Hope in Days of Evil

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Another day, another multi-victim shooting, another child abused, another murder, another robbery, beating, and theft. I remember the day when such things were shocking; now they are commonplace. I read just yesterday of a mother who killed her child and I want to ask, “Why?” But I know the answer. Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit. And their actions ushered in sin that has infected the human race at a far greater pace than COVID 19. It is part of our human make-up. It’s even part of our culture. And the Bible makes it clear that it’s only going to get worse.

Jesus said as the time for His return draws near, wickedness will increase, and “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Love – love for what is good – will die and evil and wickedness will grow at alarming rates.

Paul added, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:2-5). Can anyone doubt that we are in the last days?

Does that frighten you? It should if you don’t belong to Jesus Christ. But if you are His, if you have surrendered yourself – heart, mind, soul, and strength – to Him, the state of the world should concern you, but not scare you. It should compel you to share the gospel. It should urge you to live in holiness. It should move you to intervene for the innocent. But it shouldn’t frighten you. Because the increase of wickedness means a decrease in our wait for Christ’s return.

Jesus said when the world turns more and more to evil, and the heavens and the earth react to it (because they are also subject to the curse of sin), we need to look up. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky . . . the nations of the earth . . . will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). And every evil, wicked, sinful thing will be cast out. Yes, these are evil days, and there is likely more to come. But lift up your head, Beloved, that means the Lord is nearer now than ever before.

Hebrews: Jesus is Enough

I have great respect and appreciation for my pastor. He preaches the Word of God without compromise. He serves his church wholeheartedly. He has been a blessing to my family in times of need. He encourages me and cares about me. But he can’t save me. He can’t take on my sin and declare me righteous. He can’t bear my burdens and weaknesses. He can be my pastor, but he can’t be my high priest. But Jesus can. 

The author of Hebrews said, “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God . . .” (4:14). That probably doesn’t mean much to us as twenty-first century Protestants, but context is important. The Jewish people, like all people, were a sinful bunch. God made provision for them through the high priest, who, once a year, entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple, the place where God dwelled and presented a sacrifice for the atonement for them. This was repeated every year because, as we’ll see later, the blood of animals was a temporary solution to an eternal problem.

Jesus is our “great high priest” who didn’t just enter the earthly dwelling place of God, but He went right into heaven, into God’s very presence to present Himself as our sacrifice of atonement. Once. But once was enough. He alone could do that for us because He is the Son of God. Remember that the original readers were Jews who depended on the yearly sacrifice and atonement. They needed to hold firmly to their confidence that what Jesus did for them once was enough to make them righteous – and keep them righteous before God.

What does that mean for you and me? The same thing. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, which He presented personally to His Father, we are righteous. We have to hold firmly to that as our defining truth. Not just in an ethereal way, but in practical ways every day. When we face choices we remember that we have been declared righteous, and we choose accordingly. When the flesh craves something ungodly, we remember that we have been declared righteous and we deny our flesh. When we would react out of anger or fear or discouragement we remember that we have been declared righteous and we respond as a child of God – with peace and trust and hope. Jesus did it all for you, Beloved. Now hold firmly to Him. He is enough.

This is The Way

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Ask a group of kids, “Who’s your hero?” and you’ll get as many different answers as you have kids. “Batman.” “Tim Tebow.” “My Dad.” “The police.” I have many heroes, some from the Bible – like Deborah, Ezra, and Stephen,  some from history – Perpetua, Corrie Ten Boom, and Elisabeth Elliott, and some from my own life – my mom, my high-school writing teacher, and Mike Shockley. Then there is Roger Easton, Ivan Getting, Bradford Parkinson, and Dr. Gladys West. Who are these heroes of mine? The creative minds behind the  Global Positioning System. Oh, how I thank God for my GPS.

I am directionally challenged. My mom used to say that you could take me to the backyard, spin me around twice, and I couldn’t find my way back to the house. My husband would agree. His favorite thing to do is take me on unfamiliar roads and ask – “Do you know where you are?” And I never do. I depend on my GPS like a drowning man depends on a life preserver.  No matter where I am, I can punch in where I need to go and this magical device not only shows me the way but tells me what lane to get in and says, “Turn left.” Thank you, Roger, Ivan, Bradford, and Gladys!

Yet there is One who goes even farther to help this lost child. Jesus said, “I am the Way . . .” (John 14:6). He didn’t say I will give you a map so you can find the way. He didn’t say I will point to the way. He didn’t even say I will make a way.

He said, “I AM the Way . . .”

He is the way to the Father.

He is the way to everlasting life.

He is the way to peace.

He is the way to hope.

He is the way to Joy.

He is the way to love.

He is the way to God’s promises.

He is the way to everything that truly matters.

As much as I love my GPS, it can never get me to heaven. But Jesus can. He not only gets me to my destination, He takes me into the throne room of His Father and says, “Abba, Your daughter is home.” I am never lost with Jesus. He is my eternal GPS – God Positioning System.

Hebrews: No Sting in Death

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My mom passed away 34 years ago at the very young age of 57. In her last months, I was able to spend almost every day with her.  We talked about so much – sewing projects and her flower garden and recipes and memories. We talked about my friend who was expecting a baby. But we didn’t talk about heaven or Jesus or eternal life.  There’s no doubt in my mind and heart that my mom was saved and I believe I will see her – and my brother – in heaven someday. But she tried to keep our conversations light and I didn’t have the courage or knowledge to broach deeper subjects with her. After she died, I cleaned out her room – my last act of service from a daughter to her mother, I found a poem she wrote. The only line I remember is: “I looked into the darkness and no tomorrow could I see. . .” There was so much sadness in those words. She knew where she was going, but she also knew what she was leaving behind.

The author of Hebrews highlighted yet another reason why the Father would send His Son to earth to take on human flesh: “ . . . so that He might . . . free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15).  Who it is that fears death? The one who believes that life ends. The one who believes that there is nothing beyond this life. But for the believer, life doesn’t truly end. We simply change addresses – an earthly zip code for a heavenly one. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (KJV).” And in the presence of the Lord is eternal life.  Jesus declared, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul asked, “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).  It has lost its prick in the promise of eternal life. Even though my Mom didn’t want to leave her loved ones, she was not afraid to die. There was sadness in her poem, but the sting of death was gone. She may not have had another earthly tomorrow, but she has an eternity full of them.

Where Did Jesus Go?

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One of Joy’s favorite games is “Where’d it go?” She’ll cover her toes with a blanket and put her hands up in an “I-don’t-know” gesture and say “Where toes go?” She does the same with pictures in a book, or a stuffed animal, or a bean under the edge of her plate. We’ll look around until she reveals the hidden thing then laughs with glee at my surprised face.

Do you suppose God was playing Joy’s game with the devil that Sunday morning: “Where did Jesus go?” He’s not on the cross. He’s not in the tomb. And then the great reveal – “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). I wonder if He laughed like she does when He saw the shocked and terrified look on satan’s face. He knew the resurrection of Jesus spelled his doom.

It’s Easter Sunday around the world and the Church will gather to celebrate the risen Son of God. Teachers and preachers will tell “the old, old story” of the empty tomb.  Oh, but it’s more than a story and much more than a game. It’s the single most important event since creation that changed everything. The whole world was dark, but the darkness gave way to the Light. Mankind had no hope until Hope walked out of that tomb. Satan saw his plans crumble like dust.

That’s awesome on a cosmic scale, but what does Easter Sunday mean for you? It means eternal life if you have put your faith in Jesus. It means that you have a place in heaven for all eternity. It means no more sickness (no more COVID and no more facemasks!), no more sorrow, no more evil, and no more death. It means being with loved ones who have departed this life. It means you will see your Savior face-to-face in all of His glory and worship Him forever and ever.

“Where did Jesus go?” From heaven to earth to the cross to the tomb to life again. I guess it’s true: You can’t keep a good man down.

Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, Lost Sons

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I was up into the late-night hours last night working on a paper for my grad class. When I hit submit I thought, “I doubt it’s an “A” paper, but it’s a paper.”  I was studying the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32 Jesus’ story of a father and his two sons. The younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance of his father’s estate. He took that money and blew it on “wild living” (13) then found himself starving and in the humiliating position of feeding pigs.  He decided to go home and ask to just be a hired hand for his father. “But,” Jesus said, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him” (20). Before the boy could get his repentant speech out, the father had called for the best robe, ring, and sandals for his son. This, he declared was cause for a celebration, so a feast was prepared in the young man’s honor.

If this parable stood alone in the Scriptures the church will still have a wonderful story expressing the heart of God the Father to welcome repentant sinners back into a full relationship. But Jesus added a couple of other stories that broaden the picture.

Jump back to the beginning of chapter 15 – there are the parables of the lost sheep (3-7) and the lost coin (8-10), where a shepherd and a woman search diligently until their lost things are found. Then in both cases, the seekers rejoice and call for a celebration. Jesus ended both parables by stating that heaven also rejoices when one sinner repents.

The point of all three parables is that God the Father values the lost and it delights His heart when they are found. That’s why Jesus came “to seek and save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Beloved, are you lost today? Not geographically, but spiritually – separated from God. The heavenly Father sent His own Son to seek you from the high vantage point of the cross and bring you back. Do you love someone who is lost? Keep praying dear friend, God is actively searching for them, scanning the horizon to bring them home to Himself. God loves and values lost souls. Like you.

Higher Love

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Some of you (at least from my generation) may remember the 1980’s song “Higher Love.”

Think about it, there must be higher love

Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above

Without it, life is wasted time

Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine

Bring me a higher love

Bring me a higher love, oh

Bring me a higher love

Where’s that higher love, I keep thinking of?

In 1986 when this song was released, I wasn’t walking with Christ. I enjoyed the catchy tune – but I didn’t even think about the lyrics. Now, as a Christ-follower, I hear these words and understand a little better the love of God through them.  

I doubt that Steve Winwood realized he was singing about the love of God. But “think about it,” God’s love comes from a place even higher than “the stars above.” It comes from heaven. “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Without God’s love life is wasted time. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). Life is wasted without God. Winwood’s song is the cry of every human heart: “Bring me a higher love.” Solomon said, “What a man desires is unfailing love” (Proverbs 19:22). God set the standard for love, and His love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8)

Yes, Beloved, there is a Higher Love. But it’s not found in your heart or mine. It’s found in the great heart of God who answered our cries from the cross of Jesus Christ. There is no higher love than that.

When I See Jesus Face-to-Face

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One day I will look in the face of Jesus and I will see that everything I believed by faith was true.

He is good.

He lived a perfect, sinless life.

He is the King of heaven and earth.

He loves me.

He calmed storms around me and in me.

He overcame darkness and evil.

He met my every need.

He made the blind see.

He made the deaf hear.

He made the mute speak.

He made the lame walk.

He made the sick well.

And He made the broken whole.

He ran to meet me on the road back to Him.

He carried me when I couldn’t take another step.

He held me when my heart was breaking.

He raised the dead to life.

He called and anointed me.

He gave me rest.

He brought peace in the middle of chaos.

He brought Joy when I was brokenhearted.

He is everything He claimed to be.

He not only gave me hope but He was my hope.

He made a way when I couldn’t see any way.

He turned this filthy sinner into a spotless saint.

He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

He prays for me.

He died for me.

He rose from the grave.

He is with me to the end.

And when the end comes, I’ll be with Him forever. And my faith will be proven right.

“For now I see through a glass darkly: but then shall I see face to face. Now I know in part: but then shall I know even as I am known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

Today I see by faith, and that is enough for me.

The Road Ahead

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“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

The image on my GPS only showed the next several hundred yards in front of me.  But I wanted to see my present location in relation to my destination – a bigger picture.  We live in the moment, in the hours of our days, looking at our weekly schedules and our monthly calendars, planning for college and retirement thinking we’re wise in our future forecasts.  But life isn’t just about our plans for the here and now.  Life – real life – is eternal, and the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to have an eternal perspective in all things.

I’m learning to evaluate every situation and circumstance and consider what kind of impact it will have in eternity. Yes, this life hands us some very hard and painful things. Paul wrote: “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (v.17).  Though they often do not feel “light and momentary,” in the reality of eternity, they are just one tick on the clock of forever. 

This eternal perspective affects my desires too.  When I start to feel the pinch of envy, I remember that Jesus is preparing an eternal place for me that the world’s finest custom-built home can never match.  I will wear a robe of righteousness forever that no fashion designer could ever create.  I will have a perfect body that doesn’t require hours in a gym.  Even the events of this world don’t seem so overwhelming when viewed in the light of eternity.

When we have a “bigger picture” of life that culminates in eternity, we understand the journey we are on and the route before us.  We can traverse twisting roads, sharp turns, long stretches, and detours with the assurance that none of these will stop us from reaching our final destination – heaven and the presence of God forever.  Beloved, I encourage you to widen the view before you and trust the One who is leading you.  This life with all its heartache and struggle is part of the journey to your perfect eternal destiny.  Let’s travel on together with our hearts set on forever.

Make Every Minute Count

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A verse came to me this morning: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25). Then another: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). They were very convicting to me.  If I can truly say that earth has nothing I desire above God, and that Jesus alone has the words of eternal life, then why do I spend more time on Facebook than I do in the Good Book? Why do I listen to the opinions of others rather than listening to the only words that matter? And why does my quiet time get derailed by social media and emails and news and checking my bank account?

So I asked the Lord, “Have I forsaken my first love?” In Revelation, the Lord Jesus addressed seven churches, the first was the church in Ephesus (2:1-7). He commended them for their perseverance, endurance, and not tolerating wickedness and false apostles. But He also chastised them for “forsaking their first love” (v. 4) He said, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Remember the things you did at first” (v. 5). I remembered the days before the internet was part of my daily life. I would spend long stretches of time studying God’s Word and writing – prayers and devotions and lessons. I would spend days chewing on one passage or theme in Scripture. Those are the “things I did at first.” Granted, a lot more has changed in my life: work, school, my granddaughter, but those legitimate things should make me all the more determined to make every minute count when I have one.

Yet social media is a ministry platform, a way to speak life and truth and encouragement to others – to you. I believe God has called me to this.  But it should not take away from Him. I must allow the Holy Spirit to work the fruit of self-control in me.

Beloved, are you paying attention to how you spend the gift of precious minutes? Who gets the most – God or a hand-held device?  (Yes, I know, you’re probably reading this on your phone.) I would ask the same question another way – who sees your face the most – your children or your screens?  If I stepped on your toes, know that mine are also throbbing. To adapt Moses’ words: “Lord, teach us to number our minutes aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). What will you do to make every minute count?