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“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

Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at a map with one red dot that says, “You are here,” and another red dot way on the opposite side of the map that says “God’s purpose for you is here.” I’m so very far away.  Four hundred after Micah’s prophecy, a young woman was startled to learn that she was pregnant with the Promised One – the Messiah.  But wait—she is in Nazareth and the prophecy said the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, some 80 miles away.  So was the prophecy wrong?  Did God make a mistake?  Not at all.  God had a plan and He would use a pagan ruler to fulfill it. Check it out:

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph went up from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (Luke 2:1-5).

Mary made it to the right place – Bethlehem – at the right time – when her baby was born – through the “whim” of a Roman ruler who had no reverence for the God of Israel.

Beloved, God has a time and place of purpose in His plan for you.  You probably won’t get there via a straight line.  You may feel you are completely off track, or that God has forgotten all about you.  You’re not sure how you wound up where you are or why.  But be assured that God, who created you with a time and place in mind, is still guiding you.  He knows exactly where you are right now and where He wants you to be and when.  He didn’t fail to fulfill the prophecy of old, and He won’t fail to fulfill His purpose for your life.  Wherever you are today is not the end of your journey.  Trust Him, trust His ways, trust His heart.  He knows the where and the when and the way to get you there.

Remember My Words

“I did tell you, but you did not believe.” John 10:25
Do you remember that annoying kid in school, the expert on every subject who delighted in telling you everything she knew? Do you remember how irritating it was when it turned out she was right? Didn’t you just hate to hear her chortle, “Told you so!” Yes, I remember that kid. Truth is, I was that kid. And I would like to apologize to my brothers and my classmates for being such a brat. But let me just remind you – I was right.
The point of this, and there is a point, is how we often fail to recall what we hear, and specifically what God has said to us. This is the first step in the long fall of doubt, and our enemy is the chief manipulator in twisting our thoughts and raising uncertainty about God’s words.
Let’s look at an account in Scripture with Jesus and His disciples. Please stop and read Mark 4:35-40. This is the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm that threatened their company on the boat in the middle of the sea. The disciples are fighting against the wind and the waves and where is Jesus? Asleep in the boat! How can He sleep when there is a “furious squall, and waves [breaking] over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (v. 37)?
The fearful disciples awaken Jesus, and “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 38-39). Now listen as Jesus chastens His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Recently a friend asked me about this passage, wondering what Jesus saw in His disciples that caused Him to rebuke their lack of faith. As I meditated on these words, this is what the Lord brought to my mind and heart. Jesus is not chastising the disciples because they doubted His ability to deal with the storm, the issue wasn’t that they were scared. But go back to verse 35. Jesus told them “Let us go over to the other side.” This wasn’t a mere suggestion, but Jesus was giving them an emphatic direction, and He was assuring them that He was with them – notice the words “let us”. And because He was present, their journey was assured. When the storm came up, their fear caused them to doubt that they would survive. But in truth they were expressing a deeper doubt that Jesus could accomplish what He said they would all do, which is “go over to the other side.” They allowed the storm to drown out Jesus’ words, and all they knew is that the wind and waves meant certain death.
This is Satan’s favorite tool, to cause us to doubt and question God’s Word, His promises, His commands and His authority. We can see this clearly in two snippets of Scripture:
Genesis 3:1 – “Did God really say…?” and  Matthew 4:3 & 6 – “If you are…?   In these two brief lines, Satan is casting doubt on what God has said, first to Eve, and in the Matthew passages to Jesus. Satan was causing Eve to question God’s command in the Garden, and cast doubt on the goodness of God’s heart toward them. Notice that when the serpent questioned Eve about God’s command, she began to get confused and twisted the words of God, “God did say ‘You must not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Gen. 3:3, emphasis added). God had commanded they not eat from this tree, but, in her answer to the serpent, Eve added a little bit of her own thoughts, and the doubt was sown. Have you ever wondered “Did God really tell me this, or am I hearing my own voice and my own words?” This was the beginning of the slippery slope of doubt for Eve – Satan knew it, just as he knows it when we have the same doubts – and he uses it to his advantage. He also tried to cause Jesus to doubt His identity and who God had declared Him to be at His baptism – “You are my Son…” (Mark 1:11). Satan succeeded in leading Eve astray, but Jesus knew without a doubt what God had said, and who He was. Matthew notes how Jesus repeatedly refuted the devil by saying “It is written…” for He knew exactly what God’s Words said – He was their Author.
Now, let’s look at one more – John 11:40 – “Did I not tell you…?” This passage comes from the resurrection of Lazarus. Remember that Jesus had told Martha, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life…whoever believe in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25). He even asked her, “Do you believe this?” Now, when Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away from the grave, Martha questioned Him. That is when Jesus said “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). “Do you remember what I promised you Martha? I am going to fulfill it right before your eyes!” Isn’t it amazing how quickly the warmth of His words cooled in her heart; from the time of Jesus’ speaking until they came to the tomb, Martha had begun to doubt.
God has spoken great and precious promises in His Word, promises for this life and for the life everlasting. He has spoken through the pages of the Bible and He speaks through His Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer. He speaks to give you and me assurance and promise and hope and peace and comfort. He speaks to guide and direct us, leading us into the  “Promised Land” He has ordained for His beloved children. Perhaps God has, at some point, told you that He is going to do something in and through you; and time, circumstances and the enemy are casting doubt on that word. Just as the disciples and Martha forgot what Jesus had said He would do, I wonder if Jesus stands before you and asks “Did I not tell you…?” Perhaps His word to you is right at the cusp of fulfillment. Child of God, will you continue to trust that God will do what He has told you?
Holy Father, when You speak, Your word is fulfilled. Lord, When my mind wanders, when the storms blow, when the enemy tries to cause me to doubt; please help me to hold fast to what You have promised, and to trust You to bring everything You have said to completion. Amen.

The Heart of the Matter

“Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to Your Word.”  Psalm 119:37

A popular children’s song says “Oh, be careful little eyes what you see…Oh, be careful little ears what you hear.”  That’s good advice for any age, because our eyes and ears feed our minds and in turn influence our hearts.  Our hearts affect our mouths and hands and feet.  What is in our hearts will influence what we say, what we do and where we go.

Our hearts are the core of our being.  In the original Hebrew language, our Western word “heart” has many different words, with slightly different meanings, but they all come back to one point: “the inner person, the seat of affection, emotion, thought, desire, conscience and understanding.”  Surely this is why King Solomon wrote in his series of Proverbs, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

Solomon is advising us to “protect, preserve, and keep vigil over” that place of thought, desire, affection and emotion.  So how, exactly, do we “guard our hearts?”  He gives us several points to put this important principle into practice

“Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” (v. 24).  Doesn’t it seem that society’s language has become so base and filthy?  I remember when you would never hear the profanity on television that is tossed around today.  I remember when a man would not use coarse or profane language in front of a woman, out of respect.  Now women have mouths as filthy as a sailor.  Jesus said “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).  If profanity and coarse language, inappropriate joking and – uh oh – gossip – are tripping over my tongue, I don’t just have an ugly mouth, I have an ugly heart.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you” (v. 25).    Two young men were sitting in a football stadium looking at the field covered with snow. They decided to see who could walk the straightest line from midfield toward the goalpost in the end zone.  They both stood on the fifty yard line and started walking.  When they reached their prospective goals they met back in the stands.  They laughed to see one boy’s trail veer off center and end up several feet from the goal post.  “I don’t know what happened,” he said, “I watched my steps, and put one foot carefully in front of the other.”  The other boy’s trail was dead on, stopping right at the center post.  “I didn’t look at my feet as I walked,” he said “I never took my eye off the goalpost.”  The goal of the Christian life is become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 12:2 offers this word: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.”  Keep your eye on the goal.  Never take your eyes off of Jesus.  Wandering eyes lead to a wandering heart.

“Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm” (v. 26).  Whether we want to accept it or not, we are no longer living in a Christian culture.  The world today rejects the solid foundation of the Christian faith, and has created its own “spirituality,” that has no root in the time-honored traditions and beliefs.  You can believe whatever you want to believe, and you can change your belief when something more appealing comes along.  The paths that are level and secure are those that have been trod for thousands of years by faithful believers in the One True God and in Jesus Christ, His Son.  The way that is firm is “The way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).   Solomon also said “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining brighter till the full light of day” (v. 18). The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has stood the test of time, and it will stand for eternity.  Don’t allow the world to draw you off of the firm, level truth of God’s way.

“Do not swerve to the right or to the left; keep your foot from evil” (v. 27).  We have an image of Satan, red skin, horns a tail and a sharp trident.  I expect Satan laughs at the caricature we created in our imagination.  Evil is not always so easy to identify. Paul wrote “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 1:14). Evil is often subtle, cloaked in seemingly harmless decisions.  But evil always reveals itself when we are in deeper than we ever bargained for.   This verse tells us that the best way to guard against evil is to stay right on that level and firm path.  Jesus overcame evil, and He alone can lead us safely along the right way.

Finally, “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life” (v. 13).

There is no greater road map than the Word of God.  It is the original GPS – “God’s Positioning System.”  The instruction you will find in the Bible is true and is a rock-solid foundation to build your life on.  There are two verses that I believe express the importance of the Bible in the life of the believer.  The first is Psalm 119:105, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Its companion verse is Deuteronomy 32:47, “They are not just idle words for you – they are your life” (emphasis added).  Wherever God takes you in this life, His Word is a sure compass and a guiding light; and in the Scriptures, both Old and New, is everything you and I need for life.  The Bible is real words for real life.  I encourage you to make Bible study part of your daily routine.  Find a church that teaches the true Word of God, even consider participating in a Bible study class or group.  Sink your roots down into the rich and fertile soil of God’s Word and you will be amazed at how deep and strong your faith will grow.

The Bible tells us that Solomon was the wisest King of Israel, yet for all his wisdom, he failed to follow his own advice.  He allowed his heart to be turned away from God as he pursued multiple foreign wives (700 of them, plus 300 concubines!), and they led the King to worship foreign gods.  Solomon’s eyes beheld the exotic beauty of these women, and …well, be careful royal eyes what you see.

Holy God, teach me to guard my heart, and keep in pure and humble and always turned to You.  Let my words be pure, my gaze steady, my path firm and my way sure.  Amen.

The Lord is Our Guide (part 2)

In the first part of this series, we looked at who our guide is, and found much comfort in knowing that the Lord is our Guide. He is the perfect Guide because He knows the way we need to go, He knows the dangers we will face, and He knows the destination.  He stays close to us as we travel and provides all we need for the journey.

In this devotional, we will look at the ways God guides us.  When we understand how He leads we will become better followers. We will be better able to discern which path is the right one, by remembering these simple truths from Scripture.

“Your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in Your truth.” Psalm 26:3

This verse shows us two ways God guides His children.  First, He leads us by His love. His love is perfect (1 John 4:18), it is great (Psalm 86:13), good (Psalm 69:16), unfailing (Psalm 143:8), and endures forever (Psalm 136).  Everything God does in the lives of His children is done according to His love.  God’s love gives us confidence in His leading.  It is a love that you and I can always trust.  1 John 4:18 also tells us that God’s perfect love drives out fear.  What is there to be afraid of when the love of God is leading us? God declared to His people, “I led them with …ties of love.” (Hosea 11:4) When love leads the way, we are compelled to follow.

Psalm 26:3 also tells us God leads us in His truth.  Truth carries the promise of “faithfulness, reliability, and trustworthiness.” Where can we find this truth?  Jesus declared, “Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17)  Psalm 119 is filled with praise for God’s Word, declaring that it is righteous (v. 7), helps us guard against sin (v. 11), is filled with wonderful things (v. 18), is  a delight (v. 24); gives freedom (v.45), hope ,(v. 49), and comfort (v. 50); teaches us knowledge and good judgment (v. 66); is trustworthy (v. 86), eternal, (v.89),and  boundless (v. 98); keeps us from evil (v 101), is more valuable than pure gold (v. 127), is forever right (v. 144), and true (v. 151). Verse 105 proclaims, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  This verse says God’s Word is the way of truth and light.  God’s Word –His truth -is the light we need to protect us, sustain us and lead us.

“May Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:10

God leads us by His Holy Spirit.  In the days of the Old Testament, God’s Spirit often fell on the great men and women of Scripture, empowering and directing them for the God-task ahead, and then departing from them afterward.  Since the days of Pentecost, God’s Spirit has come to dwell within believers. He has come to stay and give us continual power and direction.  Isaiah 30:21 offers us a precious promise from God, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”  The Holy Spirit is that voice for the believer.  Listening carefully, we will be empowered, strengthened, and led by His Spirit.

 “Lead me, Lord, in Your righteousness” (Psalm 5:8)

The Lord will always lead us in the right way.  He will always lead us according to His righteousness, which means “according to God’s proper standard.”  He will lead us in ways that agree with His character.  Psalm 139:21 is David’s plea that God will “lead me in the way everlasting.” This “everlasting way” is by definition, “the everlasting way of life, which is from of old and lasting.”  Hebrews 1:12 assures us that “God will remain the same” and Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  He will lead us in the righteous way He has lead his people for generations. Walking in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ, we can be sure we will reach our destination.

God has promised to lead us, but it is up to us to follow Him.  If we want to go with God, we must know His ways and heed the words of Proverbs 4:25, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you” We must continually look to our righteous Guide who leads us in the good way to the perfect destination.

Holy Father, faithful Guide; Lead me in the way everlasting, in the good way of Your love, Your truth, Your Sprit and Your righteousness.  I surrender all my ways to You and trust that Your way is always the right way.  Amen.

 Today’s devotional is dedicated to the memory of Dorothy Brillhart, a wonderful friend, encourager, adopted “grandmother,” and a godly mentor.  You were a walking testimony to the goodness and faithfulness of God.  I love you.

Pay Attention!

I was on my way to work this morning, just rolling with the traffic around me, and letting my mind wander a bit.  You know — going over the projects for the day, thinking about my child who needs some encouragement, what to make for supper, reminding myself to pay the utility bill, etc.  Suddenly, brakes lit up ahead of me as we spy the patrol car parked off the roadway. I notice that the whole pack of cars had been speeding, and I was right in there with them.  Thankfully the officer was after bigger fish than me, but I realized something in that moment.  I had been letting the rest of the cars set the speed for me – and in going along with the pack, I had broken the law.

The “road” of our life, like the physical highway can lull us into something of a daze.  It becomes so easy to go along with the crowd. But there is much danger when we do.  The crowd will almost always lead us away from God.

The Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah gives us some very wise advice.

“Set up road signs; put up guideposts.  Take note of the highway, the road you take.” (Jeremiah 31:21)  In short: Pay attention!  Notice everything around you, and everything in you, and the way you are going.   Far too often, the way we take is just where we drifted to.

Do you see the directive in this verse? The Hebrew for “set up” is to stand oneself before, to station, establish, to attend.   There is nothing casual here; this is a strong decisive word.  It is a deliberate and purposeful action.  The word “guideposts” is amazing as well-the root word means “column of smoke.”  Now if you know much about the Bible at all, you will remember that the Israelites were lead by God through the wilderness with a “pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night” (Exodus 13:21) God is still leading His people, He is still making Himself visible to us if only we will pay attention.

We are also directed to “take note of the highway, the road you take.”  The heart of this section is – well– the heart.  By looking at the terminology, Jeremiah is instructing us to set our hearts to follow the Lord along the right “road” – the road or highway being the conduct of our life.  This is an intentional decision to guard our hearts and minds and stay alert to both the leading of the Lord and any attempt by Satan and the world to draw us off course.  We will never follow God by accident. We will never stumble into a daily discipline of prayer and reading the Bible.  We will never just fall into obedience. We must determine to do so.

What is the benefit of all this determination and attentiveness?  “A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk in that Way.” (Isaiah 35:8) Isaiah proclaims a “Way of Holiness” that will take us into God’s presence and light.  A highway that He has prepared for those who “walk in the Way.”

 The road we travel today will either lead us closer to God or farther away.  It’s your choice.  Will you pay attention to the direction you are traveling?

Almighty God, teach me to pay attention and to follow you with all my heart. Amen