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.

God of Mercy

For many years I carried a picture in my mind of God. He sat on His throne with a fly swatter in His hand and a scowl on His face. Every time I sinned – which was often – He would slap me down and tell me I was a disappointment to Him. I would ask for forgiveness and He would give it begrudgingly – and always with a warning to straighten up because He was losing patience with me.

Then I began to really study His Word and a different picture of God emerged when I read the Old Testament prophet Micah: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives transgressions . . . You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).

I saw a God who was patient, gentle, and forgave without limit. I saw a God – the God that Micah saw – who “delights to show mercy.” I realized two things: God doesn’t expect me to be perfect – that is flawless – on my own. If that were possible – and it’s not – He wouldn’t have sent his Son to die for my sins. It is only by His Son that I can be made perfect – that is complete in Christ. I don’t know about you, but that is a huge relief to me.

The second thing I realized is it gives God great pleasure to forgive me. And there is much to forgive. He delights in being merciful. Let me be clear, He doesn’t take please in my sinfulness. He takes pleasure in my dependence on Him for salvation. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .” (Matt 5:3) meaning those who realize their wretched state and come to the only One who redeems wretches. Like me.

I don’t know what you’ve done Beloved, but I know that it would delight God to take all your sin away and show you mercy. There is no scowl on His face when He looks at you – only love. He does not have a fly swatter in His hands – but He does have scars.

God, Are You Tired of Rescuing Me?

I need God’s help. I have a difficult situation – one that is bigger than I can handle on my own. I need God to rescue me. Again. I’ve had to be rescued more than once because I am prone to foolishness and get myself in trouble constantly. I come by this trait honestly because I am the descendant of two foolish, rebellious people who disobeyed God in a garden.  I often find myself in a pit that is too deep for me to climb out of.  I do the only thing I know to do. I cry out for help. Just as I did today.  I expected Him to be frustrated with me by now – after all so many people have been.  It’s human nature to grow weary of people who are always needing something. I’ve been both the needy one and needed one. Both are exhausting. So I asked Him if He was tired of rescuing me. I expected a deep sigh, followed by – “Child, when will you stop getting into trouble?” But that’s not what He told me.

He sent me searching for the word “rescue,” and highlighted one Scripture in particular, “He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delights in me” (Psalm 18:19). And then His Spirit impressed this thought on my heart – He doesn’t rescue me because I am in trouble, He rescues me because it delights Him to do so.

The enemy would have us imagine God as an exasperated parent, weary of our foolishness, ready for us to grow up and manage our own lives. That is not the God who sent His Son to die on the cross. Ours is a God who delights in rescuing His children. He knows that we will stumble, He knows that we’ll have troubles. He knows we will get in over our heads. And He is always ready and willing to come to our aid. Hear this Beloved – God doesn’t rescue you and me out of a sense of duty, but out of His extraordinary love.

Do you need to be rescued today? Cry out to the One who delights in flexing His muscles on your behalf. Your hero is on the way.

In God’s Waiting Room

I stood there tapping my toes impatiently. “Come on!” I muttered under my breath as I watched the timer tick down. 5 . . . 4. . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1. Then the shrill “beep, beep, beep.” About time! My breakfast pastry was finally done! I popped open the microwave door and juggled the hot food. Then it dawned on me. I just told a microwave to hurry up. I couldn’t wait a minute and forty-five seconds for my breakfast.

In our hurry-up society, we hate waiting. Doctors’ offices, the DMV, a child who’s late coming home – they all make us a little crazy as precious minutes –or – hours tick away. Perhaps you know the anxiety of waiting days for test results, or for a phone call after a job interview. Or maybe your waiting has stretched beyond minutes and days to months and even years. And you’re not waiting on a doctor or a kid or a phone call. You’re waiting on God. You’ve been praying. And praying. And God delays. You haven’t gotten a closed door. But you also haven’t gotten an answer yet.

You’re in good company. Revelation tells of some folks who are also waiting on God. They are “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’” (Revelation 6:9-10). They are waiting for God to do what they know He alone is able to do – but isn’t. Sound familiar? “God, You can do this, You can fix this, You can stop this. But You aren’t.”

The Scripture says that “each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer . . .” (v. 11). When God tells us to wait it is because He intends to act. Are you waiting for God? Have you been praying for a long time with no end in sight? Oh, please, don’t despair. Our Father doesn’t tell us to wait in vain. And He doesn’t tell us to wait unless there’s something worth waiting for. Beloved, will you “wait a little longer?”

Saints and Sinners

How should the church respond to the lost world? We seem to go to the extremes of either approving of worldliness and sin or pointing fingers and railing at those who do what we would never do. There’s a better way. Jesus was called “a friend of sinners,” and I believe He bore that title with delight rather than shame. That doesn’t mean that He joined them in their sin, but He loved them out of it. He was tender with wounded souls, gentle with the ones who didn’t understand, and kind to those who had been harassed by the enemy. And He saved His harshest words for the religious crowd who rejected the lost, the poor, the lonely, and the wounded – and Him. They were the self-righteous scholars who diligently studied the Scriptures, but missed the whole point of God’s plan. 

Paul said, “The Lord’s servant must . . . be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful,” (2 Timothy 2:24).  The goal of such kindness – that God will grant the lost repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26). As believers, our character should be the same as Jesus: kind, gentle, helpful, and sympathetic.  Why?  Because unbelievers have been taken captive by the devil.  They have been deceived, led astray, fooled, and fed lies to the point that they can’t recognize the truth.  They are under the influence of satan, and they deserve our compassion rather than our hate.

Christian, you have a call to be “salt and light” in the world.  Salt to make people thirsty for God and light to lead the way to the cross and redemption. Finger-pointing, harsh words, and belittling attitudes will never win anyone to Christ.  But a kind and gentle spirit can.

If you are not a Christian, let me assure you that Jesus does not look at you with hatred or disgust; He does not see you as His enemy – He died so that you could be His friend for eternity.  He loves you with an everlasting love that will never turn you away.  Please come and see for yourself that He is a gentle King and a kind Savior.

Got Troubles?

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Got troubles? Who doesn’t, right? One thing I am certain of – nobody gets through life without them. What do we do with these troubles? Psalm 37 is David’s prescription for our troubles – let’s break this down together.

 “Do not fret . . .” (v.1). I have a problem, but I am not going to let it consume my thoughts and drive my actions. David is dealing with “evil men,” but it could be anything: health concerns, financial burdens, relationship struggles, weariness, loss, grief, or too much responsibility. He reminds us that problems won’t last forever (v. 2).

“Trust in the Lord” (v. 3). Believe that God is good and faithful and he will take care of the problem. In the meantime, “do good.” Manage your life well. Be faithful and obedient. And remind yourself that God is trustworthy. Half the battle of surviving hard things is in the mind.

“Delight yourself in the Lord” (v. 4). Don’t draw away from God, especially if your trouble is self-made, which is usually the case for me. Continue to praise Him for who He is and celebrate every blessing from His hand. The bonus to delighting yourself in the Lord is that the Lord Himself becomes the desire of your heart, a yearning He is always eager to fill.

“Commit your way to the Lord” (v. 5). The word here literally means to “roll care and responsibility onto the Lord.” It brings to mind 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” The problem may be bigger than you, but it’s not bigger than God. David reminds us once again to “trust in Him,” and that trust will be rewarded (v. 6)

Finally, and perhaps the hardest of all, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him,” (v. 7). That is God’s word to me in the present season of struggle: “Be still and wait for Me.” The word still means, “Be silent, be quiet, wait, and rest (I need that for sure).  Stop trying to fix it. Stop fretting (he says this three times). Stop ranting (ouch). Trust. Delight. Commit. And “Refrain from anger” (v. 8 – ouch again).

Beloved, if you and I follow this good advice we will not only thrive in our struggles, but the world will see the goodness and faithfulness of God when he helps and delivers us (v. 40). Yes, you and I have problems, but we also have the Lord which means we have hope (v. 9) and great peace (v. 11). That will get us through anything.

Saving the Best for Last

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I always eat the least favorite thing on my plate first and save my most favorite thing for last. When I have chores to do I do the hardest one first then do the easiest last. Why? Because I know that if I eat my favorite food or do the easiest chores first, I will give up before I do the rest. It’s a discipline I learned as a kid: “save the best for last.”

I think that is a very simple explanation for Paul’s message to the churches in Rome.  He said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (8:18). Let’s get the truth out on the table – this life is hard. And the Christian life, I believe, makes it harder. Christians are constantly at odds with the culture of the world. Our priorities are very different. Our desires are (or should be) counter-cultural. Our sense of right and wrong rubs against the ever-changing “morals’ of the day. And our worldview is 180 degrees from the ethos of the world. Sometimes we wonder why we continue to swim against the stream and make ourselves a target of the enemy. Wouldn’t it be easier to just go along with the world and save ourselves the struggles and pain? Maybe. But at what cost? “Glory.” The reward for endurance and perseverance is glory. And not just a glory we can see at a distance. Paul said the glory to come is “in us.” He told the church in Corinth that this is “an eternal glory that far outweighs our light and momentary troubles” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Maybe you don’t consider your troubles “light and momentary.” You may have lost a job or a friendship because of your commitment to your faith. You won’t be the first. The history of the church is written in the blood of men and women who died for the name of Christ. It still happens today in certain parts of the world, and I believe it is coming to the Western church soon Paul isn’t dismissing these hard things. But he is saying there is something better coming, something that makes all our difficulties in this life pale in comparison. He said, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Those are not just fluffy words – they are a rock-solid promise from the heart of God. You and I cannot imagine the glory that is coming. Hang on Beloved, the best is yet to be.

The Rescue Plan

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Some themes have become so familiar in the Christian world that we speak them and receive them without a second thought. Things like: “God helps those who help themselves.” Now, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over and I tell you for certain, it’s not in there. Or how about, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Again, I’ve never found that in the Bible and  I can tell you from my own life, it ain’t so.  I heard another one recently that always comes around at Christmas and Easter, this human idea that God looked down from heaven and saw mankind in bondage to sin and death and sent His son in response. While it certainly expresses God’s heart of mercy for His creation, it’s not exactly the truth.

How do I know that? Because the Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before man could ever cry out for redemption, the Redeemer had already paid the price. What in the world does that mean? Well, it’s not a worldly concept at all, it’s the divine plan created in heaven before God scooped up a handful of dust – even before He said, “Let there be light.” Jesus was always meant to come to earth as a tiny baby and live a perfect, sinless life, and die an undeserved and cruel death.  He was always meant to lie in a tomb for three days and heaven never doubted that He would rise again, because that was the plan all along. Christmas and Easter were not God’s knee-jerk reaction to our predicament.

We also need to understand that time in the heavenly realm is not like time here on earth. God sees the end and the beginning all at the same time because He is the sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth – and time. His plan wasn’t something that had to unfold from heaven’s perspective, though it took thousands of years to accomplish on earth. It was already a done deal. When the Father gazed at the Baby in the manger he saw the man on the cross. And so should we.

Aren’t you glad that He didn’t wait for you to cry out from the pit before He set a rescue plan in place? He planned it long before you needed it. That should give you great hope, Beloved. God had you in mind all along.

God’s Plan

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“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . “Matthew 2:1

The Bible is filled with story after story of God’s hand in the events of human history, and in particular in individual lives, as He works to fulfill His will.  But almost always, the path He chooses is very different than those individuals might have envisioned, and often very difficult as well. Joseph had a destiny in Egypt that would affect his family, the nation of Israel, and the entire world.  But God took him through pits and prison on the way.  David would be king of Israel – after running for his life through the wilderness.  I love the story of Paul. The Lord had a purpose for him, to “carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel,” (Acts 9:15).  Jesus told him, “you must testify about me in Rome, (Acts 23:11).  And he did indeed make it to Rome to declare the name of Christ Jesus, but he arrived as a prisoner, by way of a storm and a shipwreck and a snake (Acts 27-28).

Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem fulfilled a prophecy made hundreds of years before: “Out of you, Bethlehem Ephrathah . . . will come one for me who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).  How would that happen when His mother lived in Nazareth, some 100 miles away?  God worked through the highest office in the land: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  And everyone went to his own town to register,” (Luke 2:1, 3). While it seemed that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for Ceasar’s edict, they were really there to fulfill the promise of God – to bring forth the promised one in the place of His prophecied birth.

A life surrendered into the hands of the Lord God Almighty may have twists and surprises, and yes even doubts and struggles, but you can be assured that He is faithful to keep His promise and to fulfill His purpose.  Don’t be afraid of these “strange things that are happening to you,” Beloved,  (1 Peter 4:12).  It’s just God at work working behind the scenes,  preparing you for “His good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12). 

Stop Telling God What To Do

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Reading in Genesis where God had declared His promise and covenant with Abraham to make him the father of a great nation. You know the story: Sarai grew impatient and nagged Abram into fathering a child by her maid Hagar. Several years passed and God came to Abraham and confirmed His promise – Sarah would still bear him a son. Abraham laughed to himself and questioned God’s promise: “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old bear a child? (Genesis 17:17). Then Abraham said, “Oh, that Ishmael [his son with Hagar] might live before you!”

God had made His promise known to Abraham, but in the waiting, Abraham and Sarah decided God could not be trusted and they would go to “plan B.” Even in the presence of God with the promise still ringing in his ears, Abraham pitched another idea out – as if God’s plan was not sufficient. “You know Lord, that’s quite a stretch – that two old people would have a baby. We’ve got Ishmael already – why don’t you just do your thing with him instead.”‘

I am so much like them. “God I’ve got this situation, I need Your help. I need You to work on my behalf. You are the only one who can fix this.” Then – “Oh, and here’s my plan for what you can do.” Sound familiar? Why do we think we need to give God our advice? I’m speaking this to me as loudly as I am to you – God doesn’t need our input. He doesn’t need my solutions. He can take care of things without your human wisdom. What He wants is our trust. He wants us to give the thing to Him and let Him decide the best course of action. He wants us to believe that what He promised He will also accomplish – without our “help.”

Beloved, let’s commit right now to stop trying to tell God what to do. Let’s give Him free rein (and reign) with our lives and how to work in them. You know, I bet He will come up with a solution that will be “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).