Two Hearts at Calvary

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Answered Prayers

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The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.”  Luke 1:13
 
Have you prayed for something for so long that you finally gave up?  I confess that I have, but I’m so thankful that God remembers, long after my hope has faded.  We learn from Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story in Luke 1: 5-17 that God indeed hears our prayers and He answers – but not always in the way or the time that we expect. 
 
This godly couple was “upright in the sight of God” (v. 6),  faithful and obedient in every way. Yet God withheld the one thing that they desired – a child.  I am sure that Zechariah, like Isaac may years before “prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren” (Genesis 25:21). Doubtless they both prayed, and their families likely prayed, but to no avail. After many, many prayers over many, many years, it seems they accepted reality and adjusted their expectations to what would never be. I mean, logically, isn’t there a time to give up on wishes and get on with life?  Ah, but God had heard those prayers, and He was about to turn their lives joyfully upside down! 
 
I wonder if, when the angel spoke the words of our key verse, Zechariah thought, “Surely he can’t mean that prayer.”  But that was indeed the prayer that the Lord had set in motion. 
My friend, God hears your prayers.  He hears with the heart of a Father who loves you deeply, and He hears with the power of a God who can move heaven and earth to answer you. Does that mean that every prayer we utter is a “Yes” from God?  No – and that is a hard thing to hear when your heart aches before Him.  For reasons we are not always privy to, God sometimes says “No,” or “Not yet.”  But it is always spoken from that Father-heart that wants only the best for His child.  God does not withhold from us anything that is for our good according to His purpose in our lives, He is more than generous in His good gifts.
 
Is there something (or someone) for which you have prayed for a very long time?  Is there a prayer that you once presented fervently in daily petition to God?  If you do not have a clear word from Him to lay that prayer down, then do not give up.  Don’t assume that God has forgotten about you and that prayer.  Keep your hope and trust in Him alive and remember that He is faithful and loving and always working for your good and His glory.  Who knows when an angel of the Lord will greet you and say, “Your prayer has been heard!”

You Are Here

You are here

Continuing in our study of Luke . . .

Before introducing Jesus, Luke sets the stage with the story of the Lord’s cousin, John, and the wondrous way in which he came into this world.  John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were both descendants of the first high priest, Aaron.  The Scripture says they lived upright and blameless lives – yet the Lord withheld the blessing of children from them.  It doesn’t seem fair, does it?  Sometimes the best people get the worst breaks.  Ah, but there is still more to their story.

Luke 1:8-9 says that Zechariah was “chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord to burn incense” (v. 9). There were so many priests at this time that they could only perform the morning or evening burning of incense once, to allow each to participate.  For any other priest, this was a simple “roll of the dice,” but for Zechariah, this was a divine set-up.  Proverbs 16:33 reminds us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  The “lot” fell exactly as God planned for Zechariah to receive the most important message of his life.

Throughout Scripture, God is seen orchestrating events to accomplish His purpose.  In the lovely story of Ruth, we learn that the young woman went out to glean in the fields and “As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz” (Ruth 2:3).  This was not happenstance; this was God working behind the scenes to bring a needy widow to her kinsman-redeemer and future husband.  Remember when Mordecai told Ester: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).  Because of divine placement, Esther was instrumental in saving her people from annihilation.

Friend, I don’t know where you find yourself today, but I know it was not by chance.  You are in your neighborhood, in your job, in your church, in your school because God has brought you there.   It may not be where you think you want to be, but you are there by the hand and will of God.  It may be a place of great ministry.  It may be a place to grow.  It may be a place to learn some challenging life lessons.  Paul said the Lord “Determined the times set for [men] and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26).  It is true for me and for you.  Listen carefully for His message.  Look intently for His hand.  You are exactly where you are “for such a time as this.”

The post “You Are Here” first appeared on Deeper Roots.

Not a Fan of Jesus

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“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’” (Matthew 16:16).

My husband was watching a program on television, a famous singer was belting out their latest hit song and the crowd was almost louder than the amplified music.  They were applauding and shouting and whistling their adoration.  I walked through the room just as the camera zoomed in on one girl with a t-shirt that had the singer’s face above the words “I’m your #1 fan.”  The singer saw her too and took an elaborate bow and blew kisses aimed directly at her.  She was ecstatic and the people near-by looked at her like she was royalty.

Popularity is a fickle thing.  One day you’re everyone’s favorite celebrity, the next day you’re old news.  Last year you were on the cover of People magazine, this year your name is buried on the back page of the local newspaper. Celebrities live and die by their fan count.

Jesus had fans.  The gospels tell us of people who flocked to Him, who hung on His every word, who wanted a front-row seat to watch Him perform miracles.  They lined the streets when He came through town and jostled one another to walk nearest to Him.  But I am not a fan of Jesus.

I am a follower of Jesus.  It’s true that I want to be near Jesus, but not for some thrill. I want to be in His presence because His presence is peace.  His presence is hope.  His presence is wisdom and power.  Like Mary of Bethany, I want to be near Him to soak up His words and take in every inflection of His voice.

I am a servant of Jesus.  Paul identifies himself and Timothy in his opening statement in Philippians: “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:1).  I love how Mary responds to the angel: “Behold, [I am] the handmaiden of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).  The purpose of my life is to do the will of Jesus.  To serve Him by serving others.

I am a disciple of Jesus.  By His example, He can teach me how to walk in righteousness.  He can teach me about the Kingdom of God and how to go to heaven.  And He alone can teach me who God is because He is God.

I am a friend of Jesus.  Fans are not often friends.  Fans are there for the show.  Friends sit around after the show is over and talk about real life.  I love to talk to Jesus about what’s happening in my everyday life.  I love to listen to Him talk through His Word about heaven. My friendship with Jesus is as real as my friendship with my best friend.

I am a witness of Jesus.   I want to tell others what He has done for me.  He has saved me, redeemed my life, and given me a place with Him in heaven.  He took all my sin and all my shame and the punishment that I deserved and gave me freedom and eternal life.  He died so that I would live.  I want to tell the world about my Jesus.

Most of all, I am a worshipper of Jesus.  I’ve seen old pictures of fans of Elvis Presley and the Beatles and their “worship” of their favorite stars.  Their adoration is misplaced.  There is only one who is worthy of worship – He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  The Bible says that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).  One day Jesus will return to earth and every person that ever was will bow before Him and declare that He is Lord.  No one will be exempt because it will be an uncontrolled response to seeing Him in His splendor.  Those who refused to acknowledge Him in this life will, by the sheer force of His glory, give Him the exaltation they withheld.  I want to worship Him now.  I want to give Him the praise and honor that He is due today so that when that glorious day comes, I am well-practiced and my response is as natural to me as breathing.

Jesus is worthy of so much more than fawning fans.  He is worthy of our focus, our time, our efforts, our service, our friendship, our witness and our worship.  He is worthy of our love.  He is worthy of our lives.  To be a fan of Jesus falls far short what He deserves.  And it falls far short of what He desires for you.  Don’t just be a fan.  Be all-in.

I Promise (part 2)

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“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

I love Hebrews 11 – the great Hall of Faith.  There we see portraits of men and women whose lives were marked by extraordinary faith.  Abel, who gave a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord, and suffered his brother’s wrath.   Enoch, who so pleased God he was spared death and directly taken into heaven. Noah, the ark-builder, who was foolish in the eyes of his neighbors, but wise and obedient in the eyes of God.  There is Abraham who, despite a few stumbles, was called righteous because He believed God for the impossible.  There is Isaac, and Jacob and Joseph – all stalwart in their commitment to faith in God.  The list goes on and on – Moses, Gideon, Samuel and David and even a prostitute – Rahab. The list includes many who were persecuted and martyred, all because they believed God was greater than even their own lives.  These people inspire me and challenge me to endure and live a life of faith.

But there are a couple of verses in this passage that have always given me pause: “All of these people were still living by faith when they died.  The did not receive the things promised; they only saw them from a distance . . .” (v. 13). Go forward a few verses and there it is again: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (v. 39).

Wait. What?

They believed God, obeyed God, gave their lives for their faith in God and still they “did not receive the things promised.”  How does that make sense?

In the modern world, we equate success with outcome.  When we look at these heroes of the faith, we expect to see results, like Moses, who led the Israelites out of bondage and Noah, who obediently built the ark and saved humankind, and David, the slayer of giants who became the King of Israel.  In the world of faith, a successful saint is not always the one who wins.  Hebrews tells us that some of these heroes endured torture, oppression, persecution, prison, poverty, and death – yet they are listed along with these mighty men and women of faith.   They too were “commended for their faith” (Hebrews 11:39).  Why?  Because they believed God.  They believed He is good and righteous and faithful.  And they believed that the outcome of their situation did not change who God is.  As the three Jewish youth in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace said, “The God we serve is able . . . and He will . . . but even if He does not” He would still and always be their God.

Abraham is one who pleased God with his faith.  The Lord told him, “The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:8).   Yet we learn in Acts 7:5 that “[God] gave him no inheritance [in the land], not even a foot of ground” (Acts 7:5).  Still Abraham is commended as a righteous man “because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:11).   Abraham’s faith was grounded in God, not in the ground on which he was standing.

By contrast consider Abraham’s wife Sarah.  She knew about the promise that Abraham would have a son through whom God would build a family and a nation.  She believed the promise, but she didn’t believe God to fulfill it. She turned to the traditions of culture to make the promise a reality and the world is still reeling from it. Her hope was in the outcome not in the Lord.

My friend, the call to faith is not a call to believe God for something; it is a call to believe God. Period.  To believe that He is who He says He is and He able to fulfill his promises.  Genuine faith is in the Promise Maker, not in the promise.  When God says, “I promise . . .” our eyes should always stay fixed on Him, not darting back and forth in search of the thing.  It will come, but in the interim, we must keep our focus on the One who made the promise.  He is the Promise Maker and the Promise Keeper, but the greatest promise He made to Abraham is the same promise He makes to you and me: “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8). That is a promise you can trust.

At the Close of the Year

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“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Tomorrow is the first day of a new year.  Resolutions will be made (and broken within two weeks).  We’ll stock up on salads and blow the dust off the treadmill.  Maybe we’ll crack open Genesis 1 in our determination to read the Bible every day (until we get to Leviticus).  But all that is for tomorrow.

Today is the last day of the old year and while all our efforts for change will launch in the next 24 hours, there is significance to this day too.  I always like to sweep and mop my floors thoroughly on December 31st.  My mom used to say, “We don’t want to walk into the new year on last year’s dirt.”  I think that’s good advice for more than just my house.  That’s good advice for life.

As the year comes to a close, I think it’s good to sweep out the dirt of the past 365 days.  Did you make any mistakes this year?  Me too.  We should keep the wisdom we gained from those mistakes, but let’s sweep out the guilt and shame.  Did you sin at all?  You and I both know we did.  Let’s confess it, receive God’s grace and walk into the new year in freedom. Did someone hurt you this year?  Forgive them and leave it here in the old year. It’s a gift to them and to yourself.  Maybe things just didn’t turn out like you expected.  Let’s toss those unmet expectations and look toward the new year with hope in God.

Our family made a big move this year and a lot of old stuff didn’t come with us.  Today is a good day to unpack some stuff before you move into a fresh new year.  Like resentment and bad attitudes and anger and jealously – you really don’t want to bring those with you, do you?  Let’s put them in the box with old prejudices, bitterness, laziness (ouch, my toes), and selfishness and toss them all in the burn pile.

The new year awaits us with an open calendar and a fresh perspective and all our hopes for God’s good blessings.  But we don’t want to walk in the new year with all the sins and mistakes and hurts of the old year.  Oswald Chambers wisely advises, “Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.”  Tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, let’s leave the past in the past and start the new year with hope and peace and joy.  May the Lord bless you richly in the coming year.

Careless Sheep and the Good Shepherd

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“His eyes never slumber, and His hands never rest; His heart never ceases to beat with love, and His shoulders are never weary of carrying His people’s burdens.”
Charles Spurgeon on Christ Jesus our Shepherd
My favorite “I Am” statement of Jesus is “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  It always reminds me of a painting depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd, that hung in the vestibule of a church I worked at years ago. He is reaching from the side of a cliff to rescue one of His little lambs.  Sheep are notoriously clueless and helpless.  They start grazing and fail to notice when they wander too far from the fold or too close to the edge of a cliff.  They love to graze at the edge of the water because the grass is abundant and lush.  But they step on the slippery rocks and tumble into the water. Their wool becomes so heavy they cannot right themselves or climb out.  If the shepherd doesn’t hear their bleating, they will soon drown.
Sound familiar?  It sure does to me.  I have often wandered from the safety of my shepherd’s side following the lush and tempting grass.  But Jesus never fails to rescue me when I cry out.
I love how, in this painting, Jesus has put Himself in a precarious position to bring His wandering one to safety.  What struck me the most about the painting though was the look on the little lamb’s face – absolute confidence in the Shepherd.  There is no worry or doubt that the Shepherd will rescue her.  She isn’t trying to pull herself up the rocky wall of the cliff, but waits for Him to reach her and bring her to safety.   There is no fear of anger from the Shepherd.  Just trust.   This little lamb knows the Shepherd, knows that He is able to rescue her ,and knows that He loves her.
I don’t know what danger you may have wandered into.  You may be trying to get yourself to safety, too ashamed to cry out for rescue. You wonder if Jesus will come and if He will be angry with you.  Beloved, stop trying to rescue yourself.  Cry out to Jesus – there’s no need to be ashamed. He will come and He is not angry.
The Lord is your Shepherd – whether you are safe in the fold or hanging on the side of a cliff. You are His beloved lamb.

I Can Do All Things . . .

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“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13)

“Let a Christian begin to boast, “I can do all things,” without adding, “through Christ who strengthens me,” and before long he will have to groan, “I can do nothing.” Charles Spurgeon

Philippians 4:13 is one of those favorite “pull-out” verses for believers, and it is a good reminder when we face big tasks.  But do you know this verse in its context?  It really isn’t about strength at all.  It follows up a different principle altogether.

Paul is in prison – and 1st century prisons were nothing like our modern American facilities. There were no cots, no pillows or blankets, and no meals provided. Prisoners slept on hard floors and were at the mercy of others for their basic needs. If family, friends or a kind benevolent soul did not bring them food, they would starve to death in prison. This “strength” verse comes as Paul thanks the Philippian church for their gifts and concern for him.  He wants to assure them that, despite his situation, he is not in despair.  Rather, he says, “I have learned to be content’ whatever the circumstances . . . In any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11-12).  Paul is making a point about contentment.  And he said that the secret behind his unshakable state of contentment is the strength he receives from the Lord.


This is not a power-lifting verse.   It’s not a touchdown verse (and I do love Tim Tebow). It’s a getting through life verse. Paul is not trying to perform great feats of strength – he’s trying to endure his chains.


The beauty of this verse is that the same strength that sustained Paul in prison is there for you and me in the challenges we face every day.  I can do all things . . . be gentle with my frustrating child this morning – face my overly demanding boss – have a Christ-like spirit towards those co-workers who reject my faith – eat beans and hot dogs for supper for the third time this week – bathe my aging parent who can’t remember my name. We don’t just need Christ’s strength in the gym or on the ball field. We need it in our homes and workplaces and relationships.


Beloved, whatever your “all things” is today, God will give you strength, not just to do the thing that needs to be done, but to do it with a heart of contentment, knowing that One who provides the strength also holds you in the palm of His great and loving hand. Yes, you can – through Him.

I am a Child of God!

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.  At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:11-12).
The Father’s words over Jesus came at His baptism, when the Spirit descended on Him as He came up out of the water.  God confirmed that Jesus was His beloved Son, and that He pleased His Father greatly.  It was a tender and powerful moment – and it was a moment of preparation for what was to come.  Mark says that “at once” Jesus was led by the Spirit into the place of temptation.  Matthew fleshes out the account of Jesus fasting for 40 days and Satan throwing temptations at him, which Jesus deflected, shutting the enemy down.
What caught my attention this morning are the words of the Father just before the temptation. Jesus was able to resist and reject Satan because the Father’s words were still ringing in His ears.  “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Beloved, the Father speaks those same words over you and me.  “You are my son, you are my daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  Because we are adopted into the family of God when we believe in Jesus, we become His sons and his daughters.  We are as loved by the Father as was Jesus (John 17:26).  Our faith is pleasing to Him (Hebrews 11:6).
Every day you and I enter a wilderness.  Every day Satan tries to drag us into sin.  He dangles temptation before us like a carrot on a stick.  What if, before your feet hit the floor every morning you remind yourself, “I am God’s son, I am God’s daughter, my Father loves me, and He is well pleased with me.”  Would that make a difference in how you respond to temptation?  I believe it would.  What if, when I sense the devil playing his old tricks again, I spoke those words out loud where he can hear me.  I expect he would tuck tail and run. I believe with that assurance in our hearts and on our lips, you and I will be empowered to stand firm against the enemy.
Beloved, if you are in Christ, you are a child of God – it’s not something you have to earn or measure up to – it is your place.  You have every benefit and blessing of being part of His family.  That includes the right to claim your Father’s love and His pleasure over you.  Don’t let the enemy shake you – stand firm in who you are and Whose you are.

Proven Faith

Image: Melted gold flows out of a smelter into a mould of a bar at a plant of gold refiner and bar manufacturer Argor-Heraeus SA in the southern Swiss town of Mendrisio

Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The most precious [metals] are tested in the fire . . . ” The Psalmist said, “For You, O God tested us; You refined us like silver” (Psalm 66:10). Peter said, “These [trials] have come so that your faith – of great worth than gold . . . may be proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:7)
A “proving ground” is a military term. It is “an environment that serves to demonstrate whether something, such as a theory or product, really works.” Say a company has created something they want to market to the United States military. Do you think Uncle Sam is just going to take their word for it, buy this thing and put it into a soldier’s hands. No – they are going to take it into situations and places in which it will be used and they will put it through rigorous tests. They may discover a weakness and will work on that area to strengthen it. And they’ll test it again. Only after it stands up in the proving grounds will it be put into use.
When God wants to “prove” the faith of His child He uses the fires of adversity, struggle, trial, heartache, disappointment, discouragement . . . I think you understand. When you and I ask God, “What are You doing?” The answer will always be, “I am proving your faith. I am finding the weak places so that I can strengthen you. I am making sure you are fit for the good work I have for you.” God is not out to destroy you beloved, He is working to build your faith. The proving ground is the place where your faith takes root so you can produce fruit – fruit that will last. Fruit that will glorify the one who brought you all the way through the fire.