Death vs. Love

“In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” Romans 8:37.

It was the rallying cry of the martyr in the early church, the prayer of the saint drawing his last breath. It is the hope and promise for God’s people. “We are more than conquerors.” But what does that mean? And what are “all these things,? Trouble. Hardship. Persecution. Famine. Nakedness. Danger. Sword. Death. Where does your life fall on this list? Do you have trouble? Do not despair – God will help you. Are you under hardship? Do not faint – God will bring you through. Are you being persecuted? Do not shrink back – God will give you strength. Not many of us are experiencing famine or nakedness – most of us live in plenty to one degree or another. Nor do we face danger or threats to our lives, though that day seems not far off.

But all of us – sooner or later – will meet death. And here is where our Conquering Hero leads the way. Jesus made an astounding promise: “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). The greatest threat we face is death – but not the end of our mortal lives. No, our enemy is eternal death – separation from God forever.

Jesus drew a final breath. His heart stopped beating. He was placed in a tomb. But He rose from death to complete life. And in doing so, He conquered our chief enemy. Because of His resurrection, we too have the promise of eternal life. Oh, most of us will likely draw a final breath, and our mortal heart will cease its beating. But another life is coming for those who believe in Jesus – a life that cannot end. A life that will never be taken away. A life that cannot be touched by trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword. Not even by death.

What is the power that overcomes? Love. Holy love. Love that went to the cross. Love that succumbed to death. Love that lay in the tomb. And love that rose again. Paul said that “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). The empty tomb proves it. In Christ, dear one you are more than a conqueror – you are the Beloved. What could possibly be greater than this?

Just Pray

A few days ago I shared the blessing of Joy praying at every meal, thanking God for her every single thing on her plate, for the family, and for the day. I shared about this vision in my mind that as soon as she says “Faudder,” God hushes all of heaven, “Quiet everyone, Joy is praying.” It is a sweet thought that touched many of your hearts. I was pondering that this morning and I sensed the Spirit saying, “I do that for your prayers too.”

Over and over the Lord assures us that He is indeed listening to all of our prayers. Psalm 66:19 says, “God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” And Psalm 34:17 promises “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.” Peter agreed with David and said, “The eye of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Pet 3:12). And the disciple that Jesus loved said, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

God loves to hear the voice of His children, in song, in proclamation, and especially in prayer. I used to think that God is going to do what He wants to do and there was no real point to me praying. But I know now that prayer is more than just rote words and a list of wishes thrown up in vain hope. Prayer is “powerful and effective” (James 5:16). It moves the heart of God. It moves our hearts too. Prayer changes circumstances and it changes us. It aligns our hearts with God’s will and causes us to desire the things He wants to do in and through us.

How do I know that prayer is so important to God? John reported on the scene in heaven saying, “[An] angel who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God” (Rev 8:3-4). The prayers of God’s people are a sweet aroma before Him.

So pray, Beloved. Even if it sounds awkward and uneloquent. God is listening to your heart – it is a beautiful thing in His ears.

Morning Prayer

Sharing my prayer this morning. I invite you to pray with me:

Holy Father,

This is the day that You have made, and I will be glad and rejoice in it (Ps 118:24).

Your name is exalted high above the earth and the heavens. You are great and worthy of praise. You are mighty, glorious, wonderful, awesome, good, righteous, gracious, compassionate, eternal, and faithful (Psalm 145). You are my fortress, my stronghold, and my deliverer (Psalm 144:2).

I have awakened to new opportunities and new mercies (Lam. 3:23). Yesterday’s failures are buried. Today is a new slate, bright and clean.

I do not face this day alone; You are present with me (Matt. 28:20).

You are my Shepherd (Ps. 23:1).

You are my Father (Matt. 20:17).

You are my Peace (Heb. 13:20).

My Comfort (2 Cor. 1:3)

My Rock (Ps 18:2).

My Strength (Ps 19:14).

My Shield (Deut. 33:29).

Lord, when my heart and mind are focused on You, the worries of my life seem small because You are so great. Oh, help me keep my eyes fixed on You all through the day.

Gracious, mighty, sovereign God what an extraordinary thing that You sang me to sleep last night (Zep. 3:17) and You sent me word this morning of Your unfailing love (Ps. 143:8).

I make one plea in this early hour – the angels declare that the whole earth is full of Your glory. (Isaiah 6:3). Give me eyes to see Your glory all around me today.

I give You thanks O Lord because Your love endures forever (Psalm 136).  My hope is in You and in Your Word (Psalm 130:5, 7). One day I will see Your face (Revelation 22:4). Until then I will wait and trust. I will watch the skies and listen for the sound of trumpets (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

In the mighty and holy and perfect name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord. Amen

In the Shadow of the Cross

Time and eternity intersect at the Cross

My granddaughter loves crosses. She knows the cross has something to do with God and Jesus, and at almost three, that’s a good foundation. But in the first century, the cross was a symbol of shame. So why would the church adopt it as our standard? We get a clue from Peter who said, “[Jesus] bore our sins in His body on the tree [cross], so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis added). Pete packed a lot into that short sentence.

First, the cross is for sinners. It is for people who make mistakes, for the ones who are weak, for those of us who do foolish things, who fall into a pit of sin and walk in the wilderness of the consequences. The cross is the place where Jesus took on all our sin and shame, our profane mouths and promiscuous acts, our greed, and selfishness, our lies, our addictions, our lustful thoughts, our rebellion, and disobedience.  Jesus didn’t die for those who have it all together. He died for those of us who are falling apart in our own human sinfulness. The cross is for me.

Second, the cross helps us in our weaknesses. By holding fast to the cross of Jesus, we draw strength to enable us to overcome our un-Christ-like habits and attractions. When I look to the cross, I am reminded again of what Jesus did for me, and I find the strength to fight against the enemy and flee from temptation.   I’m not implying that the cross is some magic talisman; but it is a symbol of the transforming power of Christ – a power we are encouraged to call on every day and every moment. You and I can’t control the sinful desires of our flesh, but Christ can help us stand strong in godliness. Through the cross, Christ empowers us to live for righteousness.

Many criminals before and after Him died on a cross, but the cross of Jesus is the hope for all mankind. It is the place from which love dripped down Christ’s body and bought us our freedom. Paul said, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Beloved, have you come to the cross of Jesus?

Who are You Praying For?

We know that praying for others can make a big difference in someone’s life. James said, “The fervent prayer of a righteous man [or woman or parent or grandparent or sibling or friend or – well you get the idea] is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). But sometimes we struggle to know how to pray. We feel the weight of the need but just don’t know where to start.  That’s when I turn to the Bible.  When I pray for someone, I like to use prayers from the Scriptures, for they are God’s own words and we know that His word “ will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Paul’s letters are always a good source for prayers, and Ephesians is a gold mine of inspiration.

For someone who is struggling with a difficult situation, I pray that they “May be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, and the eyes of their heart may be opened so that they may know the hope to which You have called them” (Ephesians 1:17-18).

For someone who is depressed and discouraged I pray that they “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 they may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-18). (I also pray this one over my granddaughter every day.)

For one who has wandered from God, I pray that they may “Live a life worthy of the calling they have received and be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with others in love and making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

But sometimes we don’t even know the need – how do we pray then?  I borrow from Lazarus sisters’ prayer in John 11:3: “Lord the one You love needs You.” He has the wisdom to understand the need, the heart to care about the need, and the power to meet the need. Remember the friends who lowered the paralytic through a roof to Jesus (Luke 5:17-26)? That’s what we’re doing when we pray for others. Beloved, who can you bring to Jesus today?

I Promise

You stood together at the front of the church and promised to “love, honor and cherish till death do us part.” Yet, here you are alone and hurting. My child promised to come home on time, and two hours later I’m fuming as I hear his key finally turn in the door. They promised advances and promotions when you were hired, but you’re still stuck at entry-level. What happened? Promises were made and then broken. You’ve been on the receiving end, I’m sure. If you’re honest, you may have been on the giving end as well.

Part of our human sinful condition is that we are selfish and self-centered and that often means we will fail to keep our word. We make promises to get our way. We make promises we know we won’t keep. Of course, sometimes we make a promise and something unexpected causes us to break our promise. Whatever the reason someone usually gets hurt. Someone is placed at a disadvantage. Is it any wonder that we find it hard to trust others? Even God.

One thing of which I am certain is that God is faithful to His promises. His Word is as sure as His character, and His character is flawless. He doesn’t make promises based on feelings, so we never have to worry that His feelings will change and His promises will fail. He does not need to make promises to gain an advantage. He always has the advantage. He doesn’t make promises He cannot keep. He is almighty, all-powerful, and able to do everything He says He will do. He never makes a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. God wouldn’t be God if He did not or could not keep His promises.

What has God promised you? If you are in Christ He has promised you salvation and eternal life. He has promised you hope and peace and joy. He has promised His presence, His power, and His protection. He has promised to provide, comfort and care for you. He has promised you victory over sin and death and this world. Elizabeth said of Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45). Blessed are you, Beloved, when you take God at His Word.

The More You Know . . .

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

Just to see him smile make my life worthwhile

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

And I do.

Written by Phil Spector and first recorded by “The Teddy Bears,” this song hit the number one spot in 1958. Through the years it was covered by many other artists and I bet as you read those lyrics, you were singing the melody. I know I did as I typed them. One of my daily prayers for my granddaughter is that she will grow in the knowledge of God and love for God every day of her life.  Because the more she knows God, the more she will love Him. How can she not?

When she knows that God is holy, when she knows that He is righteous, when she knows that He is high and lifted up and that He not only sees her but cares about her (Gen 16:13)  . . . when she knows that He is mighty, when she knows that He uses His power on her behalf (Eph 3:20) . . . when she knows that God is faithful and will “never leave [her] nor forsake [her] (Jos 1:5), when she grasps “how wide and long and high and deep” is His love for her (Eph 3:18) and understands that “nothing can separate [her] from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39) . . . when she knows that He loves her so much that “He sent His one and only Son” to die to save her (John 3:16) . . .

How can you not? Perhaps it never occurred to you that you can know God, but over and over His Word invites us to do just that. Paul prayed that believers will “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:19). I have discovered that the more I come to know Him, the more I love Him and the more I love Him the more I want to know Him. Beloved, can there be any better pursuit for your life than to seek to know God? “My heart says of You, “Seek His face!” Your face Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8).

Stepping Out in Faith

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Has God asked you to do something scary? Something bigger than you? Something you know you can’t do? Awesome! You are blessed! And you are in very good company.  Every “hero/heroine” in the Bible had the same calling. And every one of them had to take a step of obedience before they saw the power of God in their task. Take the priests of Israel who were preparing to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. They were to lead the way: “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people” (Jos 3:5). Okay, they’d done this before at the Red Sea. I’m sure they all said, “Remember when Moses parted the sea and we walked across on dry ground? I am sure God will do it again!” Well, not exactly.

The Lord told the priests: “When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s water, go and stand in the river” (v. 8). Oh, by the way, did I mention, “the Jordan is at flood stage” (v. 15). You gotta be kidding.  No, God never kids. But listen to what happened: “As soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.  It piled up in a heap a great distance away . . .” (v. 15, 16). And just as before “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground” (v. 17).

At the Red Sea, God parted the waters before the people started across, but this time was different.  This time the priests had to dip their feet into the water. They had to literally step out in faith. But as soon as they did, God not only stopped the flow of the river, but he instantaneously dried up the riverbed. They walked across on dry ground.

In all the time I’ve walked God has never failed me. Never. Not one time. And I know He will not. But I also know that God has asked me for a step of faith before He poured out His power.   I don’t know what God is asking you to do, but I’ll bet it’s pretty scary.  Go for it, Beloved. Your toes may get a little wet, but you will always walk on dry ground.

Perfect Balance

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I read it first on a Bible cover, It was embroidered with red thread on a quilted grey paisley print. “One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong and that you, O Lord are loving” (Psalm 62:11-12). For some reason, I couldn’t stop staring at it.  I’m sure the woman who owned the Bible was a little concerned that I might try to sneak off with it. The verse captured me – and like the Holy Spirit often does, He asked, “What does that mean?” I quickly jotted down the reference and turned my attention back to the teacher.

When I got home I went to my concordance and started to dig. Guess what? Strong means strong and loving means loving. Well, that was . . . enlightening. But then the Spirit said, “Not the individual words, the whole verse – what does it say about God?” He is strong. He is loving. “Don’t separate the two words. What do they mean together?” God is strong and loving. And then I understood.

If God were just strong, we would fear for our lives. His power would overwhelm us and He might use His strength against us. If He were just loving, He could do little to help us. He would look on us with pity and sorrow for our sufferings, but could only pat us on the shoulder and wish us well. But He is strong and He is loving. His strength is perfectly balanced by His affection. His love is equally matched by the power to rescue. His love allows Him to see our needs and respond with compassion, mercy, and grace. His power enables Him to work mightily on our behalf, parting seas, holding back the sun, bringing down strong walls, and overwhelming enemies. And rising from the grave.

There have been many powerful men throughout history who had no compassion and left a wake of pain and destruction behind them. By the same token, many benevolent hearts offer empathy, but cannot render any real aid. God is sufficiently both; He cares and He moves. This, Beloved, is the God who listens to your heart’s cry and responds with power. He sees you. He hears you. He loves you. And He is coming to your rescue.

Think Bigger, Pray Bigger

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What are you asking God for today? What do you imagine He will do in your situation? You need to imagine bigger and pray wider. Why do I say that? Because the Bible says, “Now, to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine . . .” (Eph 3:20). Whatever you’re asking, and however you think God will move is so much less than He has in mind.

Take the disciples. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they were content to spend their lives casting nets over the side of a boat as fishermen. Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will me you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). They had no idea how big that be, but they were the first seeds of God’s plan to change the world. Even after spending more than three years in ministry with Him, they still had such a small vision of who He was and what He came to do. After His resurrection, he met two of His disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. When He asked them what they were discussing, they explained that they were talking about “Jesus of Nazareth” (I almost envision the Lord chuckling to Himself) who had died just three days before. They said, “we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:13-21). But they were thinking too small because Jesus came to redeem the whole world, not just one nation.

But there’s something else I want you to see – something God revealed to me I’d never seen before. Look back at verse 20 – what is the first word? “Now.” Now indicates a continuation of the previous thought. What was Paul’s previous thought? He was praying to the Father for the believers in Ephesus, that they might be strengthened with the power of His Spirit, that they would have faith, and that they would be “rooted and established in love” and “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” and know this “love that surpasses knowledge.” And get this: that they “may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19).

Then he said, “God is able to do more than all [I’m] asking.” Can you imagine what the world would be like if we believed God for all that? Imagine bigger, Beloved, this is God we’re talking about.