Count Your Blessings

Even without my pint-sized sidekick, my life is very busy. I work four full-time days a week, I am a graduate student, I write these daily devotionals, and am trying to pull them together to publish. I teach two different Bible classes every week for which I study and write the lessons. Oh, and somewhere in there, I (sorta) clean my house and give my sweet, supportive hubby some attention. And occasionally I sleep. I say all that to say, unoccupied time is hard to come by. But it is something I sense God pressing on me lately. It came to me – as every good thought does – from His Word.

“Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: ‘Who am I, O Sovereign Lord . . . that you have brought me this far?’” (2 Samuel 7:18). Nathan the prophet had just reported God’s prophecy to the King: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (v. 16). David was awestruck. Once a shepherd boy, now a king with an everlasting throne. All he could do was sit before the Lord in worship and astonishment. So should we.

Have you ever stopped to consider all God has done for you? First, He gave you life and breath – that in itself is beyond comprehension (Gen 2:7). Then, despite your sin, He gave you grace that has drawn you to Him – you would not have sought Him out on your own (John 6:44). And wonder of wonders, He gave His One and Only Son who then gave His perfect life to redeem yours out of the pit of sin and death. That’s mercy (John 3:16).  Then He raised Him from the dead to give you eternal life (1 John 5:10-12). If you stopped right there that would be more than enough.

But think of all the ways He pours out His love and blessings on you. I think of my family and the Joy they bring. I have the most wonderful friends, a job I love, the opportunity to continue my education, a loving, caring church family, food on my table, a roof over my head, a soft bed to sleep on – oh, I could go on and on. And so could you. Beloved, come and sit before the Lord and ponder His goodness to you. “Count your many blessings; see what God has done.”

Eyes of Faith

It’s the same routine every morning. As soon I walk into the kitchen my cat Celina starts demanding her breakfast. She dogs my steps as I pick up her food bowl, take it to the bin under the sink and add a scoop of food, then take it back and set it down in its usual spot. I’ve tried to replenish her bowl before she comes into the room so that it’s ready for her, but she won’t eat unless she watches me do the whole thing. It’s as if she doesn’t trust me unless she can see it all happen with her own eyes.

The Spirit told me that I am much the same with God and my prayer concerns. He reminded me of the post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and his disciple Thomas. When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection Thomas was missing from that gathering. When they later told him what happened, he refused to believe. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it” (John 20: 25).

Jesus appeared again a week later and Thomas was there. Jesus singled him out saying, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27). Thomas, of course, had an immediate change of heart and said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). To which Jesus replied, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (v. 29).

There’s someone that I’ve been praying over for a long time. It’s getting hard because I don’t see any improvement. I only see them becoming worse instead of better. But God keeps assuring me that just because I can’t see change doesn’t mean He’s not working.  I have to trust Him. I have to believe what I can’t see. Mind you, that’s not “blind faith” that’s faith with my eyes fixed on God, not on the situation. That’s faith that gives me peace despite appearances.

You can have that peace too. Looking only at the problem breeds doubt, but keeping your eyes on God builds faith.  Beloved, take your stuff to the Father and leave it there. You can trust Him even if you can’t see Him working.

In God’s Eyes

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13).

When you looked in the mirror this morning, what did you see? Wrinkles? Gray hair? A tired expression? That’s what I saw. But God doesn’t see me the say way I see myself. All through the Bible, He tells men and women that He sees what no one else does – not even themselves.

Moses saw himself as a stuttering criminal on the lam, but God saw him as the deliverer of His people (Exodus 3:10).

Gideon saw himself as “the least in the weakest clan of Israel,” but God saw him as a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:15, 12).

David’s father Jesse saw his son as the tender of the family’s sheep, but God saw him as the shepherd-king of His people.

Where the woman with an issue of blood saw herself as ostracized and unclean, Jesus saw her as a “daughter” (Luke 8:48). Simon the Pharisee saw the woman washing Jesus’ feet as a “sinful woman,” but Jesus saw her as a model of love and forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50). Mary Magdalene, whom the whole town knew as a demon-possessed woman Jesus saw as the first witness to His resurrection (John 20:10-18).

And on and on I could go.

God sees you and me far more clearly than we could ever see ourselves.  Who you are in the sight of others, or even in your own eyes, is not who you are in the sight of the God who created and redeemed you.   For those who are in Christ, He sees us as His children (1 John 3:1), with a purpose and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  Where others see us through the mistakes we’ve made, God sees us with all the potential He placed in us from before we were born.  When we see ourselves through the worldly standards of beauty and success, God sees us through the beauty of His Son and His victory over death.  When we see ourselves as unworthy, hopeless, useless, and unwanted He sees us as valuable, and desired, because He sees us through eyes of love and compassion.

How do you see yourself, Beloved?  When you consider that question, always come back to this truth:  the God who created you sees you as so much more than you can ever imagine.  Ask Him to give you His perspective so you can live as the child of God that you are.

Holding onto Hope

I had hoped in a dream that I believed was God’s plan for me – it was exciting and I was filled with anticipation.  But when my life turned in a different direction, I set my backpack full of dreams down and shuffled off on this unwanted new path.

The Bible mentions several people who stood at the same crossroads.  Moses, Elijah, and Naomi come to mind.  Peter and several of the disciples, uncertain of where their lives are going after Jesus’ death, dejectedly went back to fishing (John 21).  And then there are two of Jesus’ followers walking on the dusty road to Emmaus when they encounter a stranger.  They tell him about Jesus (isn’t that a kick), sadly saying, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).  They saw their lives going in a completely different direction than they expected.

Part of the problem is our understanding of the word “hope.”  We say, “I hope it doesn’t rain out the picnic today.”  “I hope he asks me to the prom.”  “I hope you feel better soon.” – but these are spoken like “wishful thinking.”  The Bible portrays hope as “an attitude of confidently looking forward to what is good and beneficial.”  It’s not a hope in circumstances. It’s a hope in God. A hope that we can carry with us no matter what twists and turns life takes.  Better yet, it’s a hope that carries us no matter what.  That’s the kind of hope you and I need.

Remember Peter and those disciples on the road to Emmaus – the ones who had lost hope? Their stories didn’t end there.  At the end of that fishing trip was breakfast with the risen Jesus and restored hope for Peter.  At the end of the Emmaus road was the joyful realization that the stranger in their midst was the resurrected Lord Himself. 

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and joy.”  I believe this is an assurance that our God-given dreams don’t get cast aside when life takes an unexpected turn.  Because God expected that turn, even if I didn’t, and somehow the dreams He planted in my heart will make the turn too. And when He brings them to reality, they may not look exactly like I envisioned, but they will be full of life and Joy.  And hope.

Do You Believe?

No other event on the stage of world history is as important as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Skeptics have long sought to discredit Christianity’s claims with attacks on the foundational veracity of the gospel.  So is it really true? Let’s take a look at the facts that are recorded in the secular history of the time.

The Jewish and Roman historical records note that a man named Jesus from Nazareth was crucified at Golgotha and buried in a garden tomb.  The grave was sealed and Roman guards were posted to prevent the theft of the body.  History records that the condemned man’s tomb was found empty three days later, despite the extreme measures the Romans took to secure the grave.  Jewish records note the claims of Jesus’ followers that their Lord had been resurrected.  Historical writers of the time frequently mention eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus, just as Paul spoke of Peter, the Apostles, more than five hundred brothers, James (Jesus’ own doubting brother), and finally Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  In these verses, Paul reminds the believers of the gospel message “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scripture” (v. 3-4).  These verses are almost certainly a creed that was well established in the ancient church and based on the testimonies of the very ones who firmly and emphatically believed they saw the literal resurrected Lord.  These are men who had been transformed from terrified, despondent fellows cowering behind locked doors (John 20:19) to bold witnesses willing to die for their faith, confident in what they saw (Acts 4:1-20).

The gospel message – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus – is strongly supported by men and women who had an encounter that transformed their lives and the landscape of world history.  The evidence is clearly shown in their testimonies and the traditions that are built on the foundation of their testimonies.  The eyewitness accounts of Peter, James, John and Paul, and hundreds of others, combined with the early creedal statements of the church provide good support for the claims of the resurrection of Jesus. 

Still, facts alone cannot convince anyone of the reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Generations of believers who have also experienced this life-changing Jesus provide the greatest proof that the claims of Christianity are true. People like me. I was a sinner, lost and bound for hell, but I heard the good news that God loves me and send His Son to die for my sins and rose to life three days later. I believed in Jesus. His Spirit lives in me and I have been changed. Forever.

Beloved, this same Jesus died for you too. He can change your life and your eternal destiny. Will you believe today?

Heaven Wept

“It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how His body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” Luke 23:54-56

It was the darkest day of their lives – the day after Jesus had been crucified on the cross. They’d heard the hammers pound the nails into His hands and feet. They listened to Him cry out to His Father in anguish and surrender. They saw His body slump as He give up His Spirit. They watched the soldiers pierce His side and witnessed blood and water drain from His battered body. They held their breath as Joseph and Nicodemus took His lifeless body down from the cross. They followed in a sad processional to the garden where their Lord was entombed.

In our modern understanding of these days, we hold solemn vigils on Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, and we come together for joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday to celebrate His resurrection. But Saturday is the day for egg hunts, travel, shopping, and preparing our Easter Sunday finery.

More and more the Holy Spirit is teaching me to sit in the moment with the Bible characters. To put myself in their sandals and their experience and not rush on to the end of a familiar story. He is teaching me to take a holy pause.

What must this day have been like for these devoted women? Were they numb with grief? Or was it the kind of sorrow that aches deep in the bones? This day – the day after darkness filled the noon-day sky and the curtain was torn in two – must have left them empty inside – confused, in anguish, and filled with disbelief. How could this be? Their Jesus was dead.

Looking back from this side of the Cross, we want to take their faces in our hands and tell them, “Just hold on! Don’t grieve. Everything is going to change tomorrow!” As Paul Harvey says, we know “the rest of the story.” We know death cannot keep its grip on Jesus. We know they will soon find the tomb empty. We know this is only the day between death and life. But they didn’t. In their world, death was final. It was all over.

They didn’t know they were only waiting. . .

Open Eyes, Open Mind

I was looking for something in the first chapter of John and my eye caught two verses I had previously marked on the opposite page: Luke 24:31 and 45. Luke 24 is the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as witnessed by His disciples. The first was when Jesus met up with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. For most of their journey together they didn’t recognize Him, even though they talked about Him the whole way. (Boy, there’s a commentary on the state of the church!) Actually, Luke reported that “they were kept from recognizing Him” (v. 16). Why? As the account plays out, Jesus gave them the bigger picture of Himself and the purpose for his life and death – and resurrection, which they were struggling to believe. Verse 31 says: “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” Their physical eyes were able to recognize Jesus their teacher and their spiritual eyes were able to recognize Jesus the Son of God.

While the now seeing disciples reported their encounter to the rest of His followers Jesus came into the room and showed them His hands and feet, proof that He was indeed alive. Luke says, “they still did not believe it because of Joy and amazement” (v. 41).  He reminded them of the things He had taught them about the Law of Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the fulfillment of prophecy. “Then,” the Scripture says, “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (v. 45).  This means that He enabled them to put what the Scriptures (what we know as the Old Testament) proclaimed about the Messiah with what they witnessed about Him. He enabled them to finally understand who He was and what His mission was all about. And what their mission was going to be: that they would be witnesses of all they had seen and heard and experienced “to all nations” (v. 47).

That’s my prayer for the church: that our eyes would be opened to recognize the Lord and our minds would be opened to understand the Scriptures. And our hearts would be opened to share the gospel – the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God with a lost world. Beloved, do you understand who Jesus is? Pray for your eyes and mind to be opened wide to believe that He is . . . everything.

Optical Illusions

“Things are not always what they seem,” the magician said. He launched into several tricks that amazed the children at the park. They were all simple – done by sleight of hand and most of the adults – myself included – could see through them. But the kids were mesmerized. My son talked about them for several weeks afterward. But the illusionist’s words stuck with me: “Things are not always what they seem.”

The Bible is filled with stories when things seemed bad, difficult, even impossible. The Israelites seemed to be stuck in a death trap – between an impassible body of water and an angry Egyptian army. But things are not always what they seem. The sea parted and they crossed over on the dry ground (Ex. 14). Three Hebrew youths were thrown in a fiery furnace for refusing to bow before the king’s statue of gold. Daniel defied a royal order not to pray to his God and was thrown into a pit with hungry lions. But things are not always what they seem. A fourth Man kept the flames away from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – the only thing that burned was the ropes they were bound with. God’s angels shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel emerged from the pit without a scratch on him (Daniel 3, 6). A young girl lies dead and her family grieves. Jesus knows that things are not always what they seem. He tells the mourners: “She is not dead, only sleeping” then takes her by the hands and raises her back to life (Mark 5:21-43). Their lord and teacher was dead and his body was missing – ah, but things are not always what they seem. You know the rest of this story.

Beloved, things may seem bleak right now. Hard times are upon you. Life is difficult and it doesn’t seem like it will ever get better. You’re facing an impossible situation, a mountain you can’t climb, a pit you can’t get out of, a roadblock you can’t get around. But things are not always what they seem – especially when God is with you. Trust Him to get you over that mountain, out of that pit, and past that roadblock. He is light in the darkness. He is hope when life seems hopeless. He is the God of the impossible-made-possible. When God is in the picture, things are not always what they seem.

Think Bigger, Pray Bigger

See the source image

What are you asking God for today? What do you imagine He will do in your situation? You need to imagine bigger and pray wider. Why do I say that? Because the Bible says, “Now, to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine . . .” (Eph 3:20). Whatever you’re asking, and however you think God will move is so much less than He has in mind.

Take the disciples. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they were content to spend their lives casting nets over the side of a boat as fishermen. Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will me you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). They had no idea how big that be, but they were the first seeds of God’s plan to change the world. Even after spending more than three years in ministry with Him, they still had such a small vision of who He was and what He came to do. After His resurrection, he met two of His disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. When He asked them what they were discussing, they explained that they were talking about “Jesus of Nazareth” (I almost envision the Lord chuckling to Himself) who had died just three days before. They said, “we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:13-21). But they were thinking too small because Jesus came to redeem the whole world, not just one nation.

But there’s something else I want you to see – something God revealed to me I’d never seen before. Look back at verse 20 – what is the first word? “Now.” Now indicates a continuation of the previous thought. What was Paul’s previous thought? He was praying to the Father for the believers in Ephesus, that they might be strengthened with the power of His Spirit, that they would have faith, and that they would be “rooted and established in love” and “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” and know this “love that surpasses knowledge.” And get this: that they “may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19).

Then he said, “God is able to do more than all [I’m] asking.” Can you imagine what the world would be like if we believed God for all that? Imagine bigger, Beloved, this is God we’re talking about.

Spiritual Battles

See the source image

Do you ever feel like life is a war? That’s because it is. Believers in Christ are in a battle, a constant fight of good vs. evil.  The enemy launches his attacks every day, from the culture, from the unbelieving world, even from our friends and family. Anyone who is trying to live a holy and righteous life in these evil days is standing on a bullseye. And our enemy fights dirty. So how do we gain victory in this battle?

I like the example of one of David’s “mighty men” who fought by his side in his many battles.  The Bible says that Eleazar “stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword” (2 Samuel 23:10). Eleazar had a literal sword with a sharp blade and a hilt that was shaped to fit his hand. You and I have a better sword, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). If you study the armor of God in Ephesians 6 (and I strongly suggest that you do) you will find that this is the only offensive weapon we have, but it is all we need because Satan trembles at the sound of Scripture. It cuts him to the quick and it cuts through his lies. Like Eleazar, we have to keep the sword in our hands at all times, until our fingers are permanently shaped to grasp and use it. The enemy doesn’t take a break so we can’t just pick our sword up and put it down. By the time you reach for it the enemy has already struck. The Word of God has to become part of us, written on our hearts, planted in our minds, and always on the tip of our tongues. That requires an investment of time and discipline. But it’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

But there’s one more thing about spiritual battles you and I need to know. The victory has already been won. The enemy has already been defeated. When Jesus took our sins to the cross and the grave, satan thought he had won. But when Jesus’ chest rose with his first resurrection breath, the devil was forever defeated. And he knows it. He just doesn’t want you to know it. Everything he throws at you has no power against you – unless you drop your sword and shield. God has “given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). His Word and His Spirit are the weapons that will give us victory. Beloved, be assured, you are not fighting a losing battle.