Don’t Drift Away from God

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Words fascinate me. The Holy Spirit knows this about me and so often when I am reading my Bible, He will draw my attention to a word and ask me, “What does that mean?” – and I am off on one of my favorite digs. Yesterday I was reading in Hebrews 2 and He did it again in the very first verse: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The phrase “drift away” became my holy grail. This is one word in the Greek: pararreo – and it means to glide by, to be carried away, and you would use it to say something “slipped my mind.”. We’ve all missed appointments because they slipped our minds. That’s why we jot them down on our calendars or put a reminder in our phone. Likewise, the writer was saying, don’t let the message of the gospel slip from your mind. That’s easy to do when life is hard, when tragedy strikes, when you’re weary, when the whole world is caught in a pandemic. It’s easy to forget about the hope we have in Christ. But this dig continues.

This morning the Spirit highlighted another phrase for me: “careful attention.” These two words perissoteros and prosecho mean in great abundance, above all else and to hold or possess. Simply put, this means above every voice and every worldview, take hold of this gospel and let everything else go. That’s the key to not drifting away.

The message of the first chapter was that Jesus is the Son of God – He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3). In a world that says there is no God, or that God is whatever you want him to be, we need to get a firm and secure grip on the truth. In a world that is full of evil and darkness, where death runs rampant and people are scared out of their wits, we need to wave the banner of the gospel and the hope of salvation and eternal life.

Beloved, what are you paying careful attention to? The news? Facebook? The opinions of others? These will cause fear, confusion, and doubt. They will cause you to drift away. Let them go. Pay attention to the truth: Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save you and give you eternal life and hope for today. Hold on to that and never let go.

 

The Real Joy of Christmas

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Christmas isn’t always a Currier and Ives painting. Some Christmases are hard, saturated in grief, exhaustion, disappointment, loneliness, struggle, and family drama. I’ve had some of those Christmases – no doubt you’ve had them too. I remember Christmases when my Dad was stationed far away from us, the first Christmas after my Mom died, and Christmases with no tree and no presents because there were no funds. Those were sad holidays, but they were not joyless. I know – that sounds like a contradiction, but the joy of Christmas is not in trees and presents. And while they are (usually) a blessing and a delight at Christmas, our family is not the heart of our joy. Christmas Joy is not found in stores – you can’t even order it from Amazon. And I can guarantee you that it isn’t in “Christmas” themed movies or T.V. specials or over-produced “Christmas” songs.

The true joy of Christmas is the assurance of God’s faithfulness to redeem His people from their sins. That’s exactly what Matthew said in his gospel. The angel who appeared to Joseph said, “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This baby wasn’t just born to be a king who would rule on a throne. He was born to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was born to break the power of death. John said He came to bring light into our darkness (John 1:4-9). Joy at Christmas comes from understanding our desperate situation before God and then recognizing what He did for us. The truest expression of Christmas joy is not a party or a present – it’s worship. That’s how Mary saw it. She said “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46). Christmas should be a holy celebration, a time when we put aside the tinsel and trappings and bow low before the Baby in the manger. It may never be as perfect as the picture on your Christmas cards, but Beloved, no matter your circumstances in this season, may your Christmas be full of real joy.

Kanye and the Church

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What does it mean to be a “righteous person?” Merriam-Webster says that “righteous” means “to act in accord with divine or moral law.” In Scripture, it means to be “right.” But who sets the standards for “right” and “wrong?” In our culture, that standard shifts like a sheet caught in the wind. God gave His law and commandments so that His people would know exactly what He deems to be right and live accordingly. Righteous behavior was rewarded and unrighteousness was punished. In a previous post, I shared how the Prodigal Son would, according to Levitical law, be stoned to death when he returned home for rebelling against his father. Likewise, a woman who was found to not be a virgin when she married would also be stoned to death. The law stated: “She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her Father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). According to the Law, this was the right way to deal with her.

So how is it that Joseph was called “a righteous man” when he decided to disobey this law? When Mary revealed her pregnancy to her fiancé, Joseph “did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, [so] he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). Joseph did not want Mary to endure what the law said she deserved. Yet the Scriptures called him righteous. Because Joseph opted for mercy over judgment. No wonder God chose him to be the earthly father who would raise His Son.

A popular entertainer professed to be a Christian recently and just dropped a full gospel album. He has a reputation as a foul-mouthed, wild, arrogant, rebellious guy, but now he says he is a follower of Christ. And the church has judged him and his claim by his past. Where is mercy? Where is righteousness? Who among us has the right to judge his faith? Shouldn’t we instead be proclaiming the saving power of Christ? If the angels are rejoicing that a sinner came to Jesus, why aren’t we? We have an opportunity to show the world the grace and mercy of God by embracing this man and his new-found faith – but we’re showing them that Heaven has slammed the door in his face. And theirs. Why would they want a God like that? The truth is, it took the same amount of holy blood to cleanse my sins as it did to cleanse his. And it takes the same grace to overcome my mistakes as a believer as it will to overcome his. If God can save a wretch like me, no one is outside of the reach of His salvation.

James said it clearly and boldly: “Judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13).

I’m choosing righteousness here. I’m choosing the same mercy that was shown to me. I’m going to believe that my God can save. Anyone.

Amazing Grace

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Meditating this morning on Luke 1:26-30 and Gabriel’s words to Mary: “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (vs 28) What was it about Mary that make her “highly favored?” Was it that she was a virgin? Hardly – there were many virgins in Israel. Was she somehow superior to other young women? The Scriptures don’t support that, even though the Roman Catholic Church teaches that she was.
Here’s the point we struggle with in the 21st century – it wasn’t about Mary at all. When we read the Bible we tend to focus heavily on the characters in the story because we are looking for something in them with which we can identify. “My favorite Bible character is Peter, because I can identity with him; we’re just alike.” I’ve said it myself about certain Bible people with whom I feel a “connection.” In the same way, we look at God and identify characteristics that highlight how He relates to us. And again, I’ve done it – my favorite attribute of God is His faithfulness, because He has been so very faithful to me. That is not wrong in and of itself, but it’s miss-focused. You and I need to see God for who He is, not who He is “to me.”
The Greek word “favor” means “grace.” Favor is a gift, a kindness, a blessing and it says nothing about the recipient, and everything about the Giver. When Gabriel spoke his greeting he wasn’t exalting Mary, he was highlighting the undeserved grace of God to her. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around that because we are a merit-based society. But there was really nothing special about Mary – God’s favor was purely His own choice. She received it in the same manner – praising Him for His grace, mercy and power (vs. 46-55). It is the same with our salvation. Despite what the church teaches, we don’t “choose to receive Jesus” – He chooses us to receive His grace – our only part is to respond in faith.
What’s your story with God Beloved? Do you recognize that you were chosen by nothing more or less than His grace? If we are in God’s blessed family it is all His doing, not yours or mine. Let’s refocus our spiritual understanding on this gift. It’s not about who we are – it’s all God’s Amazing Grace.

The Nativity

“They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16).

When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star and the angel above the stable and we add the animals and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.
The truth is, Satan is part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.
As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

I am Guilty – and I am Innocent

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“It is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8).

I caught the state trooper out of the corner of my eye and my heart sank.  I was busted.  I kept looking into my rear-view mirror, waiting for him to pull out after me with lights flashing.  But he never did.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I realized I had gotten away with breaking the law.

The news is filled with reports of innocent people who were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.  They were denied the freedom they were due, cut off from their loved ones, and their reputations were ruined.  Innocent people should not be punished. It is a travesty of justice.

Yet there was one innocent man who bore an even greater punishment – Jesus.  He not only endured false imprisonment, but He was put to death for crimes He did not commit. The sin of all humanity was heaped upon Him.  My sin among them.  I am guilty.  God has every right to call me to justice for my sins.  But He doesn’t.  And it has nothing to do with me.  It has everything to do with grace.  It is not like the state trooper who let me get away with speeding.  The criminal has to be brought to justice; the penalty has to be paid.  Death.  But Jesus stood before God and said, “I will take her sin, I will pay for her crime.”  And miracle of miracles – I am not guilty anymore.  I didn’t just get away with my sin.  Jesus took my sin and my punishment.  I am declared innocent because of Christ.

Beloved, if you have trusted in Jesus, you are declared not guilty before God.  Your sins have been paid in full with the blood of the innocent Son of God.  You’re not just getting away with something, you are truly free of guilt.

If you have not trusted in Jesus, you are guilty before God.  But you don’t have to be.  Jesus died for your sins too.  He took your guilt and your punishment.  Grace is there for you.  More than getting away with sin, you can be declared innocent.  Friend, won’t you receive God’s gift today and be free?

Guard Your Heart

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“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

I grew up a military kid, and I remember well the guards posted at the base entrance.  Their sole job was to keep the base secure from people and things entering that posed a threat.  We had a sticker on our car that allowed us to pass right on through – we though it was so cool that the guard would salute my mom and a car full of kids when he saw that sticker.  But if a car approached without that authorization the guard stopped them to determine who they were and why they wanted to enter the base.  If the guard had any inclination that the person was up to no good, access was denied, and on occasion an arrest was made.  That is the same idea we see in this verse.  We have to post a guard and deny access to anything that poses a threat to our heart – to our spiritual and emotional wellspring.  But here’s what sticks out in my mind: the bases we lived on had multiple entrances, and every entrance had a guard.  Every possible route onto the base was secured.  Now let’s go back to our Proverbs passage.  Read a little further (vs. 24-27) and you will see that Solomon gives us four posts we need to secure: Guard your mouth, guard your eyes, guard your steps, and guard your direction.

Guard your mouth:Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” – Jesus warned, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ (Matthew 15:11).  Our words – and our actions – spring from our heart. When our words are perverse and corrupt, it means our hearts are perverse and corrupt.  But our words also feed our heart.  It’s a cyclical effect – what comes out of my mouth comes from my heart and goes back into my heart again.   David said it this way, “He wore cursing as his garment; it entered his body like water, into his bones like oil” (Psalm 109:18).

Guard your eyes: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you” – watch what you’re looking at, listening to and absorbing into your heart.   And I don’t just mean avoid looking at inappropriate stuff like pornography – which should go without saying.  I’m also talking about looking at things that just dull our spirits.  Here’s my confession:  some days I come home physically and mentally wiped out.  All I want to do is veg out in front of the TV or scroll the internet on my phone for funny memes.  Now I’m not looking at anything bad, but I’m also not looking at anything godly.  I’m not feeding my heart – I’m dulling it. Computer programmers call it GIGO: Garbage In – Garbage Out.  I call it The Sponge Principle.

Guard your steps: “Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm” – watch your step.  One of the worst ankle injuries I ever incurred happened when I wasn’t watching where I was planting my foot and I stepped awkwardly off a curb and nearly broke my ankle.  The world is full of curbs and potholes and ditches that can easily trip us up and Satan is always planting landmines in our path.  We need to pay careful attention to where we set our feet – make sure the way is firm and free of danger.

Guard your direction: “Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” – keep going in the right direction.  How do we know for sure what is the right way?  God has given us a road map – the Bible and a personal Guide – the Holy Spirit.   By storing up God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), meditating on the Scriptures (Psalm 19:14), continually, intentionally seeking God with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13), keeping in step with the Spirit (Romans 8:5), and staying in community with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25), we can stay on the good way.

Base security is a vital part of our military operations and the well-being of our nation.  Heart security is no less important to our lives; our faith, witness and ministry are at stake.  You and I need to post our guards and secure every access to our hearts and protect the “wellspring of our lives.”  Guard your heart well Beloved.

Why the World Doesn’t Believe

577a5-157991596“When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
Why do people reject the love and grace of God? Why do they refuse to receive the beautiful message of the Gospel? I’ve often wondered why people don’t want Jesus. I mean, who doesn’t want joy, peace, hope, and eternal life.
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 their own land, 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 the love and grace of 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. Our key verse notes that Jesus saw the hopeless people and He felt deep compassion. Not hate, not disgust, not judgement. 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. I talking about the love of God that cares about the body and the eternal soul. The lost world is under bondage. Christian compassion can loosen their chains so God’s mercy can set them free. Will you be the conduit of His love to someone today?

Holy Father, the world is in bondage to Your enemy and they cannot even envision freedom.  Satan continually tells them how helpless they are and how hopeless their situation is.  Let me be Your hand and voice of compassion.  Use me to open hearts to the possibility of a life without chains.  It was Your compassion that saved me, let me share that compassion so others might be saved too.  Amen.

Advent Day 6 – The Perfect Christmas Gift

“The wise men opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

I believe the best gifts come from those who know us well.  My favorite Christmas present came from my sweet husband early in our marriage.  I was an avid cross-stitcher (back when my eyesight was better) and my beloved went to the local craft store and bought every color of embroidery floss that DMC® made, along with storage boxes to keep them in.  I LOVED it!  I appreciated the gift itself, but what I loved  most was the fact that he paid attention to what I enjoyed doing and took the time to learn about my hobby and what it involved. The gift was great, but the love that went into the gift was even greater.

Without a doubt, our Heavenly Father is the greatest Gift-giver of all.  He who created you knows you intimately.  He knows your dreams and your joys and sorrows. He knows what delights you and what frightens you. He knows your favorite color and your least-favorite relative.  He knows what makes your eyes light up and what keeps you awake at night.  He knows your every thought, your hopes and wishes and your deepest, truest love.  And because He knows you so well, He knew the perfect gift for you—Jesus.

James 1:17 reminds us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”  Could there be a more perfect gift than His precious Son?  Is any gift as good as the “gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17)?  This gift is given with overflowing grace (Romans 5:15).  It is a gift that never wears out, never fades, and never goes out of style – it is the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23).  It is not something you have to earn – in fact you can’t earn it – you can only receive it by faith (Ephesians 2:8).    It is a gift of immense love given by the One who knows you better than you know yourself.

Have you received God’s priceless, perfect gift?

Read Matthew 2:1-12

 

Advent Day 2 – How to Save the World

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Ask a general how to save the world and he will tell you to use military force and control.  Ask a humanitarian and she’ll probably suggest programs to eradicate poverty and hunger.  Pose the same question to politicians and they’ll tell you they need money, money and more money to appoint a committee to study the matter.  If I were going to save the world I would round up the criminals and terrorists and drug lords and shoot them all to the moon in a rocket.  But God had a different plan – He determined to save the world through a baby.

It seems strange to me that a helpless infant would be the answer to the woes of the world.  He couldn’t feed himself or change himself or get from place to place by himself.  He slept all the time like any other baby.  But He wasn’t any other baby.  He who could not feed Himself would feed multitudes. The little one that couldn’t change Himself would change the fate of the human race on a cross.  The babe who had to be carried from place to place will carry all who believe to heaven.  This sleeping child would awake from the sleep of death to stir the souls of men.

This baby left the glory of heaven to save the entire human race.  He brought peace between God and man.  He broke the chains of sin.  He erased the curse of death.  This baby took on your sin and mine; He bore the punishment that you and I rightly deserved.  He surrendered His body to the cross and the grave.

Yes, God used a Baby to do what generals, humanitarians, politicians and you and I could never do.  Jesus brought the promise of salvation to the whole world – and that includes you.

Read John 2:1-7