Hope in Days of Evil

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Another day, another multi-victim shooting, another child abused, another murder, another robbery, beating, and theft. I remember the day when such things were shocking; now they are commonplace. I read just yesterday of a mother who killed her child and I want to ask, “Why?” But I know the answer. Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit. And their actions ushered in sin that has infected the human race at a far greater pace than COVID 19. It is part of our human make-up. It’s even part of our culture. And the Bible makes it clear that it’s only going to get worse.

Jesus said as the time for His return draws near, wickedness will increase, and “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Love – love for what is good – will die and evil and wickedness will grow at alarming rates.

Paul added, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:2-5). Can anyone doubt that we are in the last days?

Does that frighten you? It should if you don’t belong to Jesus Christ. But if you are His, if you have surrendered yourself – heart, mind, soul, and strength – to Him, the state of the world should concern you, but not scare you. It should compel you to share the gospel. It should urge you to live in holiness. It should move you to intervene for the innocent. But it shouldn’t frighten you. Because the increase of wickedness means a decrease in our wait for Christ’s return.

Jesus said when the world turns more and more to evil, and the heavens and the earth react to it (because they are also subject to the curse of sin), we need to look up. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky . . . the nations of the earth . . . will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). And every evil, wicked, sinful thing will be cast out. Yes, these are evil days, and there is likely more to come. But lift up your head, Beloved, that means the Lord is nearer now than ever before.

Finding Joy

I come from a long line of negative women. I love my mom, but she tended to be very pessimistic. She came by it honestly because my grandmother was also. It’s not that any of us had a really bad lot in life, but that was just ingrained in us. Who knows how far back it went in our family. Fast forward several years ago, when a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and as I prayed for her I said, “What a waste of a beautiful life it will be if she dies this young.” And the Lord replied: “No more a waste than if you live for 100 years with a bitter, miserable heart.”

That was like a glass of cold water in my face. I had to make a change, but I wasn’t sure I could do this. To be honest, being miserable became a comfortable, known place. But God started gently through my best friend who began to rain down “Joy” on me. She gave me coffee cups, kitchen towels, figurines, photos, whatever she could find with those three letters emblazoned on them. She said, “I’m going to make you Joyful whether you like it or not.”  Then the Spirit began to direct me to Joyful verses in His Word:

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with Joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with Joy” (Psalm 30:11).

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of Joy” (Psalm 65:8).

“This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Then He pulled out the big guns and send a beautiful little girl into my life named Joy.  She calls me Nana and she lives up to her name. Not that my Joy is in her, but she is a constant reminder that “The Joy of the Lord is [my] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

I don’t know your life or what traits were passed on to you, but I know that in Christ, you can be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Lord can set new patterns in your mind and heart and give you Joy, hope, and peace. If you’re tired of negativity and misery, today can be the start of a new attitude. Come, Beloved, find your Joy in the Lord.

How to Battle Negative Thoughts

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin

I’ve had several conversations recently with ladies who are struggling with oppressive, negative, angry emotions. They are surprised when I tell them that the key is to learn to take control of their thoughts. We tend to focus on our feelings, but forget that those feelings are fed by our thoughts.  And our thoughts can be controlled. Negative thoughts, depressive thoughts, sinful thoughts, angry thoughts can and must be brought into submission. It’s a matter of paying attention to what’s running around in your head.

Psalm 77 was written by Asaph, one of the Temple priests during the Babylonian captivity. The situation seemed hopeless, and this is reflected in his Psalm. In verses 1-9, Asaph lamented God’s apparent rejection of His people. In verse 2 he says “my soul refused to be comforted.” Ever been there? I know I have. But look at verse 10, Asaph turns his mind and heart on a pivot, like a door on its hinges. “Then I thought, to this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the Lord…I will meditate on all Your words” (vs. 10, 11, 12). Did you catch the keyword? Thought. In that moment of despair, Asaph took control of his thoughts and changed the focus of his heart and mind.  He deliberately remembered and meditated instead on the character and deeds of God. And when he opened that door, hope and peace flooded in.

We see the same change of mind in Lamentations 3, which starts out: “I am the man who has seen affliction,” (v.1) and continues for 20 verses saying “my soul is downcast within me” (v. 20).  And then verse 21 begins with that hinge word: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” There’s the clue again “I call to mind.”  Jeremiah’s whole focus and attitude is transformed. A change in his focus changed everything.

Paul said, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Then we take the Philippians 4:8 prescription – I’ll let you look that up. It’s how we battle mental negativity. Beloved, the only sure way to find peace in seasons of struggle is to intentionally turn your thoughts to God, to wrap His Words around you like a comforter, and trust in His love, faithfulness, and peace to carry you through.

When God Says “No.”

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“We’re going to pray, and God will give us the funds for this new building,” the preacher bellowed, and the crowd, whipped into a frenzy shouted their agreement. “Yes!” “Amen!” “Hallelujah!” I, however, did not. The woman beside me said, “What’s the matter? Don’t you believe God can do it?” “Oh, I believe God can do it, I just don’t believe He’s obligated to do it.”  She looked at me like I had two heads and turned her back to me. Please don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely believe that God answers prayers – He’s answered more than a few of mine recently.  But some of my prayers are still hanging, and for some of my prayers, the answer was “No.” God knew better. God always answers according to what He knows is better – what fits His good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Sometimes that means we don’t get what we pray for. Even Jesus got a “No” from His Father.

In our last Hebrews devotional, I left you in the Garden of Gethsemane, listening to Jesus plead with His Father, “Take this cup from me . . .” Let’s leave quietly and head back to Hebrews 5 to see how it came out. The writer said, “He was heard.” Jesus’ word did not fall to the ground nor fall on deaf ears. His Father heard His prayers and pleading. So Jesus got what He wanted, right? After all, the Father listened to His Son “because of His reverent submission” (v.7b). Yet you know the rest of the story. God said “No” to Jesus. And He knew He would – the eternal fate of the entire human race hung in the balance. If God had saved Jesus from the cross, you and I would be lost forever.

What do we do with those “Nos?” The same thing Jesus did. “He learned obedience from what He suffered,” (v. 8a). We accept the “No” as coming from the heart of our loving, gracious, all-knowing Father and submit to Him in obedience without grumbling. Are we disappointed? Sure – and we can take that disappointment right back to Him and say, “I’m surrendering this to You because I trust You, but my heart is hurting.” God honors honesty and “He heals the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147:3).  Whether the answer is “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait,” you can trust the heart of your Father, Beloved. It’s the same heart that said “No” to His Son so that He could say “Yes” to you.

Does God Ever Get Tired of Me?

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Which is harder to deal with – a big storm in your life or lots of ongoing frustrations? On the Sea of Galilee, fishermen are constantly on guard for storms. A big storm raging on the lake can overwhelm the strongest fishermen and take out a whole fleet of boats. But equally destructive are the constant waves that are driven across the sea’s surface by the wind, slap, slap, slapping the side of the boat. They wear away the boat’s hull and can eventually bring the boat down.

Sometimes life hits us with an unexpected crisis – the sudden death of a loved one, a health crisis, a job loss, a betrayal – we are overwhelmed and shell-shocked. We need the support of our friends and family. We need prayer. We need help. And thankfully the Body of Christ meets those needs. I can’t imagine where I would be without my church family and Christian friends. But for many of us, the damage comes from a continual struggle, that long-term problem that slap, slap, slaps us day after day after day. The wayward child, an ongoing health issue, the juggle of too many responsibilities, financial struggles, or a frustrating work situation. We still need support and prayer and help, but we’re hesitant to keep asking – or maybe just too weary to talk about it anymore. We feel like we’re just a cumbersome weight. Oh, I know this one well.

But “The Lord will not grow tired or weary . . .” (Isaiah 40:28). His patience never wears thin. He never sighs when we approach His throne of grace with our hands full of needs. He doesn’t dodge us because He’s tired of hearing our woes. I have often come to him over an issue I’ve struggled with for many years, saying, “Father, I know You’ve heard this before . . .” and I sense Him saying, “Yes, but I don’t mind if you tell me again.”

The Bible tells us to “cast all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He will bear the weight of your burdens – and you. What concerns you, Beloved, concerns God because He loves you. He cares about the big storms and He cares about the constant daily battles. If you’re like me, that’s very good news.

Word of Life

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Years ago, in a Ladies’ Bible study class, I asked, “Do I have to read the Bible? Can’t I just read books about the Bible? It’s so hard to understand.” I will never forget the leader’s answer: “Yes, you need to read the Bible. You need to know what God said, not someone’s interpretation. Never take anyone else’s word for what God has said but God Himself.”  You’ve probably heard me say that a time or two. It made an indelible impression on me and want it to have the same effect on you.

Thankfully, about twenty-five years ago God gave me an overwhelming passion to study the Bible. It has not gone away. It is my life’s purpose and mission. I took to heart: Deuteronomy 32:47 – “These are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” I intend to read and study the Bible until I draw my final breath.

Why? Because it is full of wisdom, power, truth, discipline, and insight. Because it teaches me, corrects me, encourages, chastens, strengthens, and humbles me. Because the Word of God is alive and full of the Spirit of God and reveals the heart of God. Because it is a Word of beauty and grace and peace and hope and Joy.

And because it is the only weapon I have to fend off the enemy of my soul. Jesus used this same sword when the devil came to tempt Him. In the face of every temptation, He said, “It is written . . .” and He resisted the devil at every turn with the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 4:1-10).  I need that kind of power because His enemy is my enemy too. If the Holy Word was good enough for Jesus, it’s certainly good enough for me.

John MacArthur wisely said, “Make sure Satan has to climb over a lot of Scripture to get to you.” I’m surrounding myself with God’s Word and filling my heart and mind with its truth so that I am protected from without and within.

What is your strategy for dealing with the devil? If it doesn’t involve the Word of God you are sure to fall. Beloved, you need to get into the Bible and let the Bible get into you. Let it sink its roots deep into your heart. Let it surround you. Because these are not just idle words for you—they are your life.

Bootstrap Faith

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Do you have bootstrap faith? You know, when you are down and out and others say, “You’ve just got to pick yourself up by your bootstraps!” It was the psychology of my younger years – when life is tough you get tougher. (Modern psychology says your problems are someone else’s fault and you are entitled to compensation while you roll around in self-pity. But I digress.) You have to reach deep down inside yourself and grab on to your fortitude and strength and get on up out of that pit. After all, don’t we admire those who make something out of themselves from nothing but sheer grit and determination?  If you will it hard enough, you can do it!

So what happens when you realize you don’t have any bootstraps and you are all out of strength and fortitude and grit and determination? What do you do when you can’t carry the burdens another step? When your will just won’t anymore?

The Lord declared to His people, “I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). In all my years of reading the Bible from cover to cover, I never once found Him scolding His people for depending on Him too much. But He sure chastised them for pushing Him away and trying to handle life on their own. He doesn’t expect you and me to carry our burdens alone. Those weights become very heavy. Health burdens. Financial burdens. Relational burdens. Burdens of loneliness, depression, fear, failure, responsibility, and we could go on and on. I have mine and you have yours. And God promises to carry us through them all.

The reason you can’t find your bootstraps is because it is God who will lift you up. It is God who will reach down to pull you up out of the pit. It is God’s strength and fortitude that will carry you – and your burdens. It’s time to stop trying to do it all on your own, and let God be your Rescuer and your Strength. He is not only able to carry you, Beloved, it is His delight and Joy.

Hebrews: Jesus – The Forever High Priest

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I used to be so star-struck when I was younger. I bought every magazine that would tell me all about my favorite singers and actors. I watched every award show and marveled at the beautiful people. Then I grew up. I began to see how egotistical these stars were. I lost interest in the glory-hogs of the entertainment world. Those who seek fame and notice will gladly sell their soul to get it.  I wish we could say that preachers and people in ministry are immune to the lure of fame, but we know that’s not the case.

In our last Hebrews devotional, we discussed the calling of the priestly line of Levi and especially of the high priest. The author said, “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God” (5:4). The office of the high priest became increasingly political as foreign rulers appointed high priests who would best serve their purposes. But Jesus was called to the position.  “So Christ did not take upon Himself the glory of becoming a high priest” (v. 5). Jesus didn’t go after the position of the high priest out of ego or political ideology, but, in keeping with the nature of the role, out of humility and obedience. The author quoted a verse from the Psalms: “You are my Son, today I have become your Father” (v. 5b; also Psalm 2:7). This is a reference to the resurrection of Jesus which authenticated His claim to be the Son of God. He also identified Jesus as “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (v. 6; also Psalm 110:4). Melchizedek was an Old Testament king and priest who appeared in the account of Abraham in Genesis 14:18-20. We’ll dig into his story in chapter 7, but the point is that Jesus, like Melchizedek, was appointed to the priesthood – and in Jesus’ case anointed as a high priest by God Himself. The high priest served until his death – but Jesus is alive forever so His priesthood lives on eternally. That means in His role as high priest He forever advocates for us before the Father (1 John 2:1). I find a lot of comfort in that because I am very human in my weaknesses and failures.

Beloved, you are never without your great high priest. When you fall, Jesus leans over to the Father, shows Him the scars on His hands, and says, “She’s covered by my blood.” I believe that makes the Father smile.

Not a Christian Nation Anymore

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Like many of you, I have watched with sadness the declining influence of the church on the nation. I have also grieved the decline of the church itself. While it is by no means dead, it is quite ill. It has replaced the true gospel with the junk food of social justice, pop-psychology, and “God wants everyone to be happy” theology. It has drunk the wine of complacency, apathy, and laziness. It has become addicted to the drug of the culture, “tolerance.” It is nothing like the church of my youth.  

I grew up in the 60’s. It was much easier to be a “Christian” in those days. It was what was expected. If you went to church, the culture smiled on you. Even those who didn’t go to church had a sense of respect for those that did. But that’s not the world we live in anymore. I miss the time when right was right and wrong was wrong and everyone knew the first three verses of Amazing Grace. But while the Christianization of America looked good on the outside, it was not all good. It was akin to the reign of Constantine in the 2nd century A.D. when, because of the Emperor’s Christian zeal, every citizen born in the Roman Empire was deemed a “Christian.” The true heart of a Christ-follower was long forgotten as the populous did what was expected.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). What is the will of the Father? “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40). The will of the Father, the mark of a true Christ-follower was not to sit in a church pew, but to believe in Christ.

The de-Christianization of America may be the best thing that ever happened to God’s people. As the culture takes a deeper hold on the church the faithful will be pushed out and ostracized. Only pure-hearted Christ-loving believers will stand firm. And just as happened throughout the history of the church, God will use the world’s hatred as a purifying fire to burn away the dross and bring out the gold. Those who kneel before Christ today will stand firm in the face of persecution tomorrow. What will it be for you, Beloved?

Hebrews: Church Secretaries and High Priests

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Me and Carol Dehner hard at work at Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church

I worked in church administration for more than 25 years. I often considered myself a Levite. Levi, one of the sons of Jacob, would become the priestly line for all of Israel. It was “the family business.” God called Aaron to be the first high priest, his sons to be “assistant” priests, and the remaining Levites to be their assistants “doing the work at the Tent of Meeting” (Numbers 8:19). They managed the mundane details of the tabernacle so Aaron and his sons could perform sacrifices and offerings to the Lord. Like a Levi, I was the creator of bulletins and newsletters, handler of mail, and keeper of the membership records. I freed up the pastor to focus on the ministry of the Word, care of the members, and leading the church as God directed. It was not the weighty stuff the pastor did, but it helped the church run (fairly) smoothly.

Like a pastor, the high priest had a serious responsibility and it was not a job for just anyone. It was a divinely given role. In our ongoing study of Hebrews, the writer said, “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin.” (Hebrews 5:1). It was the most important position in Israel. The high priest represented the people before God and represented God before the people. In addition to interceding for them, He also taught them about righteousness. “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray,” (v. 2a). Because of who he represented, the high priest was expected to be holy – to be set apart from the common and certainly from sin. But at the end of the day, he was still a flesh-and-blood man like every other man. Listen to the second half of verse 2-3: “since himself is subject to weakness.” The high priest had ”to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.”

A Christian pastor is likewise called to his position. “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was” (v. 4). After many years of working with pastors, I can testify to the fact that it is not a job; it is a holy calling. (I could rant about pastors not being fit for the position, but I won’t.)

You’re probably wondering, what does my career and an OT history lesson have to do with the church today? I’m glad you asked, and I will answer – in our next Hebrews devotional.