Child of the King

The Queen knew that her people were in danger and only the king – her husband – could undo the evil plan against them. But no one dared to approach the throne without a summons. Not even Esther. If she did, and it displeased him, she would be put to death. It was a risky proposition, but it was necessary. She prepared herself and put on her royal robes and when the king saw her standing in the court, he welcomed her. Esther’s bravery (and her God) saved the lives of all the Jews in Persia.

I’ve often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest. I see myself dressed, not in royal robes, but in the torn, tattered rags of my sinfulness. 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. The author said, “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” (Heb 4:16). With these shakey knees? Yes. Because the confidence I have to come before God isn’t something inside of me, but it is because I am accepted in the blood of Jesus. While I see myself clothed in dirty rags, God sees me clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I see the mud of the world clinging to my hands, but God sees the “clean hands and pure heart” (Ps 24:4) of one who has been redeemed by His Son and cleansed from sin. I may see myself as a stumbling, sinful woman, but He sees me as His beloved child. Imagine that. I am a child of the King of the universe. 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? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended? Beloved, 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.

The Promise

There have been a lot of changes at the college where I work in the past few weeks. Our president of 30+ years retired and a new leader has stepped behind his desk. Several people also retired at the close of the year and a couple of people left unexpectedly. Old friends are going and new faces are coming. It’s all a bit unsettling.

Maybe that is why the Spirit directed me to the book of Joshua this morning. The Israelites are facing some major changes. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness of Judea, they are about to cross over the Jordan River and into the Promised Land.  And most concerning of all, their long-time leader Moses has died and a new leader stands in his place. No doubt Joshua was feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety. As the new chapter in the Hebrews’ story opens, the Lord speaks directly to him. He filled Joshua with confidence as He promised His presence.

“Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (v. 9). I’m coming with you Joshua, every step of the way. The God who rescued two million plus slaves, who parted seas and led you across the seabed on dry ground, who defeated mighty armies, and provided for your every need – I, Joshua, will be with you. That’s a promise he and all of Israel could depend on.

As I read this passage my first thought was: I’m not going anywhere. All these changes are happening around me. The principle is the same. Life is unpredictable. Your world, like mine, may be uncertain right now. It may be a diagnosis or a broken relationship or even an upheaval at your job. You may have lost someone you love and you’re not sure how to go on. It may even be positive changes – a baby is on the way or your kid may be heading to college – or like mine – to the military. The promise of God still stands firm: In all the changes of our lives, He will be with us – whether we stay or go – or someone else goes. He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (v. 5). He will never go against His Word.  He is with us, always and everywhere. That’s a promise Beloved, you can stand on – and rest in.

Advent 2022: Pondering Christmas

Image: “Mary and Baby Jesus” by Jean Keaton
 https://www.jeankeatonart.com/…/pro…/mary-and-baby-jesus

I posted a meme earlier in the week of Jesus saying, “Listen carefully. I don’t want to end up with four different versions of this.” It’s funny, but there is a reason for the four gospels. Each author, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to a different “target audience.”  Matthew wrote to assure the Jews that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Mark wrote to the Romans while Luke’s intended audience was the Greeks. John, some scholars say, wrote “Heaven’s perspective” revealing Jesus as the divine Son of God. When you read all four gospels in harmony, it is like turning a diamond to see all the different facets that make up the whole. Only Matthew and Luke covered the birth narrative.

Luke’s purpose in writing his Gospel account was to “carefully investigate everything from the beginning,” using the testimonies of “those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:3, 2). Tradition holds that one of those eyewitnesses was Jesus’ mother Mary. That is why we find such a rich account of our Savior’s birth. Who would be better to retell that wonderful story?

Luke added:  “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). That always touches my heart as a mother. I have my own “treasures” of my son’s birth and early years that I often pull out and remember. Every mother has a treasure trove of memories from the birth of her children. Mary had much to ponder and no doubt wonder what it all meant. Gabriel’s announcement to her – “You will be with child and give birth to . . . the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31, 32). Her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting – “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:42). Joseph’s loyalty – “Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24). The long, difficult journey while she was heavy with Child (Luke 2:4-5). The mean and lowly stable and the animals who witnessed the birth (Luke 2:6-7). A group of stunned shepherds talking excitedly about a chorus of angels and the brightness of God’s glory (Luke 2:8-18).

No doubt she remembers counting His fingers and toes and smoothing the curl on the top of His head as He slept contently in her arms. For the moment He was Mary’s sweet little baby boy, but he also held the hope and promise of God’s redemption for the whole world.

For the remaining days before Christmas, let’s spend some time pondering who this Baby in the manger truly was. Let’s look for the details of the Christmas story. Then let’s join Mary and treasure them up in our hearts and remember them all year long.

I [Don’t] Got This!

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“You hang in there, girl. God will never give you more than you can handle.” I never wanted to call someone a liar as much as I did the woman who made that statement to me.  But I’m southern and we don’t call our elders liars, so I thanked her and hugged her, and flushed her counsel from my brain. While that may sound full of warm fuzzy faith, there’s not a shred of support for it in Scripture. The Bible is clear that God often gives us more than we can handle.  Paul said, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (2 Cor 1:8-9a). Not so warm and fuzzy, is it? Friend, if you’re hanging onto that opening statement as a rock for your life, you are going to be very disappointed.

If you’ve walked with Him for very long you know that God indeed allows situations and hardships that are more than we can handle. He does it so that we will turn to the only One who can. Paul continued, “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (v. 9b). I almost stopped that verse after the comma but I realized that those last four words are pivotal to the passage. What is harder to handle than death? And who is it that overcame death? If you’ve got a problem that’s bigger than raising a dead man to life, then you may have reason to worry.

Paul goes on to say, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us” (v. 10). He has. He is. He will continue. He has been faithful. He is still faithful. He will continue to be faithful.  Your circumstances do not define Him. He defines your circumstances. I can’t stress this enough – God WILL give you more than you can handle. But He will never give you more than HE can handle. Stop trying to carry it all yourself, Beloved. Hold tightly to God and He will carry it – and you through. That’s why it’s called FAITH.

Look Up!

Sometimes words and phrases in the Bible will catch my attention in such a way that I know it is God speaking to my heart. That happened last night as I was preparing the Sunday School lesson. It was as if the Spirit took a divine highlighter and marked the words “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look . . .” (Gen 13:14). It started a treasure hunt and I discovered the same text repeated several times in the Bible.

There have been many times in my life when I was so discouraged and downhearted that all I ever saw were my feet. My head was always down along with my spirit. There’s something about our physical position that affects our emotional position. When all you ever see is the bottom of the pit it’s all you think there is. When your shoulders are continually rounded, your heart is pointing towards the floor. It becomes very hard to pick your head up. That’s where this good word helps.

Joy had to go to the dentist this week. She had a horrible experience at a previous dental visit and now she’s very fearful. When she realized where we were she tucked her chin into her little chest and started whimpering. I held her close to me and gently called out her name to get her attention. She wouldn’t raise her head at first but she did cut her eyes up to me and when I told her I loved her and it was going to be okay she eventually lifted her face – and her head – toward me.

That’s the picture I see in this verse. Life gets very hard sometimes and we may find ourselves someplace we don’t want to be. We may be there from our own foolishness and sin, through someone else’s failure, or because God has brought us into a desert for a season. Whatever the situation, “lift up your eyes and look.” Look at what? At Him. He’s there with you. He has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5). Beloved, when your head and heart are bowed low, when you are afraid or sad or feel lost, lift up your eyes and look for Him. God is as close as a whispered prayer.

Protecting the Promise

I promised this yesterday, and yesterday went sideways on me so here ‘tis. 

Abraham – originally Abram – was a regular guy living a regular life in the ancient near east when God stepped in. Promises were made for “a great nation” (Gen 12:2) and land. Promises that would change the course of world history. But first God would have to guard those promises from the man’s foolishness.

Over and over Abraham put those promises in jeopardy. He went to Egypt and claimed that his wife, Sarah was his sister (a partial truth – but still a lie). He went to Gerar and made the same statement. In both instances, his wife was taken into the harem of the Pharoah and the king (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Both times God interrupted the setup and protected Sarah – and the promise of a child – by not allowing her to be taken into the royal bed.  Abraham wasn’t the only one who acted faithlessly. Sarah, believing it was up to her to fulfill God’s promise (doesn’t that sound familiar), gave her slave-girl to Abraham to produce an heir – but not the heir of the Divine promise. Once again, God had to step in and send Hagar and Ishmael away to protect the promise.

Abraham eventually figured it out. After Sarah died he realized that it was time for his son, Isaac, to marry. But he must not marry a woman from the surrounding people – the Canaanites – a wicked nation who did not worship God. They would surely lead Isaac away from God. He sent his servant back to his own people to get a wife for his son. The servant asked, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?” (Gen 24:5).  Abraham declared, “Make sure that you do not take my son back there” (v. 6). Why? The Lord had said, “To your offspring I will give this land . . .” (v. 7). The promise was tied to the land. Abraham knew if his son went back to his family the promise would be in jeopardy. This time, Abraham was protecting the promise. His son could not leave “The Promised Land.” There was too much at stake.

What does this mean for you and me today? God still makes promises and He still works to protect those promises. And so must we. Guard your steps. Guard your life. Make God’s promises the beat of your heart, Beloved. All the way to The Promised Land.

Hebrews: Perseverance

I didn’t come from wealthy folks so there wasn’t any inheritance for me or my brothers. But I do have some treasures that were passed along to me like some of my dad’s military memorabilia and my most precious possession – my mom’s Bible with notes in her handwriting. I also “inherited” bags and bags of fabric, much of it leftover scraps from clothes my Mom made us when we were kids. One thing she and I have in common is our refusal to give up on half-done craft projects. Notice I didn’t say we finished them, we just tucked them away to “come back to later.” I have boxes now of hers and my own.

The Bible has a lot to say about not giving up but I don’t think that is what Scripture means. The writer of Hebrews said that Moses “persevered” in his calling to rescue the Hebrew people out of slavery (Heb 11:17).  Remember that this letter is written to Hebrew Christians who are facing extreme persecution for their faith. Every one of them knew the story of Moses and the exodus out of Egypt. They knew that Moses had repeatedly gone before Pharaoh to demand the release of the Jews and he had refused. He made ten visits to Pharaoh – each more contentious than the last. But Moses persisted. Why? Because He had God’s name and promise. God had revealed Himself to Moses as “The Lord” and promised on that very name to deliver the people out of their misery. (Ex 3:15-17). Through all of the trouble that Pharaoh caused, God’s name and promise continued to give Moses strength.

That’s what the word “persevere” means – a strong, steadfast assurance that fuels endurance. It also means a word we often steer clear of. Patience. You’ve probably been told you should never pray for patience because the way to get it is through hardships, but Moses proved that the way to patience and perseverance is “by faith” in the name and the promise of the Lord.

When God calls you to a task, that calling comes with His promise to finish the work. Paul said, “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1Thess 1:24). His calling and His promise rest on His Name. So can you, Beloved.

Hebrews: By faith Abraham . . .

“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

As I meditate on Hebrews 11:17-19 (grab your Bible and read it) two questions come to mind: Why would God make such a horrific demand of Abraham and why would Abraham obey it? As I pondered those questions, two points emerge about Abraham and Isaac’s story.

To the first question, the author says that “God tested [Abraham],” (v. 17) and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” The word “tested” actually has two meanings: to temp or to examine. How can you know which is happening? The difference is in the tester’s purpose: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no desire of making the believer fail. God was examining Abraham’s willingness to obey Him, even in the most difficult requests.  Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case, you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

As to Abraham’s part, I never understood how he could willingly sacrifice his son until I studied his story alongside this Hebrews passage and Romans 4:18 – 20: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”  Did you catch it? Abraham believed the promise because of Who made it. He fully expected that God would still build a nation through Isaac and that meant Isaac would have to live. In his reasoning, he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead after the deed was done. But God stayed his hand at the last moment and provided a replacement sacrifice instead. The point is that Abraham’s faith was not in the promise – it was in the Promise-maker. And so must ours be.

Those are two solid truths you can build your life upon. God will never test you to make you fail and He will never make a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. Abraham is known for his great faith. Beloved, are you? Am I?

Hebrews: Believe God

I was 31 years old when my son was born. I was considered “high-risk” because of my age. It’s not so uncommon now, but thirty years ago it was a cause for concern, for good reason.  He and I both faced several serious health issues before we brought our baby boy home. Old people shouldn’t be having babies. Abraham knew all about that.

Hebrews 11:12 said that “. . .from this one man, and he as good as dead came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” Abraham was seventy-five and childless when God declared that he would become “a great nation” (Gen 12:2,4). Twenty-five years later Sarah bore Abraham, at a hundred years of age, a son. One son. But that one child was enough for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Fast forward several hundred years and Abraham’s descendants were making their escape from Egypt. The Bible says “There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Ex. 12:37). Scholars figure more than two million people made that journey. From one son. From an old man and woman who were “as good as dead.”

In those twenty-five years between the promise given and the promise fulfilled, Abraham had a choice: believe God or give up. He did stumble in his faith when he agreed to Sarah’s plan of surrogacy, but ultimately, “[Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:20-21).

As I meditated on that verse just now the Spirit brought another to mind: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38). The word “convinced” is almost identical to the phrase “fully persuaded.”

You and I need something constant upon which we can build our lives. Abraham was persuaded that God is able and faithful to fulfill His promise. Paul was convinced of the unfailing love of God. Beloved, are you?

Hebrews: Everything Old is New Again

New Testament writers often referred back to the Scriptures – what we know as the Old Testament to confirm the fulfillment of prophecy. The writer of Hebrews is one of them. One key I learned in hermeneutics (how to study the scriptures) is to go back to the OT reference to gain the writer’s context.

In Hebrews 10:38 the author loosely borrowed from one of the OT prophets when he wrote, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”  Verses 19-39 are a call to persevere in Christ. The promise of Jesus’ return was given in verse 37 and is followed by this “gentle” warning. So what was happening in the OT that influenced this NT verse?

Habakkuk prophesied to Judah in the final days before Jerusalem fell. He lamented the injustice, violence, strife, lawlessness, and wickedness in the land. Does that sound familiar? God’s answer was to announce judgment – the nation would be destroyed and taken captive by the Babylonians, a “ruthless and impetuous people . . . bent on violence . . . guilty men, whose own strength is their god” (1:6,9, 11). Habakkuk questions God’s plan and the Lord responds by contrasting the evil Babylonians with “the just” – the one who remains righteous despite the circumstances. The one who perseveres.

This was the author’s theme throughout Hebrews. The Babylonians would take the Jews that survived the onslaught and either enslave them or indoctrinate them into their culture and completely erase their way of life in God. Just as the enemies of the believing Jewish community were trying to do. Just as the world, satan, the culture, and our own sinful nature are trying to do today.

“But,” said the author, “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” (v. 39). He expressed his confidence in their faith and their ability to persevere in it under the most dire circumstances. Our enemies may look different today, but they all spring from the same root – satan, the devil, the enemy of God and God’s people.  The call to persevere is as important today as it was thousands of years ago. Only those who stand firm in their faith please God and inherit eternal life. I want that.  And I want that for you, Beloved. Let’s hang on to Jesus together.