Hard Things

“He is the God who breaks down walls!” “He is the God who conquers your enemy!” “He is the God who parts the seas and makes the sun stand still and calls the universe into existence!” “Impossible? No not for God! Nothing is impossible for Him!” The speaker was pacing the stage, calling the women in the arena to faith. Hearts were being stirred. “If God is asking the impossible from you, it is because He intends to do the impossible through you! He is the God of the Impossible!” Women were on their feet, hands raised in the air, shouting their agreement. Except for one who sat near me. She wore the face of a weary soul. Sad. Tired. Longing to believe, but too exhausted to hold on. I knew her and I knew her story. I knew about the harsh struggles she faced each day. God pricked my heart for her, so at the break, when everyone ran to the bathrooms and the merchant tables, I walked over and sat beside her.

“Are you enjoying the conference?” I asked her. “Oh, yes!” she said, “It’s all very hopeful and encouraging.” “You don’t look very encouraged,” I gently said. Her hands fell into her lap as she dropped her smiling mask. She sighed. “God hasn’t asked me to do the impossible, just something that’s very hard. Something that requires so much physical and mental energy every single day.” I hugged her and said, “Sweet friend, He is not just the God of the impossible, He’s also the God of this-is-so-hard.”

Some things we face in life are not impossible, but just really difficult. They are the things that wear us down and wear us out. It may be a person – big or small. It may be a demanding job or strained finances. It might be long-standing grief and deafening silence. It may be a physical issue, a nagging disappointment, or an overload of responsibility. It’s not parting the sea or taking down giants. But it’s hard. Every. Single. Day.

Maybe you don’t need the impossible – you just need some strength to get through the next day. God’s got you, Beloved. Genesis 18:14 asks, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” I can assure you, on the authority of God’s Word and personal experience, that the answer is “No.”

Hebrews: A Forever Home

I don’t own a home. We rent a very nice house and love where we live, but now and then I wish I owned a place of my own. Homeownership is the “American dream.”. Renting seems like throwing money away, but really – all I need is a stable roof over my family’s head, and I have that now. And years of moving around as a military brat make me want to put down deep roots. But the truth is, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.” The author of this song is unknown, but it could have been Abraham. 

Hebrews says that “By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents . . . For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11:9, 10). Abraham had the promise from God of a land – “All the land that you see I will give you and your offspring forever” (Gen 13:15). It was a physical place, real ground he could set his feet upon, a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 33:3). But for Abraham, it wasn’t “home.” Nor is it for those who follow Christ.

Philippians 3:20 reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.” And Peter said we are “aliens and strangers in this world” (1 Pet 2:11; also Heb 11:13). “Home” for the believer is nothing less than heaven. Jesus said because we belong to Him, we “do not belong to the world” (John 15:19).

He also said he was going to prepare a home for all who will believe and trust in Him.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). You can bet it will be better than any house man could build. And did you catch the reference to “foundations?” John’s description of heaven in Revelation 21 noted that our heavenly home has a twelve-layer foundation – each one of precious stones (vs. 19-20). You can’t get more stable – or opulent than that.

I’ve seen some pretty impressive homes and I confess to a twinge of jealousy. But then I remember that “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop.”* My forever and ever home. (*Ira Stanphill – 1949)

Tell Them About Jesus

As I study the Scriptures I see three types of people:

Those who by faith receive Christ and follow Him – the Bible calls these righteous, saints, and children of God.

Those who attempt to live up to a standard of “goodness” but find the load impossible to bear – the Bible calls them lost, burdened, weary souls.

Those who reject all thought of God and every standard of right living. These the Bible calls evil, wicked, lovers of self, and children of the devil.

The first group has found hope in Christ and the promise of eternal life. Their lives are marked by the fruit of the Spirit: “love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). They look at life with eternal vision and they live to serve the Kingdom of God. They show their love for Christ by their obedience. They will gladly give their lives for the name and the gospel of Christ (Rev 12:11).

The second group knows there is a God but they do not know Him. There are weighed down under a constant burden of trying to live up to the traditions of men in a vain attempt to gain God’s favor. Their lives are marked with worry and anxiety (Luke 8:14).  To them, Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Some come and receive His rest. Some do not and never find it.

The third group has no concern for nor belief in God. They don’t need Him nor want Him. They have no thought of eternity. Life ends and that is all there is. They believe themselves wise and think the gospel is for fools. They fail to see that they are deceived by the devil and most to be pitied (Rev 12:9).

Should the first group respond differently to the second and third? No. We respond to everyone in the same way – with the gospel. It is the truth for all mankind. Its message will be a welcome comfort to the lost, but it will be an offense to the wicked. Still, whether it falls on closed ears or receptive hearts, we must tell the world the way to eternal life. Let it land where it may, but never stop proclaiming the beautiful Gospel of Jesus.

How to Calm a Restless Life

I almost did it. I almost gave you a devotional with a verse taken out of context. I’ve taught the importance of context, context, context for years and I was about to break the rule. Let me explain. James 1:6 says, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” This verse, plucked out of the surrounding passage, sits nicely on a platter of “pray and believe and you will receive.” But wait. What is that “but” all about?

James was writing to encourage Jewish believers who were under great oppression and persecution for their faith in Christ. He said their trials were God’s tools to make them “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (v. 4). Then he adds, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (v. 5). Put all the pieces together and James is saying that wisdom is the mark of a mature, complete Christian and that God will give wisdom to anyone who asks.

But there’s the “but” and that’s where verse 6 above comes in. By now you know that believing = obedience. The wisdom God gives is not just a head full of theology, it is practical action He expects you to take. God doesn’t speak just to be heard, He speaks to be obeyed. The opposite of believing is doubt, so the corollary to our equation is doubt = disobedience. “Doubt” means to make a judgment and thus to hesitate. When we doubt God’s Word, when we hesitate to obey we are judging His wisdom – or more to the point, judging Him – and deciding to reject His Word – and His authority. Hesitance is disobedience.

James calls that being “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8 ). A double-minded mind is a divided mind – a mind with two opposite opinions. A double-minded heart is a divided heart – a heart with two opposite affections. Being unstable means being inconsistent – acting first one way and then another. It’s a restless life. It’s no wonder the person who doubts God’s wisdom is “blown and tossed by the wind like a wave of the sea.” 

Beloved, if you’ve been tossed around by life lately, maybe it’s time to take God’s Word – all of God’s Word – to heart. Obedience is a sturdy foundation.

Wisdom

Humans have desired wisdom since the beginning of creation.  Eve was tempted by the serpent with the lure of wisdom (Genesis 3:5-6). She succumbed to the “wisdom” that James warned about:  “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:14-15)”  The wisdom that the devil and the world offer to us is a selfish, self-seeking, prideful, deceptive wisdom that will always lead us away from God and into the darkness of worldliness and sin.

Listen to the contrast James offers: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:13, 17).  The wisdom from God is life-giving wisdom.  It fills us with the character of Christ and is the opposite of the false wisdom of the world.  Look at all that this godly wisdom offers to us.  James says we will have understanding – the kind of understanding that will enable us to stand firm in what is right.  Wisdom will be proven by the good life we lead, which means turning ourselves away from sin and wickedness and turning towards what is right, beautiful, and excellent.  Humility is always the hallmark of godly wisdom – this humility is shown through the gentleness, kindness, and consideration we show to others in Jesus’ name.  Godly wisdom is peace-loving which, in the original Greek, is a personal sense of harmony, tranquility, safety, and a lack of strife; it is having freedom from emotional worry and frustration.

When godly wisdom is the rule in our lives, we are more apt to make decisions that ensure freedom from worry and frustration.  A gentle, kind, considerate nature and a submissive and compliant attitude will also mark us as people who have been blessed with the wisdom of heaven.  James encourages us to seek wisdom, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). This was the wisdom that Eve could have enjoyed if she had trusted and obeyed God rather than taking the wisdom the serpent offered.  Beloved, do you need wisdom – real, godly wisdom? All you have to do is ask.

Hebrews: Just Jesus

History is littered with men and women quitting before the victory. Do you remember any of their names? Neither do I. We remember the ones who stuck it out and stayed the course.  The whole premise of the book of Hebrews is about not giving up; a message twenty-first-century believers need as much as first-century believers. The author said, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” (10:35). That begs a question: Do you have confidence in God? I hear your “Yes!” ringing loudly through the air. So let me press you a little farther. Confidence for what? That He will fix your problems, clean up your messes, open all the right doors, straighten out your kid, and bring world peace? There’s nothing wrong with any of those things; I’m praying for some of them myself. But the author had bigger things in mind. Eternal things.

The people reading this message were being challenged by the writer to put their confidence in one thing: the grace of God through Jesus Christ for eternal life. Remember these folks are largely Jews and for centuries their confidence was in obedience to the Mosaic Law. Something tangible. Something they could do. It was a constant mantra from the cradle to the grave. But they were now expected to believe that one man bore the burden for all of their sins and there was nothing they needed to do to ensure their salvation beyond trust.  Put yourself in their sandals – you only get one shot to make the right decision about the hereafter. How difficult would it be to stake your eternal security on this – on Him?  But this is what the writer was encouraging – even pleading with them to do. It’s what I am encouraging – even pleading with you to do.

You and I can believe God for many good things. My hope for my life is in His Word and His Name. You place your kids and your future, your struggles and heartaches, and your needs and desires in His hands and you do well to do so. But the one question that you need to answer Beloved is this: What is your hope for eternal life? If your confidence is in anything or anyone but Jesus, you have no hope and no reward. Only Jesus saves.

Broken Glasses

Joy is learning how to swing on her own and honestly, I’m a little sad about that. But there is one piece of her swingset for which she still needs my help – the trapeze. Her favorite trick is to hang upside-down from her knees, so I set her up on it and we count 1 – 2 – 3 and I ease her back and down while she squeals with delight. Of course, I’m holding onto her legs the whole time. Then I raise her back up and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

A couple of weeks ago she didn’t wait for the count and launched herself backward unexpectedly – and slammed her very hard head into the side of mine. The pain was stunning. My glasses went flying as I instinctively grabbed her legs to keep her from falling. I sat her down on the grass and heard her say, “Uh-oh Nana.” She held up my glasses with one leg spayed out at 20° instead of 90. I tried to straighten the leg but was afraid I would break it completely. The warped leg caused the left lens to sit so close to my eye that I couldn’t blink. It threw my vision off completely. I couldn’t afford to replace them so I wore them warped leg and all and I was constantly trying to adjust them so I could see clearly. My vision was badly skewed and everything was out of alignment. Reading was a challenge and driving was especially difficult.  We did finally get them a little straighter, but this certainly “opened my eyes” to something about spiritual life.

Some of us have a skewed image of God because life has dealt us some very painful blows. It’s as if we have been smacked upside the head and our vision is all wonky. Maybe you’re looking at God through the pain of broken relationships, broken promises, or a broken heart. No wonder you can’t see Him as He really is. Let me straighten your glasses, Beloved – God loves you. His heart is to bless you and heal you, not hurt you. David said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). That verse gives me an image of a loving father, bending over His child, tending to her wounds, and speaking words of comfort and assurance. Like He is doing for you now.

When the Heat is On

A woman read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold so she visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious elements. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or impure elements, to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked, “How do you know when it’s ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection.”

You and I are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure. God uses all sorts of “heat” – financial struggles, relational heartache, health problems, emotions, culture, rejection, persecution, consequences, and yes, often spiritual heat to bring the impurities in us to the surface where they can be removed. How do I know this? He’s been cooking some junk out of me for a while. Why would He do that to me? Because, like His friend Peter, some things in me need to be removed before God can use me for His Kingdom and His glory. Remember in Luke 22:31-32 how Jesus allowed His friend to be sifted by satan? He let His disciple go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter (Luke 22:54-62). Afterward, Peter became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:14-41. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

None of us welcome the seasons of suffering and pain in our lives but know that God is at work, purifying your faith and refining you to be His witness to the world. And you can be assured that in this time of intense heat, He is leaning in close and carefully watching over you, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in you. And don’t forget that Jesus is praying for you (Luke 22:32). In the end you, Beloved, will come forth a beautiful vessel for His glory.

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

The Journey

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The Spirit brought a verse to my attention this morning. “Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord” (Micah 6:5b). He asked, “What’s so important about Shittim and Gilgal?” And the dig was on.

Shittim is where the Israelite men fell into sexual immorality and idolatry with the Moabite women who worshipped Baal, even bringing one of the women into the camp. This was a slap in God’s face and because of their sin, 24,000 Israelites died at Shittim (see Numbers 25).

Gilgal was the first city the Israelites came to after crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It was here that the entire nation took a (painful) step of obedience to the Lord by circumcising all the males in the camp. This is where the Lord declared, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Joshua 5:9). This was the place of a new life for Israel. Gilgal was also where the Israelites celebrated their first Passover in the Promised Land and where the manna they had eaten for forty days finally stopped.

Shittim represents the lowest point in Israel’s history when they were captivated by sin and idolatry. Gilgal represents the redemption of God when the Israelites finally submitted to the Lord and received His blessings. This verse is your story and mine. We all have a Shittim, a place in our lives where we were held in the grip of sin. But God’s grace is the way to Gilgal, the place of surrender and obedience and blessing. The place where we find the righteousness of God.

One other word jumps out at me: “journey.” It’s 276 kilometers (170 miles) from Shittim to Gilgal. It took the Israelites 40 years to make that trek. It is a journey from the place of sin to the place of righteousness. We’ve all walked it.  But we don’t walk it alone. From the day they walked out of Egypt to the day they walked on the dry ground of the Jordan, God was with them step-by-step. And He is with you and me.

Where are you on the journey from Shittim to Gilgal, Beloved? Take one more step. And another, and another. God is with you. The saints are cheering you on. You’re going to make it. You have God’s Word on it.