The God of the Bible

We’re New Testament Christians – why should we read the Old Testament? What good does it do me to study old laws and rituals? Why should I learn about people so far removed from my own life? Because we don’t study the Bible to learn about laws and rituals and long-dead people – we study the Bible to learn about and draw hope from God. I am in a group that is writing through the Bible, we’ve been mired in Job for months. Lots of misery and grumbling and arguing. But by slowing down the pace and paying attention to the text, we’ve come to understand Job – and God – from a whole new perspective.

Paul said, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). He’s talking about the Old Testament. When I am discouraged, I go to the stories of God’s deliverance in Exodus. When my life has fallen apart I turn to Nehemiah where God enabled His people to rebuild the broken-down walls. When I face a frightening situation Esther is my go-to book as I remember how God rescued His people. And when the world looms dark and evil, I turn to Daniel and witness God’s sovereign control over human events.

The Old Testament is filled with evidence of God’s power, purpose, love, and faithfulness. The same power, purpose, love, and faithfulness is found in the New Testament and in my life two-thousand plus years later. In the Old Testament, I find the God who delivered Israel, rebuilt Jerusalem, and rescued the Jews. In the New Testament, I see the same God who delivered mankind, broke the bonds of sin and death, and changed the world. He is the same God I call to in this present season of struggle. I know He is able to do for me today all that He did then. I put my name in those verses of rescue and promise and the God of the Hebrew people, of Nehemiah, Esther, and Daniel becomes the God of Dorcas Elizabeth. He hasn’t forgotten how to rescue and restore. His power hasn’t diminished one bit. This God is your God too if you have trusted in Jesus. Beloved, get to know the God of the whole Bible. Get to know the God of your life.

Pray Like Jesus

Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  James counseled, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).  And our Lord told us to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  He assured us: “For everyone who asks received; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). We have God’s approval to “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16).  And nothing is off-limits – we are encouraged to pray about everything.

So what happens when we pray and the situation goes the other way?  The fact is, prayers don’t always get answered the way we hope.  What do we do with that?

We go to the garden with Jesus.  Just before his betrayal and death, Jesus prayed with deep earnestness for this cup of suffering to pass from Him.  He knew His Father had the power to take it away.  He said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for You.”  Everything – curing cancer, healing broken bodies, taking away suffering.  But he came to the one prayer that God will always answer: “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  This has become my prayer too.  It is not a prayer of resignation – it is a prayer of trust and of confidence that God’s will, whether it agrees with my desire or not, is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Sometimes we pray and God miraculously answers.  But sometimes we pray, and God says, “No.” which, by the way, is still an answer.  I don’t know why some prayers are fulfilled and some are not.  What I do know beyond any shadow of a doubt is that I will continue to bring every petition to God, I will ask, and seek, and knock, and then I will put it all in His hands and surrender it to His will.  And I will trust that He is good.  Beloved, I encourage you to make Jesus’ prayer the prayer of your heart – may the Father’s will be done.

Hebrews: Believe God

I was 31 years old when my son was born. I was considered “high-risk” because of my age. It’s not so uncommon now, but thirty years ago it was a cause for concern, for good reason.  He and I both faced several serious health issues before we brought our baby boy home. Old people shouldn’t be having babies. Abraham knew all about that.

Hebrews 11:12 said that “. . .from this one man, and he as good as dead came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” Abraham was seventy-five and childless when God declared that he would become “a great nation” (Gen 12:2,4). Twenty-five years later Sarah bore Abraham, at a hundred years of age, a son. One son. But that one child was enough for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Fast forward several hundred years and Abraham’s descendants were making their escape from Egypt. The Bible says “There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Ex. 12:37). Scholars figure more than two million people made that journey. From one son. From an old man and woman who were “as good as dead.”

In those twenty-five years between the promise given and the promise fulfilled, Abraham had a choice: believe God or give up. He did stumble in his faith when he agreed to Sarah’s plan of surrogacy, but ultimately, “[Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:20-21).

As I meditated on that verse just now the Spirit brought another to mind: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38). The word “convinced” is almost identical to the phrase “fully persuaded.”

You and I need something constant upon which we can build our lives. Abraham was persuaded that God is able and faithful to fulfill His promise. Paul was convinced of the unfailing love of God. Beloved, are you?

The Valley

This morning I was thinking about something I needed to do, something I didn’t really want to do because it often raised up a temptation I’ve been trying to put down for a long time. I prayed for help and a verse came to mind. It comes out of Psalm 23 – The Shepherd’s Psalm. Verse 4 says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Now, what does that have to do with temptation?

This valley is not a pastoral scene of gentle slopes between the hills but a steep, narrow gorge where the sun never reaches. The valley most attributed to this passage was the Valley of Hinnom outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was a horrible place of death as bodies of criminals and animals and the town’s rubbish were thrown there and fires burned continually to consume them. The ”shadow of death” is a place of extreme danger and thick darkness – an apt description of the valley. It was also a place where kings and priest sent their own children to be burned alive to appease the gods – a horrible sin.

Death and sin go hand in hand. From the very beginning, God told the first humans that when they sin (disobey God) they “will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Paul said that “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The valley was a terrifying place of sin and death. But it was also a place people had to pass to get to the gates of the city. Here’s where this all comes together. You and I will be faced with sin and its consequences as long as we are on this earth. We can’t escape it. But we don’t have to fear it. God is with us. If we walk closely with Him we can traverse the sin and death of this world without falling into it. That’s what God was saying to me this morning. “Don’t be afraid of what you need to do. I am with you. I will not let you fall.” And He didn’t.

Beloved, the world is filled with sin and death, but if you belong to Christ you can face it with faith in your Shepherd. Your very Good Shepherd who died to save you – His precious little lamb.

Jesus and John Lennon

The Beatles sang it in the mid-’60s and it is the mantra of our culture today: “All you need is love, love, love.” In a world of mass shootings, child abuse, hatred, racism, and war, love is the only antidote. And the Bible agrees. The problem is our definitions of love. John Lennon’s lyrics are empty. He called for love but said nothing about how to love. The culture deems love as permissiveness and approval to indulge in every kind of earthly attraction. But is that truly love?

In a sense the Beatles and the culture are right. Jesus said that the second most important commandment, after loving God, is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). But what does that look like? Whose meaning is right?  I believe the Author of love is the best one to define it.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom 12:10).

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19).

“Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another (Col 5:13).

 “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

Does that look like the kind of love the culture is touting? Do you see that in Lennon’s lyrics? No and no. But can you imagine how this love would change the world? How about just your family? Love is much more than an ethereal notion. It is practical. It has substance. It has hands and feet. It has a voice. Your hands and feet. Your voice. And mine. Truly, all we need is love – love for God and love for one another. Yes, John, you were right – love is all we need.

In Christ

“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me, and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, even strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.

Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.

“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.

When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.

Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.

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?

Footprints

I came across “The Footprints” poem the other day. You know the one about the person who dreamed of seeing two sets of footprints in the sand – one was their own and the other belonged to Jesus. At certain points, the second set of footprints disappeared and the dreamer was dismayed that Jesus would abandon them at the hardest points in their life. The Lord assured them that He would never leave them, especially during trials and testing. He said, “When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.” That is a beautiful and encouraging image and expresses the heart of our Savior in our times of suffering.

Later, as I was studying 1 John I read this: “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (2:6). A different thought came to mind.  What if, when I questioned Jesus about that single set of footprints in the sand, He said, “That is when you followed me so closely that you stepped right into My footprints.” Oh! What a commendation that would be! That’s the goal of the Christian life, to emulate Christ in every way. To walk as He walked. To speak as He spoke. To give as He gave. To love as He loved. To be holy as He is holy. The first believers were called “Followers of The Way” until were dubbed “Christians” meaning “little Christs.” Not just because they claimed allegiance to Him but because they patterned their lives after Him.

I’m sure you know Romans 8:28: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Have you ever wondered what His purpose is? It’s right in the next verse, “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). To be “little Christs” in our generation, walking in His very footsteps so that there’s nothing of us left behind –  only Jesus. That’s my desire, especially as I see my granddaughter following me everywhere I go.

How do we do that? How do we “walk as Jesus did?” By keeping our eyes fixed on Him. By knowing Him through His Word. By living according to His Spirit (Rom 8:5-16). One footfall at a time. Beloved, what do your footprints say about your life?

Tangled Prayers

There have been times in my life – even recently – when I was overwhelmed with pain and confusion and frustration. My heart was broken and when I tried to pray my mind was awhirl with a thousand thoughts going this way and that. It was like a hundred different voices all speaking at once in my head. I couldn’t shut them up long enough to get a word in edgewise. I know you’ve been there too. I’ve read your posts and we’ve had some deep conversations. When chaos surrounds us it affects our ability to think and to pray.

But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t hearing our prayers. Listen to Paul’s words: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27)

This verse promises that the Holy Spirit is praying for us when we cannot pray for ourselves. The Greek word for “groans” finds its root in the word stenos – which means “to narrow.” The image in this passage is of the Holy Spirit sorting through the jumble of thoughts and feelings to pull out the thin, narrow strand of truth from our hearts. From that small filament, He weaves a tapestry of prayer to present to the Father. All you and I need to do is pour it all out and let the Spirit, who knows both our hearts and God’s will, sift out the prayer our lips can’t express.

Beloved, you don’t have to filter your heart when you come to God in prayer. You don’t have to have your thoughts and feelings organized – you don’t even have to know what you should pray for. That is why Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit. Let Him do the sorting and sifting – He’ll find the golden thread of your heart’s prayer and carry it to the Father.

Hebrews: The Sinful Heart

In our last Hebrews devotional, we looked at the difference between unintentional sin and intentional sin, or as Hebrews 10:26 said deliberate sin. The word “deliberate,” means to sin voluntarily or wilfully as opposed to sins committed without forethought, and from ignorance or weakness. Isn’t every sin a choice we make? Yes. And no.

As long as we live in this evil world you and I are going to sin. It’s in our human nature as descendants of Adam and Eve. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. And all sin is an affront to God. Sin doesn’t carry differing weights as “less” or “ more” sinful. So why does God seem to differentiate between unintentional and intentional sin? Because intentional sin reflects a heart that is not committed to God – the kind of heart, the Psalmist said, that cherishes sin (Ps 66:18) rather than God.

Paul talked about his struggle with sin in Romans 7 – you might identify with that chapter. He said that there was a war going on in his mind between his love for God and the ever-present pull of sin. It made him miserable. But for the man (or woman) who persists in deliberate sin, there is no war. There is no misery. There is no struggle against cherished sin because there is no love for God in his heart. Yes, this is hard to understand, and our cultural sensibilities chaff at such sharp tones.

But there is good news – John said that the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7b). All sin. Intentional sin and unintentional sin. Sin we stumble over and sin we walk into with eyes wide open. John added that we must confess our sins to receive His forgiveness and purification (v. 9).

Most people who are trapped in deliberate sin don’t seek God’s forgiveness. They don’t confess their sin because they don’t want to give it up. I know someone who is deep in sin and likes it that way. He doesn’t want to repent and be set free because he cherishes his sin. Yet he has convinced himself that he is a Christian. I pray for him daily.

Is there a sin you just can’t let go of? Something you run after over and over? No sin is too much for the blood of Jesus – no matter how deep it runs. Beloved, why don’t you put that sin in the forgiving, cleansing hands of the Savior and be set free?