Hebrews: Yes, God

My granddaughter loves to do “hidden picture” puzzles. These are scenes with small things drawn to make them blend into the other elements of the picture, essentially hiding them in plain sight. For instance, a banana becomes the bill of a cap or a ruler sits among the rails of a fence. She’s gotten quite good at finding the prize amid all the rest of the picture.

The passage we’re considering today in Hebrews is like that. “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.” Amen. (Heb 13: 20-21).  There are some deep doctrinal truths here: God is the source of peace and He imparted that peace to us through Jesus Christ, His Son, who signed the eternal covenant with His blood and sealed it with His resurrection. He has taken up His position as our great Shepherd as we – His sheep – follow Him. You could fill countless theology books with just verse 20. But for the purpose of our study, we’re going to set the descriptive text aside to get to the point. We’re not changing the Scripture, we’re just zeroing in on the hidden nugget. “May God . . . equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him . . .” There it is! A prayer that God will equip us to do His will and work in us the things that please Him.

This verse echoes Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:8). This is a promise that if God calls you to it He will equip you for it. When God called him to rescue the Israelites, Moses pointed out his stuttering problem (Ex 4:10). And God said, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (v. 12). And He did. And God was pleased with Moses and called him His friend (Ex 33:11).

Yes, the calling is bigger than you but you have the promise of God – the God who brings peace through Jesus Christ – that He will help you do it. Say “Yes” to God’s call Beloved and discover what He will do through and in you.

Hebrews: Pray for Me

Pray for me. Yes, that is a request, but I’m also quoting the author of Hebrews as he nears the end of his letter. He asked his readers: “Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” (Heb 13:18). Scholars believe that the unknown writer may have been falsely accused of something that cast a shadow on his integrity and testimony. He wanted his readers to know without a doubt that he had “a clear conscience” and a heart to live for Christ. He had been separated in some way from his beloved friends and hoped to return to them. It was a matter he wanted to be covered in prayer.

Paul’s letters are filled with pleas for prayer for himself – and his prayers for others.  If you need some suggestions for how to pray for others, you would do well to search out his writings. Here are a few that I like to use:

I pray that in Him you will be enriched in every way and not lack any spiritual gift. I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will keep you strong and blameless to the end (adapted from 1 Cor 1:4-9).

“I pray that God will fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, so that you may have great endurance, patience, Joy and gratitude” (Col 1:9-12).

And my favorite: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).

The Bible is filled with good words that can be turned into good prayers. Many of the Psalms are the prayers of David and the Levites. God declared, “My word that goes out of my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). Praying His Word back to Him has His divine power and authority behind it.

So pray for somebody today, Beloved. If you don’t know their specific needs, pray one of these Scriptures over them. Who knows what God may do in someone’s life through your prayers?

Taste-Tested and Approved

I see lots of recipes on social media – yummy-looking desserts, casseroles, crockpot meals, dips, and the one that caught my eye this morning: white bean chicken chili. I may try that one soon. If my family likes it, I may even pass it on. But not until I’ve served it and it gets the thumbs-up – especially from Joy. I can’t imagine sharing a recipe I’ve never tried first. I wouldn’t recommend a doctor I’ve never seen or a church I haven’t attended or a book I’ve not read. If you get any kind of recommendation from me it’s only because I’ve tested it out and found it to be good.

That is why my messages are all about the Lord. As David said, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8 ). I have found Him to be satisfying in every way. When I need help – and I need it a lot – He is my Helper (Ps 54:4). When the enemy attacks me Almighty God is stronger than my foe (Gen 17:1-2). When I am weary He is my Strength (Ps 19:14). When I fall into sin He is faithful to forgive me (Ps 99:8 ). When I am lonely He is with me (Jud 6:12). When I have a need I go to the Lord who provides (Gen 22:14). When the world is dark and full of evil I look to the Light (John 8:12). When I am sick I trust in the Lord my Healer (Ex 15:26).  When chaos is all around me I run to the Lord my Peace (Jud 6:24).

And when I need counsel or wisdom or just need to know what is right I know where to go because I have tested His words and they are true (John 17:17). The Bible is as sure and powerful as the One who spoke it – the God of truth (Ps 31:5). I can tell you that He is a Faithful God (Deut 7:9) because He has always been faithful to me. I can recommend Him to you without hesitation because He has proven Himself to me over and over and over again. He is the God of my Life (Ps 42:8 ).

If the white bean chicken chili shows up on my page you can know that I have tasted it and it is good. But more important than a recipe, I want to share God with you because He is everything to me. Oh, Beloved, I pray that you will taste and see that the Lord is good. I highly recommend Him.

Advent 2022: He is . . .

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6

 He is the Wonderful Counselor because He is all-knowing – He has absolute wisdom. He leads with knowledge of the way ahead.  He speaks from His Word – full of righteousness with not even a hint of error.  All His ways are right and true.  His counsel is without cost, His office never closes, and He is never too busy to meet with you.  Your Wonderful Counselor is only a whispered prayer away.

 

He is a Mighty God because He is all-powerful. This Child was born to save the world. He is a warrior who defeated the foe of His people.  Only the enemy is not a human army; the enemy is death – that is, eternal separation from God.  And He did not do battle with arrows or spears or any man-made weapon.  He used a wooden cross and an empty tomb. “Death has been swallowed up in victory!” (1 Corinthians 15:54) and we will live forevermore.

 

He is our Everlasting Father because in Him is everlasting life. But not just an existence that never ends,  It is about the uninterrupted presence of God and His everlasting love (Ps. 103:17), everlasting righteousness (Ps. 119:142), an everlasting kingdom (Ps. 145:113), everlasting Joy (Is. 35:10), everlasting salvation (Is. 47:17), everlasting kindness (Is. 54:8), everlasting light (Is 60:19, 20), and an everlasting name (Is. 56:5). It will be an everlasting paradise (Rev. 2:7)!

He is the Prince of Peace who came to this earth, not in a castle, but in a stable. He came to bring us peace that cannot be broken. Certainly, in Him there is peace of mind and peace in the storm and peace between men, but Jesus Christ came that you and I might have even more – peace with our Creator.  He came to lay His body down as a bridge between us and God, ensuring peace in the most important place of all, our souls.

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. What greater gift could there be, Beloved?

I Can’t . . . But I Know Who Will

In our Scripture writing group, we are working our way through Genesis, specifically the story of Joseph. You know the kid who was sold to slave traders by his brothers, then to a powerful man in Egypt whose wife accused him of attempted rape and he was thrown in prison. While there, he correctly interpreted two of his prison mates’ dreams. When Pharaoh had a dream of his own two years later one of the men suggested Joseph could interpret the dream. He was brought before the highest man in the land who insisted that the prisoner do the same for him. Joseph’s reply is resonating deep within my soul this morning. “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (Gen 41:16).

And that is the story of my life: “I cannot . . . but God will.”  I cannot save myself . . . but God will.  I cannot make a masterpiece out of the mess of my life . . . but God will. I cannot heal my broken heart . . . but God will. I cannot love others who have hurt me . . . but God will. I cannot speak wisdom and truth . . . but God will. I cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit . . . but God will. I cannot be strong in my weakness . . . but God will. I cannot be the wife, mother, grandmother, employee, friend, teacher, and writer that I was created to be . . . but God will.

I hear echoes of Jesus’ words in John 5:19: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself . . .” If Jesus can do nothing by Himself then I should not be ashamed that I can’t either.  It’s what made Jesus human – He had to rely on His Father – just like me.

In this culture where all of our focus is on me, myself, and I, it’s time we shift our attention from what we can’t do and start declaring what God can – and will – do. And of all the things that God will do, the one I count on the most is that God will be faithful. He knows that I am fallible, He knows that I get weary and my shoulders are not strong enough to carry all my burdens. In all the things that I cannot do, God will be faithful to do it. In me. Through me. Despite me. And He will do the same for you. You cannot do it, Beloved . . . but God will.

Have Faith

In Mark 4:35-41, when Jesus boarded a boat with His disciples He promptly fell asleep. If you read the preceding verses you will see it was a busy day and He was exhausted. So when a “furious squall” came up on the lake and threatened the boat, He slept right through it. The disciples had to wake Him up in a panic, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” I imagine they expected Him to start helping them bail water, but I don’t think they expected Him to calm the storm with a command. “He rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’” And the wind and waves obeyed Him.

At first, I was going to write about how nature obeys God yet man – His pinnacle of creation – does not. But something else is speaking to me as I meditate on this passage. I encourage you to grab your Bible and read these verses while I gather my thoughts.

In verse 40 Jesus rebuked His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Faith is the cure for fear. Everything in life is about faith. Because “by faith we understand” and “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:3,6). Faith enables us to stand when we want to give up. Faith is the power of endurance and perseverance. Faith is the fuel of hope and the light of peace. Most importantly, we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8). Faith matters for this life and for eternal life.

But there’s something else I see here. I’m drawn back to verse 35 when Jesus said, “Let us go over to the other side.” He told them where they were going so they should have realized that no storm was going to stop Him. He knew there was a man on the other side who was possessed by a legion of demons. He was on a mission of supernatural healing. Just a side note: scholars point out that, based on how He spoke to the storm, there was almost certainly demonic activity stirring the wind and waves. When you put it all together, it makes sense that demons would try to stop Jesus from reaching this man. But when you consider who He is . . .

What wonderous thing has Jesus spoken to you? Do you have faith to believe that He is able to achieve it? Whenever He speaks, it is accomplished. Wind and waves and demons cannot stop Him. Have faith Beloved, – even in the middle of the storm.

How to (not)Resist Temptation

I love fall. I love the colors of the leaves (even though they don’t change here in the deep south). I love the cool, crisp bite of the morning air. I love back-to-school season. I love the ground carpeted with shed leaves. I love college football. I love to watch the harvesters at work in the fields, bringing their bounty to bless the world. Except for peanuts. Oh, I love to eat peanuts. But the nut is produced under the soil and the farmer has to turn the plants over to harvest the crop, which releases all kinds of things into the air – like mold – to which I am highly allergic. And I live in the peanut capital of the world. Achoo! And yet I keep the window in my study open to enjoy the aforementioned cool, crisp air. I know. That’s pretty stupid. Just like standing in the path of temptation.

The mainstay of Christian conviction has always been  “Resist temptation!”  But the Bible says we are to run from temptation.  We are told to “flee from sexual immorality” and “idolatry” (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14); “flee from greed [the love of money]” (1 Timothy 6:10,11); and “flee from evil desires” (2 Timothy 2:22).  Why flee? James said we are all “tempted when, by [our] own evil desire, [we] are dragged away and enticed” (1:14). Our evil desires are internal. We have to flee from temptation because it is tapping into those desires. That’s why you can’t stand in front of temptation and try to talk yourself out of it – you have to get away from it. If your flesh is agreeing with the thing in front of you, run. You are standing on dangerous ground.

I knew a man who drove six miles out of his way on his daily route just to avoid driving past a bar he used to frequent in his drinking days. He knew the desire was always in him so he detoured away from the temptation. He took Paul’s word to heart: “when you are tempted, [God] will provide a way out” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The way out for him was an alternative – if longer – route. A married woman quit her lucrative job to distance herself from a coworker to whom she was attracted. Another man gave up his smartphone with internet capabilities for a simple call-and-text-only phone to avoid the pull of pornography.

Jesus wants you and me to be victorious over temptation. He gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do just that. But we still have to put distance between ourselves and temptation. If I want to stop sneezing I’ve got to close the window. Beloved, If you want to stop falling into sin take the way out. Take the long way home. Change your job. Cancel the subscription. Change your phone. Cry out to Jesus for help. Then run.

Jesus is [not] my Homeboy

When I took an Apologetics course in my undergrad, I had to interview five non-Christians and ask them specific worldview questions. I also did a little experiment. I asked each one to repeat one simple, three-word phrase: “Jesus is Lord.” None of them would. In fact, one of them said, “I can’t. Those words just won’t come.”  

When we take a very nonchalant approach to Jesus, it shows in how we identify Him. Evangelist Greg Laurie said, “Sometimes I think people in the church are far too casual with God. They have a relationship with God, but they’ve forgotten the holiness of God. They say Jesus is their “homeboy,” but their so-called homeboy created the universe. Let’s show some respect. This is God Almighty we’re talking about.” I understand that we want to present Jesus as approachable and relevant. But if we fail to see and acknowledge Him as Lord, we have missed the point of who He is.

The writer of Hebrews got it. He said, “Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28b-29). That’s very different from the soft-hearted God that is preached from many pulpits today. Don’t get me wrong – our God is a God of love and mercy – two of His most enduring traits. God’s love is evident in His mercy. His mercy is driven by His love. But both His love and His mercy must acknowledge His holiness – and His wrath. Without it, His love is as mushy – and useless – as a Hallmark movie.  You and I need a love that is powerful enough to snatch us from the edge of hell.

While the culture today wants to worship only the God of love, love, love they have no real context. His love is His mercy. His love is the cross. They don’t understand that because they fail to see the danger they are in because of their sinfulness. And they fail to see the consuming fire of His holiness. Remember what the angels proclaimed in Isaiah’s vision: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty (Isa 6:3). His holiness is His glory – a brilliant radiance that consumes everything that is not as holy as He. Unless you have the protective covering of the blood of Jesus.

God’s mercy against the backdrop of man’s sin is like threads of gold and silver on black velvet. They just show up better. You were meant to carry the light of God to a dark world that longs for love but doesn’t understand it. Beloved, let Him set you ablaze with His glory.

The King Has Come!

It is a familiar scene in movies set in medieval times. The battle is fierce and the warriors are weary, many of their comrades have fallen on the blood-soaked field, and the few that remain try to swing their swords with leaden arms.  Then the cry rings out “Look! The king has come!”  Eyes scan the horizon to see a bright flag with the king’s crest lifted high above the ridge.  All is not lost!  Their king has come to aid them in the fight.  With renewed vigor, the men cheer as their sovereign wades into the sea of battle and leads them on to victory.  They did not see him at first; they only saw his standard rising high into the sky – but it was all the assurance they needed.  The king’s banner was the promise of his presence.

You and I fight a battle every day – we are at war against the enemy, satan, the lord of darkness, the devil himself.  He is a fierce foe and he fights dirty.  He has no mercy. My arms are weary, and my energy is spent.  I look over at you and see the same – as if you are my reflection.  There are tears in my eyes that match your own. It seems we’re just about done in. But all is not lost, my friend. Look! Our King has come!  There, on the horizon – don’t you see it?  It is the standard of our Sovereign rising high above the world. Though we do not yet see Him, His banner – a blood-red flag lifted high atop a cross – is our assurance that He is here in the fight.

He is Jehovah Gibbor Milchamah – The Lord Mighty in Battle (Ps 24:8). He is Jehovah Chereb – The Lord . . . The Sword and Jehovah Magen – The Lord . . . The Shield (Deut 33:29). He brings all His mighty angels as Jehovah Tsebaoth – The Lord of Hosts (1 Sam 1:3). The enemy is no match for Jehovah Maginnenu – The Lord our Defense (Ps 89:18).  Renew your strength, Beloved, the victory is sure.  We have seen His standard. His banner over us is love (Song of Songs 2:4).

Treasure Hunt

There’s such a wonderful benefit to getting out of our favorite passages in the Bible and exploring the rest of Scripture – it is all God’s Word after all. Wherever you read it will bless you, encourage you, challenge you, move you, teach you, guide you, and yes, chastise you. The Holy Writ of the Lord is His message of love, wisdom, discipline, and truth. It is His story with mankind as the supporting cast.

Almost everyone who has some knowledge of the Bible knows the 23rd Psalm, but not much more than that. I want to encourage you to branch out and see what else you can find. For example, Psalm 145 is one of those passages that should fill us with awe and wonder. It’s a psalm of praise as David first extols the greatness of God: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom” (v. 3). He vows to declare the glory, majesty, and power of the Lord to the next generation, to tell of His “mighty acts,” “wonderful works,” and “great deeds” (vs. 4,5,6). He remembers that God is the eternal King, that He is righteous and holy and worthy of praise. But through all of that, David weaves in God’s grace, compassion, patience, love, faithfulness, protection, provision, and presence toward us. He says that God is good, compassionate, and loving toward all mankind and that He is kind to those who have fallen.

Here is the Gospel my friends. God is high and holy, mighty and awesome. In love He created us and for that reason alone He is worthy of our praise. But we fail to praise Him because we are fallen and sinful, and in that state, we deserve destruction (v. 20). But God (my favorite phrase in all of the Bible) poured out His wrath on the cross of His Son. He pours out His love and kindness on humanity and lavishes those who believe with His mercy and grace. He has claimed us as His own. How is it that we are not on our faces in awe and worship and gratitude? Do we not realize that the great, awesome, righteous God who owes us nothing gave us everything?

The Bible tells this same story over and over from Genesis to Revelation. Go dig for treasure, Beloved. You’ll find it on every page.