God is Good

So how do you like my new glasses? They’re probably the most stylish pair of spectacles I’ve ever owned. And they are at the heart of my God-story this morning. You may recall a few months ago I wrote about Joy accidentally whacking me in the side of the head with her head and knocking my glasses off. (I’ll share a link to that post in the comments.) That hit badly warped my frames and it threw my vision off. A few days after that post someone who followed me on Facebook messaged me and wanted to send me some of her frames that she couldn’t use anymore to replace my pitiful glasses. I was amazed at her kindness. And amazed at the quality of the frames she sent me – none of the cheap $69 frames I usually got. These were designer-quality. We struck up a sweet friendship through online conversations about eyewear and snow and babies I don’t know the “official” name of these frames, but I’m calling them “Grace” because they are God’s gracious gift to me.

But never occurred to me to pray for new glasses. I just assumed I would struggle along with the old ones until I could afford to replace them. But God . . . It makes me think of Jesus’ words: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt 6:8). In the margin of my Bible next to this verse are dates and words like: “transmission,” “septic repairs,” “a home,” “healing,” “groceries,” “diapers,” and “job.” They are followed by more dates – when God met those needs. Every. Single. One. God knew that I needed good glasses and He provided in that incredible way that only He can do.

This is not my usual devotional because I just want to testify to God’s goodness. He saw my need and He met it. He pricked the heart of someone I didn’t know on my behalf. She obeyed that prompting and now I can see. If you need a takeaway, it would be two-fold. First, if God pricks your heart to help someone in need, do it. It will be a blessing for them and for you. Second and most importantly, God loves you. He knows your need. Whether it’s glasses, groceries, a home, peace, hope, or wisdom, it’s His delight to take care of His children. I am living, seeing proof.

When Anxiety is Great Within Me . . .

I’m dealing with some major anxiety this week. Yes, even the Bible teacher gets overwhelmed by life sometimes just as you do. The Spirit led me to Psalm 94:19: When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought Joy to my soul.”  Yep, that’s the verse for me – it’s got anxiety and Joy. This Psalm is a lament; the psalmist is in a hard place because of “the wicked” who trample on God’s people. Hmm, I have something similar going on in my life. He calls on the Lord for help. I found it interesting that he didn’t ask God to remove him from the cause of his anxiety. Sometimes – as in my case – that is not an option. Too much is at stake. So how does he handle his anxiety and the cause of it?

First, he remembers that God is his Avenger (v. 1); he doesn’t have to seek revenge or demand his rights. He noted that even though his enemy doesn’t acknowledge God (v. 7), God knows everything that is happening to him (v. 11). He reminds himself (oh, that’s so important) that God will grant him relief (v. 13), He will not reject or forsake him (v. 14), and will be his Defender (v. 16). The Lord will help him (v. 17). He will hold him up with his love (v. 18). He will bring him comfort and Joy (v. 19) (did you hum that Christmas song?). And the Lord will be his fortress, his rock, and his refuge (v. 22). I don’t know about you, but after all that, my anxiety has decreased to near-manageable levels.

But consider this too. God never chastised him for being anxious. I know, you’re going to ask me why did Jesus say, “Do not be anxious (or worried) (Matt 6:25, 30, 34) .” Context. First, Jesus was teaching in vs. 19-24 about storing up treasures on earth vs. treasures in heaven. He was saying that wealth will not bring peace. But the Father does. In vs. 25-34 Jesus spoke of God’s goodness, care, compassion, and faithfulness. When He said “Do not be anxious,” He wasn’t barking out an order, He was reminding the people that “your Heavenly Father knows” all about the needs of His “little flock” (Luke 12:32). Those are words of tender, fatherly love.

We don’t want to walk around like tight balls of anxiety, but the struggles of this life are unavoidable, and some of them are really hard. The best way to cope is to focus on all God brings to us in our time of need. Hope. Peace. Compassion. Love. “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I need to know.”

Your Kingdom Come

See the source image

Yesterday I wrote about the Kingdom of God and today I want to take us back for another perspective, In that devotional we looked at how the Kingdom of God is a present reality and is within us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Please understand that I am not and will never espouse a humanistic gospel. We are the carriers of the Kingdom which is present in God’s Spirit and as such, we bring the Kingdom to the world in which we live.

But what is “the Kingdom of God?” The best answer comes from the Lord’s Prayer which He taught to His disciples: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).  This is not just a rote statement in Jesus’ prayer, it is an act of surrender.  Simply put, the Kingdom of God is where God’s will is done.

So then, what is God’s will?  I can tell you for certain it is bigger than your life and mine.  Paul said that God’s will is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the sovereign authority of Christ (ref. Ephesians 1:10). The ultimate purpose of all existence is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. All of history has been moving toward this one thing: the coronation of Jesus Christ as the King of kings with “authority, glory and sovereign power, everlasting dominion, and a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

When we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are surrendering our will to the will of God and committing to being part of ushering in the Kingdom of God and Christ.  And when we “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), we are seeking His rule and reign in our lives. We are following the example of Jesus who said, “not my will but Yours will be done”

The Kingdom of God is now and not yet. The Kingdom of God is present in God’s people. The Kingdom of God is the will of God, and when we seek first the Kingdom of God, we are seeking to do His will. And when the Kingdom of God comes on earth, “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). That, Beloved, is what the Kingdom in you is all about.

Roots and Fruit

May be an image of apple

It’s the twenty-first century and everybody has an opinion and a platform from which to share it. Which is good because all opinions are equally valid – even if they contradict one another. (Except Christians of course.) How do we know who’s right and what’s wrong? Jesus has some pretty sound advice for us in the Sermon on the Mount. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). He said a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. It’s a horticultural fact: the fruit proves the root. The Bible even tells us how to discern the difference between good and bad fruit. Ready to go to the orchard?

Bad fruit is full of false hopes and self-made visions; good fruit offers real hope and visions from God. Bad fruit is heretical, denies the sovereign rule of God, leads many astray, questions the truth, and exploits believers. Good fruit is truthful, submits to God, leads by following Christ, upholds the truth, and builds up believers. Bad fruit is the product of liars who walk in darkness. Good fruit is truthful because it grows in the light. Bad fruit hates fellow believers. Good fruit “loves one another.” Bad fruit denies that Jesus is the Son of God and rejects the truth of His human nature. Good fruit acknowledges that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Bad fruit rejects the message of God and speaks from a worldly viewpoint – and the world listens. Good fruit listens to God, speaks from His point of view, and those who love God listen. John summed it all up this way: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Righteousness and love are the good fruit. You can trust that tree. You can trust that person.

When it comes to your faith life you need to be certain the messages you are hearing are right and true. You need to be sure you are chewing on good fruit that comes from good trees. Who is feeding your mind and heart? Beloved, you need to be a fruit inspector.

Love Your Enemies

See the source image

Our Ladies Bible study group continues to study through the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. Six times in chapter five Jesus said, “You have heard . . . “ and followed it with “But I tell you . . ..” In matters of murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and, in verses 38-48, revenge, and enemies. Maybe you should grab your Bible and read those verses. In vs. 38-42 He said “Do not resist an evil person” and gave specific examples of people who persecute and take advantage of you. He established the principle of “going the extra mile and turning the other cheek.” He said when someone makes demands of you – not only should you meet their demands, but you should exceed them. Peter took this to heart when he said, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing . . .” (1 Peter 3:9). In our “stand up for yourself” culture, that rubs the wrong way.

In verses 43-48 He said we are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Again, that is so completely counter-cultural. But there is a purpose in all of this. Peter continued in his letter by saying “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (3:15).

My family was stationed in Mannheim, Germany in the early-mid ’70s and my oldest brother was working at one of the base stores as a stocker. Jim carried his Bible with him to work and read it on his break. One of his co-workers constantly ridiculed him. Jim never said a word back, but was gracious to the guy and often helped him complete his work. One day the co-worker took his box cutter and slashed several pages of my brother’s Bible. Again, Jim never said a word but spent his break taping the pages back together. Finally, the offender asked, “Why?” And Jim was able to lead him to faith in Jesus. He asked my brother if he could have the very Bible that he had tried to destroy.

That’s why we don’t resist and we love those who hate us. Because our example could be the bridge to brings them to Christ. Beloved, who comes to mind when you think about people who do you wrong? That’s the very one you need to pray for and love into the Kingdom.

You Must be Righteous

See the source image

Continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s gospel is all about the Kingdom of Heaven and revealing Jesus as the rightful King. So far we’ve learned about who the Kingdom people are in the Beatitudes. We’ve learned about the influence Kingdom people should bring to the world in 5:13- 20. In Matthew 5:17-26, Jesus taught about Kingdom righteousness. I’ll jump ahead and give you the key to this passage: “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). The Pharisees and teachers of the law were considered the most righteous people in Jerusalem. They built their righteousness on following every jot and tittle of the law – and most of those jots and tittles had been added to God’s Law by man. Their lives were consumed with following rules and rituals, even washing their hands was an elaborate process that was more about the show than about cleanliness.

Who does the Bible point to as “righteous?”  Matthew 1:19 says, Joseph [Mary’s husband-to-be] was a righteous man, but not because he adhered to the letter of the law. When Mary announced that she was pregnant, and he knew this baby was not his, by the Law he should have taken her out to be stoned to death. But “he did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Joseph chose to treat Mary with mercy. That is why the Scripture called him “a righteous man.”

Jesus later called the religious leaders hypocrites (and a brood of vipers!) because, though they did everything right, they did it all for the wrong reasons. He said “You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matter of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matt 23:23).  They obeyed the letter of the Law but neglected the heart of the Law, which is love.

So how could anyone be more righteous than the religious hierarchy? By understanding that God commanded obedience to the Law, but not for obedience’s sake. The Israelites were to obey the law because they loved God. And love changes everything.

The Power of One Light

See the source image

In our continuing study of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7, we’ve learned through the Beatitudes the characteristics of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. In verses 13-16 Jesus taught about the influence Kingdom people have on the world. These are the “Salt and Light” verses. Jesus declared: “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.” I have previously written on verse 13 – the salt verse. I will add a link to that post in my blog in the comments. Today we will look at the Lord’s teaching about being “the light of the world.”

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. When I was a kid we took a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. There are caves for exploring all through the park and our group was standing in one of the caves when the tour guide turned off the electric lights. It was pitch black, the darkest darkness I’d ever experienced. You literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Several of us became afraid and started whimpering (and not just the girls). Then he flicked on a lighter and the darkness was gone. One small light overcame the darkness. And every eye was drawn to that light. You couldn’t miss it.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world. This directly identifies us with Him as He declared “I AM the Light of the world” (John 8:12). That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.

Don’t hide your light. Don’t bury it under sin and worldliness. You have the Light that overcomes darkness. Shine, Beloved. The world desperately needs to see the Light of Christ in you.

I’ve Seen Jesus!

Doubting Thomas, by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da, 1571–1610)

Our Ladies Bible study group is studying the Sermon on The Mount and we’ve been in The Beatitudes – the “Blesseds” – for the past couple of weeks. But did you know that there is another “Blessed” from Jesus? It is addressed first to Thomas, and I contend is also for believers of the past two-thousand-plus years.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and showed them His hands and side and imparted the Holy Spirit to them. John said, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (20:20). That is probably an understatement. But Thomas missed the whole thing, and when they told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he didn’t believe it. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (v. 25). Not just “cannot” but “will not” believe. That sums up a lot of attitudes in the world toward the resurrected Jesus. Another week goes by and all of the disciples – including Thomas – are together and Jesus again appears. He called out to the doubter, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27). And Thomas did. He replied, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). Jesus pointed out that Thomas’ believed only because he could see. Then He pronounced what many have called, “the last and greatest beatitude.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

Have you ever seen Jesus with your physical eyes, Beloved? Me neither. But we believe. We believe because we have seen Him through the eyes of faith. And Jesus said that we are blessed. Faith is hard, especially when you can’t look Jesus in the face and hear His actual voice. And especially when the world is telling you that your faith is misplaced, that you’re trusting in a “genie in the sky.” But you and I have “seen” what they don’t see. Not that they can’t, but that they won’t. We know that He is real. We know that He died for our sins. We know that He was raised to life. And we know that He is coming again. Because we have seen Jesus with our hearts.

Sermon on the Mount – The Beatitudes, part 1

See the source image

This will be a little different. Once a week over the next couple of months, we’re going to study the Sermon on the Mount. While this devotional is not written specifically as encouragement, studying the Word of God always encourages us. The focus of the Sermon on the Mount – in fact, Matthew’s focus for his Gospel – is the Kingdom of God/Heaven. Matthew wants to prove that

Jesus is the long-expected King in the line of David and the promised Messiah.Jesus opens with what we know as “The Beatitudes,” nine times that He describes people who are “blessed” in the Kingdom. The first four, vs 3-6, turn the idea of blessing on its head.

Jesus said blessed are “the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” But these are people who are nobodies in the world. But remember, we’re dealing with Kingdom values, not the world’s values.The poor in spirit are those who realize that they have nothing to offer God for their souls. They have no hope in themselves for eternal life. Their hope is in the promises of God. They will receive the Kingdom. Those who know they have nothing are given everything.

Those who mourn are mourning their sin. Jesus said they will be comforted. How? Paul said that “godly sorrow” for our sins “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:9-10). Those who mourn are comforted when their sorrow turns to repentance then forgiveness and the burden of their guilt is lifted.

The meek are not the weak. Meekness is the fine art of being kind and gentle towards others, especially those who “do not deserve it.” It’s how God treated us. The meek, Jesus said, will “inherit the earth.” Now honestly, who would want this earth? But wait. Rev. 21:1 says that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” A new earth would be a truly blessed gift.

Then, “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.” How do you know that you’re hungry? You have hunger pains. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness feel genuine pain at the unrighteousness in the world. If you don’t, you may need to check your relationship with God. Unrighteousness breaks the heart of God. It should break our hearts as well. How do we deal with hunger? We eat. This unrighteous world is hungry for God. Let’s feed them the Gospel. We – and they – will be filled, satisfied, beyond measure.

What does all this mean for you? Unless I miss my guess, you, like me, are not great in the world’s eyes. But God has great things in store for those who trust in Him. Beloved, are you blessed by the world’s standards, or by God’s?

Lead Us Not into Temptation

See the source image

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).