you have to do Beloved, is believe and call on Him as your Savior and Lord (Romans 10: 9-10). He will make you ready for heaven as He makes your place in heaven ready for you.

I’ll bet He’ll even paint your room in your favorite colors.

Sing Your Song

See the source image

Yesterday after church and lunch, my sweet Joy-Joy and I settled into the recliner for our Sunday afternoon siesta. She wanted her toy dog “Violet” to play lullabies, but even as she snuggled next to me with the soft music playing, she let me know she wanted to me sing to her. I turned Violet off and started our nap-time song selection. That wouldn’t do. Joy wanted both. I turned the lullabies back on and started trying to sing. Have you ever attempted to sing a song while a different song was also playing? Let me tell you, it ain’t easy! I had to focus very intently on what I was singing to avoid being pulled into Violet’s tune.

There’s a lot of noise in the world around us that can interfere with the Jesus-song we’re trying to sing with our lives. It’s a constant cacophony of voices and shouts and it seems that everyone has a megaphone. There’s a lot of “wisdom” and folks are quick to share their advice. How are we supposed to stay true to the song of Christ? Paul gives us three pointers that will help us stay focused. Go grab your Bible and read Galatians 5:16-25. I’ll wait for you here.

Did you see them? “Live by the Spirit” (v. 16), be “led by the Spirit” (v. 18), and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). Jesus promised to send His Spirit to live in us, to remind us of His teaching and help us stay true to the song of the Savior. I know, that sounds really “spiritual,” but not practical. But it is. It comes from the Bible and prayer. If you and I are not filling up on the Scriptures every day, those outside voices are going to be hard to shut out. That worldly wisdom is going to sound so sensible.

Beloved if you’re struggling to stay on pitch, I encourage you to get into God’s Word, spend time in prayer, and then listen. That still, small voice becomes the sweetest song and stands out above all the rest. Trust me, you’ll recognize the tune; it’s the song of holy love.

 

Joy and Delight

Photo by Ashley Andrews

From the day they moved in with us, we have made it a point to sing to our granddaughter. Poppy makes up songs with her name. I sing hymns and songs from my childhood, like “This little light of mine,” “Jesus loves me,” and “Oh, little playmate, come out and play with me.” I sing them fast and silly when we’re playing and soft and slow when I’m trying to soothe her or rock her to sleep. We’re pretty sure she sings to us too when she oohs and aahs back. I guess you could say singing is our love-language with her.

Last night she was playing beside me, standing at my footstool when I looked at her, overwhelmed with love and started singing her favorite song – “I love you a bushel and a peck.” She lit up in the biggest grin, threw her head back laughing, and started jumping up and down. It blessed my heart so much to see her Joyful reaction. I sang it again and again, holding her sweet little hands while she jumped and laughed. Let me tell you – nothing this world can offer will ever compare.

It gave me a glimpse into one of my favorite verses, Zephaniah 3:17: “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.” Imagine this with me. You are doing life, going about your normal day – or maybe it’s not a “normal” day. Maybe it’s a hard, painful day, or a dull, colorless day. God looks at you and His heart swells with delight and He breaks out in a song – a song just for you. Maybe it’s a soft melody to “quiet you with His love,” or it may be a happy song of rejoicing. But it is inspired by the pleasure He finds in you. Yes, YOU! You are a delight to God, just as my granddaughter is a delight to me.

How should you respond? Just like Joy-Joy did – with a big grin and a holy laugh and yes, even a happy jump or two. Your delight in God delights Him. It’s a never-ending circle of mutual gladness. Maybe that’s the secret behind Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. When God is the desire of your heart Beloved, He will be your delight.