A Lesson in Love

The man asked a burning question, “What must I do to be saved?” And he knew all the right answers – love God and love your neighbor. He even claimed to practice them regularly. But he wanted to “justify himself,” as the Greek says to “exhibit oneself such as he wishes to be considered.” He wanted to appear supremely righteous – even more righteous than Jesus – so he asked another question: “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus told a story of a wounded, broken man and the “righteous” people who passed him by. But an unlikely person came along – one who was considered most unrighteous.  It was he who stopped and rendered aid – he cared for the man and about the man.

Then Jesus turned the question around. “Which of these was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  See, the man wanted to know, according to the Law, whom he had to love. Jesus said love isn’t done according to the law, but according to the heart. The Lord pointed to the neighbor not as the one in need but as the one who met the need.

People are sad.

Lonely.

Hungry.

Abused.

Hurting.

Broken.

Homeless.

Afraid.

Grieving.

Helpless.

Sick.

Mistreated.

Hopeless.

And yes, angry.

There is no end to the needs in the world.

But I can’t fix everybody. Where do I start?

With the person God sets in front of you.

“Who is the neighbor. . . ?”

“The one who had mercy on him.”

“Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

A Brand New Day”

It is a brand new day. Maybe, like me, you’re up before the sun, or you may have slept in and it’s mid-morning – or even afternoon. But it’s a day that the Lord has made, so be glad and rejoice in it (Ps 118:24). God has given you a gift today.

It is a day filled with new opportunities and new mercies (Lam. 3:23). Yesterday’s failures are buried. Today is a new slate, bright and clean.

You do not face this day alone; Jesus is present with you (Matt. 28:20).

He is Your Shepherd (Ps. 23:1).

His Father is your Father (Matt. 20:17).

He is your Comfort (2 Cor. 1:3)

Your Rock (Ps 18:2).

Your Strength (Ps 19:14).

Your Shield (Deut. 33:29).

Today keep your heart and mind focused on Him and the worries of your life will seem small because He is so great. Your heavenly Father knows what you need, even before you ask Him (Matt 6:8) and your life is more valuable to Him than anything else in creation (Matt 6:25). He is sufficient for all your needs (Phil 4:19).

He is your Peace (Judg 6:24).

He is your Helper (Ps 54:4)

Your Light (Ps 27:1)

Your Exceeding Joy (Ps 43:4).

He is the God of your Life (Ps 42:8)

Consider how extraordinary it is that the gracious, mighty, sovereign God sang you to sleep last night (Zep. 3:17) and He sent you word this morning of His unfailing love (Ps. 143:8). His is an everlasting (Jer 31:3), unfailing (Psalm 52:8), never-ending (Psalm 107:1) love.

The angels declare that the whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord. (Isaiah 6:3). Keep your eyes fixed on Him (Heb. 12:2),  Beloved, all through this day and you will see His glory all around you.

Dig a Ditch

The nation of Moab was on the attack. The armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom set out to fight Moab in the desert. After a week of marching, they ran out of water – a deadly thing to face in a desert. Jehoshaphat, the king of Israel turned to God’s prophet Elisha for the Word of the Lord. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Make this valley full of ditches’” (2 Kings 3:16). Jehoshaphat assumed God was going to send rain to fill the ditches and provide water. Not so. Elisha said, “You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water” (v. 17). Water is going to magically appear in the desert? Right! The prophet answered, “This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 18). Not only will God provide water for Israel, but “He will also hand Moab over to you” (v. 19). The armies obeyed and set to digging. In the morning the ditches were flowing with water! The army and the animals were refreshed and ready to press on.

But remember God’s second promise? When the Moabite army began to take up their battle positions in the early morning, the rising sun was shining on the water. “To the Moabites, the water looked red like blood” and they assumed that the armies had turned on one another and slaughtered each other. Their battle plan changed – “To the plunder, Moab!” (v. 23). But Moab walked right into the revitalized armies, and the few that survived turned tail and ran.

I confess I sat down to write with a heavy heart this morning. I am facing some tough things right now. I feel the press of the enemy against me. I feel his hot, nasty breath on the back of my neck. I was flipping through my Bible for inspiration and God stopped me here on this page. This is what He is speaking to me right now – and to you. “Yes, the enemy has put a bullseye on you, but I will help you. Watch Me easily do what is too hard for you. Dig a ditch and prepare to receive My blessing. Watch Me use that blessing to overthrow your enemy.”

I don’t know what the enemy has up his evil sleeve against you. But I know Who has your back. Beloved, dig a ditch.

Hebrews: It’s for Your Own Good

My parents had very different approaches to discipline. Dad grounded me once for the rest of my life. I guess he didn’t notice that at some point I snuck out of the house, got married, and lived my own life. Mom, however, did not play so loosely with me. She grounded me once for two weeks and I was stuck at home with no t.v. until I had served my time – to the minute. Yep, she wrote it down and held me to it. Dad disciplined in anger, and once his anger had passed, he stopped paying attention. Mom disciplined with a purpose, to teach me that I had best plan to make it home by curfew.

The writer of Hebrews said that, as hard as it may be, God, too, disciples with a purpose. We touched on verse 10 last time: “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” Verse 11 says that God’s discipline “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.” So God’s purposes are holiness, peace, and righteousness. But look at one other thing in verse 11 – these are benefits “for those who have been trained by it.” My Dad’s discipline was reactionary, Mom’s discipline was to train me to pay attention to the clock. God’s discipline is a training ground.

Now you can look at me and see that I’m not into physical training, but I sure need to be. I need to develop the discipline of exercise and better eating habits so that I enjoy the benefits of more energy and strength.  But I’m flabby and out of shape. The writer has a word for me: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (v. 12). Now we know he is not talking about the physical but the spiritual. This comes as Isaiah is prophesying the Babylonian captivity for the nation of Judah. The first part of this book is warnings and woes, but then the tone changes as God promises comfort and restoration. And Joy. He declares to the fearful and weary captives, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come . . . He will come to save you” (Is 35:4).

So as we’re lifting weights let’s lift high the name of Jesus. While we’re running in place on the treadmill, let’s run away from temptation. When we exercise to strengthen our core, we need to also “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Eph 6:10). The benefits of God’s discipline are worth all the sweat and strain. As my Mom would say – this is for your own good Beloved – and also for God’s glory.

Look Up!

Sometimes words and phrases in the Bible will catch my attention in such a way that I know it is God speaking to my heart. That happened last night as I was preparing the Sunday School lesson. It was as if the Spirit took a divine highlighter and marked the words “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look . . .” (Gen 13:14). It started a treasure hunt and I discovered the same text repeated several times in the Bible.

There have been many times in my life when I was so discouraged and downhearted that all I ever saw were my feet. My head was always down along with my spirit. There’s something about our physical position that affects our emotional position. When all you ever see is the bottom of the pit it’s all you think there is. When your shoulders are continually rounded, your heart is pointing towards the floor. It becomes very hard to pick your head up. That’s where this good word helps.

Joy had to go to the dentist this week. She had a horrible experience at a previous dental visit and now she’s very fearful. When she realized where we were she tucked her chin into her little chest and started whimpering. I held her close to me and gently called out her name to get her attention. She wouldn’t raise her head at first but she did cut her eyes up to me and when I told her I loved her and it was going to be okay she eventually lifted her face – and her head – toward me.

That’s the picture I see in this verse. Life gets very hard sometimes and we may find ourselves someplace we don’t want to be. We may be there from our own foolishness and sin, through someone else’s failure, or because God has brought us into a desert for a season. Whatever the situation, “lift up your eyes and look.” Look at what? At Him. He’s there with you. He has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5). Beloved, when your head and heart are bowed low, when you are afraid or sad or feel lost, lift up your eyes and look for Him. God is as close as a whispered prayer.

Protecting the Promise

I promised this yesterday, and yesterday went sideways on me so here ‘tis. 

Abraham – originally Abram – was a regular guy living a regular life in the ancient near east when God stepped in. Promises were made for “a great nation” (Gen 12:2) and land. Promises that would change the course of world history. But first God would have to guard those promises from the man’s foolishness.

Over and over Abraham put those promises in jeopardy. He went to Egypt and claimed that his wife, Sarah was his sister (a partial truth – but still a lie). He went to Gerar and made the same statement. In both instances, his wife was taken into the harem of the Pharoah and the king (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Both times God interrupted the setup and protected Sarah – and the promise of a child – by not allowing her to be taken into the royal bed.  Abraham wasn’t the only one who acted faithlessly. Sarah, believing it was up to her to fulfill God’s promise (doesn’t that sound familiar), gave her slave-girl to Abraham to produce an heir – but not the heir of the Divine promise. Once again, God had to step in and send Hagar and Ishmael away to protect the promise.

Abraham eventually figured it out. After Sarah died he realized that it was time for his son, Isaac, to marry. But he must not marry a woman from the surrounding people – the Canaanites – a wicked nation who did not worship God. They would surely lead Isaac away from God. He sent his servant back to his own people to get a wife for his son. The servant asked, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?” (Gen 24:5).  Abraham declared, “Make sure that you do not take my son back there” (v. 6). Why? The Lord had said, “To your offspring I will give this land . . .” (v. 7). The promise was tied to the land. Abraham knew if his son went back to his family the promise would be in jeopardy. This time, Abraham was protecting the promise. His son could not leave “The Promised Land.” There was too much at stake.

What does this mean for you and me today? God still makes promises and He still works to protect those promises. And so must we. Guard your steps. Guard your life. Make God’s promises the beat of your heart, Beloved. All the way to The Promised Land.

Tangled

My husband is a Christmas movie junkie – you know, those sappy Christmas love stories where the plot never changes. He was watching one this week (in August!) and the couple was decorating a tree for the holidays. I could tell it was make-believe because the girl pulled the strand of lights out of the box and they were tangle-free. How many hours have we spent trying to untangle strands of wires and bulbs? “Pull that end through this loop. No! THIS loop! Wait, the bulb is stuck. Why didn’t you put them away right last year?” How many times did we chunk them and go out and buy new lights? More than I want to confess.

Tangled lights are frustrating. Tangled lives are heartbreaking. You didn’t mean to get so deep into that sin, that relationship, that dark situation, that addiction, but here you are and you can’t figure out how to get free. I know of a few people in the Bible that would understand. Like the man in Mark 5 who lived in the tombs in the Gerasenes. He was possessed by multiple demons – so many that they called themselves “Legion.” The townspeople tried to chain him, but he broke free of them every time. Yet he could not free himself from the demons. Or a woman named Mary Magdalene who was also possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). Or an unnamed woman from Samaria who had been entangled in sin with multiple men (John 4). Or a little man named Zacchaeus who was tangled up in greed with the Roman rulers (Luke 19). Or a very religious man named Saul who was so caught up in self-righteousness that he set out to persecute Jesus’ followers (Acts 9). Jesus set each one of them free from the things that bound them.

Or if you need a more recent example, look at the one who is writing these words right now. Oh, the chains that Christ has broken in my life! He has set me free from a life tangled up in sin, selfishness, depression, fear, self-hatred, unforgiveness, abuse, anxiety, foolishness, and so much more. Beloved, whatever you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in – God can unravel your mess. It’s why Jesus came. So that you might know the truth – that God loves you – and be set free (John 3:16, 8:32).

Hebrews: Your Cheering Section

When I finally pulled the trigger on college I was blessed with a great support system. My husband was my #1 cheerleader and was so patient with the time I spent on my studies. My best friend covered me in prayer all the way through. But there was one particular friend who was the most helpful because she had just completed the same course of study at the same school. She was a Godsend, full of experience and wise counsel. I called her with a thousand questions and more than a few panic attacks. She knew what I was dealing with and how I could get through it. She shared her wisdom and kept me going when I wanted to quit. I am so grateful to you, Merideth Middleton.

That is the same spirit behind Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” For several weeks we have studied the “greats of the faith” – Enoch, Noah, Moses, Abraham, and even Rahab – a prostitute.  They are all part of the “great cloud of witnesses” who serve as encouragement and inspiration for us today.  Add to that list Peter, James, John, and Paul, plus the martyrs who stood in the face of torture and death and praised the Name above every name. It is indeed a “great cloud” of faithfulness.  They are models and examples to us and they are cheering you and me on in our Christian journey.  They paid the price for being a Christ-follower and they want us to know that it is worth it.

There is another in that great cloud who is particularly watching and encouraging us.  Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is praying for us; He is asking His Father to give us faith that will not fail (Luke 22:31, Romans 8:34).  He is speaking to our hearts through His Spirit.  And when the battle is the hardest and we think we have been forgotten, He who sits at the right hand of the Father stands to bless and encourage us (Acts 7:55, 56).  You have all the saints of the ages cheering you on.  You have brothers and sisters in Christ to support and encourage you.  And you have the very Son of God praying for you. Keep running, Beloved, victory is ahead.

The Word for the Day is . . .

You need it. I need it. Our kids need it. Our coworkers and friends and neighbors need it. Our pastors need it and the grocery store clerk needs it. What is it? Encouragement. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because in this world-gone-mad, as well as in our own struggles, we desperately need to be encouraged. Look at the word – what do you see in the middle? Courage. Encouragement is about instilling courage in one another. Why do we need courage? I don’t know about you but without it, I will cower in the bed with my head under the covers all day. We need courage to get back up when we’ve been knocked down. We need courage to reject the wrong and stand for the right. We need courage to face the trials of life. Some days we need courage just to get out of bed. Most importantly, we need courage to be the people of God in a godless world. That’s my desire every time I write.

How can I give you courage today? With the testimony of the ages: Jesus Christ is alive and He rules and reigns! Paul declared, “[God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:20-21). No human entity has more authority or power than Jesus. If you have surrendered your life into His hands, that is encouraging news!

But wait! There’s more! Not only is He alive and on the throne – Jesus is coming again! “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This was great news to the weary and oppressed Christians.  It’s great news to us too.

The word for today, and every day is this: Be encouraged Beloved–the Lord is on His Throne and He is coming again!

God is Good

So how do you like my new glasses? They’re probably the most stylish pair of spectacles I’ve ever owned. And they are at the heart of my God-story this morning. You may recall a few months ago I wrote about Joy accidentally whacking me in the side of the head with her head and knocking my glasses off. (I’ll share a link to that post in the comments.) That hit badly warped my frames and it threw my vision off. A few days after that post someone who followed me on Facebook messaged me and wanted to send me some of her frames that she couldn’t use anymore to replace my pitiful glasses. I was amazed at her kindness. And amazed at the quality of the frames she sent me – none of the cheap $69 frames I usually got. These were designer-quality. We struck up a sweet friendship through online conversations about eyewear and snow and babies I don’t know the “official” name of these frames, but I’m calling them “Grace” because they are God’s gracious gift to me.

But never occurred to me to pray for new glasses. I just assumed I would struggle along with the old ones until I could afford to replace them. But God . . . It makes me think of Jesus’ words: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt 6:8). In the margin of my Bible next to this verse are dates and words like: “transmission,” “septic repairs,” “a home,” “healing,” “groceries,” “diapers,” and “job.” They are followed by more dates – when God met those needs. Every. Single. One. God knew that I needed good glasses and He provided in that incredible way that only He can do.

This is not my usual devotional because I just want to testify to God’s goodness. He saw my need and He met it. He pricked the heart of someone I didn’t know on my behalf. She obeyed that prompting and now I can see. If you need a takeaway, it would be two-fold. First, if God pricks your heart to help someone in need, do it. It will be a blessing for them and for you. Second and most importantly, God loves you. He knows your need. Whether it’s glasses, groceries, a home, peace, hope, or wisdom, it’s His delight to take care of His children. I am living, seeing proof.