My Favorite Words

Since it’s my birthday today I thought I’d share with you my favorite words from the Bible. These have left an indelible impression on me and have given me much strength, peace, and hope. They are sprinkled out all over the Scriptures: “It came to pass . . .” and “But God”.

When my son was a baby, a friend gave me some great advice: “Remember, the Bible says, ‘It came to pass,’ not ‘it came to stay’.” It’s good parenting advice, and yes, I passed it on to my daughter-in-law when Joy was born. Sleepless nights, teething, temper tantrums, and endless diaper changes will pass. But it’s also good life advice. We will all face difficult days and seasons. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that those days come and go – they are not forever. In those times I look back at Noah’s story and remember: “So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made” (Genesis 8:6). After many more days aboard the ark, it came to pass that the waters began to recede and Noah opened the window to let out the dove and let in the fresh air and sunshine. My storms will pass and the sun will shine again.

There are so many verses that use the phrase “But God, ” “But You, O God,” “Yet the Lord,” and others that imply the power of the Lord God to overcome the most extreme and impossible situations. Those are some of my most favorite verses when I’m facing difficult things. “But God,” says it’s still in His able and capable hands. “Yet the Lord” reminds me that “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). “But You, O God,” tells me that He is a miracle-working, on-time, good and faithful Father. “But God” works like a hinge on a door, opening what appears to be closed for good and making a way where there seems to be no way.

Oh, there’s one more – the last words of Jesus before He died on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). That means that the promise of salvation that God made in the Garden has been accomplished and I am free from the condemnation of my sin. It means I need not live in fear because Jesus has paid for every offense I committed against heaven. I can live in His perfect love now and forever.

These are my favorite words – they have marked and blessed my life. “It came to pass.” “But God.” “It is finished.” It’s my birthday, but I offer them as my gift to you. They’ve carried me a long way and they will carry you too.

Waiting Well

I was listening to an audio devotional yesterday. The speaker was reading through Ephesians 5:22-23. He speaks slowly and methodically which is good to hear him correctly, but not so good when you have ten things to do before you leave for work. So I listened as he read: “But the Fruit of the Spirit is love . . . Joy . . . [is there a speed-up button on this thing] peace . . . patience . . .  And that is when I saw myself and the lack of that one particular fruit. I confess I am not a patient person. Especially when I’m trying to get a shower, get dressed, make coffee, read my Bible, read the devotional emails I receive, post and write the day’s Scripture, write the daily devotional on my blog, put supper in the crockpot, fix my breakfast (which I ate on the way), fix my lunch, fluff my hair, brush my teeth, find my shoes and my knee brace, grab my purse and books and head out the door to get to work on time. Whew. There I was, impatiently listening to a man read about being patient.

How good are you at waiting? Ever told a microwave to hurry up?  Waiting was a constant for the people of the Bible.  Noah spent a little over a year shut up in the ark, from the first raindrop until God gave the all-clear.   Abraham waited 25 years for the fulfillment of God’s promise, the birth of his son, Isaac.  Joseph waited 13 years – through slavery and imprisonment – for God’s plan to come to fruition. They didn’t just wait – they waited well. Because they had faith in God. They understood Psalm 37:7 – “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

Notice I didn’t say they had faith that God would work everything out in a certain way.  They had faith in God, in His character, in who He is, not just in what He could do.  They had faith that whatever God did, in whatever way He did it, and however long it took, it would be the right and good thing. Because He is right and good.

Beloved, what are you waiting for? The spouse to come to church, the kid to straighten up, the funds to turn around, the hard season to be over? Or are you waiting with your eyes fixed on God, trusting that He, in His goodness, faithfulness, and love, will do what will ultimately be for your best; whatever, however, and whenever that may be?  I think the lesson God is trying to teach me in this waiting season is simply this: The secret to patiently waiting is not looking for the answer, it is trusting the One who has the answer.

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.

Just Wait

What’s the hardest part of the Christian life? Dealing with the culture that has rejected God? Dealing with loved ones that have rejected God? Surrendering long-held sinful desires? Establishing holy habits of Bible study and prayer? Telling others about Jesus? Obedience? Yes to all of the above. But the one that is most challenging for me is waiting. You’ve experienced it too. We’re in good company. From Noah waiting in the Ark to Jospeh waiting in prison to Abraham waiting for the promised child, to David waiting to take his God-given throne, to Daniel in the lion’s den, waiting is a common struggle. It’s one of the biggest tests of our faith.

I have a friend who is dealing with a situation in her marriage, one she and I are praying over fiercely. God has told her to wait on Him to act. She’s trying. But she gets anxious and takes it on herself to try to turn him around. We recently talked about her latest attempt to force the change she so wants to see, and as expected, it only frustrated her husband and left her discouraged. “What was the last thing God said to you about it?” I asked. “Wait,” she said. “Did “Did He tell you He needed your help?” “No.” “Then wait. Just wait.”

David wrote a Psalm that is filled with good counsel as we wait. He said, “Do not fret,” “Trust in the Lord,” “do good,” Delight yourself in the Lord,” “Commit your way to Him,” “Be still,” “be patient,” “hope in the Lord,” “keep His way” (Psalm 37). Never once does he say, “worry about it,” “argue over it,” “take matters into your own hands,” “make it happen.”  

Here’s what I know from years of Bible study and especially from my own life. God never tells His child to wait for no reason. Waiting always means there’s something on the other end worth waiting for. That’s why we can have hope and trust in the waiting. Because we know that He is faithful. That’s how we can wait patiently.

I don’t know what you’re waiting for. But I know that God has never failed. Not in thousands of years of human history. Not in 61 years of my life. It may not happen as fast as you want, but if God tells you to hang on, Beloved, it will happen. Just “wait a little longer” (Rev 6:11).

Hebrews: Noah and (more than) the Ark

I grew up on Bible stories: Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (if you’re my age you just sang that one), and Noah and the Ark. Bible stories are great – when you’re a kid, but at some point, we have to grow up. We have to dig deeper into the familiar stories of our childhood and find the treasures under the surface. Noah and the Ark is a good place to start.

The writer of Hebrews placed Noah in this chapter of heroes – not for the ark that he built, but for the reason he built it.  “By faith, Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family” (Heb 11:7). What was the “thing not yet seen?” Rain. Since creation “streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Gen 2:6). So when God comes to Noah and says, “I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights” (Gen 7:4), Noah had no idea what “rain” was. He had to believe in something he had never seen. Noah obeyed because he was sure that God was going to do what He said He would do.

But there’s another phrase in the verse that gets overlooked: “in holy fear.” Wait – Why was he afraid of God? He is all love, love, love. “Holy fear” means Noah reverenced God. He was in awe of His greatness and power. He respected God. That has been lost and it shows. Noah believed when the Lord said, “I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens . . .” (Gen 6:17). He also believed in God’s promise to save him and his family (Gen 6:18). He did what God told him to do because he believed in God’s power and authority to destroy all living creatures and in God’s salvation.

That’s the foundation of the gospel. I know we’re not supposed to re-write the Bible, but I want to tweak John 3:16 just a little: “For God so loved the (sinful, disobedient, condemned) world that He gave His one and only (perfect, holy) Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish (as he deserves to) but have eternal life.” The gospel of love is incomplete without the truth of man’s sin and condemnation. We have to tell people why they need to be saved. Noah believed in both the judgment and the mercy of God. Do you, Beloved?

Hebrews: The Better Covenant

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“I promise.” There was a time when those two words meant something. When you could count on the person and the pledge. A couple stood before “God and these witnesses” to declare their life-long love. A politician made campaign promises that ensured his election, and his supporters could depend on the word of their elected official. A prospective employee agreed to a salary and benefits in exchange for faithful, dependable, service. All of these are the pattern of a covenant and covenant is the foundation of the relationship between God and man.

A covenant involves three people (or people groups) – two parties who wish to make an agreement of mutual benefit and a mediator to bring them to agreeable terms.  The covenant would stand as long as both parties lived and fulfilled their responsibilities. God made a covenant with Adam and Eve, first to allow them to rule over the earth (Gen 1:26), and then, after their sin, to bring a redeemer to crush their enemy (Gen 3:15). He made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen 9:15). His covenant with Abraham was for his descendants to possess the land of Canaan (Gen 17:8). He made a covenant with Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai which involved a host of laws. He also made a covenant with David that his descendants would always sit on the throne of Israel, including One who would rule over an eternal kingdom ( 2 Sam 7:1-16). All of those covenants except one were dependant solely on the faithfulness of God. The Mosaic covenant demanded obedience from the people for God’s blessings and promised curses for disobedience.

The writer of Hebrews said the old covenant was perfect, but “God found fault with the people,” (Heb 8:8) because they were unable to maintain obedience. Rather than give up on them, he determined to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (v. 8). It was a covenant of forgiveness (v. 12) and of the Holy Spirit. The writer quoted Jeremiah saying, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time . . . I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people . . . and they will all know me” (v. 10,11).

While Moses was the mediator between God and Israel, Jesus Christ is the mediator between a holy God and sinful humanity – and the covenant was sealed with His blood. This covenant will never become “obsolete” and it will never “disappear” (v. 13) because its foundation is the obedience of Christ, not man.  Beloved, it’s not up to you. It’s up to Him, and He is forever faithful.

It Came to Pass . . .

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“So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made” (Genesis 8:6)

When my son was a baby, a friend gave me some great advice: “Remember, the Bible says, ‘It came to pass,’ not it came to stay.” You can bet I passed it on to my daughter-in-law when my granddaughter was born. Those long sleepless nights will eventually pass and she will sleep through the night. Teething and colic eventually pass. When I spend a couple of hours holding her while she sleeps I remember that these days will pass all too quickly and I’ll miss watching her peaceful face. It’s good parenting advice, but it’s also good life advice.

We will all face difficult days and seasons. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that those days come and go – they are not forever. In those times I look back at Noah’s story and remember that after many, many days aboard the ark, it came to pass that the waters began to recede and Noah opened the window to let out the dove and let in the fresh air and sunshine. My troubles will pass and so will yours.

Another way to look at this is that the days of our lives come to pass not to stay and the opportunities before us and the people around us are also not permanent.  I have many regrets over things I knew the Lord wanted me to do that I thought I could get around to later. But later never came and the window closed. This past year has taught me, as it has so many of us, that the people we love cannot stay in our lives forever. I never dreamed my big brother would be in heaven before the year’s end. I know many friends for whom COVID has caused great grief. Jobs and business were shown to be temporary, and even the highest office in the nation passed from one hand to another this year.

So here is my advice: Don’t fret the sleepless nights of parenthood, nor the difficult days of life. It does not seem so in the middle of it all, but they will pass. And don’t waste the opportunities God gives you, nor time with the people you love. Life on earth comes to pass, not to stay. Make it count Beloved.