Storms

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It’s easy to trust God when things are going well and life is easy. But, it’s harder to trust Him when storms – literal or figurative – are raging around you.

Like when Jesus and His disciples were crossing a lake. “A furious squall came up and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:37). A squall was a hurricane-force wind on the lake, and it was terrifying – even to seasoned fishermen. But Jesus was with them. He was probably helping them bail water or fight with the sails, right? Nope. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (v. 38). The terrified disciples woke him crying, “Teacher don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). Yes, Jesus cared. “He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 39).

Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Why would Jesus chastise these men for a normal human reaction to a life-threatening situation?

I think there are at least two reasons. First, Jesus was with them. He had protected them before (John 17:12). Yet they doubted He would save them now. They thought He was “asleep in the job,” but He never lost control of the situation. Then, look back a bit at verse 35: “He said to His disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.” He had already told them that they would reach the other side but they forgot His words when the storm rose. Don’t we do that too? Sunday morning we nod when the pastor reads, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Then when the storm comes up on Tuesday, all we hear is the wind and the crashing waves. As if He had never spoken at all.

I’ve been through more than a few “squalls” in my life. Jesus has never failed me. He won’t fail you. He’s not asleep. He’s not forgotten you. Beloved, God has promised you a hope and a future. He cares about you. That’s a promise you can take with you to the other side.

Hebrews: Jesus in the Flesh

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Paul Harvey told a story about a man who didn’t believe in the incarnation – the humanity – of the Son of God. Sitting home alone after sending his family to Christmas Eve services, he heard thuds in his living room. Looking outside he saw that it was snowing and a flock of confused birds had flown into a large picture window in an apparent attempt to find shelter. He was concerned for them and remembered the warm barn where his daughter sheltered her pony.  He opened the barn doors and tried to shoo the birds in, even spreading breadcrumbs as a trail for them to follow but they remained huddled and frightened. He realized that they were afraid of him! They didn’t know that this huge creature was only trying to help them find warmth and safety. “If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.” Then he understood why God sent His Son in human flesh.

The author of Hebrews said, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity . . .” (2:14a). John said, “The Word [meaning the Son of God] became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (1:14). Why? So that he could make God known to us (see John 1:18). Jesus came as one of us so that He could express God’s love and care to us – so that we could hear and understand that the Father only wants to save us. Jesus became a man so that He could lead other men to His Father and to eternal life.

He also came “so that by His death He might destroy Him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (14b). Jesus came to fulfill God’s first promise “to crush the head” of the devil (Genesis 3:15).  “Every promise God has made is “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20, paraphrased).

 Jesus became like us that we might become like Him. Holy. Righteous. Sons and daughters of God. Victorious over the devil. Not just in heaven but today and every day of your life. Beloved, this is your heritage in the family of God.

When You Don’t Know What to Do

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This is going to be short and sweet this morning because every time I’ve started to write, God would say, “That’s you talking, not Me.” I finally stopped and asked, “What do you want to say, Lord?” And this is His message today.

When Jerusalem was surrounded by a vast and powerful enemy, the king of Judah prayed, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (2 Chron 20:12).  Can you relate?  I’ve been there too. Recently. I had a situation that was breaking my heart but was also out of my hands.  I didn’t know what to do. The truth is, there was nothing I could do. So I cried out to God. I petitioned others – many of you – to pray with and for us. In the Scriptures, God defeated the enemy of Judah – they didn’t even have to lift a sword. God moved – and continues to move – powerfully for us as well.

Maybe you are at a place in your life where you don’t know what to do. You’ve tried and tried to fix the problem and nothing has worked. Or maybe the problem is so big you’re too overwhelmed to do anything. Go to God in your confusion and uncertainty. Go to Him in the middle of the chaos. Tell Him, “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.” Then keep them there. Based on the authority of His Word and my own experience, I can promise you He will move. You may not know what to do Beloved, but God does. And He will. Powerfully.

What if God said, “No.”?

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I had a burden – a heartwrenching, sleep-stealing, desperate burden. I prayed. I called friends and asked them to pray. And God came through. In a big way, as only He could do. He worked beyond my expectations. I thanked Him profusely, proclaiming His goodness, kindness, and faithfulness. Days later, as I was again giving Him thanks and praise for His hand in the situation, I sensed His question, “And what if I had said, ‘No.’ Would you still praise me?”

The Spirit led me to Daniel 3, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. You know this one – King Nebuchadnezzar had commanded all the leaders of Babylon to bow down before his golden image. But the three Jewish men would not worship anyone or anything but the God of Israel. They proclaimed His power to deliver them, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand O king.” (Dan. 3:17).  There was no question of their faith in the power of God. But they also declared that “even if He does not we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (v. 18).  The question rang in my heart again: Would I still praise Him if He had not come through for me?

Ten years ago I probably would have said, “Maybe.” My relationship with God was largely about what He could do for me. But after all we’ve been through together, after all He has taught me about Himself, I can say that regardless of what He does or doesn’t do for me, I will always praise Him. Not because of His actions, but because of who He is. He is worthy of praise and worship and wholehearted love because He is God. If all He ever did was exist, He would still be worthy of praise.

Beloved, I pray that you will love and worship God for who He is, and not just for what you hope He will do for you. He has never been less than everything He claimed to be. And He never will.

Even if the answer is “No.”

The Notes in my Bible

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Some people revere their Bibles and keep them pristine with all the pages smooth. They would never dream of making a single mark in them. I also revere the Bible, but mine is in pretty rough shape. The faux leather cover is almost flaked off. Pages are curled up at the corners and almost every page has underlines, highlights, notes, and dates on them – and a few coffee stains.

One page has two dates in the margin, a year apart. Zephaniah 3:20  is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness to my family.

May 29, 2018: Verse 20a – “At that time I will bring you home.” On May 29, 2018, we rolled out of Tuscaloosa heading back home to Dothan after 23 years away. But it wasn’t exactly happy circumstances. My husband had to medically retire and my job had ended in a company merger that shut our office down. To top it off, I was dealing with a raging case of cellulitis that would leave me flat of my back for a month. So much was uncertain, and honestly, scary. We were trusting Him for – – well, everything. Provision. Healing. A job. Hope.

May 29, 2019: Verse 20b“I [will] restore your fortunes before your very eyes.” Here’s the note I wrote: “A year later and I’m stunned at what You’ve done for us. I never dreamed of all You would bring about – Thank you so much!” In those 365 days, we moved into a house we still love, I landed the best job I’ve ever had, and started Graduate school – for free! God had indeed provided, healed, and guided. Oh – and one more blessing happened on May 29, 2019 – a little girl came into the world and changed our lives forever. Exactly a year to the day after one of the hardest days of our lives, Joy was born. Talk about a turnaround!

But this is not about marking up my Bible. This is about encouraging you to trust Him. I know many of you are facing hard, uncertain, painful things. But don’t lose hope. God is all about rescuing and restoring and turning lives around. I’m living proof of that. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s another verse I’ve marked and dated: “From this point on, I will bless you” (Haggai 2:19) – 9/20/2012. Beloved no matter what, God is faithful.

The Momentum of Sin

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I carried a fresh glass of tea to my desk and set it down to plug up my phone. I reached for the old empty glass and started walking quickly toward the kitchen, but I soon realized I had picked up the wrong one. I tried to stop in my tracks and turn around, but my momentum took me a step or two further toward the kitchen. But I didn’t want to go to the kitchen. I wanted to go back to my desk and get the right glass and then go to the kitchen. I knew what I wanted to do but I kept going in the wrong direction. That may seem like a scene out of a cartoon, but what it reminded me of was the momentum of sin.

Paul said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-16,18-19). We want to be right with God. We want to turn away from sin. Yet our sinful desires set us in motion toward what our flesh craves. There is a war waging within us between our desire to please God and our desire to please our flesh.

How do we break sin’s momentum? First, by preparing ourselves for the battle. Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:2). Renewing our minds is a life-long habit of reading, studying, and obeying the Word of God and listening to His Spirit. The more of God we put into our minds the less room there is for the world.

But what do we do when the momentum toward sin is so strong? I heard of an older man known for his godly life who was asked what he did when he was tempted. He replied, “Well, I just say, ‘Lord, your property is in danger.’” Paul said, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24-25). Beloved, the One who rescued you from death and hell can also rescue you from the powerful pull of sin. Just cry out to Jesus.

Hebrews – Jesus and Angels

To the Jewish people, angels were just a notch below God Himself in power and authority, and that’s not far from the truth. Angels are God’s messengers and advocates between heaven and earth. They are His instruments of judgment and Scripture shows them engaging in warfare against satan’s angels. In heaven, they constantly praise and glorify God and rejoice as they witness God’s perfect plan unfold. Like humans, they are created beings – thus they are never to be worshipped, even though humans are “a little lower than the angels” (2:7). But humans have a distinct advantage over angels – we can experience God through His saving grace. That’s a perspective of the Creator that angels will never know. In speaking of our salvation through Christ, Peter said, “even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12).

The Jews held angels in very high esteem, but the author of Hebrews said there is one who should be held even higher – God’s Son, Jesus. “He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs” (1:4).

The Bible holds many accounts of angels coming to the rescue of humans, saving them from certain disaster. But angels cannot save a sinful soul from eternal death. Only Jesus can. Because only He is God’s Son. Glance back at the end of verse 4 – that “superior name He inherited” is “Son” (v.5) “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father?’ Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son.’”  (v. 5). Only the Son of God could save the world. Paul said that He is “seated at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given (Ephesians 1:20-21). That includes presidents, kings, priests, Imams, Muhammad, Brahma, Lucifer, and the angels in heaven and in hell. Jesus is superior to them all. 

That is why the author of Hebrews says that faith in any other being, even angels, is misplaced and unstable. Only faith in Jesus, the Son of God, can save you perfectly and eternally. Even the angels know that to be true.

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.

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. 

When Life Stinks

“God, this stinks!” I cried one morning. Why did you let this happen?” I wondered if He was paying attention. I felt like Daniel, “O Lord listen! O Lord, hear and act!” (Daniel 9:19). “God deal with this! Fix it! Make it go away!” Again I cried out – “God this stinks! It’s not fair!” Finally, my anguish gave way to the root of my question: “How can You say that You love me and let this happen?” With those words still hanging in the air, I turned to the devotional reading for the day and found the Scriptures, John 11:1-43 where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Martha’s words caught my attention. “But Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days”( John 11:39). Jesus had told Martha just a few minutes before “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). But when He commanded that the stone be rolled away, Martha protested, pointing out the obvious – her brother’s flesh was rotting away. I almost hear her saying “Lord, this stinks!”
Jesus’ reply to Martha began to seep into my heart, filling the places of fear and anxiety and soothing the deep pain I had been carrying around with me. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)? “Child, haven’t I shown you my love in a thousand ways? Haven’t I rescued you from trouble again and again? Haven’t I always proven faithful to you?” Yes. Yes, He had. So why would I imagine that He would fail me now? Why would I doubt His love for me? Why would I question His tender care and His constant presence? As I remembered those times, peace settled in my soul. I could trust Him. Yes, my situation stunk, but God had never run from my messy, smelly life. He always received me at my worst and gave me His best.
Beloved, you may be in a mess today. Life stinks and you don’t see any good outcome. I understand, I’ve been there too. May I encourage you to trust God even in the middle of it? He has this wonderful way of bringing freshness and hope into our smelly, chaotic, desperate messes.