God’s (Very) Long-Range Plan

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I’m part of a group that is writing out the Scriptures. We’re writing small sections each day, but by focusing on only a small portion of verses we are able to slow down; by writing it out we pay careful attention to each word. Yesterday one of those words stood out to me.  In the account of creation, Genesis two describes man’s divinely created home, a place of beauty and nurture. The garden featured trees with fruit to feed the human. All the bounty of the Garden was free for the taking, with one exception – the “tree in the middle of the garden” (Gen. 3:3). God expressly forbade eating the fruit from this particular tree. He said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of the good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Did you notice that one word that caught my attention? When. God said, “when you eat of it,” not “if you eat of it.” Adam and Eve’s act of sinful rebellion was not a surprise to God. He expected it. He predicted it. He knew it was going to happen all along.

And because He knew it was going to happen, He made a way for sinful man to be redeemed before he ever spoke the universe into being. You and I need to know that the cross of Christ was not God’s reaction to man’s sin. John said that Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ (Rev 13:8), and Jesus said that the Father arranged our inheritance, a “kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt 25:34). God provided the cure for sin before the first sin ever occurred, even before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). Jesus coming to earth, living a perfect life, dying a selfless death, and rising from the grave was all part of the plan of the ages. To what end? That He might rule and reign over a kingdom of redeemed people.

Beloved, I want you to be part of that kingdom. I want you to know Jesus, but more importantly, I want Jesus to know you (Gal 4:9; 1 Cor 8:3; John 10:14). God made the plan long ago, and He included you in it. Have you, will you receive His grace today?

The Face of God

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The ancient blessing from God contained the words: “The Lord make His face shine on you . . . The Lord turn His face toward you . . .”  (Numbers 6:26). In the terminology of the Old Testament, to “turn one’s face toward” someone was to signify favor and blessing from the greater to the lesser.  A king might show favor to a trusted soldier or advisor and shower him with gifts and position—he had turned his face toward him.  It was a mutual benefit as the king gained greater loyalty from the one he favored.  For the nation of Israel, the God of heaven and earth turned His face toward them and promised His blessing, His grace, and His peace (see vs. 24-26).  This weary group had just escaped from Egypt after four hundred years of slavery.  They had nothing to offer that would garner His favor, they had no country of their own, no wealth or treasure, and no political or military power.  When God turned His face toward them, it was purely an act of unmerited favor on the part of the Lord.

As we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the favor of the Creator poured out on us, His creation.  We celebrate the gift of His mercy and His grace given in the Baby in the manger. Our celebrations are meager compared to this gift. We hang lights in our homes to honor the Light of the World.  We give gifts just as the Magi gave gifts to the Christ Child.  We sing songs remembering the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14).  We rejoice at the Joy of the shepherds who first saw this wondrous gift from heaven.

But let us not forget that God showed His highest favor toward us at Calvary.  The gift given at Jesus’ birth was made complete in His sacrifice.  At the cross, the Father turned His away from His one and only Son so that He might turn His face toward sinful humanity – toward you, Beloved – and give you peace.  It is the highest act of benevolence and it is the greatest gift you will ever be given.

The Rescue Plan

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Some themes have become so familiar in the Christian world that we speak them and receive them without a second thought. Things like: “God helps those who help themselves.” Now, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over and I tell you for certain, it’s not in there. Or how about, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Again, I’ve never found that in the Bible and  I can tell you from my own life, it ain’t so.  I heard another one recently that always comes around at Christmas and Easter, this human idea that God looked down from heaven and saw mankind in bondage to sin and death and sent His son in response. While it certainly expresses God’s heart of mercy for His creation, it’s not exactly the truth.

How do I know that? Because the Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before man could ever cry out for redemption, the Redeemer had already paid the price. What in the world does that mean? Well, it’s not a worldly concept at all, it’s the divine plan created in heaven before God scooped up a handful of dust – even before He said, “Let there be light.” Jesus was always meant to come to earth as a tiny baby and live a perfect, sinless life, and die an undeserved and cruel death.  He was always meant to lie in a tomb for three days and heaven never doubted that He would rise again, because that was the plan all along. Christmas and Easter were not God’s knee-jerk reaction to our predicament.

We also need to understand that time in the heavenly realm is not like time here on earth. God sees the end and the beginning all at the same time because He is the sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth – and time. His plan wasn’t something that had to unfold from heaven’s perspective, though it took thousands of years to accomplish on earth. It was already a done deal. When the Father gazed at the Baby in the manger he saw the man on the cross. And so should we.

Aren’t you glad that He didn’t wait for you to cry out from the pit before He set a rescue plan in place? He planned it long before you needed it. That should give you great hope, Beloved. God had you in mind all along.

Devoted

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I’m writing a paper for my grad class on Romans 12:9-21. Paul wrote the book of Romans to address the tension between the Jewish and Gentile believers.  He explained that they were all sinners in need of God’s grace through Jesus Christ and that God didn’t favor one group over the other. Then he told them how that grace should be lived out every day as a community – a unified body.  He talked about choosing good and overcoming evil.  He talked about being zealous in serving the Lord, about being Joyful, hopeful, patient, generous, and hospitable.  He talked about how to endure persecution with grace. All good stuff and all very important.  But the verse that keeps drawing my attention is “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (v. 10). I have to ask myself, “Am I?” and I don’t like the answer.

The word “devoted” implies affection that parents feel for their children (and grandchildren). It is tenderness and compassion. It is concern and earnestness to do what is best for the beloved. If you know me at all you know I am “devoted” to my granddaughter and I will do whatever is necessary to care for and about her.  I know you feel the same toward your own children and grands. But how am I toward those outside of my own home? Not as devoted if I’m honest. Ah, but in my defense, I’m busy. I work. I’m a grad student. I am very involved in caring for Joy. I teach Sunday School. I write every day. I’m trying to keep my household running. (I don’t cook much – props to my husband.)  And your life is very full as well. We probably all feel that we’re doing the best we can.

I think busyness is one of the devil’s favorite tools for shutting down real relationships – and real evangelism. With work, school, family, church, and community responsibilities, we just don’t have a lot of time to get involved in other people’s lives.` But then again, it comes down to love, doesn’t it? I don’t know . . . maybe this word is just for me today.  Maybe not.  The truth is we will always make time for what we love: making money, sports, entertainment, leisure, T.V., scrapbooking, gaming, Facebook . . .  and hopefully squeeze in some time for Jesus, Bible study, prayer, and people. Beloved, who or what are you devoted to?

Why Doesn’t the World Want Jesus?

3 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen This Holiday · Giving  Compass

I’m mystified as to why people don’t want Jesus. I mean, who doesn’t want joy, peace, hope, and eternal life? Why do people reject the love and grace of God? Why do they refuse to receive the beautiful message of the Gospel? It makes no sense.

Then I read in Exodus, about the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt. When Moses and Aaron delivered the Lord’s message: “Let my people go” (Ex 5:1), Pharaoh instead made their work even harder. Moses tried to encourage the Israelites, telling them that God would set them free from their bondage, give them a land of their own, and most importantly, He would be their God. The Scripture says, “They did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage” (Ex 6:9).
Why does the world reject God? Because they are under bondage to Satan. They have no hope because they are over-burdened by a cruel taskmaster. They don’t understand the beauty of God’s offer because their minds are numbed by discouragement from the devil. Matthew said, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36).   Jesus saw the hopelessness of the people and He felt great pity. Not hate, not disgust, not judgment. He felt the weight of their bondage and it broke His heart.
Maybe – just a thought here – but maybe Jesus is showing us the better way to reach the lost world. Maybe compassion rather than pointing fingers is the way to lead people to Christ. I’m not talking about the world’s humanitarian efforts to ease suffering, although caring for physical needs must be part of our ministry in the world. I  am talking about the love of God that cares about the body and the eternal soul. I’m talking about the kind of compassion that gives a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name (Matthew 10:42). Because the lost world is under bondage and they cannot even envision freedom.  Satan continually tells them how helpless they are and how hopeless their situation is. Genuine Christian compassion can loosen their chains so God’s mercy can set them free.

Will you be His conduit of love and grace so that heavy hearts may be open to life without chains?  It was His compassion that saved you, Beloved, will you share that compassion so others might be saved too?

Hebrews: The King’s Kid

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I  have often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest, dressed, not in royal robes, but the filth of my sinfulness and my inadequate attempts to cover up with torn, tattered rags of homemade “righteousness.” I come with a heavy burden and a desperate need that is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to Hebrews 4:16, that is exactly what I am invited to do, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When do I most need help? What is your greatest time of need? When we have failed God in our sin. How do we dare approach the throne of the Holy One at all, much less with confidence in our sinful state? Because of our great high priest, Jesus Christ. Remember that the work of the high priest is to intercede for sinful people before a holy God. The high priest approaches God with the blood of the sacrifice to cleanse the people. Jesus both presents the blood and provides it. The priest and the sacrificial lamb. Paul said, “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). That confidence is not an arrogant swagger; it is trust in the faithfulness of Christ to accomplish what He promised – to make us acceptable to God. In Jesus – in His blood, and through Jesus – through His atoning work, you and I are able to come to God, not as sinners, but as His beloved children. Timothy Keller said: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

What do you need today, Beloved? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended?  Lift up your head and step into your Father’s presence. He will not only receive you but He will throw open His arms wide to you. That’s His promise. That’s your confidence. That’s your place as a child of God.

Life Lessons

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I hate to shake whatever fine image you have of me, but I’m not a model of wisdom. I tend to learn life lessons the hard way. My Mom used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons,” and I have paid a high price for many lessons. Still am. Mom’s words remind me of a couple of lessons from Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

Lesson #1: When I disregard the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. The Bible is full of wisdom for life. It is written by our Creator, who knows best how life should work, and we are wise to read and study it and put its principles and teachings into action. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. He was talking about obedience to His Word. While a house and a life built on sand can be brought down by the wind and rain, no storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on knowing and obeying the Word of God.

Lesson #2: It’s not over just because I messed up. Aren’t you glad that our merciful and gracious God gives multiple second chances? The mistakes we make, our failures, and our missteps are not the end. God doesn’t write us off, wash His hands of us or give up on us because we stumble. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the muck of my own choices. Jesus died so you can be forgiven, so you could have a second chance at life. Do you really believe that He would give up on you so quickly?

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart, Beloved, God has not given up on you. Lay it all before your loving Heavenly Father. Then take that hard-won wisdom and start walking in the right direction.

Hebrews: The Atoning Work of Jesus

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus - Lyrics, Hymn Meaning and Story

Last night I let my granddaughter play in the bathtub with washable paint. When it was time to get out she looked around and announced, “I made a mess!” I replied, “Yes, you made a pretty mess, but we can clean it up,” as I grabbed the pop-up wipes. She wanted to help clean up, but with her still paint-covered fingers she just spread the red paint even more. I had to clean her up before we could finish cleaning the bathtub.

The author of Hebrews identified yet another reason that God sent Jesus to earth – “That He might make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:17b). That’s not a common word in the non-Jewish church today, but it’s the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry. Atonement is the work of Jesus on the cross by which our sins are forgiven. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot for which I need forgiveness. I am grateful to the depths of my soul for God’s mercy on this wretched sinner. But atonement provides even more. It also allows for reconciliation between God and sinners.

I unknowingly did something awful to a friend once. It broke her heart, and when I realized what I did it broke mine too. I begged for her forgiveness and she gave it, but she said she could never be my friend again. I was forgiven but still shut out. Atonement provides both forgiveness and reconciliation. Through Jesus, you and I are clean before God and we are welcomed as His beloved child.

We’ve made a mess of our lives with sin, and like Joy in the bathtub, the more we try to clean ourselves up, the bigger the mess becomes. Only the atoning blood of Jesus can wash away all our sins and allow us to stand before God in a righteous state. I love the definition of “atonement” that I heard in a children’s sermon: “at one ment.” Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are “at one” with God – as we were “me[a]nt to be.”

Beloved, are you at one with God?

Hebrews: Jesus the High Priest

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If I were God, I would choose people who were not so messy. I would pick the ones who were grateful for my help and didn’t keep jumping right back into the same pit I had just pulled them out of. People who were easily moldable and not so resistant and hard-hearted (and headed). In other words, I would have picked anyone other than me.

The writer of Hebrews said, “For surely it is not angels he helps but Abraham’s descendants” (2:16). God helps fallen human beings. Why in heaven’s name does He help ungrateful, selfish, messy people like you and me? Are we somehow more worthy than angels? Hardly. God helps us because we are the ones who need Him.

“For this reason,” the writer adds, “He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God . . .” (v. 17a). He became like us so that he could help us. We’re going to talk more about the humanity of Jesus in a later chapter, but for today we’re looking at another reason that God sent His Son to earth. To take up the role of the high priest. In God’s original design the high priest was the mediator between heaven and earth. The high priest represented God before man and represented man before God. Under the old covenant, high priests offered sacrifices that satisfied God’s justice and demonstrated His mercy. He showed the people the love of God in His merciful kindness every time he offered sacrifices to atone for their sins.

But somewhere along the way, the priesthood became more about status and power than about kindness and mercy. Instead of becoming the bridge between God and man through atonement, the priests became a wall keeping men they deemed unworthy of God from Him. Jesus brought back the lost mercy and faithfulness to the office of the high priest.

It’s probably a good thing I’m not God. It’s even a better thing that God made provision for messy people like me to be made right with Him. Jesus stands in the gap between us and God – not to block the way, but to be the bridge that allows us to cross the chasm and stand in His presence. And that’s a very good thing.

You’re Not too Heavy for Jesus

Joy and Nana at her 2nd birthday party

When we go somewhere that requires a lot of walking, Joy’s little legs tire very quickly.  She starts to slow down and stumble and cry.  That’s when Nana picks her up and carries her.  The burden of her weight rests on me.  I love to hold her, but at almost thirty pounds, she can become a heavy load pretty quickly. I know every parent and grandparent is nodding. Those babies get heavy, and as they age, the burdens they bring shift the weight from our arms to our knees. The idea of carrying others’ burdens has its roots in Israel’s ancient worship traditions.

When God gave Moses instructions for the priests, He said, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel . . . Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders before the Lord” (Exodus 28:9,12).  Aaron, the high priest, would enter the holy of holies at the appointed time to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel.  He would come before God with the names of each of the twelve sons of Jacob, the family tribes of the nation, engraved on the stones that made up part of his ritual garb.  He would literally bear the weight of the names of the sons of Israel while symbolically bearing the weight of their sin on his shoulders. 

At Calvary, Jesus bore the weight of every sin you and I have ever committed.  But it wasn’t a symbolic act like the priest bearing the names of the sons of Israel, and it was far more than thirty pounds.  The weight of all the sins of humanity – including your sin and mine – was a real, crushing burden heaped on the Son of God.

I bear the weight of Joy because I love her.  Jesus bore the weight of your sin because he loves you.  I’m nearing the time, though, when my granddaughter will be too big of a physical burden for me to carry.  Here’s the good news: you will never be too big of a burden for Jesus.  Your sins will never outweigh His love for you.  You can rest on this promise Beloved – Jesus will carry you – all the way home.