The Providence of God

I caught myself the other day thinking, “If I could change one thing about my past…” The problem is I found a lot of things. Choices. People. Places. Priorities. Desires.  I’ll bet you can finish that sentence with a few thoughts of your own. Who hasn’t lamented something in their past? For some, the choices were huge and life-altering. For others, they were moments, that while not quite as monumental, we wish we could do over. I have spent so much time living with regrets, living in the “if only’s,” and wishing I had made wiser decisions, or that circumstances had turned out differently. I have discovered that when I live in constant regret I set myself up for a very sad life.

But I am learning to trust in the sovereign providence of God. Those are words we don’t use much in our contemporary religion, but they are powerful. In the original Hebrew, the word combination has a rich and significant meaning. The word “sovereign” speaks to God’s rightful authority as Creator over nature, nations, mankind, and individual lives. Likewise, the word “providence” is speaking to God’s charge over everything He has made – including you and me.  The root word means “to pay attention, to care for, to be in charge of.” This is His tender, loving oversight as our Good Shepherd and Heavenly Father. God has pledged to pay attention to you, to care for you, and to be in charge of your life – not as a dictator – but as One who seeks always and only what is best for you. Job 10:12 expresses this duality beautifully. “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in Your providence watched over my spirit.” The combination of terms tells us that God is always looking out on your behalf, knows what you need and He has the authority to move heaven and earth to accomplish all things for you – because He loves you.

If you have grieved over your past, know that Your sovereign, providential Father has been watching over and caring for you all along. In His hands, the very thing that caused you the most pain can be the seed for a whole new life. Beloved, God loves you too much to waste the struggles of your life. He has a plan. He has a purpose. And He has you in the palm of His great hand.

Tell Them About Jesus

As I study the Scriptures I see three types of people:

Those who by faith receive Christ and follow Him – the Bible calls these righteous, saints, and children of God.

Those who attempt to live up to a standard of “goodness” but find the load impossible to bear – the Bible calls them lost, burdened, weary souls.

Those who reject all thought of God and every standard of right living. These the Bible calls evil, wicked, lovers of self, and children of the devil.

The first group has found hope in Christ and the promise of eternal life. Their lives are marked by the fruit of the Spirit: “love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). They look at life with eternal vision and they live to serve the Kingdom of God. They show their love for Christ by their obedience. They will gladly give their lives for the name and the gospel of Christ (Rev 12:11).

The second group knows there is a God but they do not know Him. There are weighed down under a constant burden of trying to live up to the traditions of men in a vain attempt to gain God’s favor. Their lives are marked with worry and anxiety (Luke 8:14).  To them, Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Some come and receive His rest. Some do not and never find it.

The third group has no concern for nor belief in God. They don’t need Him nor want Him. They have no thought of eternity. Life ends and that is all there is. They believe themselves wise and think the gospel is for fools. They fail to see that they are deceived by the devil and most to be pitied (Rev 12:9).

Should the first group respond differently to the second and third? No. We respond to everyone in the same way – with the gospel. It is the truth for all mankind. Its message will be a welcome comfort to the lost, but it will be an offense to the wicked. Still, whether it falls on closed ears or receptive hearts, we must tell the world the way to eternal life. Let it land where it may, but never stop proclaiming the beautiful Gospel of Jesus.

Hebrews: How to Bring People to Jesus

I knew a man who believed his mission in life was to point out people’s sins. He would stand outside the local bar and berate people coming out the door and tell them they were sinners and were going to hell. Strangely, he never won a single convert to the Lord. I know a young man who brought many people to Christ when he was in college, but he never pointed a finger at anyone. He just lived his life well.

What does it take to win the world – or just your neighbor – to Christ? While it’s true that we need to tell the whole gospel – that Jesus died to save them from their sins,  is it necessary to berate them for their late-night drinking binges? Should you shame the single woman next door when her boyfriend spends the night? The author of Hebrews pointed to one person who was a witness to God without saying a word to his sinful neighbors. “By his faith [Noah] condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7b).

Previously we looked at Noah as a man whose faith was proven by his obedience.  But there is more to Noah’s story – and his testimony – than the ark. Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” Noah lived like a man of God and his righteous life was enough to convince them that they were sinners in need of grace.

I lived next door to the single woman and most weekend mornings her boyfriend’s truck was in our shared driveway.  I never said anything to her about it, but one Monday morning I saw her name on the visitor’s register for the church I worked at. Later I said, “I hope you enjoyed your visit to church yesterday.” She said, “I expected you to tell me how bad I was for letting him stay on the weekends, but you never did. I saw how you live and I knew I wanted something you have.”  We had many good conversations and when we moved away, she was attending church regularly – with her boyfriend. What you do is just as important as what you say. Maybe more so. Especially in a culture that is seeking authenticity. Beloved, you don’t have to point your finger of shame at anyone to make a gospel impact. A righteous, holy life will speak for you.

You can be Free from Shame

If your life has always been sunshine and rainbows, you can skip it today. But if you have scars on your body or on your heart, if you carry a backpack of sorrow and shame, please stay. God has a word for you.

Isaiah prophesied the coming Babylonian captivity. Why was all this happening? Because they were a “sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They [had] forsaken the Lord; they [had] spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him” (Is 1:4). They were steeped in sin and idolatry. Judgment was coming.

Can you relate? I sure can. I have a past filled with regret and shame. I have been places, done things, and been with people I should have given a wide berth. I have made some foolish, disastrous decisions. I hurt people. I hurt myself. You may be nodding your head right now. You understand. You’ve done the same. Maybe you’re still doing it.

But maybe your past wasn’t your foolish actions, but someone else’s. You were abused, misused, rejected, stepped on, then stepped over. I understand that too. Mixed in with my own sin is the stain of others’ sins. A counselor once told me that my actions were a reaction to others’ actions against me. If you hear, “You’re so stupid!” enough you start to act stupid. If you’re treated like you’re worthless you believe you’re worthless and you act like you’re worthless. This is my life story, but I bet I’m ringing some bells.

However you got your backpack of shame, I want you to listen to God’s words: “Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace, you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth” (Is 54:4). “How?” you ask, “it’s a huge, heavy burden”. Jesus. Jesus is how you can be free from shame. Because Jesus took it all to the cross. And to the grave. And when He rose to life three days later, He left it all in the ground. God declared, “The former things will not be remembered; nor will they come to mind” (Is 65:17). In Jesus you are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). That’s your story now, Beloved. Set your backpack down and go live like who you are. Forgiven and free.

Bought Lessons

If you’ve read my devotionals for very long, you’ve heard me quote my Mom who used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.” It is the most profound thing she ever told me and I have the scars to prove that she was right. I’ve done some very foolish things in my life that I will never, ever do again. Her mantra reminds me of Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

One lesson I bought is that when I ignore the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. The wise builder illustrated a person who built his life on obedience to Jesus’ words. No storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on – not just by reading the Bible – but by putting its teachings and principles into practice. Knowing and obeying the Bible can save us so much trouble and heartache in life.

But I’ve also learned a gentler lesson: God doesn’t give up on us just because we messed up. He won’t write you off, wash His hands of me or turn away from us because we stumble. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the muck of my own choices. Jesus died so you and I can be forgiven, so we could have a second chance at life.

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart, Beloved, God has not given up on you. Take this affliction, this difficulty, and the pain it has caused and place it before your loving Heavenly Father. Then put your hand in the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction.

In Christ

“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me, and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, even strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.

Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.

“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.

When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.

Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.

Spiritual Math

My favorite way to study the Bible is to slowly chew on small bites of Scripture to get every bit of flavor from it I can. But there is also great value in looking at the bigger picture. I was reminded of that when a memory popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. It said: Light + Truth = Life 1 John 1.

John made several proclamations in this first chapter. He proclaimed Jesus as “the Word of life” (1 John 1:1), much the same way He called Him “the Word” in his gospel (John 1:1). He was the “Word made flesh” (Jn 1:14). The walking, talking Scripture who came to deliver the message of the Father in person.  What is that message? “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” (v. 5). Wherever God is, light exists; not just a lamp, but a floodlight. That’s why John said we can’t claim to be a Christian and walk around in the darkness. It’s impossible. That’s also why, when a light-filled believer enters a place where there is spiritual darkness, one of two things happens. Either the light changes everything it touches, or the darkness and the ones living in darkness flee. Light illuminates, it reveals, and it forces us to confront the things that were hidden or take them and slink farther into the dark recesses.

Because light shows us things – including ourselves – as they really are. That’s the “truth” part of our equation. Light says, “If you run from me it’s because you don’t want to know the truth.” I’ll admit, sometimes the truth is hard to take, but who wants to live by lies? I know I don’t. The truth is, I was born a sinner and lived like it. Then the Light came and I saw what I was. I saw the lies that said I was “good enough” and my wrongs were too petty to keep me out of heaven. I saw how the enemy and the culture said that my sins were just “lifestyle choices,” “addictions,” “illness,” “personality quirks,” and “errors in judgment.”  And I saw the corollary to the 1 John equation. If Light+Truth=Life, then Darkenss+Lies=Death.

Beloved, I pray you will choose Life. I pray you will choose light and truth. I pray you will not run away from the sin you see in the light, but will put it all in Jesus’ hands. The darkness is no place for you.

A Healthy Heart

The man had been experiencing shortness of breath, lack of energy, and eventually, chest pain. Tests revealed blockages in several vessels of his heart, blockages that had slowly and quietly built up over years. The symptoms were minimal at first, easily dismissed in the middle of his busy days. But they became more and more severe until he could not ignore them any longer. He wisely sought medical help and found himself lying on a table counting backward from 100…99…98…97…
His symptoms are similar to spiritual heart problems – shortness of Holy Spirit breath, lack of spiritual energy, and unresolved heart pain. Hardened hearts also happen slowly, and over time, can lead to a very serious problem. The man’s condition was called “hardening of the arteries.” God calls our heart condition “a heart of stone.” How does our heart get so hard? It almost always happens with small seemingly insignificant steps away from God, that, one by one, don’t seem to be that threatening. Like hitting the snooze button and sleeping through our morning quiet time, once, then another morning, and another morning, until we just reset the alarm altogether. It happens when we spend so much time reading our emails that there is no time to read the Bible. Our prayer life suffers as we look to the world for advice, rather than seeking God’s counsel for our needs. The choices we make in entertainment, online usage, conversations, and relationships can cause us to become numb to sin and one more brick is added to our hearts. Hearts can also grow hard and bitter when we let wounds fester and refuse to forgive.

Thankfully, God offers us spiritual heart surgery: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” Ezekiel 36:26. God can take your cold, brittle heart, and give you a new heart that responds to His love and grace. What do you see when you look honestly at your heart? Has it become hard? Have you become bitter and cold toward God? The Master Cardiologist is always willing to do a “heart transplant,” if you will surrender your heart into His hands. Beloved, does your heart need God’s healing touch today?

Hebrews: Do You Need a Little Encouragement?

Jesus is coming back. Do you believe that? Does it show in the way you live your life? The writer of Hebrews said, “In just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay” (Heb 10:37). He offered this as both a word of encouragement and a warning. We’re going for the encouragement today and will take the warning in the next devotional.

The first-century believers were being harassed and oppressed daily for their commitment to Christ. They needed hope. So do we. So Paul said, “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thess. 1:18). What words? The Lord Jesus is coming again!  Paul said,  “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This was great news to the weary Christians – just as it is for you and me. 

Jesus has promised to come again, to raise the dead in Christ to life, and to call the living to Himself.   When He came in His first Advent, He entered the world as a helpless baby, lived as a humble servant, and died as the suffering Savior.  But when He returns He will come with power and authority, and there will be no doubt that Jesus Christ is LORD. If that isn’t encouraging, if that doesn’t give you hope, then I don’t know what will.

Are you weary of this world? I know I am. But God has not yet called us home. That means for as long as we’re here, we need to continue in our faith – believing and walking in Jesus’ footprints, telling others about our Savior, and encouraging one another with the hope of His return. So I’m holding out this promise to you, Beloved. Keep your feet on the ground and your eyes on the sky. He said He will come back for you and He is a Man of His Word.

Footprints

I came across “The Footprints” poem the other day. You know the one about the person who dreamed of seeing two sets of footprints in the sand – one was their own and the other belonged to Jesus. At certain points, the second set of footprints disappeared and the dreamer was dismayed that Jesus would abandon them at the hardest points in their life. The Lord assured them that He would never leave them, especially during trials and testing. He said, “When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.” That is a beautiful and encouraging image and expresses the heart of our Savior in our times of suffering.

Later, as I was studying 1 John I read this: “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (2:6). A different thought came to mind.  What if, when I questioned Jesus about that single set of footprints in the sand, He said, “That is when you followed me so closely that you stepped right into My footprints.” Oh! What a commendation that would be! That’s the goal of the Christian life, to emulate Christ in every way. To walk as He walked. To speak as He spoke. To give as He gave. To love as He loved. To be holy as He is holy. The first believers were called “Followers of The Way” until were dubbed “Christians” meaning “little Christs.” Not just because they claimed allegiance to Him but because they patterned their lives after Him.

I’m sure you know Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Have you ever wondered what His purpose is? It’s right in the next verse, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). To be “little Christs” in our generation, walking in His very footsteps so that there’s nothing of us left behind –  only Jesus. That’s my desire, especially as I see my granddaughter following me everywhere I go.

How do we do that? How do we “walk as Jesus did?” By keeping our eyes fixed on Him. By knowing Him through His Word. By living according to His Spirit (Rom 8:5-16). One footfall at a time. Beloved, what do your footprints say about your life?