Hope in Days of Evil

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Another day, another multi-victim shooting, another child abused, another murder, another robbery, beating, and theft. I remember the day when such things were shocking; now they are commonplace. I read just yesterday of a mother who killed her child and I want to ask, “Why?” But I know the answer. Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit. And their actions ushered in sin that has infected the human race at a far greater pace than COVID 19. It is part of our human make-up. It’s even part of our culture. And the Bible makes it clear that it’s only going to get worse.

Jesus said as the time for His return draws near, wickedness will increase, and “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Love – love for what is good – will die and evil and wickedness will grow at alarming rates.

Paul added, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:2-5). Can anyone doubt that we are in the last days?

Does that frighten you? It should if you don’t belong to Jesus Christ. But if you are His, if you have surrendered yourself – heart, mind, soul, and strength – to Him, the state of the world should concern you, but not scare you. It should compel you to share the gospel. It should urge you to live in holiness. It should move you to intervene for the innocent. But it shouldn’t frighten you. Because the increase of wickedness means a decrease in our wait for Christ’s return.

Jesus said when the world turns more and more to evil, and the heavens and the earth react to it (because they are also subject to the curse of sin), we need to look up. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky . . . the nations of the earth . . . will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). And every evil, wicked, sinful thing will be cast out. Yes, these are evil days, and there is likely more to come. But lift up your head, Beloved, that means the Lord is nearer now than ever before.

Shameless

It never really bothered me if my Mom got angry with me, if she spanked me (she did not spare the rod, and I am better for it), grounded me (she once grounded me for the rest of my life), took away privileges, added chores, or even yelled at me. I was sort of immune to her anger. But oh, let her say she was ashamed of me, and my heart would break. Just writing about it, I can still feel the weight of it.

It seems all my life I’ve carried a heavy load of guilt and shame. I know well the words King David cried out to God, “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:4). From being abused and rejected, making countless foolish mistakes, hurting others, jumping into the pit of sin, and feeling responsible for the actions of my child – every failure left me with eyes cast down so as not to see on the face of God the sorrow my sin has caused Him. Rather than “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” I slink back into the cave of despair because I can’t bear to know that God is ashamed of me. Something tells me that you can relate.

Jesus came into this sinful world to set us free from guilt and shame and the evil that caused it. Listen to His words to Nicodemus, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus came, not to point to you and me with all our bags and say “I AM ASHAMED OF YOU!” He came to say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Rest from the weight. Rest from the shame. Rest from the guilt.

Do you come to God this morning with a load of guilt and shame? Are you expecting chastisement and rejection? Look up, Beloved. Jesus has stretched out His nail-scarred hand to take your heavy bags of misery. He bids you rise and face the day, forgiven, freed, and radiant in His love.

Hebrews: The King’s Kid

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I  have often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest, dressed, not in royal robes, but the filth of my sinfulness and my inadequate attempts to cover up with torn, tattered rags of homemade “righteousness.” 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, “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.” When do I most need help? What is your greatest time of need? When we have failed God in our sin. How do we dare approach the throne of the Holy One at all, much less with confidence in our sinful state? Because of our great high priest, Jesus Christ. Remember that the work of the high priest is to intercede for sinful people before a holy God. The high priest approaches God with the blood of the sacrifice to cleanse the people. Jesus both presents the blood and provides it. The priest and the sacrificial lamb. Paul said, “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). That confidence is not an arrogant swagger; it is trust in the faithfulness of Christ to accomplish what He promised – to make us acceptable to God. In Jesus – in His blood, and through Jesus – through His atoning work, you and I are able to come to God, not as sinners, but as His beloved children. 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, Beloved? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended?  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 Art of Spiritual Warfare: Know Yourself

A couple of days ago I shared a quote by Sun Tzu, who is credited with writing The Art of War. His premise is that victory in war comes when you know your enemy and know yourself.  From that we explored scripture about knowing our enemy the devil, but more importantly, knowing God. Several of you asked for more on “knowing yourself.” Honestly, I purposely skipped that part of Tzu’s quote because, in the current “Christian” marketplace, there is a glut of music, books, studies, and messages that are heavily self-focused. I believe it is an unhealthy trend. The church has forgotten Jesus’ call.  It’s really hard to “deny yourselves” (Luke 9:23) when you’re always thinking about yourself. But I digress.

There is a biblical directive to “know yourself” – especially in the face of spiritual warfare. The enemy loves to attack your heart. When he says, “God could never love you,” you need to know that He has promised to love you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  When he says you are worthless you need to know that God purchased you at a very high price – not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of His Son (1 Peter 1:18-19). When satan says God has forgotten you, be assured that you are engraved on the palm of God’s hand (Isaiah 49:16). Your Father says that  “you are precious and honored in my sight” (Isaiah 43:4). You are redeemed (Galatians 3:13). You are sons [and daughters] of God (Galatians 4:6). You are chosen (Ephesians 1:4).

But there’s another kind of war that your enemy wages You need to know who you are when temptation hits – and you need to know who you are not. Paul said you used to be a slave to wickedness, “but now you have been set free from sin (Romans 6:19-22). You once were dead in your sins but now you are alive with Christ (Colossians 2:13). “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Then he added, “Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

Over and over Paul drives home the point – you used to love sin – BUT THAT’S NOT WHO YOU ARE NOW. (Yes I’m shouting – I want you to get this.) You are “more than conquerors” in this battle (Romans 8:37). That, Beloved, is what you need to know about yourself.

Muddy Child of God

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Do you remember the old saying: “You made your bed, now you have to lay down in it.”? In essence, I have to live with the consequences of my own foolish choices. Sometimes the consequences cost us money like my son having to replace a window he broke, or rest – like losing sleep finishing an assignment I put off too long. But some consequences are painful. Ask any prisoner in a cell or my cousin who cut his foot off playing around with a chain saw. Sorrow and suffering are magnified when the offense against us is our own.

The people of Israel found themselves in just such a situation. Against God’s direct command, Israel allowed the pagan Canaanites to remain in the Promised Land. The Canaanites worshiped Baal and Ashtoreth, and their worship was largely sexual and perverse. Their evil practices spread throughout Israel. In their lust, they forgot the Lord who rescued them and broke their covenant agreement to worship only Yahweh. Judges 2:14 says “In His anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around.” They had danced to the devil’s tune, and now it was time to pay the piper.

What misery is greater than witnessing our own fingerprints in our suffering? I’ve been there several times. I expect you have too. Perhaps you’re sitting right now in a mud pit of your own making, wondering how you could have been so foolish and how will you ever get out of it. I used to believe that God was unwilling to help me when I got myself into trouble. “Sorry child, this is your problem, I’m stepping out on this one.” But that is not Him at all.

Even after the Israelites rebellion, “The Lord was moved to pity by their groaning” (Judges 2:18) When His children are suffering, God hears, He sees and He rescues. His compassion is boundless. “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” (Lam 3:22). That’s good news if you’re struggling with the consequences of your own decisions and actions. Beloved, God has not and will not abandon you – even in your self-made misery. He hears your cries. He sees your tears. His heart is moved on your behalf. He rescued His people, He rescued me, and He will rescue you.

Hebrews: I Need You

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One major blow the pandemic has dealt the church is disconnection. When churches closed their doors trying to keep their members safe, it also isolated them physically from one another. Now that churches are opened again, many have decided not to return. Without the opportunity to come together, many people have grown cold. They just don’t think they need the church anymore.

The writer of Hebrews pointed to one important aspect of the Christian community: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:12-13). This is not a message to individual Christians; it’s a word for the full Body of Christ. “You are responsible for one another.” No, that doesn’t mean you will be held accountable for my sins (aren’t you glad!), but that you and I are called to encourage each other away from sin and into a deeper faith in God. That means being together enough that I notice when your faith is faltering.  That’s one thing I really miss being 100 miles away from my best friend. When we lived in the same town, we spent a lot of time together. She knew when I was struggling just by the inflection of my voice and my posture. She would come beside me and redirect me back to truth and faith. We are called to encourage one another in our daily walk so that sin and unbelief do not harden our hearts and turn us away from God.

In his message on the armor of God, Paul wrote about “the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16). The Roman soldier’s shield had a particularly important feature for the protection of the whole troop – a loop-and-locking system on the sides that allowed a group of soldiers to form what is known as “The Testudo (Tortoise) Formation.” By locking their shields together they formed a “safe house” around and above the whole company that covered them from all sides. This is the picture Paul painted of the Body of Christ working together against the “flaming arrows” of sin and unbelief launched by the evil one.

We dare not face off against the enemy in isolation. Beloved, your brothers and sisters need you. I need you. And you need me. Lock your shield with mine and theirs and let’s help one another stand firm in our shared faith.

Love One Another

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As long as I’ve studied the Bible, many verses still make me pause and wonder – what does this mean? 1 Peter 4:8 is one of those: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” The first part of this verse seems pretty clear – love one another. Paul said, “you have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). Jesus is our Teacher and He taught by example. John said that Jesus “showed [the disciples] the full extent of His love” when He knelt before them with a washbasin and a towel (John 13:1-17). Love drove Him to wash their nasty feet. Then He said, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Humbly. Sacrificially. Graciously.

But it’s the second part of the verse that I want to understand better: “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  Peter may be borrowing from Solomon who said, “Love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:9). Certainly, we know that the love of God “covered over” our sins with the blood of Jesus. But Peter is speaking about loving one another, so this must have practical application for you and me.

Let’s first talk about what “covering over” doesn’t mean. It absolutely does not mean taking abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek safety and help now.  It doesn’t mean sweeping someone’s wrong actions under a rug and pretending nothing has happened. And it doesn’t mean not seeking wise counsel for difficult relationships.

Here’s what I am convinced it means: Love forgives wrongs and does not dwell on them or broadcast them. Here’s where I’m squirming with conviction. I want to talk about it. I want someone to know what this person has done to me. I want them to be just as offended as I am. That isn’t love. That’s ugly human nature.

Yes, we can certainly ask our brothers and sisters for prayer, but we must take care that our prayer requests don’t become a gripe session. Because that isn’t love. This is deeply personal for me and I’m asking the Lord to help me love more and complain less.

Because people need love. A love that is patient, kind, humble, peaceful, forgiving, honest, protective, trusting, hopeful, and enduring (1 Corinthians 13, paraphrased). Beloved, let’s commit to love like Jesus – I believe it will change the world.

Are You Hiding from the Devil?

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I know an older, bedridden man, who keeps all the windows tightly covered so that he has no view of the outside. When I visited him not long ago, I pulled a curtain aside momentarily and he nervously asked me to pull it shut again. The man had become convinced someone might be wandering through his yard and he thought his curtains kept him safe. He knew he couldn’t get up and confront strangers in his yard, but he thought if he didn’t see them he didn’t have to fear them. The truth is, he was afraid of just the idea of them – and they weren’t even there.

He makes me think of the world that tries to shut out the truth about the devil. But unlike this man, they are shutting out what really is there. They reject any thought of the devil, pulling the curtains so they cannot see the very real evidence of him in the world. They rename sin and call it a disease, or worse, make it a cause for celebration. They create ideologies and movements to counteract what they believe is wrong in the world and deny the power that drives men to hate and kill and abuse others. They believe their curtains are keeping them safe.

Peter said, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The devil is the active force behind the evil in the world. But man thinks, “If I pretend he isn’t real, I don’t have to do anything about him.” Oh, but the devil is a very real and present danger. And denying he exists or pretending he is just a guy in red long-johns with a pitchfork doesn’t make the danger go away. It only makes us easier prey.

But thanks be to God! We are not left helpless and defenseless. We have a victorious Savior who has overcome the evil one. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). You need to always “be self-controlled and alert” concerning the devil (1 Peter 5:8). But if you are in Christ, you have nothing to fear because “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Open your curtains, Beloved, and let the Sonshine in.

I’m Sorry

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We’re trying to teach Joy to apologize when she does something wrong, especially when she hurts someone. She’s picking up that lesson pretty well. Tonight during her bath she was playing with finger paints again (it’s a bribe to get her in the tub) and she started to stick her paint-covered finger in her mouth. I said, “No Joy! Don’t put the paint in your mouth!” She looked up at me and said “Sorry, Nana.” “It’s okay,” I said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Just don’t put the paint in your mouth – it’s yucky.” That was different from the other night when she got mad at me for taking something away from her that she was misusing. She lashed out – literally – and scratched me with her fingernails (that need trimming). Let me tell you – it hurt! Her mommy took her to time out in the other room and told her she had to tell Nana she was sorry. After a few minutes, I came into the room, and she lifted her tear-streaked face and said, “I sorry Nana.” I scooped her up in my arms and this time I said, “Thank you for saying ‘Sorry’ Joy. Nana loves you.” I didn’t tell her it was okay because what she had done was definitely not okay. It was wrong, and she needed to know it was wrong. But she also needed to know that saying “Sorry” was the right thing to do – and that Nana would always love her no matter what.

You and I have done wrong – we have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). We have broken His laws and offended His holiness. What we have done is not okay. Our actions deserve punishment – much more than a time-out. According to the Bible, we deserve death (Romans 6:23).  But God is gracious to us sinners (Romans 3:24) and that grace cost Him everything – “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

Beloved, of Jesus, when you and I sin, we can look to God and say “I’m sorry,” and know that, while our actions are not okay, our relationship with God is. Because Jesus paid the highest price to make us okay. Because God loves you – no matter what.

Hebrews: When You are Tempted

One of the foundations of recovery programs is the helpful presence of those who have “been-there-done-that. The former addict can uniquely connect with and help the one struggling to break free from drugs. The same applies to recovering from alcohol, pornography, and all manner of bondage.  I have a dear friend who turned the shame of abortion into a powerful post-abortion ministry – she could offer another woman her hand and tell her, “been there, done that, let me tell you how God set me free.”

The author of Hebrews pointed to another reason that God sent His one and only Son to earth – “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). This verse is important because it also highlights the humanity of Jesus, that He was made as we were, and suffered just as we do.  Therefore He is in a unique position to help us when we suffer, especially when we face temptation.

What does it mean that Jesus “suffered” when He was tempted? The word used means “to experience or endure” often with a negative experience. Let’s be honest – most of us don’t  “suffer” with temptation. We don’t “endure” through it. Most of us give in to it without much of a struggle. Jesus faced temptation from the devil, but He did not give in (Matthew 4 and Luke 4). He also faced temptation in the garden before His arrest and crucifixion, but He did not give up (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22).  

It is important to note that while Jesus suffered with temptation, He never sinned. If He had He could not have been our high priest and Savior. Peter said of Jesus, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).  He experienced the full onslaught of temptation such as you and I will never face, and He overcame it. How? Love for His Father who sent Him and love for those He came to save. Indeed, He is able to help in our time of temptation.  If we will allow Him to. An old devout saint was once asked, what is your secret to living a godly life? He answered, “Every time I am tempted I look to God and say, ‘Your property is in danger.’”  Beloved, the next time you are in danger from temptation, reach out to Jesus. He understands and He will help you.