When You Wonder “What Happened?”

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Ruth’s story in the Bible is a romance for the ages. Widowed and devoted to her grieving mother-in-law, Ruth, a Moabitess accompanied Naomi back to Judah. She left home to go to an unknown place and an unknown people (who traditionally hated the Moabites) and faced an unknown future. She encountered many challenges in Judah, and it is in Judah that she found love. Oh, yeah, she met this Boaz guy, but that’s not the love I mean. The love she discovered in a land far from home was the love of the God of the heavens and the earth.  The God who moved heaven and earth for her and the nation of Israel.

As Naomi and Ruth settled in Bethlehem, the barley harvest was beginning. The law commanded that the poor in a community should be allowed to glean from the fields for their survival, going behind the harvesters and gathering what remained. We pick up Ruth’s story in chapter two as she takes to the fields to gather food for herself and Naomi.  Verse 3 says: “She went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters.  As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” As it turned out. Do you think for a moment that she was working in Boaz’s field by happenstance? No, my friend. God was directing Ruth’s path. He guided her to the very one who could redeem her and give her a home and a family and love. And a place in the lineage of King David (her great-grandson) and Jesus (her true and eternal Redeemer). God gave Ruth a future and a hope beyond her wildest imagination.

As it happened.  Beloved, where do you “happen” to be right now? Somewhere you never expected? Somewhere that feels far from home? Somewhere that is strange, maybe a little scary, and possibly even painful? You’re not there by happenstance. God’s people don’t wander aimlessly. In His providence and sovereignty, He guides us where He wants us to be. Whether it’s a physical place or a season in life, you are where you are by His good and gracious hand. So put your hand to the work before you and keep watch for what God will do.  What “happens” next will be amazing

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

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Leviticus is the Old Testament book that holds all the laws of worship, community, and purity for the nation of Israel. It was all very clear to the Jews of that day – and very burdensome. But to a twenty-first-century western reader, it makes no sense. What does a bunch of antiquated rules have to do with New Testament Christians? But there is much value in reading Leviticus – the key is to read it through the lens of Jesus Christ.

Jesus designated ‘love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) as the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39).  And the writer of Hebrews drew from Leviticus to describe the person and role of Jesus Christ. Studying Leviticus gives us a deeper devotion to Jesus, helps us grasp the holiness of God, and teaches us how to live daily as Christians.

It also enables us to see sin as God sees it – and reveals the true cost of our redemption through the death of His Son. Leviticus sets the sin of man in stark contrast to the holiness of God and reveals the only resolution: blood, and not just blood from a pricked finger, but the blood of death. Here is what I find most compelling. Repeatedly, the Lord graciously allows sacrifices for “unintentional sin” – that is sins that were committed inadvertently. But not so for intentional sin. “Anyone who sins defiantly . . . must surely be cut off from his people; his guilt remains on him” (Num. 15:30-31). To be cut off from the community meant also being cut off from any hope of atonement for his sin. He would forever stand guilty before God.

Now view this through the lens of Jesus Christ. He who was perfectly sinless sacrificed Himself for sin – but not only unintentional sin – His blood covered every sin of every person for all time.  “He sacrificed for sins once for all when He offered Himself” (Heb. 7:27).  That means the sins we “stumble into” and the sins we choose with our eyes wide open. Jesus paid it all.

There’s great hope for you and me in that statement. When Jesus died, He took every single sin to the cross and to the grave and when He rose again, he left our sins forever buried. All of them. I pray that means something to you. Beloved, nothing you’ve done is too much for the blood of Jesus Christ. 

Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, Lost Sons

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I was up into the late-night hours last night working on a paper for my grad class. When I hit submit I thought, “I doubt it’s an “A” paper, but it’s a paper.”  I was studying the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32 Jesus’ story of a father and his two sons. The younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance of his father’s estate. He took that money and blew it on “wild living” (13) then found himself starving and in the humiliating position of feeding pigs.  He decided to go home and ask to just be a hired hand for his father. “But,” Jesus said, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him” (20). Before the boy could get his repentant speech out, the father had called for the best robe, ring, and sandals for his son. This, he declared was cause for a celebration, so a feast was prepared in the young man’s honor.

If this parable stood alone in the Scriptures the church will still have a wonderful story expressing the heart of God the Father to welcome repentant sinners back into a full relationship. But Jesus added a couple of other stories that broaden the picture.

Jump back to the beginning of chapter 15 – there are the parables of the lost sheep (3-7) and the lost coin (8-10), where a shepherd and a woman search diligently until their lost things are found. Then in both cases, the seekers rejoice and call for a celebration. Jesus ended both parables by stating that heaven also rejoices when one sinner repents.

The point of all three parables is that God the Father values the lost and it delights His heart when they are found. That’s why Jesus came “to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Beloved, are you lost today? Not geographically, but spiritually – separated from God. The heavenly Father sent His own Son to seek you from the high vantage point of the cross and bring you back. Do you love someone who is lost? Keep praying dear friend, God is actively searching for them, scanning the horizon to bring them home to Himself. God loves and values lost souls. Like you.

In the Master’s Hands

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I’ve never thought of myself as anyone special or noteworthy. In fact, I’ve always had a pretty low opinion of myself. Lots of things in my life factored into that, but I know I am not the only person who feels the same about themselves. Low self-esteem is one of the most common issues in the world, especially in nations that have such disparity between the talented, powerful, and beautiful and the ordinary, everyday person. The cosmetic and plastic surgery industries have built their fortunes on it. And satan loves to pile on more and more.

Several years ago, God gave me an image of a challis that was at first tarnished and dull. But when wine was poured into it and the master picked up the challis and drank the wine, a little bit of the tarnish disappeared. Over and over it was filled and he drank and the touch of his hands buffed the challis till the old tarnished metal was gleaming with a warm rich glow. He impressed on my heart that the challis was me.  When He first took me in I was tarnished and dull, nothing of consequence nor beauty. The wine that filled the challis was produced when I surrendered myself to Him in obedient service. When I serve, the wine is poured; as the wine is poured, He drinks and the touch of His hand wears away the tarnish and makes me glow. I’ve never ever forgotten that image. I believe it is a promise that as I pour myself out for Him, He is transforming me into something – someone beautiful. Someone who looks like Jesus.

Beloved, that’s what He will do for you too. Life may have left you feeling low and unlovely. But He wants to bring beauty out of every tarnished, scarred, unlovely place in your life. He wants to make your life glow. Will you surrender to the touch of the Master’s hand?

Love, Sweet Love

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“What the world needs now

Is love, sweet love

It’s the only thing

That there’s just too little of

What the world needs now

Is love, sweet love

No, not just for some

But for everyone”

This 1965 hit song, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and first recorded by Jackie DeShannon is the cry of every person’s heart. And it’s not a new concept. It’s an age-old yearning. The Bible says, “What a man desires is unfailing love” (Proverbs 19:22). We clamor for it, run after it, turn our lives upside down for it, and sadly, even kill for it. And we miss it unless we look to Calvary.

Love, sweet love, is only found at the cross of Jesus Christ.

Paul said “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Even when we did not love God, He loved us and sent His one and only Son to die that we might live forever with Him. What sweeter love is there than this? Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). What greater love could you ask for but the love of God in the death of His Son for you?

We’re just a few days away from Valentine’s Day when we express our romantic affections for our beloved with flowers and chocolates. But God expressed His love for you and me one dark Friday afternoon on a hill just outside of Jerusalem. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That’s love, sweet love. For everyone.

Don’t be Afraid, the End is Near!

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I am very dependent on my glasses to see past the nose on my face. This morning as I was getting out of the shower, I saw something I couldn’t make out on the towel rack – and my glasses were on the counter several feet away.  A lizard? Or a baby snake?! Maybe it was a piece of trash that missed the can below.  As I got closer I realized it was a shadow from the fold of the towel. What I thought was ominous turned out to be something else entirely.

A lot of scary stuff has been happening lately. The pandemic has turned the whole world upside-down and inside-out. Violence is rampant. Jesus warned that “Nation will rise against nation” (Matt 24:7), but here in the U.S., our nation is rising against itself. He said that there would be famines and earthquakes marking the beginning of the end. The UN sounded an alarm about famine as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and major earthquakes are on the increase worldwide. But the most critical evidence of the nearing end is in the hearts of people. Paul prophesied that “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:2-5). If you don’t recognize all this in our world today, you’re living in a cave. It is very threatening.

I’m not about to say that the world’s problems and woes are simple, but for the believer in Christ they are not as frightening as they are promising. These are indeed signs of the end times, but looking closer we recognize them as signs of Christ’s return. Jesus warned that there would be an “increase of wickedness [and] the love of most will grow cold” (Matt 24:12). But He also said, “When you see all these things know that [the Lord] is near, right at the door” (Matt. 24:33).

Speaking of the last days, the angel of the Lord told Daniel, “None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand” (Dan. 12:10). Beloved, now is not the time to be frightened – it is the time to be wise. It is time to keep one eye on the eastern skies with great anticipation. The King is on His way!

When You’ve Made a Mess of Your Life

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Ever seen your fingerprints all over the mess in your life? You’re in good company.  Psalm 107 tells of people who wandered into trouble, who rebelled against God and were prisoners of their sin, or in danger and “at their wits’ end” (v. 27) because of their foolish and selfish actions. In every case, they had no one to blame but themselves. They were suffering the consequences of their actions. Sound familiar? But the Psalmist says that God heard their cries and came to their rescue. He led the wanderers “by a straight way to a city where they could settle” (V. 7). He brought the prisoners “out of their darkness and gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14). He “stilled the storm . .  and guided them to their desired haven” (v. 29, 30). Even when their distress was self-made, God answered their cries for help.  He did it all because of “His unfailing love” (v. 8, 15, 21, 31).

The God of Psalm 107 is listening to your cries. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, and however you go there, God hears you. Even in your lostness, your captivity, your disappointment, your mess, your failure, your sin – God is listening. ‘Despite your circumstance and all appearances, He has not abandoned you.”

This is why Jesus came. Romans 5:8 says “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were without hope. While we were suffering the consequences of our actions. While we are in our miserable state, Christ came with the promise of healing and redemption and eternal life.  Check this out: in Hebrew, “ah” was the root word for “the Lord.” A name that ended in “ah” always referenced the Lord. Jesus is the Messiah. Do you see it? Jesus is Lord (ah) over the mess (Mess) I (i) made of my life.

In your hard circumstances where all hope is lost, God promises His rescue. Not after you untangle yourself from your messes. But while you are in the middle of it, in places you never thought you would be, Beloved, God is near and He is listening. Give your mess to Jesus Messiah.

Forgiveness

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Matthew called them “debts,” Luke called them “sins.” Either way, debts and sins require forgiveness. Both for us and from us.  In “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus taught His disciples that forgiveness is “a two-way street” which oddly always leads to the same destination: righteousness. It is something we must request from God and something we must give to others.  Sin always leaves the sinner in debt – to God ultimately, but also to the one that was sinned against.  Forgiveness is the only remedy for the debt of sin.

We like to be forgiven. We want that feeling of relief when the weight of our sin is lifted off our shoulders. It is a gift not to be taken lightly or for granted. Peter reminds us that our redemption was more costly than “perishable things such as silver or gold . . . but [was bought] with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18, 19). So when we confess our sins and repent from them – which is part of seeking forgiveness – we are cashing in on the blood of Christ Jesus to cleanse us of our sins and pay the debt we owe to God because of them. That sense of freedom is breathtaking.

But Jesus also said that we must forgive the debts of those who have sinned against us. We must give to others the same grace that has been given to us. What’s more, He said, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matt 6:14-15). That’s pretty sobering. Matthew also recorded the parable of the servant who, after receiving mercy from the king to whom he was deeply indebted, refused to give the same to a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller debt. The king withdrew his mercy and threw the servant into prison. Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (18:35).

Consider the debt you owe God for your sins. Now consider the debt someone owes you. Which debt is greater? Forgiveness is not just a nice thing to give, it is commanded of us on the basis of God’s forgiveness. If God has forgiven you, Beloved, what can you hold against anyone? To whom will you give the gift of forgiveness?

Yeah, Right, a “Virgin Birth”

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Wrap your head around this: the baby in the manger was the son of a virgin and the Son of God. The Scriptures say “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son . . . “ Matthew 1:23/Isaiah 7:14.  I know – you’ve heard this scripture a hundred times at least. But have you stopped to consider what it really means? The Protestant Church refers to it as “the virgin birth.” The Roman Catholic church calls it “The Immaculate Conception.” We tend to fly over it but we need to give it some time and attention because it is important.

The word “immaculate” means spotless, without flaw or error, stain or blemish – perfectly pure. That could never happen with two human parents. Joseph was a righteous man, but he had a sin nature like every other human being. Mary was a virgin and she was“highly favored” by God, but she had the same sin nature. Joseph would be Jesus’ earthly father, but not his “biological father.” Mary, however, would be His biological mother – therefore she had to be a virgin – sexually pure. The Scripture said that Mary was “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit as the “male party” to conception. More importantly, He provided spiritual purity so that the child would be the only human born without a sin nature. Now I am a Bible teacher. I like to make difficult things understandable. But I cannot explain how this occurred. It was a divine action that we must accept with wonder.

Why does this matter? Because you and I are unholy people in need of a holy Savior. Only holy blood  – divine blood – could save the human race. There’s just one problem: God cannot die. That is why Jesus had to be both divine and human. It was the only way to provide the perfect blood sacrifice required to redeem mankind from their sin nature. It is the only hope you and I have.

Beloved, I encourage you to slow down through the familiar Christmas account. Take in every scene and ponder every word. This is not just a warm, fuzzy story to tell around the tree. This story is life. Eternal life. It is wonder and awe. It is Jesus – the God-man who came to save you. Indeed it is good news.

Mary’s Little Baby Boy

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To watch a child sleeping is to see the sweet face of innocence. Their eyes are closed to the world; mouth in soft repose as a tranquil, near-holy hush settles over their whole being. They say that when a baby smiles in his sleep, he has been kissed by an angel. If that is true—and why would we doubt it—the Infant Jesus must have smiled the whole night through. This Child was loved and adored on earth and in heaven.

Every baby brings a sense of promise to his family. Mother and father have dreams in their hearts of who this child will be—a doctor, a teacher, a missionary, or a dancer, perhaps even a leader who will one day change the world. One mother knew that her baby indeed would. One mother held the true Child of Promise for all mankind, the Messiah who would bring peace on earth.

Oh, He looked like any other baby lying there in her arms, small, helpless, and beautiful. He cried like other babies. He needed to be fed and changed like other babies. But she had heard the angel say that her child would be the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Joseph said that the angel had come to him too, and told him that this Child “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Her cousin Elizabeth had declared “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:43). And what about the shepherds that came from the fields with a wild and glorious story of singing angels (Luke 2:8-18)? It is any wonder that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19)?

To the rest of the world, it was just another night. To anyone who might have come upon the stable, he was just another baby. But a young mother—and all of heaven knew—peace had come to the earth, wrapped in rough cloths, sleeping in a manger.