Only Words?

How can we rate our faith in God? Listen to your words when your guard is down. Our truest selves come tumbling out of our mouths in our private moments, when life is hard or when we’re weary, anxious, in pain, or taken by surprise. Our unguarded words reveal a lot about us. Let me give you two examples from the Bible. Raw emotions often speak the truth from the deepest part of our hearts.

God had rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery and was leading them toward the Promised Land. Moses sent out twelve spies to investigate the area. Their report was both encouraging and frightening. The land was very fruitful but it was also inhabited by fierce giants. The people began to grumble asking, “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword . . . [and] our wives and children [be] taken as plunder?” (Num 14:3). Wait. Did they not just walk through the sea on dry ground!? But their words expressed the fear and lack of faith in their hearts. And God was listening. He said “I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell then, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say.’” (Num 14:27-28). That’s a terrifying statement.

Contrast their words with the words of Job, who suffered more in one day than you and I will suffer in a lifetime. He lost his wealth, his children, and his health. Oh, he was very upset with God and was not shy about expressing it. But despite it all, Job said: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. He said that a day is coming when “I myself will see Him with my own eyes” (Job 19:25,27). Do you hear the heart behind those words? That is faith speaking.

Listen to Jesus’ words about words: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). What you say in those unguarded moments says volumes about what you believe in your heart. And God is listening.  If he did to you the very things He heard you say how would that turn out for you? Beloved, make sure that the “words of [your] mouth and the meditation of [your] heart are pleasing in God’s ears (Ps 19:14).

Open Eyes, Open Mind

I was looking for something in the first chapter of John and my eye caught two verses I had previously marked on the opposite page: Luke 24:31 and 45. Luke 24 is the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as witnessed by His disciples. The first was when Jesus met up with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. For most of their journey together they didn’t recognize Him, even though they talked about Him the whole way. (Boy, there’s a commentary on the state of the church!) Actually, Luke reported that “they were kept from recognizing Him” (v. 16). Why? As the account plays out, Jesus gave them the bigger picture of Himself and the purpose for his life and death – and resurrection, which they were struggling to believe. Verse 31 says: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” Their physical eyes were able to recognize Jesus their teacher and their spiritual eyes were able to recognize Jesus the Son of God.

While the now seeing disciples reported their encounter to the rest of His followers Jesus came into the room and showed them His hands and feet, proof that He was indeed alive. Luke says, “they still did not believe it because of Joy and amazement” (v. 41).  He reminded them of the things He had taught them about the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the fulfillment of prophecy. “Then,” the Scripture says, “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (v. 45).  This means that He enabled them to put what the Scriptures (what we know as the Old Testament) proclaimed about the Messiah with what they witnessed about Him. He enabled them to finally understand who He was and what His mission was all about. And what their mission was going to be: that they would be witnesses of all they had seen and heard and experienced “to all nations” (v. 47).

That’s my prayer for the church: that our eyes would be opened to recognize the Lord and our minds would be opened to understand the Scriptures. And our hearts would be opened to share the gospel – the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God with a lost world. Beloved, do you understand who Jesus is? Pray for your eyes and mind to be opened wide to believe that He is . . . everything.

Questioning God

If anyone should have believed in Jesus without wavering, it was John the Baptist. John’s whole life was for one mission, “to prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4). Even in the womb, he recognized the Lord, leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1: 41-45). He knew Jesus was the Messiah and he declared Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world !” This was confirmed to John at the Lord’s baptism – “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” He added emphatically, “I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34). Yet John asked a big question, “Are the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). What changed? John was in a prison cell for calling out the unrighteousness of the King. No wonder he was questioning Jesus. He did everything God asked of Him and the results were harsh. Can you blame the poor fellow? Despite all he knew, John – weary and discouraged – began to doubt.

But Jesus didn’t chastise John. He knew the man’s heart and that those doubts arose from the overwhelming blow he had been dealt. Jesus pointed John back to the evidence. “What do you see, John?” “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Look beyond your circumstances, John. You preached the coming of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:1). You spoke of my power (Mark 1: 7). Your own words are being fulfilled in Me. Then He added, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23).
Questions are often the starting point for discovering the truth. Do you have a question for God? He will not chasten you. He will give you answers that will ground and strengthen your faith. Ask, Beloved, even with hot tears and a twinge of doubt. You will find that Jesus not only has the answers, He is the answer.

Hebrews: Do You Need Some Rest?

My sleeping angel, Joy.

I kept my phone close, anticipating a call about a test I had undergone. Cancer took my mom away too soon – and I knew that increased my risk. The call finally came late in the afternoon. “The images were clear. There was no sign of cancer.” Relief filled my heart and that night I got some much-needed rest.  But what if I decided the doctor was wrong? What if I doubted the results? What if I continued to worry and toss and turn at night?

The writer of Hebrews drew from the Psalmist’s recollection of the Israelite’s in the wilderness and God’s declaration that this unbelieving people “Shall never enter my rest” (Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 3:11; 4:3). At the threshold of the Promised Land, Moses sent out twelve spies into Canaan to explore the territory and assess the inhabitants from a military standpoint. They returned with a glowing report of “the land of milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), and an alarming report of the people they would have to defeat to take the land. They said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are!” (13:31) The people grumbled and wanted to turn back to Egypt – to slavery. Only Joshua and Caleb urged them to trust the Lord and proceed – and only Joshua and Caleb survived God’s judgment.  Because of their unbelief, the whole company would wander for forty years until the last of the unbelieving generation fell in the desert.

The author used them as an example of people who “had the gospel . . . but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Hebrews 4:2).  Faith, as the Bible uses it means belief and trust – with the implication that actions based on that trust will follow. Faith is not just ethereal thoughts – it is acting with confidence in what God has said. The Israelites heard about the Promised Land, but they doubted they could get the victory so they gave up on God’s rest. When the gospel is declared some will have faith and some will not. Some will rest in the promise of salvation and eternal life and some will live in hopelessness and anxiety.  The author adds, “Now we who have believed enter that rest . . .” (4:3a).

Beloved, are you weary? There is rest for those who trust in Jesus. Today and eternally.

Hebrews: Do You Believe God?

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Buckle your seatbelts, because today we’re going to cover five verses: Hebrews 3:15-19 (woohoo!). But we’re going to focus on just one word. Verses 15-19 serve as a commentary 7-11, which recalled Israel’s rebellion and subsequent forty years of desert wandering. The writer of Hebrews, in describing this band of wanderers said that they “rebelled” (v. 16), they “sinned” (v. 17), and they “disobeyed” (v. 18). All of these verbs culminate in one word, see if you can figure it out: “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (v. 19). Rebellion, sin, and disobedience are all symptoms – the deadly disease that killed an entire generation of Israelites was unbelief. Here’s the key: those who believed and those who did not believe heard the same promise from God: “See, I have given you this land” (Deuteronomy 1:8). An entire generation of “bodies fell in the desert” (v. 17).

But they weren’t the first to doubt God. A long, long time ago God told a couple in a garden, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Then along came the serpent who asked, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (3:1). The serpent wasn’t trying to clarify what God had told them. His question went to Adam and Eve’s heart: “Did God really mean what He said?” We see that in verse 8 when he completely and exactly contradicts what they had heard: “You will not surely die.” They took the bait because, in their hearts, they didn’t believe His word was true.

The essence of unbelief is not rejecting God but rather doubting if God is trustworthy. Like Adam and Eve and the Israelites, we act on our unbelief with rebellion, sin, and disobedience. To believe God is to take Him at His Word – that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do* – and then act on what we heard. That’s what we’ll find in the “Hall of Faith” a few chapters ahead. So the question then is, Beloved, do you believe God?

*From Beth Moore’s study: “Believing God.”

I’ve Seen Jesus!

Doubting Thomas, by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da, 1571–1610)

Our Ladies Bible study group is studying the Sermon on The Mount and we’ve been in The Beatitudes – the “Blesseds” – for the past couple of weeks. But did you know that there is another “Blessed” from Jesus? It is addressed first to Thomas, and I contend is also for believers of the past two-thousand-plus years.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and showed them His hands and side and imparted the Holy Spirit to them. John said, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (20:20). That is probably an understatement. But Thomas missed the whole thing, and when they told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he didn’t believe it. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (v. 25). Not just “cannot” but “will not” believe. That sums up a lot of attitudes in the world toward the resurrected Jesus. Another week goes by and all of the disciples – including Thomas – are together and Jesus again appears. He called out to the doubter, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27). And Thomas did. He replied, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). Jesus pointed out that Thomas’ believed only because he could see. Then He pronounced what many have called, “the last and greatest beatitude.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

Have you ever seen Jesus with your physical eyes, Beloved? Me neither. But we believe. We believe because we have seen Him through the eyes of faith. And Jesus said that we are blessed. Faith is hard, especially when you can’t look Jesus in the face and hear His actual voice. And especially when the world is telling you that your faith is misplaced, that you’re trusting in a “genie in the sky.” But you and I have “seen” what they don’t see. Not that they can’t, but that they won’t. We know that He is real. We know that He died for our sins. We know that He was raised to life. And we know that He is coming again. Because we have seen Jesus with our hearts.

When You’re a Long Way From Where You Thought You’d Be

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“God, I know you called me to ministry, to teach and share your Word. Why am I fluffing flowers at a grocery store? I thought there would be more to my life than this.”

Facebook memory reminded me today of a dry season in my life. I had felt God’s call more than ten years before but I was toughing it out in seminary and working at a grocery store. Every attempt I made to start Bible studies and discipling fell apart. I was frustrated and disappointed. Had I heard God wrong?

In Acts 23 Paul is under arrest for declaring the name of Jesus, accused by the Romans of inciting riots, and by the Jews of blasphemy. I often wonder if, in that prison, Paul questioned whether he had gotten it wrong too. To understand his call, you have to go back to Acts 9:15, when God declared that Paul would carry His name before Jews, Gentiles, and kings. At this moment, he is a long way from fulfilling his destiny. But then the Lord Jesus came to him in his cell and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

Paul endured multiple trials and great persecution, faced a storm at sea, and was shipwrecked and snake-bitten along the way. But Acts 28:14 says, “And so we came to Rome.” God was faithful to His promise to Paul, and he did indeed preach the Gospel and declare the name of Jesus in Rome. But there was a lot of space between the promise and the fulfillment. 

V. Raymond Edman said, “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  As I look back at that memory, and consider that today I am working in a seminary, teaching Bible studies, teaching through writing, and continuing to prepare for something more through grad school, I realize God’s call and His faithfulness are just as true for me.

I don’t know what God has spoken over you, nor how long you’ve waited to see it come to fruition. But I do know that His promises never fail and His Word never returns void. Stand firm in the faithful nature of the Lord, Beloved, and believe that what He has declared in the light, will be fulfilled despite the darkness.

“And so we came to . . .”

Did God Really Say . . .?

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“Did God really say . . .” (Gen. 3:1)

Why do I have so much trouble driving the speed limit? The speed limit is 70 MPH – so I go 75 or 80. It’s 55 on my way to work, so I set my cruise for 62. Oh, don’t you judge me – you’re doing it too. Some of you are flying past me like we’re on a NASCAR racetrack. What makes us want to try the boundaries?

I recently wrote a paper on Genesis 3:1-7, the account of the fall of humanity. You know the story, perfectly innocent couple in a perfect garden home enjoying wondrous fruits – until a sneaky, lying snake approaches the woman. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman responded, albeit not entirely truthful and he comes back with, “You will not surely die . . .” (Gen. 3:4). There is an interesting play in the serpent’s words in verses 1 and 4. The word “really” (‘ap) is an adverb that essentially asks the question: “Is it even so that God hath said?”[1] Combined with the serpent’s rejection of the consequences of eating the fruit, it appears that in verse 1 the serpent was not asking Eve, “Did God truly speak these words?” but rather, “Do you think God meant what he said?” That’s why I push the speed limit – I don’t think they are serious about it. One can almost see the serpent wave his hand with a “Pshaw – You will not surely die!” The serpent was casting doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s truthfulness. Does He really mean it? Will He do what He claimed He would do?

That is one of the enemy’s favorite tools – causing us to doubt God’s integrity – whether it is questioning God’s willingness to punish sin or His willingness to save us, protect us, provide for us, and deliver us. And it has infiltrated the church. “No, God won’t punish this wicked desire of yours, He is all love, love, love!” Paul said we must become wise about the devil’s schemes. Beloved, In case you ever wondered – you can absolutely, 100 % trust what God says – about punishment and blessings. The devil is a liar.

[1]. “Lexicon :: Strong’s H637 – ‘aph,” Blue Letter Bible, Accessed September 19, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H637&t=NIV

Drowning in a Desert

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“This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” (v. 16); “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (v. 19).

Some days it feels like I am both drowning and wandering through a desert.  I know, you can’t drown in a desert, but let me explain.  My emotions seem like an overflowing river, thoughts rushing this way and that, pulling me under and threatening to take my very breath.  For a split second, I come up for air – “I believe!”  In the next the waves crash over my head again – “But I am afraid!”  God promises to make a way – a path through the waters of fearful thoughts and discouragement that threaten to drown me.  He promises dry ground to cross over to the other side.

Yet I am also in the desert where nothing grows and all seems lost – walking through a season of drought.  Health issues.  Grief.  Family tension.  Responsibilities that shouldn’t be mine.  Financial struggles.  Too much to do and not enough time to do it. They beat down like the scorching sun as I wander looking for an oasis.  God promises to make a way here too – to provide streams in this wasteland.  Mind you not to drown me like the sea, but to refresh and restore me.

Our Father meets our needs for rescue and refreshing.  He gives us dry ground and cool springs.  He never fails to notice us wherever we are – even when we’re in two places at once.  Oh, my drowning, wandering friend – let me throw you a lifeline of hope.  You don’t have to fear because God hears you, He is with you, He fights for you, He will never leave nor forsake you, and He promises to help you.  He knows where you are right now, and He knows what you need right here.  And He will make a way where there seems to be no way.

God, I have a Question

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Doubt is a dangerous thing for the Christian.  Doubt causes us to distance ourselves from God.  Distance leads to disobedience and soon we loose our desire to witness for Christ.  God wants us to believe without wavering. But we are finite humans and sometimes it is hard to believe, especially when all things seem to point the other way. If anyone should have believed without wavering, it was Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Even in the womb, he recognized the Lord, leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1: 41-45). John’s whole life was for one mission, “to prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4). He knew Jesus was the Messiah and he declared Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This was confirmed to John at the Lord’s baptism – “I saw the Sprit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” He added emphatically, “I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34). Yet John asked a big question, “Are the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). What changed? John was in a prison cell after speaking out against the Roman king and his adulterous marriage. John’s circumstances were certainly not what he had expected. He had faithfully proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom. He had rebuked the religious elite and the irreligious royals. And rather than blessings, his efforts brought down the wrath of Herod’s wife. He did what God asked of Him and the results were harsh. Can you blame the poor fellow? Haven’t you and I questioned God for less?
With all that he knew, John – weary and discouraged – began to doubt. But Jesus didn’t chastise John. He knew the man’s heart and that those doubts arose from the overwhelming blow he had been dealt. Jesus pointed John back to the evidence. “What do you see, John?” “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Look beyond your circumstances John. You preached the coming of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:1). You spoke of my power (Mark 1: 7). Your own words are being fulfilled in Me. Then He added, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23).
Questions are not the absence of faith. I have had many, many questions for God, and like John, my questions made me search for answers. And those answers strengthened my faith. God always answers honest questions. Don’t be afraid when questions creep in – take them to Jesus. He will not chasten you. He will give you answers that will ground and strengthen your faith. Ask your questions Beloved, Jesus not only has the answers, He is the answer.