Hebrews: A Sacrifice of Praise

Several years ago I had a serious mental and emotional crash. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. I descended into a pit of depression and despair that was so deep I thought I would never see the sun again. Oh, I continued to go to church every Sunday and stood with the congregation during praise and worship. But I couldn’t sing. I wept. One day as I was driving, Crowder’s song, “Oh Praise Him” came on the radio. I felt a nudge in my spirit, “Sing child.” “I can’t” I replied, as tears began to burn my eyes. “Sing anyway.” So I choked out the first chorus, “Oh, praise Him. O praise Him. He is holy. He is holy.” I kept singing – or croaking – to be honest. But by the end of that song, I was singing clearly, “Oh, la, la, la, la, la, la” with tears streaming down my face. That was the day my healing began.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name” (Heb 13:15). I understand this verse. Sometimes praise is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Remember, this was written to Jewish believers in Christ who were facing extreme oppression and persecution for their faith. Many were turning away from Christ and abandoning the faith because it was just getting too hard. The author implored them to instead offer praise to God in their suffering, even if it came at a high cost.

I won’t deny that life is hard and pain is real. But God is still worthy of praise. He is still good. He is still sovereign. He is still awesome in power. He is still holy. And He is with us in our pain. David said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted . . .” (Ps 34:18). If that’s you today, let me assure you that God is near. He has not abandoned you in your heartache. He has tenderly drawn you close. If you’re still you can feel His breath ruffling your hair. If you listen you can hear His heart beating. Then you may hear Him say, “Sing, child.” I know. It’s not easy. But sing anyway Beloved, even if all you can do is whisper through your tears. He’ll hear you. He’s not listening to your words; He’s listening to your heart.

Consider it All Joy (part 2)

Yesterday’s devotional started a conversation about God’s purposes in our suffering. We’re going to continue today in part two. I’ll post a link to part one in the comments.

Sometimes trials are a means of discipline in our lives – I know this one well.  The psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word” (Psalm 119:67).  Hebrews adds, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  Trials that come as a consequence of our sinful and foolish behavior are meant to teach us valuable life lessons.  Or as my mother said, “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.”  If you can connect your trial to your actions, take that as a means of discipline and training. The writer of Hebrews also said that discipline identifies us as God’s true children. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (See Hebrews 12:5-10). Discipline means that God is being a good Father to you.

Our trials reveal God to the world.  When Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth, He said, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). When the Lord healed this man everyone knew it, and he became a living testimony to the power of God.  You and I are the canvas on which God paints His own portrait for the world to see.  Just as silver and gold show up most brilliantly against a dark backdrop, the power and glory of God are on vivid display in our trials.  Our difficulties become the means by which God shows up and shows off.

Beloved, I don’t know what trial you are facing today, but I know that God has brought you to it for a good purpose.  He is at work in your life, stretching your faith, moving you into His will, preparing you to minister to someone else, teaching you discipline, and making your life a display of His glory.  Every trial is an opportunity for you and me to draw closer to our Father, to walk by faith, and to point others to Him.  Yes, we can count it all Joy when trials come, because we know God has a purpose and a plan – and we will be the richer for it.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

God is For You

“It’ll all be made right in heaven.”

I remember so well the sweet lady who spoke those words to me at my mom’s funeral. She followed a theme that many others had said to comfort me and my family in our grief. And they are right. God will set all wrong things right one day. All the hard things. All the sad things. All the things that were unfair and unkind. Even all the things that were caused by evil. Paul assures us: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18). All our tears will be replaced with shouts of Joy.

But in your present moment of pain, heaven seems pretty far away, doesn’t it? Is there any hope for you now? I believe there is. Listen to what David said when he was in a difficult place: “How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in You” (Ps 31:19). In the sight of men. Men here on earth. God’s goodness, David said, is not just for the hereafter; it’s for the here and now. It’s for today.

How can I be so sure? Because, in Paul’s words, “God is for us” (Rom 8:31). No, I don’t think you get the whole gest of that phrase. “For us” means on our side, but not just on our side; He is, in the Greek, exceedingly, abundantly on our side. Now take that personally and say with me, “The God of heaven and earth is exceedingly, abundantly on my side.” I can also be sure because I have seen Him at work many times in the hard places in my life. He has taken what others have done against me and brought something good out of it.  He has taken the unexpected trials in my life and blessed me in awesome ways.  He has even taken my sin and foolishness and brought wisdom and ministry out of them. That’s how I can be so sure.

Another verse is marked in my Bible with dates and memories of a time that was so hard I honestly thought it was going to kill me. “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13). I clung to those words like a man in an ocean clings to a life preserver. And I did see the goodness of the Lord. And many years later I can testify that I still see His goodness every day. So will you, Beloved. God is for you. Right here in the land of the living.

The Way of Wisdom

I am not a young chick anymore – I’m nearing #62 at the end of the year. I know some of you are well ahead of me, but this number has really caught my attention. What have I done with those 62 years? Did I do anything I set out to do with my life? The truth is, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a very long time. I thought life would just unfold before me and the choices would make themselves. I never knew that my life had a purpose. I wish someone had told me that when I was younger. It would have changed everything for me. What I studied in school, the people I hung out with, and especially the choices I made. You can bet I will tell my granddaughter.

I came across Moses’ Psalm and one verse, in particular, that is highlighted in my Bible. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Wisdom. I’ve been told that I am wise (that’s a shock to me!). I wish I could say it was because I numbered my days and carefully evaluated my life with every decision. The truth is, any wisdom I’ve gained has come through blood, sweat, and tears (No not, the 60’s rock group). It has come with scars and pain. I often quote my mom who said: “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.” I have paid dearly for any small measure of wisdom I have. But I’ve learned some valuable life lessons this way. I’ve learned there are some things that I don’t want to ever do again because the cost was way too high. If that’s wisdom then, I guess I am wise.

Maybe you, like me, look back over years of mistakes and failures and self-destructive behavior. We did more wrong than we did right. We made some truly bad choices. But here’s a choice we can make today that can affect the poor choices of the past. We can wise up. If we wallow in our misery then we learned nothing from it. But if those hard lessons brought about good changes and especially brought us to the cross of Christ, then we’ve invested well.

Here’s where I hang my hope: God can take every mistake I’ve made, every failure, and every sin and teach me more than I could learn in scholarly books and classrooms. And they become common ground to reach out to other mistake-prone souls. Beloved, will you put your mistakes and scars in the hands of your good and loving Father? They tell a powerful story the world needs to hear.

Hebrews: The Joy of the Cross

I always thought my mom was super-human. She could power through any sickness and keep going and going and going. Even when she was undergoing cancer treatments. I hardly slowed her down – until the end. Either she had an uncommon strength – or she was a mom.

I always imagined Jesus facing the cross with His divine strength in full force. Surely the Son of God just shut out the pain and powered through. But the writer of Hebrews refutes that thought. He said that Jesus, “for the Joy set before Him,  endured the cross, scorning its shame . . .” (Heb 12:2) Endurance implies difficulty. Jesus endured the difficulty of the cross. It was all very real to Him. He felt the nails rip through His flesh, crush His bones, and tear His veins open. He felt the sharp points of the thorns dig deeply into His head. He felt the whip shred the skin on His back. His shoulders screamed with firey pain every time He took a breath. Jesus felt it all. He suffered.

He also suffered shame. The cross was a disgraceful way to die in the first century. But the shame that Jesus endured wasn’t personal embarrassment; the writer said that He “scored the shame” of the cross. He didn’t consider it as humiliation, though it was. He endured the cross with Joy because His suffering meant our freedom. The shame He experienced was bearing all the sins of all mankind throughout all the ages. Adam’s sin. Eve’s sin. Cain’s sin. David’s sin. Hitler’s sin. My sin. Your sin. It was the shame of the Father’s face turning away from the Son because He can not look on sin.

But I found something mind-blowing when I dug into the words used in this verse. Jesus endured it all. But He didn’t have to. The secondary meaning of the word “endure” means “to remain, to not flee.” Jesus could have ditched the cross and escaped the physical, emotional, and spiritual agony. Then I understood His words when He was arrested: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). Jesus could have escaped it all but He stayed. He suffered. He died. Why? To save you, Beloved.  The Joy set before Him was seeing your face in heaven. That’s how much He loves you.

Mistakes – I’ve Made a Few

When I study, I write with a pen in hand and put ink on paper – old school. It helps me remember things like I’m writing stuff directly in my brain. I was writing down a Scripture reference the other day and wrote the wrong number, (I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I do make mistakes) so I wrote the correct number over it. I traced it several times to make the right number show up better and cover over the wrong number, and in the process, I made the right number unreadable. I finally had to just scribble out the whole thing and rewrite it correctly and clearly.

Some of us are trying to fix our own mistakes. We’re trying to write over our sins and failures. We think, “If I just do enough things right, no one – especially God – will notice what I did wrong.” The problem is, the more we try to fix it, the worse we make it. Yep, I see you nodding your head. You’ve done it too.  And what we mess up is not a written word but ourselves.  If we keep going we will not even know who we are. Here’s the hard truth folks, you and I cannot overwrite our sins. God is not fooled. So stop trying.

God has a better plan. He said, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgression, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). The idea here is that all your sins are written down in a book and God erases them, No, even better than erasing them, He removes them forever by washing our sin-page – and us – with the blood of His Son. John put it like this: “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). All of it. Every. Single. One. Jesus’ blood makes us spotless, innocent, and pure with no trace of our former sin left behind. Does that seem too good to be true? Trust me, it is true. Better yet, trust Him.

 Give your mistakes to Jesus. Give Him every sin and every failure. Give Him the shame and the guilt. Give Him the pain and regret. Let Him cover over it all with His precious blood and rewrite your story with His grace. Then, Beloved, you will be who God created you to be. His.

Pebbles in Your Shoe

Satan would rather put a pebble in your shoe than a mountain in your path.  Why? Ever had a little pebble in your shoe?  Isn’t it amazing how something so small can be such a huge distraction? It is a constant irritation that will stop you in your tracks. Often it’s the minor, seemingly insignificant things that do the most damage. Fishermen in the sea of Galilee watched the skies diligently and hurried to shore at the first sign of a storm. But more boats were damaged by the steady slap-slap-slap of the constant smaller waves that slowly ate away at the boat’s wooden sides. The wise fisherman checked his boat daily for signs of wear that could give way unexpectedly in the middle of the sea.

 I am quick to call down the forces of heaven over those mountains – but pebbles are such small, insignificant things.  “I can’t bother God with that.”  We tend to put our needs into different boxes. “Too big for me,” or “too little for God.”  We call for prayer when Grandma is near death, our child is hurt in an accident, or amid a worldwide pandemic.  But we think that God does not want to be bothered with our petty problems.  Does He even care that your washing machine has died?   Should I even bother Him about the paper I need to write?  Why would God be concerned about a teething baby who has kept you up three nights in a row?  He is too busy for such petty little problems.

My friend, God cares about all your needs.  He wants to be involved in the “everydayness” of your life.  He wants you to come to Him with your frustrations and the demands of your day that wear you down.  1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.” All your cares – not just the big ones.  Didn’t Jesus teach us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)? Daily bread. Daily needs. He is a daily God.

God has not left you to manage this life on your own.  He sees all issues you face.  He cares about the most intimate details of your life.  Take it all to Him Beloved, the big and small.  He is the God that moves mountains that stand in your way.  And pebbles that get in your shoe.

Hanging by a Thread

I was standing in the kitchen, begging the coffee maker to hurry up when my son walked in to get something to drink. I heard him behind me – “HIC!” “HIC!” “HIC!” He said, “I don’t think there’s anything worse than waking up with the hiccups.”  I answered him, “There is – waking up and being sick to your stomach is worse.” And I playfully growled at him and said, “I know from experience – and it was all your fault!” Of course, I was referring to the morning sickness I endured when I was pregnant with him. But our conversation made me think – what would be the worst thing to wake up to? I could list a lot of things – I’m sure you could too. Waking up to pain or sorrow or loss or violence or loneliness or heartache would be hard to face first thing in the morning. Then I thought, the worst thing to wake up to is hopelessness. That feeling that life is awful and it’s never going to get any better.  I’ve had seasons like that and I know that you have too. You may be there now. When all those hard things feel like permanent fixtures in our lives, we wonder if there’s any point in waking up at all.

A few thousand years ago, a prophet was waking up to the reality that all of his efforts to turn the nation of Israel back to God were useless. Jeremiah watched helplessly as the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem – under God’s judgment. He said, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord . . . my soul is downcast” (Lamentations 3:18, 19). He had hoped to save his people. He had hoped God would stop the invasion. But his hopes were not to be. He wept bitterly for the rebellious children of God.

But he did not give up. He declared “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I HAVE HOPE: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vs. 21-23, emphasis added). He still had a thread of hope that was tied securely to the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God. And that was enough. It’s enough for you too, Beloved. Tie your last thread of hope to the goodness of the Lord. He will never fail you.

Broken Glasses

Joy is learning how to swing on her own and honestly, I’m a little sad about that. But there is one piece of her swingset for which she still needs my help – the trapeze. Her favorite trick is to hang upside-down from her knees, so I set her up on it and we count 1 – 2 – 3 and I ease her back and down while she squeals with delight. Of course, I’m holding onto her legs the whole time. Then I raise her back up and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

A couple of weeks ago she didn’t wait for the count and launched herself backward unexpectedly – and slammed her very hard head into the side of mine. The pain was stunning. My glasses went flying as I instinctively grabbed her legs to keep her from falling. I sat her down on the grass and heard her say, “Uh-oh Nana.” She held up my glasses with one leg spayed out at 20° instead of 90. I tried to straighten the leg but was afraid I would break it completely. The warped leg caused the left lens to sit so close to my eye that I couldn’t blink. It threw my vision off completely. I couldn’t afford to replace them so I wore them warped leg and all and I was constantly trying to adjust them so I could see clearly. My vision was badly skewed and everything was out of alignment. Reading was a challenge and driving was especially difficult.  We did finally get them a little straighter, but this certainly “opened my eyes” to something about spiritual life.

Some of us have a skewed image of God because life has dealt us some very painful blows. It’s as if we have been smacked upside the head and our vision is all wonky. Maybe you’re looking at God through the pain of broken relationships, broken promises, or a broken heart. No wonder you can’t see Him as He really is. Let me straighten your glasses, Beloved – God loves you. His heart is to bless you and heal you, not hurt you. David said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). That verse gives me an image of a loving father, bending over His child, tending to her wounds, and speaking words of comfort and assurance. Like He is doing for you now.

When the Heat is On

A woman read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold so she visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious elements. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or impure elements, to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked, “How do you know when it’s ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection.”

You and I are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure. God uses all sorts of “heat” – financial struggles, relational heartache, health problems, emotions, culture, rejection, persecution, consequences, and yes, often spiritual heat to bring the impurities in us to the surface where they can be removed. How do I know this? He’s been cooking some junk out of me for a while. Why would He do that to me? Because, like His friend Peter, some things in me need to be removed before God can use me for His Kingdom and His glory. Remember in Luke 22:31-32 how Jesus allowed His friend to be sifted by satan? He let His disciple go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter (Luke 22:54-62). Afterward, Peter became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:14-41. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

None of us welcome the seasons of suffering and pain in our lives but know that God is at work, purifying your faith and refining you to be His witness to the world. And you can be assured that in this time of intense heat, He is leaning in close and carefully watching over you, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in you. And don’t forget that Jesus is praying for you (Luke 22:32). In the end you, Beloved, will come forth a beautiful vessel for His glory.