Jesus is . . .

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Studying in Matthew 13 today and something struck me. Check out Matthew 13:53-58. Jesus is teaching in His hometown – His messages are full of divine wisdom and His miracles display divine power. The people, verse 54 says, “were amazed.” I’m sure I would be too. I love to listen to a good Bible teacher. I love preachers who bring the Word with passion. I think the best Bible communicators are the ones who believe with all their hearts the truth of what they are saying. No wonder the people were amazed at Jesus – He taught with the intimacy of the author. He knew and believe what He was saying because He was the originator of the message. But I digress.

Look back at the passage. The people began to consider who Jesus was – as far as they knew. Mary’s son. James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas’ big brother. Just one of the many kids that grew up in that town. Nobody more special than any of the rest. Just who did he think he was to speak so high-and-mighty? Now, these same people “took offense at Him” (v. 57). From amazement to offense. Why? Because they lost sight of who He was. It reminds me of another time when the people shouted that He was “the King of Isreal who comes in the name of the Lord!” (John 12:13) then rejected Him and shouted, “We have no king but Caesar, crucify him!” (John 19:15).

Humans are fickle. And we’re forgetful. When we forget who Jesus is we miss Him entirely. When we reduce Him to a good teacher and humanitarian, we disregard His message and His saving work. If we do not see Him as the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Savior of the World – we do not see Jesus at all. Oh, Beloved – with all my heart I plead with you – know Jesus in all His divine and saving glory. Know Him and you will know hope. You will know peace. You will know Joy. And You will know eternal life.

What are You Talking About?

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“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

I confess – I spend far more time on social media than I should. I love seeing pictures of your kids and grandkids (sorry, but mine is cuter). I like silly memes and funny posts, especially in this season when the world is so grim. And I love to read your testimonies of God’s goodness and faithfulness to you. Those kinds of posts make my day. I do not like political posts. I do not like posts that contain the words: “like and share,” “bet I won’t get one share,” or “make this go viral.” I don’t like fake posts – grocery stores or fast-food restaurants giving away $250 worth of food or warnings about false dangers. But what I dislike the most are false posts that are “religious” in nature. The one about why Jesus folded the napkin. Images that have been manipulated to look like Jesus in the clouds. The urgent prayer request for 20 Coptic Christians set to be executed or the little kid that shot himself with a nail gun. It’s important to share prayer needs and stories of faith – but only if you know for a fact that they are true.

This world needs truth. Not made-up stories. There are a LOT of people saying a lot of things about God, about Jesus, about Christianity. Not all of it is right and true. That’s Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15. He was advanced in Judaism and highly educated. He knew a lot of stuff about God. But He said only one thing was “of first importance”: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared [to many]” (v. 3-8, paraphrased).

I will occasionally post something silly or fun, or something meaningful and encouraging, but I am careful and selective about what I put out into the cyber-world. Because only one thing matters: Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, resurrected, and coming again. If the world learned about Jesus only through your conversations: verbal, social media, even overheard in the coffee shop (if we ever get back to the coffee shop) would they hear the truth? Would they hear what matters? Beloved, are you saying what’s of first importance?

He is Risen!

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Happy Resurrection Day! It’s Easter Sunday and Jesus is alive! Death could not hold Him. Satan lost and Jesus won! It’s a day to shout the news from the mountaintops – or, for Easter 2020 – across the airwaves. Because of COVID 19, the Easter story will be more widely available today than ever before. The whole world will have the chance to hear: “Jesus Christ is Risen!”

There is one part of the Easter story that I hold dear to my heart. It’s in John’s account of the resurrection in chapter 20. Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb to grieve her Lord. She saw it was open and looked inside to discover that His body was not there. I imagine her stumbling backward in confusion and fresh waves of grief. Through her tear-filled eyes, she sees a man, probably the gardener. He approaches and asks her the reason for her sorrow and whom she is seeking. She pleads for the body of the one she loved. He speaks one word: “Mary.” And she knows. It is Jesus. He is alive! Heart pounding. Thoughts racing. Hands shaking. She speaks one word: “Rabonni!” And all her grief turns to Joy.

Easter is celebrated around the world – and rightly so. It is the most important event in human history. The day the Son of God rose from the dead and assured eternal life for all who would believe on Him. But in that quiet morning, Easter was very personal for one woman. Before the rest of the world would hear that Jesus had risen, Mary saw Him with her own eyes.

As you gather around screens and radios and phones today to hear the glorious Easter story, imagine yourself all alone in the garden early on that Sunday morning. Listen closely as the Lord calls out your name. Easter is for all the world, and it is just for you. May the Joy of the resurrection fill your heart today Beloved. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

Don’t Drift Away from God

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Words fascinate me. The Holy Spirit knows this about me and so often when I am reading my Bible, He will draw my attention to a word and ask me, “What does that mean?” – and I am off on one of my favorite digs. Yesterday I was reading in Hebrews 2 and He did it again in the very first verse: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The phrase “drift away” became my holy grail. This is one word in the Greek: pararreo – and it means to glide by, to be carried away, and you would use it to say something “slipped my mind.”. We’ve all missed appointments because they slipped our minds. That’s why we jot them down on our calendars or put a reminder in our phone. Likewise, the writer was saying, don’t let the message of the gospel slip from your mind. That’s easy to do when life is hard, when tragedy strikes, when you’re weary, when the whole world is caught in a pandemic. It’s easy to forget about the hope we have in Christ. But this dig continues.

This morning the Spirit highlighted another phrase for me: “careful attention.” These two words perissoteros and prosecho mean in great abundance, above all else and to hold or possess. Simply put, this means above every voice and every worldview, take hold of this gospel and let everything else go. That’s the key to not drifting away.

The message of the first chapter was that Jesus is the Son of God – He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, we need to get a firm and secure grip on the truth. In a world that is full of evil and darkness, where death runs rampant and people are scared out of their wits, we need to wave the banner of the gospel and the hope of salvation and eternal life.

Beloved, what are you paying careful attention to? The news? Facebook? The opinions of others? These will cause fear, confusion, and doubt. They will cause you to drift away. Let them go. Pay attention to the truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save you and give you eternal life and hope for today. Hold on to that and never let go.

 

But I Don’t Feel Forgiven

 

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Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.” The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today. What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore? Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins. Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists. But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.” Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible. One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexual promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down. Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.” This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling. Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you.

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself. God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing left to forgive. Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

When the Way is Dark

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I come from a long line of crafters. My mom was an extraordinary seamstress – I loved the handmade clothes she made for me. My grandmother created beautiful designs with a needle and tread. and I found much comfort laying in bed and tracing the stitches on my “Sunbonnet Sue” pillowcase. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, Mom decided it was time for me to take up the family tradition, starting with learning handwork. She bought me a simple embroidery kit and taught me the up-and-down pattern, and the daisy stitch and how to fill a piece of fabric with color. The kit she bought was a design with an old fashioned oil lamp, a Bible – with a real velvet bookmark – and the words of Psalm 119:105. As I stitched the letters, the words were “sewn” into my heart: Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my path.

I’ve lost my way a few times since then and found myself in dark scary places. But I would trace the words on my heart, just as I traced the pattern on my pillowcase, and I knew where to find the light. I still go back to that verse often and remind myself that the Bible has the power to dispel darkness and show me the way home.

The Word of God is Light and Life to me. It is stitched on my heart.

Why Should I Read the Bible?

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“They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47).

When I study the Bible, I like to do so slowly and deliberately, digging in deep, examining details, context, and words, asking questions of the text, cross-referencing Scriptures and consulting resources for a better understanding. Like a jeweler turning a diamond over and over in his hand, I look at a verse from different sides to see what new facets I can find. What’s amazing is, no matter how much I look, I can never see it all. It’s a living Word and is constantly producing truth and wisdom. Not new truth or new wisdom, but more of what it has faithfully said for thousands of years.

Yet for all my digging and study, there are things about the Bible that I cannot make sense of. Not all of my questions about the text have nice, neat answers. Maybe I should stop reading the Bible. Come to think of it, God has yet to answer a lot of my questions about life. Maybe I should stop believing in God.

Or maybe I should have faith. Maybe I should believe that God is good and His Word is true, even though I can’t resolve every issue with the Scriptures or with life. Maybe I should trust that things will make sense – in another time and another place. Maybe I should take Jesus’ words to heart: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:12).

Beloved if you’re approaching the Bible for the sole purpose of finding answers to all your questions, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. The Bible isn’t a life-answer book or a self-help book. It’s not just a book of wisdom or direction – although those are all there. It is the testimony of Almighty God – His autobiography you might say. When you approach the Bible as anything less you miss the point entirely. And you miss God. If you come to the Bible to know God you will find Him on every page in every word. Let’s make 2020 the year we study the Scriptures and believe what God has to say.

What do a bunch of old laws have to do with me; or why should I read Leviticus?

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I am doing a slow dig through the book of Leviticus – yes Leviticus – the book where most New Year’s resolutions come to die. Why would I spend months studying a hard-to-understand bunch of antiquated laws that don’t apply to me as a New Testament Christian? Because Jesus is found in Leviticus more than any other Old Testament book. He is the fulfillment of every law therein. Three verses into the first chapter and there He is: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male” (Lev. 1:3). That’s Jesus. Unblemished. Perfect. Sinless. Innocent. Pure. The only sacrifice that could atone for your sin and mine – making us acceptable to a holy God.
I look into the next verse and I see, not only Jesus this time but also me. “He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4) In the ancient sacrificial system, the person placed his hand on the animal’s head symbolically transferring all of his sins onto it. This innocent animal now bore the guilt for the sinful person; the animal – not the man – died for those sins.
I am the one with my hand on the head of Jesus. Those sins are mine. The guilt is mine. I am shaken by Charles Spurgeon’s comment on this verse: “If the worshipper was a right-minded person and not a mere formalist, he stood with tears in his eyes and felt in his heart, ‘That death is mine.’” Oh, God let me never look at the cross and forget – “That death is mine.”
Beloved, that is your hand on the head of Jesus too. That death is yours. Those sins are yours. The guilt belongs to you. But so does the atonement. The sinless, innocent Son of God graciously received your sins and bore your punishment so that you would be accepted by His Father. May you and I never forget the price that Jesus paid to set us free.

When to Run and When to Stand: How to Fight Spiritual Battles

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We’re working our way through the book of Colossians in our Ladies Bible study group at BCF. Yesterday we looked at Paul’s warning: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). So we posed the question: what are we watching for? Two points stood out from elsewhere in the Scriptures:

When Jesus confronted his three closest disciples who were asleep in the garden, he admonished them to “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). So the lure of temptation is one area where we need to be watchful.

Then Peter, who was one of the three, gives us another saying, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The reality and work of the devil is another.

How are we to handle these two?

The conventional wisdom is to resist temptation and flee from the devil; but what does Scripture say?

About temptation, Paul said, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we face temptation, we take the way of escape. We flee. We run. We get away from the source of temptation, be it a place, a person, a website, or the office breakroom.

And when it comes to dealing with the devil, Peter’s warning continued: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .” (1 Peter 5:9). We resist the devil, standing firmly and confidently behind our shield of faith in the God of Christ our Lord.

So the conventional wisdom is completely backward – Scripture tells us to resist the devil and flee from temptation. No wonder we’re falling so easily to the enemy.

Why does this matter?

Because as 1 John 4:4 reminds us: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” If you are in Christ Jesus, then Christ Jesus is in you through His Holy Spirit. The very same Christ who has already overcome the devil. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, the devil has no authority over you. None. And you need to stand firm and remind him of that when he comes roaring at you. Because all he can do is roar.

And because, as Jesus admonished his sleepy disciples, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Your flesh, the part of you that responds to temptation, is weak, even as a Christian. Though we are set free from the power of sin, we are still bound to our fleshly nature that desires sin. Paul said, “I have the desire to do 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 doing” (Romans 7:18,19)

Christ has already defeated the devil, but you and I will battle our flesh every day of our earthly lives.

Understanding the enemy and his tactics is vital – not just to surviving – but to thriving and growing and carrying the cross of Christ into a lost and dying world. You need to know your enemy Beloved. But more than that, you need to know your Savior. He has already claimed the victory over the devil. And He will give you strength – to flee when you face temptation and to stand firm when the lion roars.

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

When Everyone’s a Philosopher, How Do You Know What’s True?

In this day of social media, everyone has an opinion and anyone with internet access and a keyboard can become an expert about everything from sports to food to politics to religion. Spend an hour on the web and you will know the deep thoughts of world leaders, celebrities, “influencers,” the media, the local yokel, and even the Kardashians. I’m guilty too, as I flood the cyber-world with biblical commentary. The delivery may be modern, but the idea of sharing ideas is as old as man. The trick is to figure out who’s ideas are worth listening to.

Paul warned the believers in Colossae: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy . . .” (Colossians 2:8). The Colossians were being led astray by false teachers who claimed that the secret to eternal life was a higher plane of knowledge – a knowledge that was superior to Christ and put one on the level with God. Their philosophies sounded right, but they were wrong, and anyone who listened was led astray. It wasn’t just a first-century problem. That warning still applies today. There are a lot of messages that sound like the Bible, but they are not the Word of God. There are a lot of teachings that sound like Jesus, but they are not the Son of God. They have shades of truth, but they are not the truth.  So how do you know what is true?

When bank tellers receive training to recognize counterfeit money, they are not schooled in every possible way that a bill can be counterfeited. Instead, they are taught every detail of a genuine bill, so that when someone presents money that is even a little off, they can spot it instantly. The key to recognizing a false bill is to know the real thing. The key to recognizing false teaching is to know the truth. Luke commended a group of believers in Berea because they listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They didn’t take Paul’s word for what God said; they checked it out in God’s Word.

I hope you do the same Beloved. I hope you take what your Bible teacher says, your Pastor, your favorite author or singer, even yours truly, and lay it beside the authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of the Living God to see if it agrees with what was spoken by the Spirit of God. And if it does not, you run from it and run to the truth. And if I said it, you call me out on it. I also hope that you are making Bible study – not just a five-minute devotional reading – a priority in your day. I hope you are digging in and soaking up the truth. I hope you are learning to recognize the ways and words of God so you are not “taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies . . .” I hope you know the Scriptures so intimately that anything just a shade off of the truth raises red flags in your spirit. There is far too much as stake to shrug your shoulders and reason that “it sounds okay to me.” Be a Berean. Know the truth. It’ll set you free.