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?

Know Thine Enemy

Sun Tzu, a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher in the early 6th Century wrote the classic, “The Art of War,” From which we have taken the phrase “Know thine enemy.”  Paul cautioned believers with similar words saying that satan will not outwit us if we are aware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11 paraphrased). We need to know our enemy to the degree that we recognize his evil hand in situations we face.

I thought of this yesterday as I was writing out a passage from Job. “God has found fault with me;” Job 33:10. This is one of Job’s detractors summarizing Job’s lament. Yet in the very beginning of his story, God said of him: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8; 2:3). The truth is, God didn’t find fault with Job. Satan did.

One of Satan’s favorite schemes goes like this: he presents a temptation, dangling the carrot of pleasure or power or wealth before us, enticing us until we bite. And as soon as we do he changes his tactic from temptation to condemnation. “Look at you! You call yourself a Christian? God is disgusted with you! He will never love you after what you’ve done!” Pretty soon we’re crying, “God has found fault with me.”  Sound familiar?

You and I need to know the difference between satan’s guilt trips and the Spirit’s conviction. When the Spirit speaks to us about our sin he does so with the goal of restoration. Conviction from the Holy Spirit brings “godly sorrow [which] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. But satan brings “worldly sorrow [that] brings death”  (2 Cor 7:9-10). Satan just wants to tear us down and bury us under a load of shame. Here’s how you can recognize one from the other. Satan’s attacks turn our attention to ourselves and what horrible creatures we are. The Spirit will always turn your attention to God and His mercy, forgiveness, and grace. And love.

In heaven, satan is called “the accuser of [God’s people], who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev 12:10). But God’s not buying it. And neither should you Beloved. If you are in Christ, God sees His Son when He looks at you. Not your sin. And so should you.

The Valley

This morning I was thinking about something I needed to do, something I didn’t really want to do because it often raised up a temptation I’ve been trying to put down for a long time. I prayed for help and a verse came to mind. It comes out of Psalm 23 – The Shepherd’s Psalm. Verse 4 says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Now, what does that have to do with temptation?

This valley is not a pastoral scene of gentle slopes between the hills but a steep, narrow gorge where the sun never reaches. The valley most attributed to this passage was the Valley of Hinnom outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was a horrible place of death as bodies of criminals and animals and the town’s rubbish were thrown there and fires burned continually to consume them. The ”shadow of death” is a place of extreme danger and thick darkness – an apt description of the valley. It was also a place where kings and priest sent their own children to be burned alive to appease the gods – a horrible sin.

Death and sin go hand in hand. From the very beginning, God told the first humans that when they sin (disobey God) they “will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Paul said that “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The valley was a terrifying place of sin and death. But it was also a place people had to pass to get to the gates of the city. Here’s where this all comes together. You and I will be faced with sin and its consequences as long as we are on this earth. We can’t escape it. But we don’t have to fear it. God is with us. If we walk closely with Him we can traverse the sin and death of this world without falling into it. That’s what God was saying to me this morning. “Don’t be afraid of what you need to do. I am with you. I will not let you fall.” And He didn’t.

Beloved, the world is filled with sin and death, but if you belong to Christ you can face it with faith in your Shepherd. Your very Good Shepherd who died to save you – His precious little lamb.

What the Heart Wants

Why do we sin? Of course, we sin because our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, sinned and passed that sin nature down to us. But James revealed another reason you and I sin, “Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15). At the heart of all sin is our innate sinful nature and our own sinful desires.  Paul explained it in Romans 8:5 saying, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.”

And satan goes right for those desires, which are often our weaknesses.  Money, sex, and power are the usual enticements into sin and death, but there are more than we can conceivably count.  Every person has their own desire, their own personal lure, and be assured Satan knows it.  He has devised a scheme tailor-made to match that craving.  We answer to the temptation that calls out to our innate desires. If your desire is for material possessions, he will pull you into the mall, or entice you with advertisements for the newest shiny thing.  If your desire is lust, every TV commercial for lingerie will catch your attention and he will make certain you get plenty of pop-ups for sexual sites on your I-phone.  Want power, prestige, fame, a high?  He’s got just what you’re looking for.

Our only way of escaping his trap is to have but one desire: God.

One of the church’s favorite verses is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.”  But we don’t take the whole verse, we just hone in on “He will give you the desire of your heart,” and rush past the requirement expressed just before it: “Delight yourself in the Lord.” If you and I are serious about living pure and holy lives, especially in this culture, we must adopt the attitude of Asaph who proclaimed: “Earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25, 26).  When God is your heart’s desire Beloved, He will make sure you have the desire of your heart.

A Pure Heart

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When my son was younger, he was determined to do something he knew was wrong. When I caught him before he could put his plan into action he protested, “But Mom I didn’t actually do it!” “That’s not the point.” I told him, “You wanted to do it – that’s the heart of the problem.

Human nature has reduced “sin” to an act – a thing we do, while the Bible tells us that sin is a condition of the heart – our desires. When Jesus taught about adultery in Matthew 5:27-28 He said that the sin of adultery is committed when the desire arises – “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” James identified the pattern of sin in 1:14-15 as a progression from one’s “own evil desire,” to enticement, then to the action. Sin clearly starts in the heart. After his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Urriah, David pleaded for God to “create in me a pure heart” (Ps. 51:10) for he knew that it was his heart that had led him astray. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mat. 6:21), meaning we will pursue at all costs what our heart desires. If that desire is for sin, you can bet your hands, feet, and body will follow. Jesus also said only “the pure in heart . . . will see God” (Mat. 5:8). That should be incentive enough.

A pure heart recoils at the thought of disobeying and dishonoring God and breaking fellowship. It pursues the heart of God, which never leads to sin. A pure heart runs from temptation (2 Tim 2:22). Does that mean if you struggle with sinful desires You don’t have a heart for God? No – Paul attested to the battle within himself (Rom. 7:15-23) and I know well my own tug-of-war with sin. But it’s not unwinnable. You just need some Help.

Beloved, Are you weary of toying with the sinful desires of your heart? Victory comes as you allow the Word of God and the Spirit of God to purify your heart day by day. God isn’t just after your behavior Beloved, He is after your heart.  When you “delight yourself in the Lord,” that is when He is all your heart longs for, then “He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4). He will give you Himself.

Thus Saith the Lord

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This morning I was reading in Proverbs (a great source of practical and spiritual wisdom) and came to this: “Every word of God is flawless, He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him” (Proverbs 30:5). Immediately my mind went to the armor of God in Ephesians 6 and the Shield of Faith, and a light went off in my mind. I’ve always understood that the shield of faith is my confidence, my trust, my determination to stand strong behind my faith in God. Do you see the weak link in that chain – my. It’s all dependant on me. And I am not that strong. My faith is feeble on my best days, and I’ve had some pretty rough days of late.

But if my shield is God’s own words – what a strong and study defense I hold in my hand. If my confidence is in God’s promise to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Jos 1:5) and to “be with you where you go” (v. 9), the enemy cannot penetrate God’s faithfulness.  If I am clinging to His declaration that “You are my servant; I have chosen you and have not rejected you . . . I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Is 41:9-10), I know satan cannot defeat me. And if He said “Remain in me, and I will remain in you” (John 15:4), it’s His hand in my hand that is holding strong to that shield and nothing and no one can break His grip. When Jesus was in the wilderness, what was His response when the devil tried to tempt Him? “It is written . . .” (Matt 4:4, 7, 10).

Just a side note: did you notice the second part of Proverbs 30:5? Go back and read it again – I’ll wait for you. When your faith is crafted from the very Word of God, God Himself takes up the position of defense. He is YHWH Magan – The LORD the Shield. If that Shield of Faith is going to protect you it must be made of something stronger than steel – the mighty Word of the living God. Beloved, if you will put your faith in “Thus saith the Lord” you will see your Shield standing between you and the enemy (see 2 Kings 6:15-17). That’s a position of security and victory.

The Heart of Sin

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Warning: this devotional contains sensitive and, quite frankly, disgusting information.

An Old Dominion University assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, Dr. Allyn Walker, has been suspended after writing a book defending what he* termed, “minor-attracted persons.” Dr. Walker stated, “It’s less stigmatizing than other terms like pedophile. A lot of people when they hear the term pedophile, they automatically assume that it means a sex offender. And that isn’t true. And it leads to a lot of misconceptions about attractions toward minors.”[1] In a nutshell, Dr. Walker was seeking to “normalize” sexual attraction to children by contending that people can have the desire without acting on it. That’s much the same message many pastors and Christian counselors claim about homosexuality. But that is a dangerous and wicked lie.

The point of this devotional isn’t to disgust you or to call for comments about how insane the world is. My point is to tell you that sin is rooted in the desires of the heart. It’s what James meant when he said that “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (Jas. 1:14). Our desires – or “attractions” as Dr. Walker termed it – will always lead to action and if they are for sin, they will always lead us away from God. The psalmist said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps. 67:18). Desire and cherish all describe something that is deeply rooted in the heart. Listen to Psalm 37: 4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Many claim the second part of this verse without regarding the first. God is not promising to give you anything you want if you “put Him first.” He wants to be the desire of your heart – the only desire of your heart.  That is why “minor-attraction” or “same-sex attraction” or “food attraction” or “money-attraction” or “anything-sinful-attraction” cannot coexist in a heart that desires God.

Please hear me – I am not preaching condemnation nor am I saying that faithful believers will not struggle with the pull to sin. But if we desire God more than sin we will fight tooth and nail to be set free from it – we will “resist to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4). Beloved, if you want to be in relationship with God you must put every sinful desire to death (read Romans 6:1-14 – no, seriously, you need to read it). God is not after your good behavior, He is after your heart.

*I am assuming male as Dr. Walker has identified as non-binary.


[1] School places professor on leave after controversial interview defending ‘minor-attracted persons’ | Fox News

The Whole Truth

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The joke goes, “How can you tell when a politician is lying?  His lips are moving.” The same punchline applies to the devil. Anytime he opens his mouth or impresses a thought or speaks through the culture, he is lying. Jesus called satan “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Lying is his native tongue. But you may not realize that he is also the father of half-truths that look right and sound right but are not right.

Take his temptation of Jesus. Matthew 4 records this scene as the devil tried to coerce Jesus into sin. He questioned Jesus’ position as the Son of God (v. 3) enticing the Lord to turn stones into bread or jump from the highest point of the temple to “prove” Himself (v. 5). In the temple temptation, Satan actually quoted Scripture to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone'” (v. 6). That’s a good-sounding argument right out of Psalm 91:11-12. Should be a witness to Bible-believing fellow, right? But Satan stopped short of the whole truth in that passage. The very next verse speaks of his own demise: “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent” (Psalm 91:13). The rest of this Psalm describes how God will rescue, protect, deliver, and honor the one who loves and worships Him alone.

Many of us are on guard against satan’s lies – but we are not always as wise to his half-truths. They come at us from the world who is captive to the devil. They come stealthily from those who have mixed the pure Word of God with cultural whitewash. They come from pulpits and social media and “Christian” podcasts and blogs (yikes!) That is why it is vital to know the whole context of Scripture. The best way to tell a counterfeit bill is to know what the real thing looks like. The best way to discern a lie – or a half-truth – is to know the whole truth. Beloved, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deut. 32:47).

Word of Life

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Years ago, in a Ladies’ Bible study class, I asked, “Do I have to read the Bible? Can’t I just read books about the Bible? It’s so hard to understand.” I will never forget the leader’s answer: “Yes, you need to read the Bible. You need to know what God said, not someone’s interpretation. Never take anyone else’s word for what God has said but God Himself.”  You’ve probably heard me say that a time or two. It made an indelible impression on me and want it to have the same effect on you.

Thankfully, about twenty-five years ago God gave me an overwhelming passion to study the Bible. It has not gone away. It is my life’s purpose and mission. I took to heart: Deuteronomy 32:47 – “These are not just idle words for you – they are your life.” I intend to read and study the Bible until I draw my final breath.

Why? Because it is full of wisdom, power, truth, discipline, and insight. Because it teaches me, corrects me, encourages, chastens, strengthens, and humbles me. Because the Word of God is alive and full of the Spirit of God and reveals the heart of God. Because it is a Word of beauty and grace and peace and hope and Joy.

And because it is the only weapon I have to fend off the enemy of my soul. Jesus used this same sword when the devil came to tempt Him. In the face of every temptation, He said, “It is written . . .” and He resisted the devil at every turn with the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 4:1-10).  I need that kind of power because His enemy is my enemy too. If the Holy Word was good enough for Jesus, it’s certainly good enough for me.

John MacArthur wisely said, “Make sure Satan has to climb over a lot of Scripture to get to you.” I’m surrounding myself with God’s Word and filling my heart and mind with its truth so that I am protected from without and within.

What is your strategy for dealing with the devil? If it doesn’t involve the Word of God you are sure to fall. Beloved, you need to get into the Bible and let the Bible get into you. Let it sink its roots deep into your heart. Let it surround you. Because these are not just idle words for you—they are your life.

Hebrews: How Can Jesus Understand My Temptation?

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I have a hard time taking advice from perfect people. That’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about with me. I am pretty transparent about my life, my past, my struggles, and my failures – perhaps a little too transparent – but there’s a reason. I believe that if you know I have been through a struggle similar to yours, you are more likely to trust me to help.

The Bible says we have a great high priest who can help us because He understands us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But, wait just a minute. Jesus was perfect and sinless. How can He know how I feel? Indeed – Jesus was perfectly sinless, He never failed a single time—but he was certainly pressed by temptation. Glance back at Hebrews 2:17: “[Jesus] had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest . . .” Jesus was made like us – human flesh and bones, heart and lungs that kept Him alive just like yours. He got hungry and tired just like me. He had to walk on feet just like His disciples. He had normal bodily functions. He had emotions – anger, joy, and sadness. And He felt the weight of temptation. Remember the desert and the devil? Let’s join them in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11).

Temptation #1 – “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Have you ever been tempted to satisfy the needs and desires of your flesh in your own way? Ever heard of porn? Ever been tempted to steal?

Temptation #2 – “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” If you are, He will send His angels to save you from harm. It was the same question that set off the first sin and satan has been using it ever since: Can you trust God?

Temptation #3 – “I will give you [the kingdoms of this world] if you will bow down and worship me.” Ever wanted more than what you’ve got? Ever entertained less-than-honest ways to get it?

Jesus understands the weight of the temptations we face because He was human just as you and I are and those temptations pressed Him even harder than they do you and me. He gave us the perfect model to handle temptation. We’ll talk about that next time.