Blessed Be The Name of the Lord

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I remember when “cool” was a temperature, then it became a word of affirmation. Sometimes it’s used to describe someone that is aloof – but it also describes someone who is fascinating. Then again, the weatherman said a cool front is passing through this week. And don’t forget about Paul Newman’s movie “Cool Hand Luke.” I think I’ve confused myself here. But consider how important words are. Words we used in the past are now banished because they are deemed demeaning and offensive. On many college campuses, some words are forbidden because they might “trigger” an emotional response of fear or anger. Yet today, words that were once spoken in reverence are spat out like curses.

Consider how our culture uses the words “Lord,” “God,” “Jesus,” and “Holy.”  Yet they identify the Righteous Creator and Sovereign King of the universe. Tradition says that in the medieval days when monks were transcribing the words of the Bible and they came to the Name, they would leave their table, wash themselves, get a new quill, write the Name then break the quill. This was to ensure that they did not approach the Name of God in an unclean state and that the pen that wrote the Holy Name would never be used to write something profane. That may be a bit over the top, but oh, that we still venerated the name of God!

One of the ten commandments says: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Exodus 20:7). When we speak these designations of God as mere words in anything less than reverence we are misusing God’s name and identification. When we say “Good Lord” it should only be to praise Him, not register frustration. “Oh my God!” should be spoken as a prayer, not an exclamation of surprise or excitement or – worse – disgust. “Jesus Christ” is the name of the Son of God and our Savior, and is not to be spat out like a curse. And “Holy” is the highest description of the Lord God, and should never be joined to farm animals, bodily functions, and sexual slang.

Yes, our words carry meaning. Beloved, let’s consider carefully the words we say and use our mouths to speak of our God and Savior in the reverence due them.

At the Feet of Jesus

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“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?

Is He Lord?

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I had a t-shirt that got me into trouble in middle school. It wasn’t racy or low-cut or provocative – it was what it said. No, it didn’t have profanity on it or racist comments.  It said, “As long as there are pop tests, there will be prayer in school.” By my middle-high school years, faculty-led prayer had been banned from schools for ten years. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools. Fifty-nine years later we are reaping the consequences of that decision. Deadly, horrific consequences.

After the 9/11 tragedy, Anne Graham Lotz commented, “for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection.” What fools we have been.

But we were not the first to tell God to leave us alone. The Old Testament Prophet Amos tried in obedience to deliver the word of the Lord to the people but they told him, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (Amos 7:16). In other words, “Shut up and leave us alone.” And so God did. He told them, “The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). They had said, “We don’t want to hear from you, God,” and He gave them what they wanted – silence from heaven. For four hundred years. Years of great oppression and persecution and struggle.

You and I can’t plead for God’s help in a crisis and then reject His holy and righteous ways when they rub against our “freedoms.” And I’m not just talking on a big, national scale – I’m talking about our every day lives. The missionary Hudson Taylor said, “Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.” You and I have to be all-in. What say you, Beloved? Is He Lord or is He not?

I Believe

The elders of Israel were invited up the mountain to worship God. The scripture twice says they saw God, even eating and drinking with Him (Exodus 24:10,11). The disciples saw the risen Jesus. They touched the marks of their salvation. We count them as remarkably blessed. We somehow think we would have greater faith and confidence if we could only see Him with our physical eyes. Yet when the elders came down from their mountaintop experience, after waiting forty days for Moses to return, they gave up the glorious vision and pressed Aaron to make them a god they could see and touch. And Luke reports that despite seeing Him in the room with them and even after touching His hands and feet, “they still did not believe.”

Jesus said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:21). I’ve never seen God physically. I’ve never seen nor touched Jesus. But I believe. I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Resurrected Savior, the KING OF KINGS, and the LORD OF LORDS. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the second member of the Trinity, the Alpha and the Omega, the One who was and is and is to come. And He is my Redeemer, my Savior and my Lord.

No, I don’t have the advantage these men had. But I don’t need to see Him with my eyes to believe. I’ve already seen Him with my heart. #Ibelieve

Holy Habits

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I am such a creature of habit. I was scrolling through my Facebook memories and realized that I am wearing the same outfit that I wore exactly one year ago today. It’s like I schedule my clothes – every April 7 I will wear the grey-striped pants and the white shirt with the bright pink flowers. Well, maybe that’s stretching it a bit, but I do have daily routines – alarm goes off – shower – get dressed (better check the calendar first!) – start the coffee – take my medicine – sit down with my coffee and the Bible – write the day’s devotional – more coffee and breakfast – more meds – brush the teeth – put on shoes – then off to work taking the same route every day. I can tell that I operate on automatic pilot most mornings because when something interrupts my routine, my whole day is thrown off. Joy stays with us for part of the week and my routine is wrecked repeatedly as I get her up, fed, dressed, lunch packed, and dropped off with the sitter.
Habits are not bad things in and of themselves. Some habits (like bathing and brushing the teeth) are good. Some not so much, as I have the bad habit of biting my nails. But I’m trying to develop some other habits – holy habits that will benefit my day, and my life, more than my morning routine. Like trusting in the Lord. Delighting in the Lord. Committing my way to the Lord. Being still before the Lord. Waiting patiently for the Lord. Hoping in the Lord. Keeping the way of the Lord. Perhaps you detected a theme there. The Lord needs to be my holy habit. What does that mean? Everything in my life – in my day – should be about the Lord.
All of these are taken from Psalm 37, where David is encouraging himself not to become anxious and fretful because of the evil and wickedness around him, but to trust, delight, commit, be still, wait, hope, and submit to the Lord. That’s good advice for these difficult times, but they are also good daily habits to develop as part of a holy life. When our lives are centered around the Lord He will bless us with His peace. Maybe then I can break the bad habit of biting my nails.

An Unpopular Jesus

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The great philosopher John Lennon once remarked in the mid-sixties, that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”  Christians took great offense at his statement and the Beatles’ albums were burned and smashed to pieces. It was an inflammatory statement, but the truth is, Lennon was probably right. In the fifty years since, he has been proved right with any celebrity, sports star, or politician you want to name. Even in the church, Jesus is not the most popular figure in the world, at least not the Jesus of the Bible. There are variations of Jesus – the political Jesus (we’ve seen a lot of him lately), the social justice Jesus (he seems to be the one most folks like) the anything-goes Jesus, and on and on.  

The Jesus of the Bible is at the same time humble and exalted. He is gentle and fierce. He is gracious and confrontational. He accepted women with bad reputations and chastened the religious leaders who are lauded for their (self)righteousness. He is unpredictable and yet He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But He never was popular – the same crowd greeted Him as Messiah, shouted for His crucifixion. Throughout human history far more have rejected Him than accepted Him. He may be worshiped in small bands but He is scorned in the public square. But one day . . .

The Bible says that  Jesus will come again, splitting the sky and riding the clouds like a wave. And every eye will see Him. Every person will know exactly who He is. Because God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name. One day, that name will ring out -across the universe, and then “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).  Every knee. Every tongue. 

Yes, you will bow and you will confess. Will it be an act of delight that you have practiced often in worship and praise, or will it be one of shock and horror, when you realize Who you rejected.  The choice is yours now, Beloved. Are you ready?

From Your Lips to God’s Ear

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“Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray.” Psalm 5:1-2

I have returned to a discipline I loved but pushed aside for the sake of time – journaling my prayers. This was the tool the Lord used early in my Christian walk to grow and strengthen my faith. I set it aside when my mornings got so packed. It’s just quicker to speak my prayers than to take the time to write them. But I missed it. I’m so glad that the Spirit called me back to pen and paper. One part of my prayer journaling each day is to write out a verse of Scripture, a word of praise or thanksgiving, or something that reflects my heart. This morning I chose Psalm 5:1-2. The sighing resonated with me. I do a lot of sighing these days.

But as I wrote these words something else struck me. Look at the three names David used to identify the One to whom he prayed: Lord, King, God. I don’t know about you but I can hardly get my own family to listen to me, and I know the President isn’t likely to take time to hear me out. But the Lord, the King of the Universe, Almighty God does! And all three of the verbs, “give ear, consider, and listen” don’t just mean that the sound of our voice vibrates God’s eardrums – it means He listens – He pays attention in order to respond. That’s pretty amazing, don’t you think? He who is seated on a throne in heaven cares about us and our needs. And one more thing – how close do you have to be to hear someone’s sigh? That’s how close God comes to you and me.

I took great comfort this morning in this verse as I wrote each word. The Lord, the King, God gives ear, hears, listens – to me. Beloved, I hope you also find comfort, strength, peace, and hope this morning in the realization that the Sovereign of Creation has drawn near to you, turned His head so that His ear is next to your lips, and is listening with a desire to respond to your cries – even your softest whimper. Oh, how He loves you!

All That Glitters is Not Gold

I used to be so “star-struck.” I was fascinated by the life of the rich and famous. I bought all the magazines so I could keep up with my favorite celebs. I soaked up every detail of their lives – where they went, what their house looked like, and especially what they wore. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be them.
Then I met Someone – He wasn’t a star by the world’s standards, but He created the stars and calls them all by name. And suddenly the lives of actors and singers fell far short; their glitz and glamor couldn’t compare to His splendor. I don’t waste money on magazines since I found the Book He wrote. I want to soak up everything about His life. I want to walk like He walked. I want to be wherever He is. I want to look like Him and talk like Him. I want to be like Him. His name is Jesus.
This world idolizes celebrities and makes kings and queens out of men and women who can sing a song, pretend to be someone else, bounce a ball, or show themselves off in outlandish ways. But there is One who set aside His incomparable splendor and became the most humble of men. He deserves all our worship and all our praise. One day, at the mere mention of His name, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). Even LeBron and Miley and the whole Kardashian clan.
Beloved, who has caught your attention? Who is a “star” in your eyes? No one will ever shine as brightly as Jesus.

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.

Peace that Never Ends

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way.”  2 Thessalonians 3:16

On this, our last day in the Advent week of peace, let’s recall for a moment the many ways the Lord of peace has given us His peace.  We have considered how Jesus Christ became the way to peace with God.  We have seen how the peace of God can calm our fearful and anxious hearts, and how it can bring peace to our relationships.  God offers peace in our “dark night of the soul,” bringing His light to the night that surrounds us.  We have also seen that a life focused on peace brings fruit such as unity, rest, life, strength and hope.  These are all available to us today, when we choose Jesus Christ, the true Prince of Peace.

But there is a peace we have not yet considered, a peace that we will not know in this life for it is an eternal peace.  In the beloved Christmas hymn, “Silent Night” we sing, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” This is “heavenly peace.”

We live in a world that is fraught with the threat of war, terrorism, and never knowing when another unhinged person will open fire in a killing spree.  Every day the news is filled with reports of abuse, hatred, oppression, and violence.  National, world and local leaders are corrupt.  Children live and die in fear, hunger, disease and war.  Will it ever come to an end?

Yes, and it will be a spectacular end indeed.  One day, and I think not so very far away, Jesus Christ will return, and bring with Him the fulfillment of God’s promise of peace. He will come, not as the baby in the manger, but as the victorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He will come with power and authority.  He will bring an end to evil and wickedness.  He will bring punishment to those who love evil and hatred and corruption – to all who rejected Him in this life.

But to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ He will bring peace.  No more war. No more disease. No more violence. No more hatred.  No one will harm another person.  No one will ever again be hungry or fearful or lonely or sad. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).  We will never be separated from God.  We will live forever in perfect peace.

Do you long for this peace? Do you, like me, ache to see an end to evil and hatred and corruption and violence?  Do you know the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, as your Savior and Lord?  This helpless baby in the manger can bring you everlasting peace if you will believe and trust in Him.  Let today be the day that you make your peace secure.

Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, I want this peace that will never end. Today I turn from sin and turn to You.  By faith I receive you as my Savior and surrender my life to You as Lord.  I receive Your promise of everlasting peace.  Amen.