Where Did Jesus Go?

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One of Joy’s favorite games is “Where’d it go?” She’ll cover her toes with a blanket and put her hands up in an “I-don’t-know” gesture and say “Where toes go?” She does the same with pictures in a book, or a stuffed animal, or a bean under the edge of her plate. We’ll look around until she reveals the hidden thing then laughs with glee at my surprised face.

Do you suppose God was playing Joy’s game with the devil that Sunday morning: “Where did Jesus go?” He’s not on the cross. He’s not in the tomb. And then the great reveal – “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). I wonder if He laughed like she does when He saw the shocked and terrified look on satan’s face. He knew the resurrection of Jesus spelled his doom.

It’s Easter Sunday around the world and the Church will gather to celebrate the risen Son of God. Teachers and preachers will tell “the old, old story” of the empty tomb.  Oh, but it’s more than a story and much more than a game. It’s the single most important event since creation that changed everything. The whole world was dark, but the darkness gave way to the Light. Mankind had no hope until Hope walked out of that tomb. Satan saw his plans crumble like dust.

That’s awesome on a cosmic scale, but what does Easter Sunday mean for you? It means eternal life if you have put your faith in Jesus. It means that you have a place in heaven for all eternity. It means no more sickness (no more COVID and no more facemasks!), no more sorrow, no more evil, and no more death. It means being with loved ones who have departed this life. It means you will see your Savior face-to-face in all of His glory and worship Him forever and ever.

“Where did Jesus go?” From heaven to earth to the cross to the tomb to life again. I guess it’s true: You can’t keep a good man down.

Tested and Tried

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I am a “word nerd” – I love words. I especially love to discover the root of Biblical words because that brings a deeper understanding of what the original text was saying, which is crucial to studying the Bible for life transformation. Hebrews 11:17-19 describes the account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac to the Lord. The passage says that “God tested [Abraham],” and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” So I grabbed my exhaustive concordance (my favorite tool for deeper Bible study) and discovered something so vital to the Christian’s walk I knew I had to share it with you.

The word “tested” (peirazo in the Greek) has two meanings: to temp and to examine. Listen to the follow-up: “The difference between a test and a temptation is found in the tester’s motivation and expectations: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and so sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no focus on making the believer fail.” The devil will put you in tempting situations with the intention of bringing you down. God puts you through tests with the express purpose of perfecting you. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

Beloved, I don’t know what temptation or test you are facing in this season, but I now that there is only one right way through: with God. He will not let you fail.

The Real Cowardly Lion

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I write notes and comments in my Bible. Sometimes dates when a Scripture spoke powerfully to a need in my life. Sometimes a verse that connects to what I’m reading, and often notes about what the Spirit impresses on my heart. And there are a few snarky comments scattered about. I saw one when I was skimming through 2 Kings. In chapter 18, Hezekiah is the king of Judah. He is a godly king and trusted in the Lord. The scripture says that “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord . . .” (v. 5). I sure hope that can be said of me when my life is done.

In Hezekiah’s 4th year an enemy army began a march through the middle east, capturing cities with ease. The chief office was Sennacherib and he began a push into Judah, coming dangerously close to Jerusalem. He called a conference with King Hezekiah just outside of the city. The armies of Judah and the people were all gathered atop the wall, watching and listening as Sennacherib made threats and even claimed that the Lord had sent him to destroy them. He said the king was a fool to claim that the Lord God would protect them. He said that if they would surrender to him, they would have more than Hezekiah could provide. He said that no other nation’s gods had been able to deliver them out of his mighty hand. Then he said, “How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hands?” (v. 35). And here I have jotted down this note: “Oh, you don’t know Who you’re messing with!”

Friend, if Christ Jesus has claimed you as His own then you have an enemy – satan. He stands only as close as God will permit him and He bellows threats. But he is all talk. He doesn’t have the authority to pull off his threats. Not when God has you. Peter said, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion – but all he can do to you is roar. Jesus took away all of satan’s power at the cross and the empty tomb. Sennacherib didn’t know who He was dealing with, but satan does. You need to know it too, Beloved. You have a mighty, mighty God on your side.

A Safe Place in the Storm

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A storm is raging outside my window this morning. Thunder rumbles a warning as the wind howls and the rain beats down. In the next county, a tornado warning has sent people scurrying for their safe place. Farther up the state, families are trying to recover from this same system that has destroyed homes and neighborhoods. We really shouldn’t be caught off guard by them; it’s spring in the South and we know every year that these storms are coming. They’re still frightening to go through though.

Storms are raging in the world around us. Not storms with rain and wind and tornadoes, but storms of hate and anger and oppression. These storms are the work of the devil, God’s enemy and the enemy of everyone who loves God. We should not be taken by surprise when they hit because Jesus warned us this was coming. He said that the world (who operates under the influence of the devil) would hate us and persecute us because we belong to Him. He told us, “If they persecuted me [and they did], they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-20). It’s still frightening though.

I have a good, sturdy house that has weathered storms and a recent category 5 hurricane. I have confidence that it will protect me and my family from this morning’s wind and rain. Jesus didn’t offer you and me a safe house to ride out the cultural storms. But  He said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). How did He overcome the world? By His presence in it. Jesus came bringing light to this dark world, and John declared that darkness cannot overcome the Light of Christ.

I have confidence in this Light and I trust the Lord Jesus’ power over the darkness in the world. Everyone who puts their faith in Him lives in His Light; the darkness has no power over them. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that the devil stops trying, but he cannot win against those who are covered by the blood of Jesus. You need to know that Beloved. Jesus has overcome the darkness and evil and death and the devil. You couldn’t find a safer place to be.

Just One Minute of Sin

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I love a good, hot shower. One recent chilly morning as I was getting ready to go to work, I thought, “I’ll just crank up the hot water and stay for a minute.” It felt so good! The next thing I knew I had stayed for almost 10 minutes. I just couldn’t bear to give it up.

Sin is like that. It beckons us with promises of how good we will feel. We vow to ourselves, “I’ll only stay a minute.” That’s when Satan sets his hook in us and that minute turns into ten minutes, a day, a week . . . a lifetime. We just can’t bear to give it up. I don’t recall who said it but it’s so true, “Sin will take you farther than you meant to go, keep you longer than you meant to stay, and cost you more than you meant to pay.” I know this is true from personal experience, and I’m not just talking about a hot shower.

James described the step-by-step progression of sin: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). The key word in this passage is desire. The desire for sin is already present in us; Satan knows that it and he tailors the temptation to meet our desire. All it takes is one look in the direction of that sin and we are captivated and captured.

No, that moment of pleasure is not worth the chains that remain. You and I must get serious about sin. It is not something we can play around with, even for a brief moment. We must run away from temptation the moment it raises its enticing head. And we must make God the desire of our hearts. Because when you love God with all your heart, there is no room left to desire sin.  Beloved, don’t give sin any place in your life, not for even a minute.

Standing up to the Big Dog

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“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed’ (Nehemiah 6:9).”

As kids growing up, my oldest brother often tried to intimidate me. His favorite thing to do was tease me until he made me mad and I would start swinging at him. He would put his hand on the top of my head and extend his arm so I was swinging in the air. That just made me madder. I miss my brother greatly, but I don’t miss how he loved to aggravate and intimidate me.

The Israelite captives returned to Jerusalem to find their city in ruins, the Temple destroyed, and the wall that protected their homes a pile of rubble. Nehemiah led the people to restore the wall to the displeasure of their neighbors, who “became angry and greatly incensed [and] ridiculed the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1, 2).  They said, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed” (Nehemiah 6:9). But the Israelites “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (4:9) and “rebuilt the wall . . . for the people worked with all their heart” (4:6). They refused to bow to the enemy’s intimidation and they completed the wall in fifty-two days!

You have an enemy. His name is Satan. He hates you because God loves you and has a Kingdom purpose for your life. He will try his best to intimidate you and wear you down so that you will give up and walk. Don’t let him. Like the enemies of the Israelites, your enemy is fighting a losing battle. Satan has no authority where God has called you. The truth is – he’s trying to intimate you because you intimidate him. Paul understood that: “I will stay on . . . because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9). Beloved, if what you are called to do is so threatening to the enemy that he’s trying to make you quit, then it’s that much more important that you don’t. Keep at it and let God fight for you.

How to do Battle with the Devil

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“Take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” (Ephesians 6:17).

Why do you suppose Paul called the Word of God the “sword of the Spirit”? There’s a very good reason for that – it is the only offensive weapon in our Christian arsenal. And it is enough because Satan runs from the holy power of God’s Word. Hebrews 4:12 calls the Word of God “a double-edged sword.” Revelation 1:16 describes the God-Man, Jesus Christ: “out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword.” Even in the heavens, Jesus still uses the Sword of the Spirit to deliver justice. The Word of God is powerful enough to speak the universe into existence and to enact divine judgment on the wicked and evil in the world.

So where do we get this sword, and how do we learn how to use it? Psalm 119:11 gives us the answer – “I have hidden your Word in my heart,” Simply put, we memorize Scripture. Every verse, every passage, every promise, and every truth adds to the power of your Sword. And the more you study the Word and meditate on it, the more adept you will be at using it. Is there a particular area of weakness or stronghold where Satan usually attacks? Look for Scripture that addresses that area. Read the verses aloud, write them on notecards and place them in areas like the kitchen, your desk, your bathroom mirror, or bedside table. Get a journal and write the verses out, look up the words, consider how this verse applies to your life – these are all excellent “drills” to help you grow in knowledge and strength in the Word of the Lord. The final step though is to submit to and obey the Word hidden in your heart.

Consider this, when Satan launches an attack against you, and all you know is John 3:16, (which is an awesome verse to know), you are trying to defeat the enemy with a pocketknife. But if you have been reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing Scripture, when you reach into your heart where that Word has been stored and grab hold of those verses, you are going to pull out a SWORD that will send your enemy reeling and scrambling. Beloved, That’s how you do battle with the enemy of your soul!

That’s Not Who I Am Anymore

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Some time ago I ran across some old photos of myself.  I laid them out in the progression of ages from about 3 to my high school years, watching myself grow taller, with a variety of hairstyles and some really strange fashion sense.  I saw something else. Somewhere between 10 and 15, the girl in those photos took on a dark demeanor and I remembered my past – things that had been done to me, and things I did to myself..  Glancing up into the mirror on my dresser, I thought how much I physically looked like the girl in the pictures, but I no longer recognized those dark eyes. God said, “That is because that’s not who you are anymore. Now you are mine.”

In Ephesians 5:8, Paul said, “You were once darkness…”  Then he gives the contrast: “but now…you are light in the Lord.”  Like painting a before and after portrait he said,  “You are not who you once were.  Now you are in Christ.”

One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to assault us with our past, to tell us that we will always be who we were and there is no point in trying to resist those old familiar sins.  “You know deep down, you still want it.  You haven’t changed. You are bound to your past.  You are bound to me.”  But if you belong to Jesus Christ, you are free from your past. You are a child of light, purified from all your sins (1 John 1: 7).  Where you were once held captive to sin, you are now bound up in God’s love. You have the power to say no to sin.

In Philippians 3:13, Paul gives us the secret to walking in our new identity when he says, “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  We can forget what is behind because “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)” 

Beloved, I want so much for you to understand that because Jesus Christ has completely removed all your transgressions; you are a new creation in Christ, no longer bound to a painful, sinful past or those dark desires.  You have light in your eyes, and God’s love shines on your face.  Because you are not who you once were.  Now you are His.

When the Lion Roars

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When I was younger my family went to a “wild” animal park, the kind where you drive through while the animals roam around.  All the animals ignored us for the most part; they were used to the steady parade of cars.  We drove through the lion’s section, most of whom slept in the sun or lazily watched us passing by.  But there was one male lion who didn’t take too kindly to our presence, and as we slowed to get a closer look at him he shook his head, sending his mane spiraling outward and let out a thundering ROAR!  We all jumped, my little brother started crying and my dad stepped on the gas.  I’ll never forget how my heart pounded in my chest.

Peter said, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We have an enemy who is like that roaring lion.  He is fierce and ferocious and always on the hunt for easy prey.  He is ruthless and malicious and will attack without provocation.  He hates humankind because he hates God and everything God loves.  And he has a particularly fierce hatred for Christians.   He stalks believers, pacing back and forth with his menacing demeanor.  And he roars.  He roars out accusations and threats.  He roars out a list of your failures and sins.  He roars about what a bad mom you are, that you’re a lousy husband and a hopeless, useless mess.  He roars out that God could never love you.  He roars out lies.

How should we deal with this roaring lion?  Peter tells us exactly what to do. “Resist him, standing firm in the faith,” (2 Peter 5:9) James agrees, saying, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” (James 4:7.  Paul tells us to “Stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).   Proverbs 28:1 says “The righteous are as bold as a lion,” Friend, when the lion roars, you stand in the righteousness of Christ and roar back the Name of Jesus and the Word of God.  You remind the devil that he is a defeated, powerless fool and that his destruction is assured.  You declare that “The Lion of Judah” (Rev. 5:5) has already claimed the victory.  The devil roars, but that’s all he can do to those who belong to Christ.  Don’t tremble.  Don’t run.  Don’t back down. “A lion . . . retreats before nothing,” Proverbs 30:30.  You are a righteous lion. ROAR!

Lead Us Not into Temptation

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James said, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone” (1:13).  So why then, did Jesus include in His prayer: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)? Isn’t James contradicting Jesus? How are we to understand this? Jesus is teaching us to ask for deliverance from temptation.  He is not in any way implying that God would usher us into tempting situations, although He may, as a step of purification, allow Satan to press us with temptation. Peter can attest to that.  

After the Passover meal, just before His arrest, Jesus announces that all of the disciples will abandon Him in His hour of need. Peter declared: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matt. 26:33). What passion! What boldness! What foolishness!  Jesus answered His disciple, “I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (v. 34). Luke noted that Jesus told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31).  Satan wanted access to all of the disciples (the first “you” is plural), but Jesus permitted him to lean only on Simon Peter (the second “you” is singular).  Why? Because He intended for Peter to be a powerhouse in His church, and there were things in him that needed to be sifted out. Things like pride and arrogance and self-sufficiency. By the way, did you catch Jesus’ promise – “I have prayed for you, Simon. And did you also catch His assurance – “when (not if) you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” It’s as if Jesus was telling Peter, “This will be rough, but I am praying for you, and you will win this battle – you have My word on it.”

Beloved, is temptation and struggle pressing hard against you? Perhaps the Lord is using the enemy to sift out something that could hinder you from becoming a mighty servant in His Kingdom. Gold is purified by fire. If it’s hot where you are right now, trust God in the process. As Job declared, “When He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).