Rock the Boat!

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When I read in the Scriptures about the early church, I’m jealous. They had such an incredible experience witnessing “many wonders and miraculous signs” (Acts 2:43).  I long for the sense of purpose and community that they had: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v.42). They met daily and “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God (v. 46). And He blessed them greatly: “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (v. 47). What an exciting, fulfilling time to “belong to the Way” (9:2). Even the community outside of the faith appreciated them, “they enjoyed the favor of all the people” (47).

Well maybe not everyone.

After healing a man who had been crippled from birth, Peter and John proclaimed the gospel to the astonished crowd.  A great number of people believed and that angered the Jewish authorities. They questioned the apostles who then boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus to them. They commanded Peter and John to stop teaching in His name. Their response? “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20). Later they arrested and flogged them. Remarkably, they rejoiced at their mistreatment “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (5:17-41)

How very different from our modern, western culture, where religion is regarded as a personal preference and not a life-giving entity. In the US the battle cry is “separation of church and state,” and in our workplaces, schools, the public square, even among our peers, we are told to keep our religion to ourselves. Unlike the bold apostles, we do it because we don’t want to rock the boat. But true Christianity is all-or-nothing. It spills over into every aspect of our lives because “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We’ll gladly take the scorn of the world for the Name. Besides, it’s only going to get worse, not better. Beloved, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s time to not only rock the boat but get out of it and walk on the water.

Giants

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David and Goliath. One of the best-known stories of the Bible.  A story of good versus evil in the face of impossible odds.  We learn so much from David here. Faith. Determination. Confidence. Preparation. Fearlessness. All very good lessons. But I saw something in this story that I’d never noticed before and I think it’s a very powerful lesson we need to learn.

When David visited the battle site he discovered that the Israelite army was at a standstill. They were paralyzed with fear and he soon saw why. “Goliath, the Philistine champion stepped out from the lines and shouted his usual defiance” (1 Samuel 17:23). His usual defiance was to belittle them, challenge them, threaten them, and thoroughly intimidate them. He said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel!” (8-10). They were “dismayed and terrified” (v. 11). I imagine so! Goliath was over nine feet tall, wore 125 pounds of armor, and carried a spear with an iron point that weighed 15 pounds (4-7). “When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear” (v. 24). And this went had gone on for forty days – twice a day (16). The Israelites had given up hope.

David saw the same enemy and heard the same schpiel. But he saw it much differently. David demanded, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (26). He realized that the Israelites 1) forgot whose they were, and 2) they were afraid – of words.

You and I have an enemy who looks like a giant in our eyes and all day long he berates us and accuses us and tells us we are worthless. He tells us we’re going down. And we listen – day-after-day-after-day – until we start to believe it.  Because we forget whose we are – that we are the sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Christ. Because we are afraid – of words.

Here’s what the Lord impressed on my heart: Giants must be defeated – not feared.

If you are in Christ, satan’s only weapon against you is words. That’s it. But you have the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Stand your ground, Beloved. You are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:38).

Not a Christian Nation Anymore

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Like many of you, I have watched with sadness the declining influence of the church on the nation. I have also grieved the decline of the church itself. While it is by no means dead, it is quite ill. It has replaced the true gospel with the junk food of social justice, pop-psychology, and “God wants everyone to be happy” theology. It has drunk the wine of complacency, apathy, and laziness. It has become addicted to the drug of the culture, “tolerance.” It is nothing like the church of my youth.  

I grew up in the 60’s. It was much easier to be a “Christian” in those days. It was what was expected. If you went to church, the culture smiled on you. Even those who didn’t go to church had a sense of respect for those that did. But that’s not the world we live in anymore. I miss the time when right was right and wrong was wrong and everyone knew the first three verses of Amazing Grace. But while the Christianization of America looked good on the outside, it was not all good. It was akin to the reign of Constantine in the 2nd century A.D. when, because of the Emperor’s Christian zeal, every citizen born in the Roman Empire was deemed a “Christian.” The true heart of a Christ-follower was long forgotten as the populous did what was expected.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). What is the will of the Father? “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40). The will of the Father, the mark of a true Christ-follower was not to sit in a church pew, but to believe in Christ.

The de-Christianization of America may be the best thing that ever happened to God’s people. As the culture takes a deeper hold on the church the faithful will be pushed out and ostracized. Only pure-hearted Christ-loving believers will stand firm. And just as happened throughout the history of the church, God will use the world’s hatred as a purifying fire to burn away the dross and bring out the gold. Those who kneel before Christ today will stand firm in the face of persecution tomorrow. What will it be for you, Beloved?

Hebrews: Jesus is Greater

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Every nation has its heroes – men and women who left an indelible mark on history and are remembered for generations. Alexander the Great. William Wallace. George Washington. Winston Churchill. And the list goes on and on. The Jewish people also had a hero. His name was Moses and he is still revered and lauded by Jews. It was Moses who led the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, across the Red Sea, through forty years in the wilderness, and to the edge of the Promised Land. It was Moses who delivered God’s Law to the people and built the tabernacle, the place where the Lord God dwelt among His people. He was a pretty big deal to the Jews. But the writer of Hebrews said there is someone who is an even bigger deal. Jesus.

Two points were raised about Jesus that exalted Him above their hero – He was faithful and He was worthy. “He was faithful to the one who appointed Him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house” (Hebrews 3:2). Both Moses and Jesus were faithful to their God-given tasks. Moses was faithful in His role as the leader of “God’s house” – the people of Israel. Jesus was faithful in His role as the redeemer of God’s creation. But, he noted, there is a significant difference between them. Jesus is “worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (vs. 3-4). Moses built the tabernacle, but Jesus is the Creator of everything that exists (John 1:3, 10).

The author then brings it all down to one main point: “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house” (vs. 5-6a). Moses was a servant, Jesus Christ is the Son. Moses served God’s people; Jesus redeemed God’s people.  The readers were contemplating giving up their faith because of persecution. If they abandoned Jesus and went back to Moses, they were turning away from the greater for the lesser.

But don’t we do the same? Don’t we trade Jesus for lesser things like pleasure, wealth, power, popularity, and fame? Don’t we give our affection and attention to temporal things that hold no worth? Jesus is greater than everything this world has to offer. Beloved, I implore you don’t trade Him away for anything.  

To Be a Mighty Man (or Woman) of God

King David was a mighty warrior. His feats are recorded all through 1st and 2nd Samuel. Every child knows the story of David and Goliath. David defeated many kings and conquered many enemy nations – but he didn’t do it alone. 2 Samuel 23 is a record of David’s “mighty men” who fought by his side. There was Josheb-Basshebeth, who killed 800 men in one encounter, and Abishai who killed 300. Benaiah killed a lion and a “huge Egyptian” with the man’s own spear. But there are two in particular that captured my attention.

Eleazar was with David when he faced off against the Philistines. The Scripture said that the rest of the army of Israel retreated, “but [Eleazar] stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.” (v. 10). Shammah also faced an army of Philistines on his own after Israel’s troops fled. “Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory” (v. 12).

Do you see the similarities in these accounts? Both men stood firm when everyone else had fled and The Lord brought about a great victory. I want to be like them. I want to stand firm in the Lord, no matter the size of the enemy, even if I stand alone. I want to hold the Sword of the Spirit with such a tight grip that my hand freezes around it. I want a faith that keeps me in the good fight till the end.

Like Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Still today, Christians around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. I want a faith like that – one that stands the ultimate test.

I want to be a “mighty woman of God.” I want that for my granddaughter. I want that for you too, Beloved. When the world demands that we deny Christ and bow to the culture, I want us to stand our ground, hands frozen to the Sword of the Spirit till the Lord brings the victory.

Hebrews: Perfection

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Many profess Romans 8:28 as their favorite verse: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But what is God’s purpose? That we would be “conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Our purpose is to be like Jesus.

In our ongoing study of Hebrews, we’re looking at several reasons why the Father sent His one and only Son to earth to die for humanity.  One of those reasons also answers the question – “How does God accomplish His purpose?” Hebrews 2:10 says “. . . it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Jesus was made perfect through suffering.

Now wait just a minute, you’re thinking, Jesus was always perfect! What does this mean? The word used here is teleioo and it means “to accomplish, bring to a planned end.” Its root word is telos. Another word that shares that root is in Jesus’ last words on the cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  Jesus was “made perfect” in that His purpose for coming to earth was accomplished – it was perfected.

But back to our question: How does God accomplish His purpose? Through suffering. Through the cross. Through beatings and a crown of thorns and nails through His hands and feet. Will be any less for you and me? Suffering is the hammer and chisel He uses to shape us into the very image of His Son. This was important to the Hebrew recipients of this letter who were undergoing intense persecution for the name of Jesus. They were contemplating giving up. The author was encouraging them to stay firm in their faith because their suffering had a purpose to make them perfect. Just like Jesus.

The same is true for you and me Beloved. The “all things” from Romans 8:28 includes suffering. But the teleioo – the perfection is worth it. We will be like Jesus! Beloved, suffering means that God is perfecting you, just as He did His Son. Oh, but when He’s finished you won’t believe how good you’re gonna look!

What Is a Christian?

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How do others know you’re a follower of Christ? Is it your “Daughter of the King” T-shirt? Maybe it’s the fish on your car or posting Jesus memes on social media. Perhaps it’s how you rail against sins you would never commit. Do these things say you are a Christian? No more than sitting in a garage says you are a car. There are three things that Jesus identified as marking His followers.

Love – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Twice: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” ((John 15:12). And again: “This is my command: Love each other” (15:17). Three times Jesus said, “Love one another.” And this is the only time in all four gospels that Jesus called His words a “command.”

Fruit – “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Fruit is the evidence of what something or someone is. A peach tree bears peaches. A banana tree bears bananas. A Christian bears the fruit of the Spirit: love (there it is again), Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Persecution – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). If you belong to Christ, you have a target painted on your back.

The church wants to say it is all about doing and saying the right things. The world says it is approving all kinds of sin for the sake of “love.” But Jesus said the mark of a Christian is love for the Body of Christ, producing fruit, and being hated by the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little uneasy right now. Beloved, what is it about you that tells the world you belong to Jesus?

Great Faith

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The hardest thing about being a person with a strong faith is getting there. The road of faith is long and winding and marked with unimaginable challenges and struggles. There are huge boulders that block your path, wide chasms with no bridge, and pits of quicksand waiting to suck you in. And the ever-present snake in the grass who hisses at you all along the way – “You’re a fool!” “You’re lost and you’ll never find your way.” “This is too hard – you need to quit.” And many do. The roadside is littered with the bones of people who gave up.

But some made it, some pressed on to the glorious end – heaven. You’ll find them in Hebrews 11 – the Hall of Faith. Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses – and his parents. Rahab. And many more scattered throughout the Scriptures. David. Esther. Ezra. Ruth. Paul. Peter. John. We consider them the greats of the faith. But here’s their “secret.”  Every step of the way is a step of faith.

I’ve been told I am a woman of “great faith.” I don’t agree. What I am is a woman with a lot of battle scars. I am a woman who has been weak far more than I have been “strong.” But if you want to call me a woman of faith, I will tell you my “secret.” It’s found in Psalm 22:9: “You made me trust in You.” Any ounce of faith I have was because God put me in situations that demanded I either trust in Him or get devoured by the enemy. And when I trusted in Him He delivered me (v. 4). And He has never let me down (v. 5). Not. One. Time. He has always proven faithful. Guess what? I’m in another one of those battles right now. I will either trust Him or I will be one more bleached skeleton in the desert.

Bill Bright once said, “You don’t have to have great faith. You just need faith in a great God.” That’s how the heroes of the Bible did it, so that’s what I’m gonna do too. No, I’m not a woman of great faith. I am a woman with faith in a great God.

It’s Time to Grow Up

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I grew up a church kid.  I was on the cradle roll, became a Sunbeam, then a G.A. and on up the church ladder I went. I never lacked for instruction. From my earliest childhood, I heard stories about Jesus. About angels, shepherds, and wise men. About the mean old devil in the wilderness. And oh, the miracles: blind eyes opened, thousands fed from a few loaves and fishes, walking on water and calming storms. And of course, I learned about the cross and the empty tomb. I heard them all and believed they all were true. But I still didn’t believe in Him. It took many years and a lot of patience on God’s part for me to go from stories to faith.

The author of Hebrews implored his readers to move beyond the milk of “elementary teachings about Christ” and feast on solid food like mature Christians. It’s interesting that these “elementary teachings” are “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptism, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (6:2). Here’s what shocking: he said their lack of spiritual maturity was because they are “slow to learn” (5:11). Does that mean that they were struggling with these rudimentary issues?  No. The word “slow” means lazy. They hadn’t put forth any effort to learn. They’d been content with “elementary” knowledge rather than graduating to the deeper teachings of the faith.

I would say that the vast majority of folks sitting in the pews today don’t have even an elemental grasp of the basic tenets of the faith. So, if the Hebrew Christians were considered “slow to learn” because they only understood “elementary teachings”, what does that say about the church in our generation? We’ve become content with a “preschool” faith. Bible stories and psychological “Bible” studies and a religion of the new holy trinity – me, myself, and I. That’s not going to help us in the days of persecution that are on the horizon.

Are you ready to put the bottle down and dig into some solid spiritual food? I’m going to dedicate Monday’s devotionals to dig into the book of Hebrews in the days, weeks, months ahead. Beloved, grab a fork (and your Bible) and join me at the table. Let’s sink our teeth into something satisfying.

Be Encouraged

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Encourage. Mirriam-Webster says it is: to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope, to attempt to persuade, to spur on. The word is found in the Bible fifty-four times, fifteen in the Old Testament and thirty-nine in the New. God’s people have always needed encouragement. They have faced exile, enemies, slavery, the consequences of their sin, persecution, oppression, prison, beatings, and death. The New Testament writers encouraged the persecuted first-century Christians with two facts:

  1. Jesus Christ is alive. Paul said simply, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thess 4:14a)
  2. Jesus Christ is coming again. “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.  Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess 16-18).

I can blow sunshine in your face all day long, but nothing will encourage you like “these words.”  The living Lord Jesus is coming again. That is the hope that has sustained every persecuted Christ-follower and every martyr for more than two thousand years. The truth is, we still need this same encouragement. Being a Christian is not only unpopular – in some places it is deadly. But the confidence we have in Jesus’ resurrection and return will sustain us.

This world is not getting better, it is getting worse. But you and I can find courage by remembering that our Lord and Savior is alive and He is coming again to redeem this sin-sick world and take His rightful place on the throne. Beloved, rest your heart and your hope in Him. Be encouraged.