Hebrews: 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.

2020 From Higher Up

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to struggle to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.

This has been a hard year for all of us, full of change, frustration, and disappointment.  We hate the masks.  We miss hugs. We want to get together with friends and family. Kids are isolated, trying to learn from a computer screen. Many people have lost their jobs and businesses because of shut-downs. We are sadly watching our seniors wilt away from loneliness. Fear and fatigue have gripped the world. For me, the hardest part of this year was knowing my brother died alone in a hospital after a motorcycle accident; we were not permitted in the facility to be with him. Many shared the same heartache.

How do we deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? We have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair or approach it from a higher perspective. David’s Psalm speaks volumes to us: “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). David wanted to view his circumstances from a higher perspective – from God’s vantage point.  What a difference it makes when we do the same. Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of this. But I learning more and more to climb up on the Rock that never fails.

I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your ability to face it with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near or distant, as caring or unconcerned. Beloved, God is in this with you. He is faithful. You can trust Him. He is you Rock – a high place on which you can stand. Climb up and watch Him work wonders.

Small Hopes and a Big God

Their heads were down and their posture was dejected. Their gait was labored as if they carried an invisible burden – perhaps even the weight of the world. Their conversation was low, words heavy with grief and despair. Then a stranger came among them – obviously, from a far-away land for he did not know about the recent dramatic events. Events that were heartbreaking to them. They sadly told him the story of the prophet who had come and raised the expectations of a subjected people, giving them something they had not had in many, many years. They told the stranger,  “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). This Jesus had given them hope. Hope – like oxygen – is essential to maintain a healthy life. Yet it is a fragile thing that can be easily destroyed by a gathering storm cloud, a discouraging word, or, for these grieving disciples, a cross and an empty tomb.

I understand their sadness – I expect you do too. Because we have all hoped for things that never came to be. We hoped for a good report from the Doctor only to be met with a sad look in his eyes. We hoped for an opportunity that passed us by. We hope our wayward child will come to their senses. We hope the baby to settle down and finally go to sleep. Yet the prodigal still wanders, and the baby cries through the night. We hope for an end to the struggles, the pandemic, the violence, and hatred. Yet hope seems so far away.

Perhaps that is because we are hoping for small things, for temporal things. There is only one sure hope in all the universe: hope in God. Not in an outcome, but in God Himself. Because hope in God is vast and limitless. it is deep and high and wide and eternal. It is boundless and breathtaking.

Redeem Israel? Such a small hope. God had bigger plans. Jesus is the One who redeemed the whole world! Beloved, isn’t it time to hand your small hopes over to the Lord and put your trust in the limitless, boundless, eternal God?

Give Careful Thought

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Repetition in the Scriptures is like a holy highlighter.  I keep going back to Haggai – the short 2-chapter Old Testament book of prophecy because I cannot shake a powerful repetition here that we should not ignore. In these 38 verses, God repeats three words five times: “give careful thought” (1:5, 7, 2:15, and twice in 18). They are all situated in the same general context. “Give careful thought” to what is happening to you and around you. They are a word of chastisement amid the encouragement we talked about a couple of days ago (9/2/20)

Haggai declared in these passages “You plant much but harvest little. You eat and drink, but are never full. You put on clothes, but cannot get warm, You earn wages, but you have holes in your pockets” “You expected much, but it turned out to be little.” “You thought you had plenty, but you did not.” (paraphrased). Even the crops had failed. Why? “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house” (1:9). Remember that these were exiles returning from 70 years of  Babylonian captivity to find Jerusalem was decimated. After a good start, the people abandoned the temple restoration and instead rebuilt their own homes. There they stayed, settled and lethargic.

I know – you’re wondering when this is going to turn into the encouraging word for today. Well, today the word is  “give careful thought.” The Israelites needed to “give careful thought” as to why they were finding disappointment in every endeavor. It was because they had turned away from wholehearted obedience to God to serve themselves. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that this is the condition of the U.S. And a glance in the mirror tells me this is often the cause of my own issues as well. It never fails that when I don’t seek the kingdom of God first, things start to fall apart. Just a gentle suggestion here: might your struggles – like mine – have their roots in disobedience? Notice that the Israelites didn’t stomp their feet and shake their fist at God in rebellion.  They just got more involved in their own stuff and slowly shifted their focus. Beloved, do you need to “give careful thought” to what’s happening in you and around you? The best part is – when we turn back to wholehearted obedience, blessings follow.

And if He Does Not . . .

I prayed every day for three weeks. We thought he was going to make it. He endured three surgeries and overcame so many obstacles to recovery. But last Friday – three weeks to the day after his motorcycle accident, my brother passed away. So many of you were part of the roller coaster ride and my family and I are so very grateful for your prayers. You were as shocked as we were when we got the sad report. My brilliant, funny, talented, annoying brother with the dry wit and crooked teeth is gone. There will be no more Mark Twain quotes. No more rants about the crooked government. No more picking on his sister. No second book for his new series – Bracken and Platt are forever silenced.

I prayed so hard and believed God for a miracle. After all, He is Jehovah Rapha – the God who heals. He could heal my brother. He could mend all his broken bones. He could restore his neurological function. He could save his life. He could shield me and my family and his children and friends from this grief and pain. But He didn’t. God took Jim home and our hearts are broken.

But He is still God and He is still good. And I still trust Him with my heart and my soul and my life and the lives of those I love.  Like the three Jewish young men in Babylon who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue, I know that “the God I serve is able” . . .“but even if He does not . . .”[1] I will never stop believing. I will never stop trusting. I will never stop loving. I will never stop worshiping. My brother is gone, but the next time I see him – and my mom – it will be forever.
No one is promised tomorrow. Hug your loved ones today Beloved.

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[1]. Daniel 3:16-18.

Is God Disappointed in Me?

 

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“I don’t want to mess up and disappoint God,” my friend said. “I guess I should say I don’t want to disappoint Him again. I’ve done it so many times already.”

“You can’t disappoint God,” I replied. She looked at me with her head slightly tilted to one side.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Think about it – if you were to disappoint me that would mean you behaved in a way I didn’t expect. You can’t do anything God didn’t expect. He has perfect knowledge of your life and everything you are going to do. You can’t disappoint Him.”

One of the most comforting things God has revealed to me is that I can never take Him by surprise. I can’t catch Him off-guard. I can’t make Him wring His hands in heaven, lamenting a choice I’ve made that has derailed all His plans for my life. As I’ve seen on social media: “God has already factored my stupidity into my destiny.”

David said it a little nicer: “O Lord, you have searched me and You know me” (Psalm 139:1). He said God knows when you sit, when you lie down, and when you rise, He knows your every thought (Yikes!), and every word before you speak it. He knows where you are at all times (remember Jonah?). He is ‘familiar with all [your] ways” (v. 3b). He knows you because He created you. Before your mother ever suspected she was pregnant, God not only knew you existed, He knew everything about you (vs. 13-16). Your childhood skinned knees, your first day of school, your teenage rebellion, when you would fall in love, the address of the house you live in right now. He knew about the sins too – the alcohol, the drugs, the abortion, the affair, the divorce. And get this: He loved you.

I am the queen of mistakes. I have enough regrets to sink a battleship. I have confessed and repented and received God’s forgiveness. And I have peace that God has never worried about what I’m going to do next. Not only does He know, but He has already figured out how He can make work with it in His good plan for my life.

I’ll let David sum this up for us: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (v. 16). Take this to heart Beloved, God will never be disappointed in you.

Christmas is Real Hope for Real Life

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He gave her a hug and pressed some folded bills into her hand. “I know this is a hard time, but God is going to come through for you. He has always come through for me.” The woman thanked the man then sighed, “I hope so. I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this.” Hope is a necessary thing, almost as essential to the spirit as oxygen is to the lungs. When every breath is a struggle the heart strains to keep beating, the mind becomes dull, and the smallest task becomes a huge challenge. It seems easier to just sit life out than to push to keep moving. When hope fades, our spirit is weakened, we become disheartened, our thoughts forlorn. When life is hard, hope seems more of a desperate gesture than a sure belief.

That’s why the Bible presents hope as a confident conviction. Micah saw the gathering storm clouds of hardship on the horizon. Judgment was coming to Jerusalem because of her sin. Hope seemed futile in the face of imminent oppression. But Micah hoped anyway saying, “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me” (Micah 7:7). He understood the reality of their troubles, but he also knew the faithfulness of God. What was the root of his conviction? His hope was not in an outcome – his hope was in the Lord. And it was not a desperate hope – hope in this sense means to wait in expectation. Because his hope was in God, and because he knew God’s character, he knew with a confident assurance that God would hear and act on his behalf. Even though the situation looked grim, Micah hoped in the Lord and “hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:5). Isn’t it interesting that Micah also offered these words: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2). You might recognize this as the prophecy of the coming Messiah. No wonder Micah had such confident hope.

Beloved, if hope is in short supply right now, I want to remind you that Christmas confirms the power of hope because of the faithfulness of God. The promise of God that Micah delivered was fulfilled by the Baby in the manger in Bethlehem. I also want to assure you that God does indeed always come through. I was the woman hanging onto a thread of hope. And my hope was not disappointed. God is faithful. Christmas is proof.

Are You Disappointed With Me God?

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“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many, many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.
Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.
“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.
When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me, because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.
Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.

Looking at Life from Higher Up

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“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to try to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down onto to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.
Some of you know the struggles we’ve faced for the past several months. My husband was injured at work and had to leave his 23-year career. At the same time I lost my job and couldn’t find another. Two months ago we moved back home to start over. During the move and for weeks after, I dealt with a serious health crisis – with no insurance. I’ve been diligently looking for a job and many of you prayed for me when I went on an interview last week – but I learned yesterday that I did not get the job. We have been without any income for 3 months and our meager resources are almost depleted.
So how do I deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? I have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. Will I see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening my faith? Will I roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all?
Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of faith. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I realize that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.
Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. I know God is here with me. I know He is faithful. I know I can trust Him. I know He will come through. He is my Rock – a high place on which I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

When You’re Disappointed with God

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“Lord, if you had been here . . .” John 11:21

Have you ever been disappointed with God?  Be honest here.  Have you ever expected one thing and received something completely different, something less than what you prayed for?  Have you hoped with all your heart for God to move or act and He didn’t?  Have your circumstances gotten worse instead of better, no matter how much you prayed?  If we were talking about human relationships we would quickly say, “He disappointed me!”  But do we dare say the same about God?  Even if, deep down in our hearts that’s what we’re thinking?

Surely Mary and Martha felt that way about Jesus when their brother died.  Take a moment to read their story in John 11. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were dear friends of Jesus. He had been in their home often and they were very close. You can hear their intimate relationship in the message the sisters sent to Him, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (v. 3). So they understandably expected Jesus to come immediately to heal their brother. But He didn’t. In fact, Jesus purposely delayed the trip to Bethany. By the time He finally made His way into the village, Lazarus was dead and already in the tomb. Martha and Mary both responded with words dripping with disappointment: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21, 32). Jesus, You could have done something. You could have made him well. You could have helped—but You didn’t come.

Consider another person who turned to Jesus for help and was disappointed. Read Luke 8:41-49, the story of Jarius and Jesus. Jarius was a “ruler of the synagogue,” a very powerful and influential man in the Jewish hierarchy, who came to Jesus on behalf of his twelve year old daughter who was dying. Jesus agreed to go, but was interrupted on the way by a woman also in need of healing. By the time they started back to Jarius’ house, word came that his daughter had died. Imagine the father’s disappointment with Jesus.  Why did you waste time with an old woman when my young daughter had her whole life ahead of her? If you had only ignored her, my daughter would not be dead.

If you’ve ever asked “why God?” then you understand that sense of disappointment. Jesus’ unexplained delays crushed their hopes and likely left them questioning Him. Like them, we petition God for His help and expect Him to come through.   What do we do then, when our prayer goes unanswered and the situation becomes hopeless?

I believe we go to the Lord, like Mary and Martha did, with our honest disappointment. We turn to him, as I imagine Jarius did, with our breaking hearts and confusion. He knows our thoughts; He understands our feelings. Notice how the Lord answered them. To Jarius, He said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed” (Luke 8:50). To Martha, Jesus said “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)? What do both of those statements have in common? One word: believe. Jesus didn’t berate them for their feeling—He only asked them to believe in Him. A man was dead, a child was dead; but the Lord wasn’t finished yet.

I think that is the key to believing in the face of our disappointments: trusting that despite our situation, the Lord is still at work. When it all seems lost, God still has a plan—and the power to fulfill that plan in ways we never imagined. For Mary and Martha and Jarius that plan was far more than they ever imagined; they not only received back their deceased loved one, but they saw the power and glory of God with their own eyes! Jesus could have come and healed their sick brother and child, but He wanted them to experience something far greater.

Believe me when I say I’m not just writing about a sweet Bible story. This is my testimony too. I have been in situations that seemed hopeless and I was honestly disappointed with God’s indifference to my prayers. But my Lord had not abandoned me. He was still working in my situation, albeit “behind the scenes” where I couldn’t see. He brought restoration, healing, peace, provision, and hope where there was nothing but disappointment and despair. I still face mountains too big for me to climb and valleys too deep for the light to reach, but I know that my Lord is a good, faithful God and whatever comes, He will come through—maybe not the way I expect or hope, but always in a way that allows His glory and power to shine through.

If your hopes are hanging by a thread, let me encourage you today to not give up on God. He says “Trust in Me with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, paraphrased). He has much bigger plans for you and your situation than all you could ever ask or imagine (see Ephesians 3:20). Hear Him say to your heart: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.” Beloved, the Lord will never let you down.

Holy Father, in every hopeless situation I have ever faced, You have been faithful; You have done marvelous things beyond my expectations. I believe Lord—and I’m watching to see Your glory. Amen.