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.

When God Says “No.”

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“We’re going to pray, and God will give us the funds for this new building,” the preacher bellowed, and the crowd, whipped into a frenzy shouted their agreement. “Yes!” “Amen!” “Hallelujah!” I, however, did not. The woman beside me said, “What’s the matter? Don’t you believe God can do it?” “Oh, I believe God can do it, I just don’t believe He’s obligated to do it.”  She looked at me like I had two heads and turned her back to me. Please don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely believe that God answers prayers – He’s answered more than a few of mine recently.  But some of my prayers are still hanging, and for some of my prayers, the answer was “No.” God knew better. God always answers according to what He knows is better – what fits His good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Sometimes that means we don’t get what we pray for. Even Jesus got a “No” from His Father.

In our last Hebrews devotional, I left you in the Garden of Gethsemane, listening to Jesus plead with His Father, “Take this cup from me . . .” Let’s leave quietly and head back to Hebrews 5 to see how it came out. The writer said, “He was heard.” Jesus’ word did not fall to the ground nor fall on deaf ears. His Father heard His prayers and pleading. So Jesus got what He wanted, right? After all, the Father listened to His Son “because of His reverent submission” (v.7b). Yet you know the rest of the story. God said “No” to Jesus. And He knew He would – the eternal fate of the entire human race hung in the balance. If God had saved Jesus from the cross, you and I would be lost forever.

What do we do with those “Nos?” The same thing Jesus did. “He learned obedience from what He suffered,” (v. 8a). We accept the “No” as coming from the heart of our loving, gracious, all-knowing Father and submit to Him in obedience without grumbling. Are we disappointed? Sure – and we can take that disappointment right back to Him and say, “I’m surrendering this to You because I trust You, but my heart is hurting.” God honors honesty and “He heals the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147:3).  Whether the answer is “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait,” you can trust the heart of your Father, Beloved. It’s the same heart that said “No” to His Son so that He could say “Yes” to you.

This Is The Way

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A few years ago I needed to drive from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to pick up my husband at the airport. I also had to pick up my son from work on the way. Both required me to drive on I-20 East. I headed to my normal exit – blocked. What? I went to the next exit – blocked. Okay. Drove to a third exit – blocked again. My GPS was stubbornly trying to get me back to the blocked exits and I could not convince her to find another route. We’d only lived there a year and I rarely drove far from home, so I had no idea where another exit was. At this point, a touch of panic began to set in and without thinking I muttered “O Lord, what am I gonna do?” Then I realized what I had said and turned my lament into a prayer: “Lord, what do I need to do here?” The GPS suddenly told me to turn right and I noticed that the road I was on was running parallel to I-20 and in just a few miles I came to another exit – just past the big wreck that had closed the interstate. I breathed a prayer of thanks as I got onto the open exit and headed in the right direction.

I immediately thought about Isaiah 30:21 which says “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

We often get in a panic trying to determine God’s will because we think it’s up to us to find it. But that is the enemy trying to overwhelm and confuse you. God has a definite plan for your life. He does not expect you to blindly stumble along in the hopes that you’ll happen upon it by chance. He has the route mapped out and He will guide you each step of the way – but often only one step at a time, and not always the direct route you expect. If you’re wondering where you’re supposed to be, don’t panic, just ask the Lord, “What do I need to do here?” and follow exactly where he leads.

God is There

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I know many of you enjoy doing the Bible in a Year reading plan. I prefer a slower pace; reading through in about three years gives me time to really chew on the Scriptures.  As many times as I’ve read it, I always find something new. That’s because it is a living Word inhabited by the living Spirit of the living God. And that’s also because my life changes and new things stand out in light of circumstances and needs in different seasons.  It’s a great comfort to me to know that wherever I land in Scripture, God is there.

The first verse in the Bible says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Pare that down to the most important words: “In the beginning, God . . .” In the beginning, God was there.

Here’s what occurred to me, at the very end of the Bible, we read, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’” (Revelation 22:20). In the beginning, God . . . at the end Jesus – who is God. Oh, the sweet consistency of our Creator and Redeemer. He has sovereign control of the universe from beginning to end. Nothing happens outside of Him.

That gives me tremendous hope and here’s why. When we look at the world we may think that everything is out of control. Afghanistan. Massive hurricanes. Riots. Inept and corrupt political leaders. But we can trace out God’s fingerprints throughout human history, and that includes today. They don’t always show up in the moment, but they are there. God has not lost control of the world. He was there at the beginning and He will be here at the end.

Do you know what else that tells me? He is also in sovereign control of my life. Not one single thing escapes His notice – nor His control. I often wonder what He’s up to, but I don’t doubt His presence and power. Even – especially – when it seems He’s stepped out. He never has. He never will. The same is true for you, Beloved. God has never let go of you. Your struggles and difficulties are part of bringing His good, pleasing, and perfect will to fruition. In the beginning God and in the end God and God all the way through.

You Can Trust God

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In the past two years, it seems as if life has gone from one hard thing to another. From disease to riots to hate to natural disasters to political incompetence and international heartbreak –will it ever end? And how will we keep our sanity until it does?

Recently I was battling through a very difficult season involving a loved one that was breaking my heart and there was nothing I could do to change it. I questioned why God would allow this to happen. I knew it couldn’t possibly be His will. He needed to fix it and fast. I lived in my overwhelmed emotions and began to have physical health issues from the stress. I was mentally distracted from the work God had called me to and wanted to give up. But God (oh, how I love those two words!) began to slowly turn my heart from desperation to dependence. I started meditating more on God’s character and less on the problem at hand. I began searching the Scriptures and praying God’s Word over the matter. I stopped telling God what I thought He should do and began telling Him that I trusted Him in whatever He chose to do. God gave me a phrase that became my lifeline every time the panic would start to stir in my heart: “I have entrusted my beloved into the hands of my Father.” I posted those words on my desk and ran them over and over in my head. I often spoke them out loud so that I could hear them in my ears.

In that season I didn’t need fluffy assurances and pretty memes. I needed a real faith for real life. I needed to focus on God’s power, faithfulness, strength, and promises. I needed to go to the Word of God for a word for my soul. I needed to pray His will through His Word. As I came before Him in raw honesty I felt Him soothe my wounded heart and calm my frantic spirit. I found the strength I desperately needed. I found hope in a hopeless situation. I found peace in the storm. I found a real God for real life.

Stars in the Night Sky

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“Therefore we do not lose heart…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17

“Light and momentary?” I want to ask Paul. “Do you have any idea what we’ve been through this week? It isn’t light! The past 18 years? That’s longer than a moment!”  But then I remember I’m yelling at Paul who endured thirty-nine lashes on five occasions, who was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, spent a night and day floating in the sea, facing constant danger, persecution, sleepless nights, without food, water, or clothing – all for the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). He may not know the specifics of my life – or yours – but the man has known suffering and hardship and pain.

My next question then is, “Why, if we are God’s children, do we have to endure so much difficulty?” Paul never stopped serving the Lord; even in prison, he shared the gospel with the guards (Philippians 1:13). I’m trying to be faithful to God’s call to study and write and teach. You’re trying to stay faithful to what God has set before you in your family, work, church, and community. Shouldn’t that get us a pass from troubles? Yet not even God’s perfectly faithful Son was exempt from suffering.

But I think I found a clue to our struggles and sufferings. So that we may “become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). When are the stars the brightest? When the night sky is at its blackest. When is God’s glory most visible? When things are at their darkest. Like now –in my family, in our nation, and in the war-torn country of Afghanistan.

Friend, believe me when I say, I understand. Just because I’m a Bible teacher doesn’t mean I am exempt from the harsh things of life. In fact, I feel like it puts me constantly in satan’s crosshairs because he would love nothing more than to beat me down until I quit. But I won’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus didn’t. Because this world needs shining stars to bring light into the darkness. The world, Beloved, needs you.

Waiting Well

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It seems as if we’re always waiting. Waiting for the baby to be born. Waiting for school to let out. Waiting for your kid to come home. Waiting for a call about a job or a medical test. Waiting is an unavoidable part of life. You and I need to know how to wait well. Thankfully the Bible – especially the Psalms – has a lot to teach us about how to wait.

Psalm 5:3 tells us to wait expectantly – “Oh Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” I love how the NKJV renders this verse: “ I will direct my prayer to you and I will look up.” The heart of expectation is watching intently for what you are certain will come.

Likewise, Psalm 33:20 says, “We wait in hope for the Lord.” Hope and expectation are synonymous.

Psalm 27:14 says to wait courageously: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Courage is a by-product of hope and expectation. Courage is the best cure for doubt.

How long must we wait? Psalm 25:5 tells us to wait “all day long.” Wait for the long haul. Wait until we see God act. That’s why we need hope and courage.

I don’t want to include this one, but here goes: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7). Waiting is an act of patience and we all know how we learn patience. I’ll just leave that one there.

Psalm 119:166 adds a new wrinkle: “I wait for Your salvation, O Lord, and I follow your commands.” In the waiting, we are still obedient. Those small steps of submission will often lead to the very thing for which we are waiting.

There’s one theme in all these “waiting” verses that is key to waiting well – it’s not what we’re waiting for but whom.  Psalm 62:5 says, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” Wait for God alone. Not for the desired outcome, but for the living God of heaven. Wait for Him, not just for what He can do for you. His ways and acts are wonderful, but the true treasure is the presence of God in your life. Don’t just wait, Beloved, wait well.

The Good Shepherd

The Lost Sheep, Painted by Alfred Usher Soord (1868-1915), Oil on canvas, Painted in 1898, © Alfred Usher Soord

My favorite “I Am” statement of Jesus is “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). It always reminds me of a painting that hung in the vestibule of a church I worked at thirty years ago depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He is reaching from the side of a cliff to rescue one of His little lambs. Sheep are notoriously clueless and helpless. They start grazing and fail to notice when they wander too far from the fold or too close to the edge of a cliff. They love to graze at the edge of the water because the grass is abundant and lush. But they step on the slippery rocks and tumble into the water. Their wool becomes so heavy they cannot right themselves or climb out. If the shepherd doesn’t hear their bleating, they will soon drown. Sound familiar? It sure does to me. I have often wandered from the safety of my shepherd’s side following the lush and tempting things of the world. But Jesus never fails to rescue me when I cry out.

I love how, in this painting, Jesus has put Himself in a precarious position to bring His wandering one to safety. What struck me the most about the painting though was the look on the little lamb’s face – absolute confidence in the Shepherd. There is no worry or doubt that the Shepherd will rescue her. She isn’t trying to pull herself up the rocky wall of the cliff but waits for Him to reach her and bring her to safety. There is no fear of anger from the Shepherd. Just trust. This little lamb knows the Shepherd, knows that He is able to rescue her, and knows that He loves her.

I don’t know what danger you may have wandered into. You may be trying to get yourself to safety, too ashamed to call out for help. You wonder if Jesus will come and if He will be angry with you. Beloved, stop trying to rescue yourself. Cry out to Jesus – there’s no need to be ashamed. He will come and He is not angry. The Lord is your Shepherd – whether you are safe in the fold or hanging on the side of a cliff. You are His beloved lamb.

Hebrews: Do You Need Some Rest?

My sleeping angel, Joy.

I kept my phone close, anticipating a call about a test I had undergone. Cancer took my mom away too soon – and I knew that increased my risk. The call finally came late in the afternoon. “The images were clear. There was no sign of cancer.” Relief filled my heart and that night I got some much-needed rest.  But what if I decided the doctor was wrong? What if I doubted the results? What if I continued to worry and toss and turn at night?

The writer of Hebrews drew from the Psalmist’s recollection of the Israelite’s in the wilderness and God’s declaration that this unbelieving people “Shall never enter my rest” (Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 3:11; 4:3). At the threshold of the Promised Land, Moses sent out twelve spies into Canaan to explore the territory and assess the inhabitants from a military standpoint. They returned with a glowing report of “the land of milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), and an alarming report of the people they would have to defeat to take the land. They said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are!” (13:31) The people grumbled and wanted to turn back to Egypt – to slavery. Only Joshua and Caleb urged them to trust the Lord and proceed – and only Joshua and Caleb survived God’s judgment.  Because of their unbelief, the whole company would wander for forty years until the last of the unbelieving generation fell in the desert.

The author used them as an example of people who “had the gospel . . . but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Hebrews 4:2).  Faith, as the Bible uses it means belief and trust – with the implication that actions based on that trust will follow. Faith is not just ethereal thoughts – it is acting with confidence in what God has said. The Israelites heard about the Promised Land, but they doubted they could get the victory so they gave up on God’s rest. When the gospel is declared some will have faith and some will not. Some will rest in the promise of salvation and eternal life and some will live in hopelessness and anxiety.  The author adds, “Now we who have believed enter that rest . . .” (4:3a).

Beloved, are you weary? There is rest for those who trust in Jesus. Today and eternally.

Hebrews: Do You Believe God?

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Buckle your seatbelts, because today we’re going to cover five verses: Hebrews 3:15-19 (woohoo!). But we’re going to focus on just one word. Verses 15-19 serve as a commentary 7-11, which recalled Israel’s rebellion and subsequent forty years of desert wandering. The writer of Hebrews, in describing this band of wanderers said that they “rebelled” (v. 16), they “sinned” (v. 17), and they “disobeyed” (v. 18). All of these verbs culminate in one word, see if you can figure it out: “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (v. 19). Rebellion, sin, and disobedience are all symptoms – the deadly disease that killed an entire generation of Israelites was unbelief. Here’s the key: those who believed and those who did not believe heard the same promise from God: “See, I have given you this land” (Deuteronomy 1:8). An entire generation of “bodies fell in the desert” (v. 17).

But they weren’t the first to doubt God. A long, long time ago God told a couple in a garden, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Then along came the serpent who asked, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (3:1). The serpent wasn’t trying to clarify what God had told them. His question went to Adam and Eve’s heart: “Did God really mean what He said?” We see that in verse 8 when he completely and exactly contradicts what they had heard: “You will not surely die.” They took the bait because, in their hearts, they didn’t believe His word was true.

The essence of unbelief is not rejecting God but rather doubting if God is trustworthy. Like Adam and Eve and the Israelites, we act on our unbelief with rebellion, sin, and disobedience. To believe God is to take Him at His Word – that He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do* – and then act on what we heard. That’s what we’ll find in the “Hall of Faith” a few chapters ahead. So the question then is, Beloved, do you believe God?

*From Beth Moore’s study: “Believing God.”