Hebrews: Jesus is Greater

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Every nation has its heroes – men and women who left an indelible mark on history and are remembered for generations. Alexander the Great. William Wallace. George Washington. Winston Churchill. And the list goes on and on. The Jewish people also had a hero. His name was Moses and he is still revered and lauded by Jews. It was Moses who led the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, across the Red Sea, through forty years in the wilderness, and to the edge of the Promised Land. It was Moses who delivered God’s Law to the people and built the tabernacle, the place where the Lord God dwelt among His people. He was a pretty big deal to the Jews. But the writer of Hebrews said there is someone who is an even bigger deal. Jesus.

Two points were raised about Jesus that exalted Him above their hero – He was faithful and He was worthy. “He was faithful to the one who appointed Him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house” (Hebrews 3:2). Both Moses and Jesus were faithful to their God-given tasks. Moses was faithful in His role as the leader of “God’s house” – the people of Israel. Jesus was faithful in His role as the redeemer of God’s creation. But, he noted, there is a significant difference between them. Jesus is “worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (vs. 3-4). Moses built the tabernacle, but Jesus is the Creator of everything that exists (John 1:3, 10).

The author then brings it all down to one main point: “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house” (vs. 5-6a). Moses was a servant, Jesus Christ is the Son. Moses served God’s people; Jesus redeemed God’s people.  The readers were contemplating giving up their faith because of persecution. If they abandoned Jesus and went back to Moses, they were turning away from the greater for the lesser.

But don’t we do the same? Don’t we trade Jesus for lesser things like pleasure, wealth, power, popularity, and fame? Don’t we give our affection and attention to temporal things that hold no worth? Jesus is greater than everything this world has to offer. Beloved, I implore you don’t trade Him away for anything.  

Wherever God is . . . There is Life

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Since I was a little girl, I have known and loved the story of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-42 – for obvious reasons. This was “my story” because, in my childish mind, she was me. I loved to tell about Dorcas, a kind and generous woman who loved the Lord and loved people.

Dorcas’ story has become mine for more reasons than just a shared name. Dorcas was a seamstress and I have also done a good deal of sewing. She used her talent to benefit her neighbors, and I have also sewed to bless others. And Dorcas died and was restored to life through the prayers of Peter. “Now, wait a minute,” you may be saying, “you have never died.” Well, I haven’t in the literal sense of the word, but I have in other hard ways.

Dorcas died a physical death – I died emotionally and my very spirit became lifeless and gray. She was laid on a bed in an upstairs room. I have laid before the Lord in deepest pain and soul-rending anguish. When she died, Dorcas’ heart stopped beating and her breath ceased. I have had seasons of brokenness where my heart lay in shards and splinters around my feet and the simple act of drawing a breath was more than I could manage. Dorcas entered the darkness of death. I have been in the darkness of depression and despair – surrounded by the deepest hues of black.

But God restored Dorcas to life – and He has graciously restored me too. He heard my prayers and my cries and sat with me in the dark and gloom. His Spirit spoke life to my spirit. His tender mercies restored all the pieces of my heart and He breathed hope and peace into my lungs. He restored my soul. He brought light and He brought Joy.

This is for the one who feels dead in your soul today. You have cried an ocean of tears and you given up on ever feeling alive again. Beloved, please hear my words and my heart: God will restore you back to life. That is His specialty. Bringing life from death. Making broken hearts whole. Breathing hope and peace and joy into your soul. Bringing light into the darkness.

Please do not give up Beloved. I died. God restored my life. He will restore you too. I am living proof.

Standing up to the Big Dog

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“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed’ (Nehemiah 6:9).”

As kids growing up, my oldest brother often tried to intimidate me. His favorite thing to do was tease me until he made me mad and I would start swinging at him. He would put his hand on the top of my head and extend his arm so I was swinging in the air. That just made me madder. I miss my brother greatly, but I don’t miss how he loved to aggravate and intimidate me.

The Israelite captives returned to Jerusalem to find their city in ruins, the Temple destroyed, and the wall that protected their homes a pile of rubble. Nehemiah led the people to restore the wall to the displeasure of their neighbors, who “became angry and greatly incensed [and] ridiculed the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1, 2).  They said, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed” (Nehemiah 6:9). But the Israelites “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (4:9) and “rebuilt the wall . . . for the people worked with all their heart” (4:6). They refused to bow to the enemy’s intimidation and they completed the wall in fifty-two days!

You have an enemy. His name is Satan. He hates you because God loves you and has a Kingdom purpose for your life. He will try his best to intimidate you and wear you down so that you will give up and walk. Don’t let him. Like the enemies of the Israelites, your enemy is fighting a losing battle. Satan has no authority where God has called you. The truth is – he’s trying to intimate you because you intimidate him. Paul understood that: “I will stay on . . . because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9). Beloved, if what you are called to do is so threatening to the enemy that he’s trying to make you quit, then it’s that much more important that you don’t. Keep at it and let God fight for you.

Don’t Give Up on God

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I hope you’re not tired of hearing about my cat. Celina is a black-and-white Bible teacher with a tail. Every morning I stumble into the kitchen headed for the coffee maker. Celina runs ahead of me and parks herself in front of her food dish and begins her usual cries of lament. “Feed me. Feed me.  Feed me.” Never mind that the bowl still has food in it. As I’ve shared before, she demands a fresh scoop to start the day. This morning I was a little distracted and slower to respond than usual.  She continued to meow – but each one got softer and quieter. It was like she was slowly giving up – losing hope that I would take care of her.

Some of you, like me, have a prayer you have carried for a long time. And nothing is happening. God is silent. You are starting to losing hope that He cares and will answer you. You are slowly giving up. Don’t.

Jesus told two parables reminding us to be persistent in prayer. In Luke 18:1-8 He tells us about a persistent widow who kept coming to a judge seeking justice against her adversary. Luke introduces the story with this comment: “Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up” (v. 1). Luke 11: 5-10 is the parable of the man who goes to his friend at midnight asking for bread. The friend is reluctant at first, but “because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (v. 8) The word “boldness” means shameless, barefaced persistence. Jesus completes this parable with the reminder to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (v. 9). The original Greek used here literally reads: ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking. The key to these two parables is that the pray-er was persistent because they knew that the one hearing their prayers would come through.

You and I can be persistent in prayer because we have faith in the one who hears our prayers. Don’t give up on God, Beloved. ASK – Ask, seek, knock – again.

For The One Who Loves a Prodigal

I wrote this almost 5 years ago and just rediscovered it. God’s timing is impeccable. I need this message now more than I did then. Someone else may need it too. It’s for those of us who love a prodigal.

Acts 8:26-40 records the account of Philip and the Ethiopian (go ahead and read it-I’ll wait right here for you). Philip met an angel of the Lord who sent him on a mission. “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” There Philip met an Ethiopian who served in the court of the queen of the Ethiopians. Scholars contend that he was a God-seeker who had not converted to full Judaism. He was returning from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship. He was riding in his chariot, reading from Isaiah – about the “sheep led to the slaughter,” and did not understand what he was reading  Enter Philip who clarified the Scriptures to the man, and from them, shared the good news about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit worked through The Word and Philip’s words and the man received Christ and immediately was baptized.

I want you to zero in on verse 29: “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.'” This phrase in Greek means “Go to that chariot and ‘stick with it.'” I thought about someone I love that I’ve been praying for many years and how I wonder if they will ever “get it.” The Spirit spoke to my heart and said, “Stick with them.” In our human nature, it is easy to become weary and want to just give up on difficult people. But if God has set them in your life, no matter how stubborn they are, He has called you to “stick with them.” That means more than tolerating them. That means: Keep praying. “The prayer of a righteous man [woman, parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, pastor] offered in faith . . . is powerful and effective” (James 5:15,16). Keep loving. “Love always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:7,8). Keep forgiving. “I tell you, [forgive] not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Then trust God to do the rest. “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). 

Years later my prodigal is still a prodigal, but I’m sticking with them because God is faithful. Beloved, whom has God called you to stick with?

Don’t Give Up!

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The weary Jews had returned to Jerusalem after seventy years of captivity in Babylon. They found the city in ruins, the temple destroyed, and the protective wall a pile of rubble. The priests immediately set to work to rebuild the temple and Nehemiah took up the task of rebuilding the wall. It was a monumental effort – a work that was completed in an astounding fifty-two days! But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. There was tremendous opposition from the neighboring enemy nations – outright hostility, intimidation, and ridicule. The threat was so great that the people “did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other” (Neh. 4:17). Still, they would not be deterred. They “prayed to our God and posted a guard . . . and worked with all their heart” (4:9,6).

Like their enemies, your enemy is fighting a losing battle. Satan has no authority where God has called you. The truth is – he’s trying to intimate you because you intimidate him. If what you are called to do is so threatening to the enemy that he must try to make you quit, then it’s that much more important that you don’t. God has entrusted you and me with important Kingdom work; work that will be opposed by God’s enemies. We need to adopt Paul’s attitude: “I will stay on . . . because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9).

I don’t know what God has called you to do Beloved; maybe to preach His Word, teach a class, sing in the choir, or just be devoted to Bible study and prayer in your daily life. Maybe it’s something more challenging, like loving a difficult person or enduring through a health crisis in a God-honoring way. I do know that whatever God has called you to do, the devil wants to stop you from doing it. He will try his best to intimidate you and wear you down so that you will give up and walk away. I am here to tell you – don’t let him. Whatever God’s work and purpose for you is, know that He always fulfills His purpose. You have His assurance that, despite the enemy’s best efforts, you can – and will – succeed, if you don’t give up. To those who trust in the Lord and don’t back down, He will “not grant the wicked their desire [nor] let their plans succeed” (Psalm 140:8); and He will “work out His plans for [your] life; He will fulfill His purpose for [you] and perfect that which concerns [you]” (Psalm 138: 8 – TLB, NIV, NASB respectively).

When You Want to Quit

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“I just really want to quit. Or run away. I don’t see this ever ending – at least not in a good way. I will always be caught up in it. There’s no way to untangle myself without someone else getting hurt. So I will press on. Still, I just want to quit. But I can’t quit. The stakes are too high. There are others in this thing – innocents I just can’t walk away from. But oh, I am so tired. I don’t think I’ll ever get my life back to normal.”

Yes, I could see that she was tired – more than tired – she was weary in her body, mind, and heart. I knew her situation, we’d talked about it many times. And she was right. She couldn’t quit. To do so would be to abandon the very ones who needed her the most. I also knew that, as hard as it all was, she believed in her weary heart that this was God’s place for her right now. And that was what kept her going. That and lots of prayer. And coffee. And three verses of Scripture:

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 1:16-18). The situation wasn’t “fair” – but it was God’s will for her in Christ Jesus. And that is where she wanted to be – in the center of God’s will. Knowing that she was doing what God wanted her to do gave her more strength and resolve than a strong cup of espresso.

Sometimes God asks you and me to do things that are very hard, that are heavy burdens, that even seem unfair. Do them Beloved. Even though God’s will is not always an easy place to be, it is the best place to be. It is hard.  At times you will get weary. But there is peace there because God is present in the center of His will. Don’t quit.

Praying for the Long Haul

Yesterday was a rough day in a lot of ways – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I went to bed exhausted, in pain, and defeated. I woke up much the same. But as I sit here this morning, I realize God was reaching out to me all day long with love and grace. A long lunch-time phone conversation with my best friend. A call and prayer from another dear friend. A hug from another. The hands of my co-workers holding mine as my boss prays for my family. A big grin and an excited squeal when I pick up Joy from her babysitter. A good report after a roller-coaster of worry. My favorite meal from my sweet hubby. My precious angel asleep in my arms at the close of the day.

And it all came to mind because of a sticky note on my bulletin board. The note is a verse I jotted down over a year ago when a family member had driven me to my knees in frustration and desperation. I am still on my knees over them. This morning I had just about given up hope. Prayer seemed futile. To tell you the truth, it seemed like the more I prayed the worse the situation became. Like adding fuel to a raging fire.

I was writing a completely different devotional this morning when I stretched my back a bit, lifted my head, and my eyes fell on that bright pink square of paper with a slightly adapted verse: “The fervent prayer of a righteous ‘Mom’ is powerful and effective” James 5:16. A year ago I added the word “grandmother” to the note. It was a reminder to not give up on prayer. It was a reminder to not give up on my loved ones. It was a reminder to not give up on God. The stakes are much too high to throw in the prayer shawl. And God is much to faithful to give up hope.

Beloved, I don’t know whom you are praying for or how long you’ve been on your knees, but I want to encourage you to stay the course. Don’t quit. The stakes are much too high and God is much too faithful for you to give up.

A God Who Remembers

The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.”  Luke 1:13

 twilight-505849_640Have 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 the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth that God indeed hears our prayers and answers – but not always in the way or the time that we expect.  Their story is found in Luke 1:5-15 – take a few minutes to read this, I’ll wait right here for you.

This godly couple were said to be “upright in the sight of God” (v. 6), they were faithful and obedient in every way. Why, then, did God withhold the one thing that they desired – a child? Children were one of God’s greatest blessing to a Jewish family. Psalm 127:5 says “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of [children].” Shouldn’t they, who were upright before God, have more blessings than anyone else? We look at this from our human perspective and say “This is not fair,” but God has another perspective, a perfect and purposeful vantage point to this whole situation – one that would fulfill prophecy and bring Him glory.

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. They ceased praying for a child, because after all, “they were both well along in years” (Luke 1:7).  I mean, logically, isn’t there a time to give up on wishes and get on with life as it is?

Ah, but God had heard those prayers, and He was about to turn their lives joyfully upside down!  Zechariah was about the have the wildest meeting of his life.

In accordance to the Lord’s command, incense was offered morning and evening and the priestly ranks was so large that a priest could only make this offering once in his lifetime.[1] Lots were cast to determine who would be so privileged, but most priests never got the chance. On this particular day, Zechariah “was chosen by lot”.   But he was not there by “chance.”  Consider what Provers 16:33 says: “The lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  His presence in the temple was less about the incense and more about what God wanted to do for him. The old priest was there because, in His perfect order of time, God had answered an old, forgotten prayer for a child.

I wonder if, when the angel spoke the words of our key verse, Zechariah thought, “What prayer?”  It had been so long, and they were “well along in years,” “surely,” he might have said to himself, “he can’t mean that prayer.”  But that was indeed the prayer that the Lord had set in motion.  At this one moment in time, on the cusp of the greatest event in history, God was saying “Yes!” to this simple couple’s heartfelt prayer – their lives – and the world would never be the same.

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.  But when He must say “No,” He reveals that to us, so we do not have to pine and agonize over that which cannot be.  I know this to be true from very personal experience.

Is there something 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!”

Holy, faithful, loving Father – You have heard the prayers of your children, and You keep them before you, to answer in Your perfect time, according to Your perfect plan.  In fact, the only thing about your children that You ever forget is our sin.  Help us keep our eyes on You and wait for Your “Yes.” Amen.

[1] Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2012), 1061-2.

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Ain’t Backing Down!

“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed’ (Nehemiah 6:9).”

He was a formidable opponent with his huge, snarling face and quick, elusive ability to move with me in any direction. He intended to block my path, and he was bringing all his strength to hold me back. But I was even more determined to get by him and do what I knew I had to do. I darted – first to the left, then quickly jumped to the right and hurdled over his arm sweeping at my legs. I touched down again and pounded my feet on the ground, running with all my might. TOUCHDOWN! I glanced back at him, lying on the ground with a look of shock on his face as my cousins erupted with shouts and laughter. I rarely got the best of him, but this one glorious moment is etched in my memory – little sister had beaten big brother.

As kids growing up, my older brother often tried to intimidate me; big brothers can be a kid sister’s worst enemy. But lest I paint him badly, he also spent one Saturday cutting lawns in our neighborhood to buy me a sock monkey when I was sick and staged a “stuffed animal” musical with Monkey and all my “babies.” (I also have another older brother who was my frequent defender.)

Intimidation is nothing new. There will always be someone who is bigger or faster or meaner that will try to stand in someone else’s way.   The story that revolves around our key verse is set in the ancient Middle East, right after the Israelite captives were released from Babylon to return to Jerusalem. The bedraggled remnant found their city in ruins, the Temple destroyed, and the wall that protected their homes in rubble.  In the book of Ezra which preceded Nehemiah, the returning Israelites had faced great opposition in rebuilding the Temple of God. Ezra 3:3 says, “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offering on it to the Lord.” Later Nehemiah led the people to restore the wall to the displeasure of their neighbors, who “became angry and greatly incensed [and] ridiculed the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1, 2). “They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it” (4:8). Despite their own fear and their enemy’s threats the Israelites “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (4:9) and “returned to the wall, each to his own work” (4:15), and “rebuilt the wall . . . for the people worked with all their heart” (4:6).

The Israelites had a word from God to rebuild and restore their city, their place of worship and their protecting wall. The neighboring pagan communities opposed and tried to intimidate them, to cause them to cower in fear and abandon their work. But they refused to bow and stuck with the task and they completed the wall in a remarkable fifty-two days. Listen to what Nehemiah records of those who opposed them: “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that his work had been done with the help of our God” (6:16).

God called me to the ministry of the Scriptures; to, in the call of Ezra, “study the Word, live the Word and teach the Word” (Ezra 7:10 paraphrased). My enemy, the devil, is “angry and greatly incensed.” He has lobbed threats at me, shouted words of condemnation and failure at me and set people in opposition against me, trying to discourage me and cause me to give in, give up and abandon the call. My big brother learned that when I am determined, I am not easily intimidated. The devil is learning that too. He can throw his best efforts at me, but I know what God has called me to do and I will not be intimidated. God has called me by His Word and His Word never fails.

I don’t know what God has called you to do; maybe to preach His Word, teach a class, sing in the choir, or just be devoted to Bible study and prayer in your daily life. Maybe it’s something more challenging, like loving someone you’d rather not or enduring through a health crisis in a God-honoring way. I do know that whatever God has called you to do, the devil wants to stop you from doing it. He will try his best to intimidate you and wear you down so that you will give up and walk away. I am here to tell you – don’t let him.   Whatever God’s work and purpose for you is, know that He always fulfills His purpose. You have His assurance that, despite the enemy’s best efforts, you can – and will – succeed, if you don’t give up. To those who trust in the Lord and don’t back down, He will “not grant the wicked their desire [nor] let their plans succeed” (Psalm 140:8); and He will “work out His plans for [your] life; He will fulfill His purpose for [you] and perfect that which concerns [you]” (Psalm 138: 8 – TLB, NIV, NASB respectively).

Like the enemies of the Israelites, your enemy is fighting a losing battle. Satan has no authority where God has called you. The truth is – he’s trying to intimate you because you intimidate him. If what you are called to do is so threatening to the enemy that he must try to make you quit, then it’s that much more important that you don’t. God has entrusted you and I with important Kingdom work; work that will be opposed by God’s enemies. Let’s keep Paul’s attitude in mind: “I will stay on . . . because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9).

Holy Father, You have called me to great things in Your name, and our enemy is infuriated. Give me the strength to stay the course, to keep my eyes on You and never, never, never give up. Amen.