A Gift From God

Several sweet ladies did something kind and generous for me this week. They not only met my need, but they encouraged me greatly with their love. They were a gift from God to me. The Father loves to give gifts to His children. James said, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . .” (Jas 1:17). The foundation of the Christian faith is the gift of Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Eight times in His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus speaks to His Father of “those you have given me.” (John 17: 2, 6, 9, 11-12, 24). The word for “given” means to bestow a gift. It’s the same word used in John 3:16. The great pastor and scholar Elmer Towns said: “As Jesus is the Father’s gift of love to the world, believers are the Father’s gift of love to Christ.” Imagine that. If you and I are in Christ, the Father has presented us to His Son as a gift to express His love. I am stunned and overwhelmed by that thought.

I always believed I was just a burden to Jesus. The Scriptures are clear, He went to the cross because there was no other way to save me. It had to be done. But when I began studying the Bible deeply I realized that Jesus endured the cross with Joy (Heb 12:2). Oh, I know my sins weighed heavy on his shoulders. I know it was an excruciatingly painful death He experienced on my behalf. But the picture the writer painted in this verse is that Jesus looked into heaven and saw my face there – and yours – and that gave Him Joy.

I’ve struggled my whole life with a low sense of myself and I know I’m not alone in that. Life has a way of beating us down. It’s hard to hold your head up when you’ve been told from childhood all the things that are wrong with you and how you fail to measure up. Beloved, Jesus doesn’t see you as a burden He has to bear. He sees you as a gift He Joyfully received from His Father. And everybody loves a gift – even Jesus.

Hebrews: See You on the Mountain

When last we met over the book of Hebrews I told you about my childhood neighbor, Mr. Estes. Tall, broad-shouldered, and gruff of voice. I was terrified of him. One day I kicked my ball to my friend and it rolled across the road, down his driveway, through the open gate, and into his backyard. Right where he was watering Mrs. Estes’ plants. It stopped when it bumped his foot. Well, that’s one ball I would never see again. Petra was so terrified she ran back to her house at the end of the street. I started walking toward my house when I heard him call out to me. At least his lips were moving, but it wasn’t his gruff voice. This voice was kind and gentle. “Hey little girl, your ball rolled over here. Come get it, I’ll meet you at the end of the driveway.” Something in this different voice told me I could trust him and so I cautiously walked over. He handed me the ball and then asked me about school and my baby brother and stuck his hand in his pocket to pull out a butterscotch candy – my favorite.  We stood there for several minutes chatting and when I walked back to my yard I had a new friend who always kept a pocket full of butterscotchies for me.

The writer of Hebrews had talked about Mount Sinai, the mountain on which God descended with “fire, darkness, gloom, and storm” and the fearsome voice of the Lord (Heb 12:18-21). But he contrasted that mountain with another – Mount Zion. “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.  You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in Joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb 12:22-23a). Mount Zion is a reference to the heavenly Jerusalem that will be the eternal home for all God’s people in the coming age. This is the place that John saw in Revelation 21:1-2. Unlike Mount Sinai, Mount Zion was a place of absolute Joy – “the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (v. 23b ).

Here we will be welcome to approach God – not just in prayer (Heb 10:22) but physically – even face to glorious face. This is where believers will dwell in the presence of God, where we can once again walk in the cool of the day with our Creator (Gen 3:8). This is where my mom and dad and brother wait for me. This is where I will meet my heroes of the Bible: Deborah, Dorcas, Anna, and Ezra. And this is where I will throw my arms around my Savior’s neck and thank Him for saving a wretch like me. I have a question for you: Will I see you there too? Beloved, is your name written in heaven?

Say Your Prayers

Do you believe God answers prayers? How about your prayers? Do you believe God even hears you when you pray? I think about the mighty prayer warriors of the church. People like George Mueller, an evangelist and the director of Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England. Mueller lived on his knees. Anytime a need arose at the orphanage he didn’t make a public plea for help – he prayed. On one occasion, thanks were given for breakfast when all the children were sitting at the table even though there was nothing to eat in the house. As they finished praying, the baker knocked on the door with sufficient fresh bread to feed everyone, and the milkman gave them plenty of fresh milk because his cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. That’s giving thanks for your daily bread – even before you get it.

I also think about the saints in the Bible. They never walked away from prayer doubting God had heard and would answer. David said, “In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation” (Ps 5:3). David prayed and then he waited, but it wasn’t waiting with anxiety, it was waiting with the expectation that God heard and God would act on his behalf. The New King James Version of Psalm 5:3 says, “I will look up in expectation.” I will not look around at my circumstances.  I will not look for ways to answer my prayers myself. I will look to the One to whom I am praying and I will keep looking at Him until He answers.

I believe the key for David and George Mueller is that both men knew to whom they were praying and they knew that the Lord would be faithful. That sounds so simple, doesn’t it? This is one of those devotionals I’m really writing to myself because I so often follow up my prayers with worry. Did He hear me? Did I say all the right things in the right way?  Will He or won’t He? All those questions add up to one: “Can I trust Him.” David and George Mueller and a host of other saints will tell you without hesitation, “YES!” And when I look back over my life, when I read my old prayer journals and see the history of God’s faithfulness in my life, I can say the same. You can trust God, Beloved, say your prayers, and keep looking up.

Just Tell Them About Jesus

Several years ago we made a trip to North Carolina for the wedding of our son in the faith. We rented a car and my husband was excited to find it had built-in GPS. I, however, was not as thrilled. I didn’t trust that thing. Now I depend on mine like a man depends on oxygen, but this was my first personal encounter with one. Fearing it would fail us, I printed out turn-by-turn directions from MapQuest as a “back-up.” All was fine until we got into Tennessee. My directions wanted to take us one way and the GPS wanted to go another. I expressed my concerns forcefully and my husband reluctantly followed my directions. Big mistake. Instead of bypassing Chattanooga, we ended up going right through it and adding time to our trip we could have avoided. Hubby stopped for gas outside of the city and threw my printed directions away. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Do not attempt to use MapQuest to second-guess the GPS. Frustration will follow.

Including in our faith life. Paul confronted the church in Galatia saying, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Gal 3:1). Someone had come to these believers and preached “a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” causing confusion and “perverting the gospel of Christ” (1:7). Paul’s gospel was simple: Christ was crucified to redeem man from sin and death. He alone gives life to all who believe in Him. The infiltrators were insisting that salvation required adherence to the Mosaic law of circumcision. Paul said, “No!” These are “human commands and teachings that are destined to fail” (Col 2:21-22).

The current version of Christianity tells us we have to say all the right things, think only positive, affirming thoughts, keep a smile on our face, have perfectly behaved kids, and know all the correct church lingo to “prove” our place in God’s people. It’s time to stop. Stop all the rules and expectations and get back to the sweet simplicity of the gospel of Christ Jesus who gave His life to set us free – nothing more and nothing less. Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient to save. There is nothing you or I can add to make it better.

I’m convinced that the world refuses to listen to the church today because we’re still all about the “dos and don’ts.” But they will listen to the gospel. Just give them Jesus, Beloved. That’s all the world needs.

How Can I Know . . .

When God called Abram He promised him descendants and land. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you” (Gen 12:2). When Abram settled in the land of Canaan the Lord said “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. Go walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Gen 13:14-17). Later the Lord spoke to him in a vision and reassured him of the promise. He told him that his offspring would be impossible to count – like the stars in the sky. And “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).

Then God told him “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Gen 15: 5, 7). And what was Abram’s response?  “Oh Sovereign Lord, how can I know . . . ?” (Gen 15:8). From faith to doubt. Sound familiar? It does for me. I will believe God in the morning and be anxious by the afternoon. I can watch God work wonders on my behalf and wonder if He will come through for me in the next crisis. I have read His promises, even written them down, and forgotten them in the firey moment.

But let’s answer Abram’s question, “How can I know . . . ?” First, he was standing on the very land God had promised to give him – “this land” (v. 7). It was the same promise he had made at the beginning of Abram’s journey, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Gen 12:7-italics added). The land on which your sandals are resting, Abram. The land I had you walk through, Abram.

Secondly, because of who made the promise. The Lord, God Most High. The Creator of heaven and earth (Gen 14:22). The Sovereign Lord (Gen 15:2, 8). The One who had called him. The one he had followed all over Arabia. The same God that you can trust to keep His promises to you too. But you have one advantage that Abram didn’t. You have the cross of Jesus Christ. Because God’s ultimate promise of salvation was fulfilled there. God keeps His promises, Beloved. Every. Single. One.

Hebrews: The Blood of the Lamb

As a Christian, I am fascinated by the history of Israel and the people of the Jewish faith – after all my Savior was a Jew. Every person God used in Israel’s history has an important story to tell. Like the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the great kings, David and Solomon. And don’t forget the rescuer of the Hebrew people. Every Jewish person knows the story of Moses. Christians who want to know the Lord better should too because he was a “type” of Christ, an early example of Jesus and His ministry. Maybe that’s why the writer of Hebrews devoted so much of “the Hall of Faith” to telling his story.

One point of Moses’ story that most parallels Jesus is in the Passover – an eight-day festival that celebrates the Jews’ escape from Egypt. It especially remembers the protection of the Lord from the tenth plague when God sent the death angel to every house in the land, and every firstborn son was slain – unless the mark was present. This is where Moses stood tall. “By faith, he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel” (Heb 11:28). It’s not just a dramatic story for Cecil B. DeMille’s movie. It is the most powerful, important truth in human history: personal deliverance only comes through the blood of the Lamb.

The Passover (pesach) lamb, a spotless, yearling, was slain and the blood was applied to “the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses” (Ex 12:7). When the “destroyer of the firstborn” went through Egypt, he “passed over” the Hebrews’ homes where the blood was applied. Consider the placement of the blood – on the top and sides of the door frame. Think about the cross where Jesus’ bloodied head and hands were positioned. The blood on the door frames foretold the blood of Jesus – the Lamb of God – on the cross.

What does all this mean for you? It means that if you have been covered by that blood, you are spared the condemnation due all sinful people. Moses had faith that the blood of the paschal lamb was enough to save the people. You and I can have faith that the blood of Jesus is enough to save us. God has made the way through the blood of the Lamb. He did it for His people. He did it for you, Beloved.

Just Wait

What’s the hardest part of the Christian life? Dealing with the culture that has rejected God? Dealing with loved ones that have rejected God? Surrendering long-held sinful desires? Establishing holy habits of Bible study and prayer? Telling others about Jesus? Obedience? Yes to all of the above. But the one that is most challenging for me is waiting. You’ve experienced it too. We’re in good company. From Noah waiting in the Ark to Jospeh waiting in prison to Abraham waiting for the promised child, to David waiting to take his God-given throne, to Daniel in the lion’s den, waiting is a common struggle. It’s one of the biggest tests of our faith.

I have a friend who is dealing with a situation in her marriage, one she and I are praying over fiercely. God has told her to wait on Him to act. She’s trying. But she gets anxious and takes it on herself to try to turn him around. We recently talked about her latest attempt to force the change she so wants to see, and as expected, it only frustrated her husband and left her discouraged. “What was the last thing God said to you about it?” I asked. “Wait,” she said. “Did “Did He tell you He needed your help?” “No.” “Then wait. Just wait.”

David wrote a Psalm that is filled with good counsel as we wait. He said, “Do not fret,” “Trust in the Lord,” “do good,” Delight yourself in the Lord,” “Commit your way to Him,” “Be still,” “be patient,” “hope in the Lord,” “keep His way” (Psalm 37). Never once does he say, “worry about it,” “argue over it,” “take matters into your own hands,” “make it happen.”  

Here’s what I know from years of Bible study and especially from my own life. God never tells His child to wait for no reason. Waiting always means there’s something on the other end worth waiting for. That’s why we can have hope and trust in the waiting. Because we know that He is faithful. That’s how we can wait patiently.

I don’t know what you’re waiting for. But I know that God has never failed. Not in thousands of years of human history. Not in 61 years of my life. It may not happen as fast as you want, but if God tells you to hang on, Beloved, it will happen. Just “wait a little longer” (Rev 6:11).

The Father’s Love

“But his father saw him . . . and he ran to his son (Luke 15:17)

I recently read again the parable of the Lost Son from Luke 15.  You know this kid; he took his Daddy’s money and ran to the big city to waste it on wine, women, and song. When the money ran out, he decided to head back home. You could probably name all the sermon points. But there are some details in this story that often get missed. Let me put this in its bigger context. In the culture of the middle-eastern, first-century world, the son’s request was shocking and rebellious and revealed a lack of love for the father. When the son asked for his share of the inheritance, he was, in essence, telling his father, “I wish you were dead.” He wanted his money and the old man was standing in his way. The father gave the son what he wanted and allowed him to go on his merry way – no doubt brokenhearted as he envisioned the life his son was running toward.

Fast-forward to a hungry, humbled young man shuffling his way back on the road that led home. Here is the beautiful part of this story. When the father saw the boy, “a long way off,” he ran to him. In order to run, the father would have had to lift the skirt of his tunic and robe and tuck them into his belt, exposing his legs. This was just as shocking as the son’s request. Elderly middle-eastern men did not undignify themselves in this way unless it was of the greatest urgency – a matter of life and death. And it was. The son’s return would also be noticed by the townspeople and they would follow the Levitical law which commanded that a rebellious son be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The father humiliated himself to save his son’s life.

Now, do you see the heart of your heavenly Father? Knowing the punishment due you for your sins, He sent His own Son to be humiliated, stripped, beaten, and killed to save you. Beloved, if you’ve turned away from God and run after the world your story isn’t done. Your Father is scanning the horizon for you, to bring you back to Himself. He loves you, no matter what you’ve done. Won’t you come home to God?

The Providence of God

I caught myself the other day thinking, “If I could change one thing about my past…” The problem is I found a lot of things. Choices. People. Places. Priorities. Desires.  I’ll bet you can finish that sentence with a few thoughts of your own. Who hasn’t lamented something in their past? For some, the choices were huge and life-altering. For others, they were moments, that while not quite as monumental, we wish we could do over. I have spent so much time living with regrets, living in the “if only’s,” and wishing I had made wiser decisions, or that circumstances had turned out differently. I have discovered that when I live in constant regret I set myself up for a very sad life.

But I am learning to trust in the sovereign providence of God. Those are words we don’t use much in our contemporary religion, but they are powerful. In the original Hebrew, the word combination has a rich and significant meaning. The word “sovereign” speaks to God’s rightful authority as Creator over nature, nations, mankind, and individual lives. Likewise, the word “providence” is speaking to God’s charge over everything He has made – including you and me.  The root word means “to pay attention, to care for, to be in charge of.” This is His tender, loving oversight as our Good Shepherd and Heavenly Father. God has pledged to pay attention to you, to care for you, and to be in charge of your life – not as a dictator – but as One who seeks always and only what is best for you. Job 10:12 expresses this duality beautifully. “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in Your providence watched over my spirit.” The combination of terms tells us that God is always looking out on your behalf, knows what you need and He has the authority to move heaven and earth to accomplish all things for you – because He loves you.

If you have grieved over your past, know that Your sovereign, providential Father has been watching over and caring for you all along. In His hands, the very thing that caused you the most pain can be the seed for a whole new life. Beloved, God loves you too much to waste the struggles of your life. He has a plan. He has a purpose. And He has you in the palm of His great hand.

Hebrews: By faith Abraham . . .

“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

As I meditate on Hebrews 11:17-19 (grab your Bible and read it) two questions come to mind: Why would God make such a horrific demand of Abraham and why would Abraham obey it? As I pondered those questions, two points emerge about Abraham and Isaac’s story.

To the first question, the author says that “God tested [Abraham],” (v. 17) and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” The word “tested” actually has two meanings: to temp or to examine. How can you know which is happening? The difference is in the tester’s purpose: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no desire of making the believer fail. God was examining Abraham’s willingness to obey Him, even in the most difficult requests.  Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case, you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

As to Abraham’s part, I never understood how he could willingly sacrifice his son until I studied his story alongside this Hebrews passage and Romans 4:18 – 20: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”  Did you catch it? Abraham believed the promise because of Who made it. He fully expected that God would still build a nation through Isaac and that meant Isaac would have to live. In his reasoning, he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead after the deed was done. But God stayed his hand at the last moment and provided a replacement sacrifice instead. The point is that Abraham’s faith was not in the promise – it was in the Promise-maker. And so must ours be.

Those are two solid truths you can build your life upon. God will never test you to make you fail and He will never make a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. Abraham is known for his great faith. Beloved, are you? Am I?