Where Was God?

See the source image

“Where was God?” the atheist demanded. “Where was God?” the frightened widow cried. “Where was God?” the shocked nation asked. Even Christians looked to heaven and said,  “God, where are You?” It was the most tragic and horrific day in American history and twenty years later it still makes us weep. I imagine the same question was going through the minds of the Jews when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. The event even sounds very similar:  “[The Babylonians] set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.” (2 Chronicles 36:19).

A memorial sits at the very spot in New York City where the buildings fell. People come every year to remember and pay their respects to the thousands who lost their lives that day.  Every year religious Jews come to Jerusalem to pray and fast in remembrance of the destruction of their Temple, first by the Babylonians in 587/586 BCE, and again in 70 CE at the hands of the Roman legions led by Titus.

Where was God when the Twin Towers fell? The same place He was when Jerusalem fell. In His heaven, ruling over human history. How can that be? I wish I could give you a simple answer, but this is the age-old “problem of evil” that men have pondered for thousands of years. It has been used to deny the existence of God and His goodness and sovereignty and quite honestly, I cannot answer it. But I can tell you that evil may have claimed a few battles throughout human history, but it has already lost the war.

Oh, satan thought he was victorious when Jesus drew His last breath and cried out, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). But he was trembling when the ground rumbled as the stone rolled away. He was dumbfounded when the angel told the women, “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). He was horrified as Mary Magdalene ran back to the disciples with the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

So today I will remember the lives lost twenty years ago and pray for the still grieving. But I will not fear evil. I will keep my eyes on heaven and celebrate the risen Lord who dealt evil a fatal blow. No, the war is not yet over, but Satan has already lost. God has already won. God always wins.

At the Feet of Jesus

See the source image

“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair” (John 12:3).

I often think about the feet of Jesus. Those ten tiny toes kicked against the swaddling clothes as He lay in a manger. Those feet carried Him into the lives of sick children, broken, sinful women, and demon-possessed men. People fell before the feet of Jesus to plead for healing for themselves or someone they loved. And every time Jesus responded with compassion, He never walked away from those who needed him. His feet took Him to teach on the side of a mountain and the lakeshore. They carried Him up to Golgotha where Roman soldiers nailed them to a cruel, wooden cross. His nail-scarred hands and feet were the proof of His resurrected body before His disciples.

All His glory was bound up in that human body with human feet that carried Him to souls in need of mercy, freedom, grace, and life. He walked into my life with those beautiful feet bringing good news, peace, and salvation to this weary sinful woman.

There is one more place in Scripture where we see the feet of Jesus. Zechariah 14:4 says “On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west.” When Jesus Christ returns to earth in all His glory, His feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives – the place where He surrendered His will to the will of the Father (Luke 22:39-42) – and His glory will be so great that the mountain will split in two. Those beautiful feet will stand atop the mountain, and those scars that spoke of the humble servant of God will now shout of the mighty King of kings. “The Lord will be king over the whole earth” (Zechariah 14:9).

The feet of Jesus bring us healing, wholeness, freedom, and life. The feet of Jesus bear the marks of His great love for you and me. His feet that once bore nails will one day bear power – earth-shaking, mountain-breaking power. And at His feet, all of humanity will fall in worship and proclaim that He is Lord.

Beloved, have you invited Him to walk into your life?

The Beautiful Feet of Jesus

See the source image

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation” (Isaiah 52:7).

On Holy Thursday I wrote about washing the feet of Jesus and I have not been able to shake that thought nor the image of Jesus’ feet since. I’ve thought of those feet carrying Him away from a quiet life in Nazareth and into a mission that would change the world for all time. I’ve envisioned His dusty feet on the streets of Jerusalem or wet from standing at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Those feet carried Him into the lives of sick children, broken, sinful women, and demon-possessed men. People fell before the feet of Jesus to plead for His help. Matthew 15:30 says that crowds of people came to Jesus, “bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them.” In every instance, Jesus responded with compassion and love. He never walked away from those who needed him.

His feet walked through the home of the high priest where He stood trial and through the halls of the palace of Pilate who sentenced Him to death. His feet carried Him up to Golgotha where Roman soldiers nailed them to a cruel, wooden cross. His nail-scarred hands and feet were the proof of His resurrected body before His disciples.

The feet of Jesus bring us healing, wholeness, freedom, and life. The feet of Jesus bear the marks of His great love for you and me. His feet that once bore nails will one day bear power – earth-shaking, mountain-breaking power.  And at His feet, all of humanity will fall in worship and proclaim that He is Lord. All His glory was bound up in that human body, those human feet carrying Him to souls in need of healing, mercy, freedom, grace, and life. He walked into my life with those beautiful feet bringing good news, peace, and salvation to this weary sinful woman. Beloved, won’t you invite Him to walk into your life today?

Don’t Give Up!

See the source image

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).

The Place Where God Dwells

See the source image
Sunrise over Jerusalem

It’s hard. This life in a fallen world is hard, challenging, painful, and sometimes downright cruel. Sure there are Joys and blessings and moments of delight. But as Job’s friend Eliphaz opined, “Man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Trouble comes seemingly out of nowhere, sometimes it comes from others, but most often it comes with our own fingerprints all over it. When trouble comes, however it comes, you and I need a refuge; we need a strong helper who will stick with us in it. Thanks be, we have both. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Psalm 46 is a song, like out modern hymns of encouragement, to bring hope to the people of God. The psalmist talks about troubles that range from natural disasters to wars and enemy nations. I think we can say we’ve seen some of these world-wide issues in 2020. But for most of us, our troubles are closer to home. Financial troubles, health troubles, family troubles, job troubles, relationship troubles. We’re troubled by grief and pain and stress and strain. We begin to doubt if we can stand up under it all. Ah – but don’t forget about your Helper.

Hear this good word of hope as the psalmist lifts his heart for “the holy place where the Most High dwells.” “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day” (46:4,5). But, you say, he is talking about a city, Jerusalem, where God dwells in the temple. In the immediate context, he is. But this word reaches forward to you and me. When Jesus promised to send His Holy Spirit, he said that “He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).

Think about what that means. If you are in Christ, you are “the holy place where the Most High dwells.” Yes, YOU, with all your troubles. Stop for a moment and speak this affirmation out loud: “God is within me, I will not fall; God will help me at the break of day.” That’s not high-minded theology, it’s a promise that is as sure as the Promise Maker. God is with you – within you –  Beloved, He will not let you fall.

Be an Encourager

See the source image

The book of Haggai has only 2 chapters and 38 verses – but they pack a punch. Haggai prophesied after the Israelites were released from Babylon and returned home to find Jerusalem in shambles. The protective wall was broken down.  Their homes were destroyed. The Temple of God was a pile of rubble. The work of restoring the temple was started then stopped because of threats and intimidation by enemy nations. They instead focused their efforts on rebuilding their own homes, and once comfortable and unwilling to resist the harassment of their enemies, they became lethargic and abandoned the Temple work. Does any of that sound familiar? On a national scale, it describes the United States to a T. On a personal level it’s like I’m looking in a mirror.

The people were discouraged. They had endured seventy years in captivity and faced destruction when they finally came home. They were also under attack. The Samaritans were fighting against them with threats and political maneuvering. (Hmmm.) Enter Haggai who delivered a word of encouragement. He said that The Spirit of the Lord remained with them (2:4-5). He declared, “in this place I will grant peace” (2:9) He said, “From this day on, I will bless you” (2:19).

The world needs men and women of godly courage to speak both truth and hope. I know I need it. I suspect you do too. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s been a hard year for me and I don’t usually often sit down to this laptop every morning brimming over with holy confidence.  I have to get in the Word and let God speak to me through His Spirit. As I write these devotionals for you, I am encouraged. I find hope. Friend, the best medicine for discouragement is to let God encourage others through you. Water can’t flow through a pipe without also getting the pipe wet. Beloved, who in your life needs a word of  hope?

Christmas Hope in a Manger

See the source image

Kids on Christmas morning hope for the newest toys and electronics under the tree. The soldier’s mother hopes for her son’s safe return for the holidays. Teachers hope to survive until Christmas break and students hope there will be no pop-tests before they reach the last day of class. Travelers hope for good weather and light traffic while law enforcement hopes for safe drivers and no accidents. The merchants hope for record sales and shoppers hope for great bargains. Christmas is synonymous with hope – but not for these reasons.
For the Jewish people, hope was in short supply. Their nation had long been under the control of others; at the time of Jesus’ birth, the Romans ruled over Jerusalem. The Jews had hoped for God’s Messiah to rescue them from oppression. They hoped for a leader who would overthrow the Romans and reestablish David’s throne and Israel’s independence. God would indeed send the Messiah to rescue His people from bondage and establish His Kingdom, but He would overthrow a greater enemy than the Romans. He would save more than just Israel and would rule over an everlasting Kingdom from David’s throne. He would not come in power with a sword in his hand and a crown on his head. He would come as a helpless baby with straw in His tiny fist and a crown of thorns in his future. He would not raise a scepter over Jerusalem but would be raised up on a cross outside the city gates. He would not overthrow Rome – He would overthrow death. Their hopes would be fulfilled – but not as they envisioned. It would exceed all they could ever ask or imagine.
Your hopes might be for something flashy and fun, or simple and quiet this Christmas. You may have hopes that can’t be put in a box with a bow. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last, there is life and Joy.” In God’s good and loving hands, hope is a sure thing – a promise given and fulfilled in the same instant. It may not look what you thought it would be Beloved, but you have His Word that it will be full of life and Joy.

Hosanna!

PalmSundayLoop_03Palm Sunday

 

Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19: 28-44; John 12:12-19

“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” John 12:13

 The scene is just outside the city of Jerusalem, and the season is the “Passover Festival” – a week-long celebration commemorating the “passing over of the Death-Angel” prior to the Israelite’s exodus out of Egypt.

As was the tradition, thousands of Jews flocked to the city, and one major topic of conversation was on everybody’s lips: “Would Jesus come into the city for the Passover Feast?” The people were all abuzz with reports of His miraculous deeds – in particular, raising Lazarus from the dead. The Religious Leaders had given orders that anyone knowing His whereabouts should report it to them, for they planned to arrest Him on sight.

Jesus’ previous entries into the city were quiet, without any show of publicity. Now, however, with deliberate purpose, He publically presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah and King. To announce that He was indeed the Messiah, Jesus chose a time when all Israel would be gathered in Jerusalem, a place where huge crowds could see Him, and a way of proclamation that was unmistakable.

The people lined the road, praising God, waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks in front of the colt. They shouted “Hosanna” because they recognized Jesus was fulfilling the long-awaited prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. They began to spread their clothes in the colt’s path to provide a “royal carpet” and they cut branches from palm trees, adding them to their garments on the ground and waving them before the Lord.

 

The word “Hosanna: is made up of two Hebrew terms, “hosa” meaning “save” or “help” and “na,” which is a plea based on the urgency of the need. In the original setting of the word, which would have been familiar to the Jewish people, “Hosanna” meant “Help us, please, Lord!”

 

Interestingly, on the road outside the city, the people proclaim Him Messiah as they recall the prophet’s promise (Matthew 21:9). Once inside the city gates, as strangers gathering for the Passover asked: “Who is this?” the answer was different. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From Messiah to Prophet. First One who “comes in the Name of the Lord” – now one who comes from Nazareth-a city despised and disregarded by the Jews. (John 1:46)

Don’t we still do the same? In the Sanctuary on Sunday morning Jesus is Lord and we sing His praises with fine voice. But what happens we the crowd changes? Do we tuck Him inside the cover of a dusty Bible? How do we respond to the question? “Who is this?” Is He just a “good teacher, a man of peace”, or maybe even a fool?

He cannot not be Lord on Sunday and disregarded on Monday.

 

This week has, for centuries, been called “Holy Week” and “Passion Week.”

The church holds the remembrance of Christ’s death in highest esteem. Next Sunday is Easter, and we will celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection-our hope for eternal life.

The world looks to Easter as an excuse to shop for new clothes and to pay homage to a bunny who gives us baskets filled with decadence. No my friend, Jesus is the reason for the season!

 

Will you and I regard this week as truly Holy? Will we remind the world that this season is about a gift far richer than chocolate – the gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah King? Will we lift high the Cross of Christ for all to see? We will proclaim that He is Alive!? “Christ the Lord is Risen!”

 

Lord, Jesus, our Savior and our King, on this Palm Sunday we raise our voices with the multitudes and cry out “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

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.

Hosanna! Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!

See the source image

Matthew 21:1-11
Mark 11:1-11
Luke 19: 28-44
John 12:12-19

The scene is just outside the city of Jerusalem, and the season is the “Passover Festival” – a week-long celebration commemorating the “passing over of the Death-Angel” prior to the Israelite’s exodus out of Egypt.

As was the tradition, thousands of Jews flocked to the city, and one major topic of conversation was on everybody’s lips: “Would Jesus come into the city for the Passover Feast?” The people were all abuzz with reports of His miraculous deeds – in particular, raising Lazarus from the dead. The Religious Leaders had given orders that anyone knowing His whereabouts should report it to them, for they planned to arrest Him on sight.

Jesus’ previous entries into the city were quiet, without any show of publicity. Now, however, with deliberate purpose, He publically presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah and King. To announce that He was indeed the Messiah, Jesus chose a time when all Israel would be gathered in Jerusalem, a place where huge crowds could see Him, and a way of proclamation that was unmistakable.

The people lined the road, praising God, waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks in front of the colt. They shouted “Hosanna” because they recognized Jesus was fulfilling the long-awaited prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. They began to spread their clothes in the colt’s path to provide a “royal carpet” and they cut branches from palm trees, adding them to their garments on the ground and waving them before the Lord.

The word “Hosanna: is made up of two Hebrew terms, “hosa” meaning “save” or “help” and “na,” which is a plea based on the urgency of the need. In the original setting of the word, which would have been familiar to the Jewish people, “Hosanna” meant “Help us, please, Lord!”

Interestingly, on the road outside the city, the people proclaim Him Messiah as they recall the prophet’s promise (Matthew 21:9). Once inside the city gates, as strangers gathering for the Passover asked: “Who is this?” the answer was different. “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From Messiah to Prophet. First One who “comes in the Name of the Lord” – now one who comes from Nazareth-a city despised and disregarded by the Jews. (John 1:46)

Don’t we still do the same? In the Sanctuary on Sunday morning Jesus is Lord and we sing His praises with fine voice. But what happens we the crowd changes? Do we tuck Him inside the cover of a dusty Bible? How do we respond to the question? “Who is this?” Is He just a “good teacher, a man of peace”, or maybe even a fool?

He cannot not be Lord on Sunday and disregarded on Monday.

This week has, for centuries, been called “Holy Week” and “Passion Week.”
The church holds the remembrance of Christ’s death in highest esteem. Next Sunday is Easter, and we will celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection-our hope for eternal life.
The world looks to Easter as an excuse to shop for new clothes and to pay homage to a bunny who gives us baskets filled with decadence.

Will you and I regard this week as truly Holy? Will we remind the world that this season is about a gift far richer than chocolate – the gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Messiah King? Will we lift high the Cross of Christ for all to see? We will proclaim that He is Alive!? “Christ the Lord is Risen!”