The Voice of God

Joy has watched 101 Dalmatians at least 101 times. I’m trying to coax her to branch out so this weekend I introduced her to Meet the Robinsons. She loved it. We were snuggled together enjoying the movie when I recognized one of the voices.  The adult version of the main character was voiced by Tom Selleck. I knew it was him because I had watched every episode of Magnum PI in the 80s. I knew his voice well.

Yesterday the Christian radio station posed a question: “How do you hear God’s voice above the noise?” I thought about how I recognized Tom Selleck’s voice in the movie – it was because I had heard it many, many times before. Even without seeing his face, I knew it was him. I realized that the key to recognizing God’s voice is familiarity.

Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Listening implies a couple of things: first, to recognize God’s voice we have to spend time in His Word. Studying the Scriptures helps us to know what God does – and does not say. You can trust the voice you’re hearing if it’s saying the things God says in His Word. If what you hear doesn’t sound like the Scriptures, then that voice is likely not God. He will never contradict His Word.

Another important key to listening and recognizing God’s voice is obedience. James said “Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says” (1:22). When we tell our granddaughter to pick up her toys and she doesn’t do it, we have to ask her again and again. It’s only when she obeys that we know she heard us. (And, honestly, sometimes she determines to not hear us.) Hearing means “to attend to; to consider what has been said.” Hearing means obeying. And obeying opens up opportunities for further communication. I can’t tell Joy we’re going to the park until she has heard and obeyed and picked up her toys.

When you learn to listen and recognize God’s voice it will be so familiar that your spiritual ears will tune in like a mom picking up on her child’s cry in a noisy room filled with kids. Then, Beloved, you will know without a doubt, “That’s the voice of my Father.”

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?

You Asked for it – You Got it!

As I was reading the book of Amos an old commercial from the 70s came to mind.  You might remember the jingle: “You asked for it, you got it. Toyota!” Amos was a prophet to Israel just before the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians. God sent him with a message of warning and destruction because Israel had rejected Him. But they told Amos, “Do not prophesy against Israel and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (7:16). In other words, stop giving us God’s Word.

Well, they asked for it and they got it. The Lord said he was sending a famine – “not of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). That chills my heart. I do not think I could survive without God’s Word. But the present culture is making the same demands. “Don’t tell us what that antiquated fairy-tale book says! It has no authority over us. It is intolerant, racist, and sexist.” Isn’t it strange that the generation that shouts for “tolerance” is intolerant of the truth?

But let’s flip this. What would our world be like – what would our churches and homes and hearts be like if we sought the Word of God? If we store it up in our hearts (Ps 119:11), rejoice in it (v. 14), and meditate on it (v. 15), What if we delight in and never neglect it (v. 16)? What if we choose the way of truth and set our hearts on the Scriptures (v. 30)? What if we obey it with all our hearts (v. 34)? How might it change us if we love the Word of God (v. 47)? What if we put our hope in God’s Word (v. 81) and let it light our way (v. 105)? What if we stand in awe of the Holy Scriptures (v. 120)? What if we faithfully walk in God’s Word (v. 133)?

My goal as a Bible teacher is to teach myself out of a job. It is to help you see the wonder and beauty and truth in the Scriptures and fall in love with the Bible all on your own. Do you want that kind of passion for God’s Word? Ask Him for it, Beloved. And you’ll get it.

Deeper Roots

“Nana, I watered your flowers!” Joy burst into my study the other day and dragged me by the hand to the porch to take a look. “See! Didn’t I do a good job!?” I smiled down at her eager face and gave her a big hug. “Yes, you did! Thank you, sweet girl!” I said, noticing that the leaves glistened with moisture but the soil was barely damp. Her idea of “watering my flowers” was to sprinkle water across the tops of the plants. When she proudly ran off to play, I turned on the hose and gave the plants the good, long drink they needed to survive and flourish. I returned to my study with a fresh cup of coffee and my Bible. I checked the reading plan and turned to Psalm 119:9-16 to read. I started to close my Bible and get on with the chores that nagged me when I sensed a “Stop!” in my spirit. “Read it again. Slower.” So I sat back down and re-read the passage. I realized that the Psalmist wasn’t doing a quick reading of the Scriptures, He was soaking it in. Like my granddaughter’s idea of watering my plants, I was sprinkling God’s Word over the surface of my heart, but I wasn’t spending enough time in it to do my soul much good. When I looked further into Psalm 119 I found verse after verse after verse about the power of the Bible for those who will give it more than a quick read.

I’ve quit trying to read the Bible through in a year, I’m more focused on reading it. thoroughly. I decided to slow it down and take smaller, deeper bites that I can chew on all day. Peter called believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). Growing in knowledge takes time, but it pays off with deep roots. Deep roots bear fruit (2 Kings 19:30, paraphrased). Jesus said that we were chosen and appointed “to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). That requires time in the soul-nurturing Word of God. Beloved, it’s time to put away the watering can and pull out the soaker hose. Go deep in the Word of God and let God’s Words go deep in you.

More Joy

Just in case you somehow missed it, I have a precious granddaughter named Joy. As I read my Bible I mark every time I find “Joy” in the Scriptures. After three years, there are a lot of pink hearts in my Bible. One day she will inherit my Bible with all the notes and pink hearts of Joy. This morning I was reading Psalm 21 and I found two more. I said aloud, “I thought by now I had found them all.” According to Bible Gateway, there are 242 verses with the word “Joy” (in the NIV). That doesn’t count all the “rejoice” references, which have their root in Joy. That’s a lot of Joy. Because Joy has its foundation in God who is our constant source of Joy. The Bible is God’s Word so it’s no wonder that it is full of Joy.

Habakkuk laments the hard season Judah was enduring just before Jerusalem fell to Babylon when the fields failed to produce and the livestock were all gone. He said, “Yet (there’s a whole message in that one word) I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be Joyful in God my Savior” (3:18). When God’s people look to him in hard times there is more Joy.

After they returned from captivity and rebuilt the city wall, Ezra, the scribe, stood for days reading “the Book of the Law of Moses” to the people (Nehemiah chapter 8 ). After Ezra finished reading, they were deeply grieved at how far they had fallen from the Lord. Nehemiah told them, “The Joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10). The people had a great celebration and “their Joy was very great” (v. 17 – that’s another one I had missed). When God’s people live in faithful relationship with Him, there will always be more Joy.

Joy (and rejoicing) is scattered throughout the Bible in almost every book from Genesis to Revelation. If you are looking for it, you will surely find it. And even if you’re not really looking for it, Joy will pop up in unexpected places at unexpected times in unexpected ways. My prayer for you today, Beloved, is that you will find more Joy.

Hebrews: In the Beginning . . .

It’s the simplest truth, taught to the littlest children: God created the whole world. It is the opening statement of the Bible and is foundational to our understanding of who God is, and in turn who we are.  It is also the first step of faith. The writer of Hebrews said, By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Modern science spins a tale of colliding gasses that somehow formed into a diverse group of planets, stars, and galaxies. But that is not the biblical account of creation. The Bible says that God created ex nihilo – out of nothing. There were no prior elements that He scooped up into His hand and rolled into a ball.  He spoke into the empty nothingness and the response was immediate obedience. He said “Let there be” . . . light, water, dry ground, plant life, sun, moon and stars, and living creatures of all kinds. And they were. Nature obeys the creator, even if man, God’s highest creation doesn’t.

Does it really matter how the universe got here?  Yes, it really does, but not for the sake of scientific argument. If I side with the scientific versions – even from a “Christian” perspective – I have said that the very first truths of the Holy Word of God are questionable.  That leaves everything else from Genesis 2 to Revelation 22 open to debate and alteration for the sake of human agreement.  Those who doubt the creation account then say that Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, and many other extraordinary biblical stories are just myths.  How easy it becomes then to question the truth of the virgin birth of Jesus, His miracles, and even His resurrection. Think I’m stretching too far here?  Go sit through a lecture at a liberal-leaning seminary.  It’s a wonder students have any semblance of faith left when they graduate.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Faith, the author of Hebrews says, starts right here, at the beginning.  Christian, it is absolutely vital that you know what you believe and then believe what you know – but be certain, Beloved, that what you know and believe is the truth. The Bible is not written as a science manual; it is written for faith.

But I don’t want to, God!

I love the Word of God with all my heart. The Bible has transformed my mind and heart and life. It has become my passion, my calling, and my ministry. I believe every verse is true and right. I believe as Paul said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-7). I honor the Scriptures as the authority over all creation – especially over me. But I don’t always like what it says. Sometimes the Bible meddles. Like Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing . . .” Uh-oh.

I believe that obedience to the Scriptures is vital to God’s people. It was a major issue with the Israelites. They wanted God’s blessings without obedience. I strive to obey God every day. I don’t always get it right, but I so want to follow Him and walk in His ways. But sometimes I do so with a chip on my shoulder and a bit of an attitude. “I’ll do it God, but I really don’t want to.” “I will make this sacrifice, but it’s not fair, they’ve done nothing to deserve it.” “Why do I have to take this on God? Don’t I have enough on my plate?” I’m like a petulant child stomping her feet in protest on the way to bed. I sure hope you’re nodding your head in agreement, otherwise, I’m the worst kind of Christian.

But Paul said God expects obedience with a humble and grateful spirit. That is exactly what Jesus did. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus went to the cross – to His death with Joy. How could that be? Crucifixion was a horribly painful and humiliating way to die. Because He knew what the end result was going to be. Granted we don’t have that same advantage. But we have the same Heavenly Father who has never failed us, who works all things to fulfill His good purpose. We have a God we can trust when we are told to do something hard.

What is the end result of our humble obedience? We “become blameless and pure children of God [who] shine like the stars in the universe” (v. 15). In other words, we become like Jesus. And that is the desire of my heart. How about you, Beloved?

Are You Paying Attention?

This morning I very quickly typed in my laptop’s password – maybe a little too quickly because it was wrong. I tried again and still messed it up. I tried a third time, slowly, paying careful attention to the keys I was hitting. And I got it right that time. God has been impressing those two words on my heart a lot in the past several years. “Pay attention.” In so many areas of my life, I need to pay attention. In my job, at home, in my relationships, in my schoolwork, and in my ministry. And with my granddaughter. It’s not enough to sit in the same room with her and watch TV or scroll through my phone while she plays. No – she wants Nana’s full attention. And I give it to her gladly because building a block castle, rolling the ball across the floor, or helping her wrap up her baby doll is better than anything on TV or my phone.

My password debacle made me think of the discipline several of us are doing, writing out small portions of Scripture every day to eventually write through the entire Bible. We’ve all noted how much we’re discovering because writing forces us to pay attention to every word. For instance, as we’re writing through Job we’re seeing little glimpses – and a few bold declarations – about Jesus that we never noticed before. On the surface, Job is a depressing book and we tend to want to get through it as quickly as possible. But it looks so different at a slower pace.

Now I had a different direction in mind for this devotional and the Spirit just completely re-routed it. So here goes. He pointed out just now John’s proclamation that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1) We know that “the Word” was Jesus (v. 14). By paying attention to every word of the Word, I am paying attention to Jesus. I can’t think of anything better to give my attention to. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you have to take pen to paper and write out every word in the Bible, (but if you want to, I’ll post a link to our group in the comments) – but I am saying that taking the Bible – taking the Word – at a slower pace allows you to see things you’ve never seen before.

Beloved, what are you missing? What do you want to see? How might it change your life if you paid attention to the Word – and the Word made flesh?

Do You Know Jesus?

I recently saw a meme that said, “I follow Jesus, not the Bible.” But the Bible is where you will find everything you need to know about Jesus.

He is the Seed of the woman who will one day crush the head of Satan and the Passover Lamb. He is the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice, the Prophet and the Captain of the Lord’s army.  He is the Deliverer and our Kinsman Redeemer and the King in the line of David. He is the Restorer of Jerusalem, the Shepherd, and the Source of all wisdom.  He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and Suffering Servant. He is the Man acquainted with sorrows and the one who brings life to dry bones. He is the Ancient of Days, a faithful Husband, Source of Hope, Judge, Preacher, Mighty Savior, and the Son of Righteousness.

Matthew declared Him as the long-awaited Messiah and the fulfillment of prophecy. Mark showed that He was the King with power and authority over every realm. Luke proclaimed Him as the Son of God full of compassion and mercy.  John said that Jesus “was the Word” made “flesh” and the “true light” and the “One and Only” from the Father (John 1:1, 14, 9, 14, respectively). And throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus is revealed as “the Bread of Life” (6:48), “the Light of the world” (8:12), “the Door” and “the Good Shepherd” (10:9,11), “the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25), “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (14:6), and “the true Vine” (15:1). Paul said Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15) and the writer of Hebrews said that “the Son is . . . the exact representation of [God’s] being. In other words, when you see these truths about Jesus, you are seeing God. What we know about Him from the Scriptures is enough to change our lives forever.

The Lord posed the most important question when He asked, “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:15). You need to know the right answer, Beloved. Your eternal destiny depends on it.  You will only find Him on the pages of Holy Writ. I encourage you to pick up a Bible and meet the Son of God. It’s the most wonderful discovery you’ll ever make.

Blood-stained Faith

I know, this is Hebrews Monday, but this morning the Holy Spirit has a different word from the Word. It is one of those Old Testament to  New Testament connections I love so much.

The psalmist said, “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands” (Ps. 149:6). You probably picked up on that “double-edged sword” and recognized it from Hebrews 4:12: “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword . . .” You may also recall John’s vision of Jesus in heaven: “out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (Rev 1:16). You know that this sword is none other than the Word of God – the Bible – the Holy Scriptures. You know that in the Armor of God the sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon we have (Eph 6:17) – but it is enough because the Word of God sends satan packing. This sword is powerful and purposeful.

But the Spirit made another connection for me as He reminded me of the scene in heaven. Under the altar dwelt “the souls of those who had been slain” – martyred saints. Why? “Because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (Rev. 6:17). And what was their testimony? The same writer said, “And this is the testimony: ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son’” (1 John 5:11). Do you see the connection?

What is praise but declaring the great Name and work of Almighty God? The martyrs throughout the history of the church have held tightly to the name of Jesus and the Word of God as their source of strength and conviction. But martyrs are not only part of the church’s past. Believers are being slain for their faith today, and as the world moves farther away from God, more saints will face the same fate. Maybe even you and me. How will we endure? How will we not fail our Savior? The same way they did. With the name of Jesus on our lips and our hands frozen to the sword (2 Sam 23:10). Come to think of it, this verse is right in line with the message of Hebrews: stand firm in Christ Jesus and do not lose heart. Hard times are coming Beloved, but so is Jesus!