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In the Making

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“For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” – Habakkuk 2:3

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” – Malachi 4:5-6

“And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.  And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” – Luke 1:16-17

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:1-25


I’m behind again. Actually, I don’t remember ever being caught up, so to say that I’m behind “again” is probably a generous and wishful assessment. Each year starts the same. This time, I’ll get it right. Just buy a present or two a month, and have everything wrapped by November. It never happens, and so the Christmas hopes and dreams of my 6-year old end up in the hands of UPS Ground somewhere in mid-December. We’ll see how that works out.

In Luke 1, it’s clear that Zacharias had all but abandoned his own hopes and dreams. He was old and his wife, Elisabeth, was barren. He is so mired in hopelessness that even the presence and proclamation of an angel doesn’t sway him (Verses 13-15). When Gabriel tells him that he will have a son, he asks for a sign (as if Gabriel’s visit doesn’t count as one) and instead, signs himself up for 9 months of silence (Verses 18-20).

But in the verses that precede Zacharias’ request for a sign is another bright, blinking sign that Zacharias missed. When the angel Gabriel announces the birth of John the Baptist (the son who will be born to Zacharias and Elisabeth), he quotes a 400-year old minor prophet named Malachi (Luke 1:16-17, Malachi 4:5-6,9).

It’s important to note that Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, and the words quoted by Gabriel are the last verses of the Old Testament. Why does that matter? Because it also marks the beginning of a 400-year silence. 400 years with no more prophetic messages. 400 years with promises hanging in the air unfulfilled. That’s a long time to keep hope alive, and yet, God was working and miracles were in the making throughout those 400 years (Isaiah 40:3-5, Matthew 3:1-3, Mark 2:1-4, Luke 3:1-6).

And here’s the upside to Zacharias. While he may have struggled in his faith – he was firm in his faithfulness. Luke 1:6 tells us that Zacharias and Elisabeth were righteous and reliable – their devotion to God’s commands was never diluted by their questions. That kind of faithfulness (continuing in prayer, continuing in the Word, continuing in church, service, and obedience obedience) is what walks us through the waiting. It keeps us in the place of blessing, so that God’s long-expected plan for us is not derailed, and we are positioned for the fulfillment of His plan in His timing. Faithfulness keeps faith alive (I Corinthians 15:58, 16:13, Ephesians 2:10, Hebrews 10:22-24, 11:6, James 2:17-18).

And let me tell you about God’s faithfulness. His sovereignty is imprinted all over the lives of Zacharias and Elisabeth. Zacharias was a priest from the “course of Abia” (Luke 1:5). Each course served at the temple for a span of just one week, twice a year. The “lot” that chose Zacharias to burn incense means his name was drawn out of the thousand or so priests in his course for this once-in-a-lifetime task. And it’s certainly no coincidence that Elisabeth’s cousin, Mary, would receive her own visit from Gabriel six months later (Luke 1:26-37, 24:44, Acts 3:18, Galatians 4:4-5).

Zacharias and Elisabeth had prayed for a child for decades. Their people had waited to hear from God for centuries. Neither of those waiting periods was in vain. They were not forgotten, and they certainly were not cursed (the cruel label slapped on barren women in their culture). Rather, they were chosen by God for something different, something 400 years (really thousands of years – Genesis 3:15) in the making – something that would bring glory to God and salvation to the world.

Maybe His glory and the salvation of those around us is in the making right now (Psalm 27:14, Isaiah 55:10-11, Habakkuk 2:3). Our “unanswered” prayers, our unbearable years of waiting, our seemingly unnoticed faithfulness – maybe it’s all just the prologue to His plan.

Let me reword that – it IS the prologue to His plan. With God, miracles are always in the making. “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”

Merry Christmas.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Stay faithful. Keep praying. Trust that, with God, miracles are always in the making. The miracles you need are no exception.

In Between Angels

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“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” – Micah 5:2

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” – Luke 2:1-5

“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” – Galatians 4:4-5

Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-12


I am forever working on my ability to say “no”. As a consummate people-pleaser and a frenzied fixer, I tend to commit to more than I can ever possibly accomplish by reasonable means. And more than once, I have driven myself to the brink of insanity, trying to keep promises that no intelligent person would have ever made in the first place.

And yet, I have found that this very weakness has repeatedly drawn me closer to God. When stress steals my sleep, I find myself crying out to Him in the night, begging Him to bail me out yet again, pleading for peace and rest. And in His all-sufficient grace, He never fails to meet me back at square one. Somehow, my faith grows best in the sketchy terrain of over-commitment and inconvenience. And the disruption of sleep is often God gently reminding me that we wouldn’t need our midnight talks, if I had given Him more attention in the light of day.

There are midnight talks woven throughout the first two chapters of Matthew. It’s the kind of clear directives that we all want from God – dreams and angels. It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

In Matthew 1, Joseph goes to bed no doubt pleading for peace. His bride-to-be has turned up pregnant, and to make matters worse, she seems to have lost her mind as well (Verse 18). She insists that she’s still a virgin, and that an angel appeared to her, and she’s carrying a child from God. Joseph is a great guy, but that’s a lot to take in. Heartbroken, this great guy is planning the kindest and quietest divorce possible, when an angel disrupts his sleep (Verses 19, 20-24).

He awakens with the same clarity of purpose as Mary, proceeding with the marriage and taking his new wife to Bethlehem in response to a Roman decree.

In Chapter two, the wise men stop at Herod’s place to ask for directions (Verses 1-2). Sadly, God isn’t even on Herod’s radar, and he has no idea of the key role that he will play in the fulfillment of prophecy (Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:16-18). All he knows is that his throne is threatened.

Herod attempts to use the wise men to root out his infant rival, but God uses a dream to redirect the wise men, and although they will find the baby in Bethlehem, they never set foot in Herod’s court again (Matthew 2:3-12). Another midnight talk follows, as an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, telling him to gather Mary and the baby and escape to Egypt (Verses 13-15).

But in the midst of all the midnight talks – in the midst of all the amazing appearances of angels and dreams –  there is divine use of the Godless. The fulfillment of a 700-year old prophecy hinged, not on the declaration of angels, but on the decree of a Roman caesar (Micah 5:2, Luke 2:4-5). An angel took news to Nazareth, and angels flocked to Bethlehem to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds (Luke 1:26-38, 2:8-15). But here’s what I want you to see – in between angels, a Roman politician unwittingly ensured that Christ would be born in the little town of Bethlehem – just as God intended. And in between angels, an evil and insecure Herod prompted a trip to Egypt  that fulfilled another Messianic prophecy (Hosea 11:1). Pieces of the prophetic puzzle were placed both by angels and by the ungodly (Psalm 115:3, 135:6, Proverbs 21:1, Romans 8:28, 9:18, Ephesians 1:11).

Today, let’s look at our own lives with that undeniable sovereignty in mind. There are moments that God is as real to us an angelic appearance, and there are moments when we seem to be at the mercy of a fallen world. Never doubt that God is in both of those moments. He is working in the ungodly, and even in the inconvenient. He is present in the parade of things that you didn’t plan for, things that have been foisted upon you by seemingly evil forces (Genesis 50:20, Psalm 138:8, II Chronicles 20:6, Luke 1:37).

He is Emmanuel, God With Us (Matthew 1:23), and our sovereign Savior is with us everywhere – in the obvious, in the impossible, and in between angels.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Are you struggling to see God in your circumstances? This Christmas season, ask Him to show Himself to you. Trust that your sovereign Savior is working in everything that concerns you.

Flock & Fold

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“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.” – Psalm 122:1

“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” – Acts 4:32

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” – Colossians 3:15

Scripture Reading: Acts 2:37-47


Every night, like clockwork, my six-year old Joey asks me to tell him stories. And inevitably, the star of most of these stories is my rambunctious and wildly-unpredictable, younger brother, known to most of his fan base as “Uncle Danny”.

And though many of Uncle Danny’s youthful exploits were not sanctioned by the church (he was essentially the Baptist version of Dennis the Menace), it was the setting of many of our more memorable moments and the backdrop for countless stories from our childhood. We grew up going to church, getting ready for church, driving to and from church, serving at church, and spending time with church people. For as long as I can remember, church has been as familiar to me as my own living room.

In Acts 2, church became a living room to the newest members of the family of God. Following Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9-11), the disciples had retreated to the safety of the upper room to await further instructions. And then it happened. The Day of Pentecost came and brought with it the fulfillment of the promised Holy Spirit – the Comforter, the One Who would finally put together all the pieces that Jesus had imparted to His disciples throughout His earthly ministry (John 14:16-18, 15:26-27, 16:12-14).

With the Spirit’s power, Peter begins to preach, and the church starts to grow exponentially (Acts 2:14, 37-41). But here’s the incredible thing – they don’t start a building project. They don’t start doling out titles, or forging an empire, or making a name for themselves. They start building a family (Verses 42, 44-46).

The early church took care of its own. They ate together. They prayed together. They shared their burdens and their blessings. They put each other first, gave up their ranks and their riches, and built a Christ-centered community that left no believer behind. Many (like Barnabas) sold their personal land and goods and contributed everything to the needs of their fellow saints. They basically stopped keeping track of who owned what, understanding that everything they had belonged to God anyway (Acts 4:32-37).

We wince at the hippie-commune connotations of that kind of life. We bristle at the idea of sharing our stuff that we have worked so hard for – especially with those whose contributions are questionable. But there is incomparable blessing in living so closely to the heart of Christ (Matthew 25:37-40, Galatians 6:2, 10, Ephesians 3:14-19, Colossians 3:1-17). Christ shared His inheritance with us. He gave His life to do so (Romans 8:14-17, I Timothy 1:15, I Peter 1:3-4, I John 3:1). Knowing that, how can we deny any of our brothers and sisters in Christ the same love, forgiveness, mercy, and ultimately, the honor that He has bestowed on us?

Let me give you a quick Thanksgiving reality check. Everything you have is His. It is only on loan to you. It is yours by the virtue of His permissive will and His abundant grace. Share, and count it a blessing to do so (Romans 10:12-13, Hebrews 10:24-25).

Everything else comes and goes, but the family of God has been as constant in my life as the family I was born into. We have grown together, weathered storms, and loved each other through good times and bad. And like nothing else, it has repeatedly pointed me to the God that I so desperately need and has forever nudged me a little more in His direction.

I have always known that church was my second home, but I am thankful to say that, more and more, it is a glimpse of my future home (Psalm 133).

Some take offense to being identified as “sheep”, but not this little lamb (Isaiah 53:6, John 10:11, 21:17). I am grateful for the safety of flock and fold. I thank God for my church family. I am grateful for the meals we share, but I am more grateful for the miles that we have shared on the road of life.

This Thanksgiving, praise God for His church. Praise God with His church. Make church your living room. Find your place in the family of God, and never doubt that you belong there.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Love on your church family. Pray for your church family. And if you don’t have a church family, find one. God wants to use you and bless you in a Christ-centered community.

Bigger Barns

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“The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” – Proverbs 11:25

“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” – Luke 6:38

“And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” – Luke 12:15

“And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” – Luke 12:18-20

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:1-34


I have a confession to make – I’m a hopeless book hoarder. For years, my dad and I were partners in crime, and my poor mother would cringe every Saturday morning as we returned from the flea market, hauling bags of used books purchased for as little as ten cents each. And to this day, I accumulate far more books than I’ll ever read.

I recently parted with several good Christian books at a yard sale. A friend of mine happened to pick up a book about healing from past hurts, and the Lord used it to help her tremendously. In the following months, she referenced the book constantly as one that gave her greater understanding of God’s work in her life. She thanked me for it over and over again, and I finally had to come clean. It had sat on my shelf for years, and I had never even found the time to read it. But in spite of my hoarding, God had turned that book into a blessing.

In Luke 12, Jesus directly addresses hoarded resources in the broad context of eternity. Surrounded by a crowd so great that they are practically tripping over each other, Jesus’ disciples are with Him in the middle of the mayhem (Verse 1). On the fringe of the crowd are the scribes and Pharisees. They are seething with anger over the scathing rebuke they received from Jesus in the previous chapter (Luke 11:37-54) – a rebuke that included a call to give alms (gifts for the poor) out of their own hoarded resources.

But despite the tangible tension in the air, Jesus is determined to seize this teaching moment, as He challenges the values of the Pharisees. He urges His disciples to reject the materialism and self-reliance that is so prevalent among their religious leaders and rely instead on the protection and provision of God. And sandwiched between the timeless truths about God’s provision for sparrows, ravens, and lilies (Luke 12: 6-7, 24, 27) is a brief parable about heaven’s take on hoarding (Verses 16-21).

We start with a rich man. He’s had a great year, and now, this rich man is getting richer. And he takes great satisfaction in that. So much so, that he is consumed with the management of his surplus. And in that management, there is never a thought given to the idea of giving. His sad, self-centered response to blessing is the concept of bigger barns – tearing down the barns he already has and building bigger, better storage space for his personal stockpile. His only goals are lifelong security and personal ease, and there’s no consideration for God, for others, or for eternity.

Little does the rich man know that the time to enjoy his surplus is quickly coming to an end. And this man who had so much in life will go into eternity empty-handed, as he squandered any chance to lay up treasures in heaven.

We shake our heads at the shortsightedness and selfishness of this unnamed rich man, but how many divine opportunities have passed us by? Any blessing we receive – from the simplest possession to our biggest windfall – can open the door for us to be a blessing to others (Proverbs 11:25-26, Luke 6:38, II Corinthians 9:6-11, Philippians 2:3-4). But the temptation is to take our ease – to eat, drink, and be merry in our own little world – and to build bigger barns for all of our stuff, rather than paying the blessings forward in Jesus’ name.

May God forgive us for the blessings we have hoarded. May God forgive us for being so stingy with the blessings we bestow on His work and on others – as if our Heavenly Father has ever been stingy with us (Deuteronomy 8:18, Psalm 34:10, 81:10, I Chronicles 29:14, Malachi 3:8-10, Matthew 6:31-32, Romans 8:32, Philippians 4:19, Hebrews 13:5).

Starting today, let’s tear down our barns and instead build something that will last for eternity. May our barns be few, our blessings transferable, and may our security rest in the Giver of all things.


 

YOUR PRESCRIPTION

What are you hoarding? What resources has God given you that you’re not even using? Ask God to show you what you might be able to pass on to others for His glory.

Potential Risk

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walk spirit

“And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.” – Judges 16:20

“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” – Galatians 5:16

“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30

“Quench not the Spirit.” – I Thessalonians 5:19

Scripture Reading: Judges 16:4-31


More often than not, I find that the potential of my day depends on the first thirty minutes.

Yes, my day can go off the rails just that quickly. Because, while my body is painfully slow in those waking moments, my mind on the other hand, has squirrel-like tendencies, darting from one fragmented idea to another. Did I pay that bill? I need to get to the store. I’ll make a list. I should check for coupons. I think my car needs gas. Is it supposed to rain today?

Not exactly earth-shattering stuff, but these are the shiny objects that distract me from what matters most. Before I know it, I’m knee deep in nonsense, and the quietest time of my day has been spent on everything but my quiet time with God.

In Judges 16, Samson was knee deep in disaster. After completely squandering His God-given potential, Israel’s rough and reckless judge was about to become a floor show for the Philistines, as a life that God had filled with purpose was filled to overflowing with sin.

From the beginning, Samson was supposed to be set apart (Judges 13, Numbers 6:1-6). His birth had been foretold by “the angel of the Lord”, and his parents were instructed that he should be a Nazarite. This vow of consecration included three important conditions – he could not touch anything dead or unclean, he could not drink, and he could not cut his hair.

In exchange, he was blessed. Specifically, the Spirit of the Lord would come upon him, giving Samson miraculous physical strength (Judges 13:24-25, 14:6, 19, 15:14, 19) – the kind of strength that could kill a thousand men in one sitting (Judges 15:15). But sadly, Samson was anything but set apart. He willfully chased women (Judges 15:1-2, 16:1, 4). He ignored every detail of his vow – manhandling a lion carcass and a donkey’s jawbone (all unclean stuff) and never following the biblical prescriptions (outlined in Numbers 6) to cleanse himself.

And it’s likely that he had also broken the vow’s condition of no drinking. Twice Delilah tied him up, once she wove his hair on a loom, and finally she cut it. Each time, Samson had to be woken up afterwards, and all along, Philistine soldiers were hiding in her bedroom. The overall picture makes it pretty easy to question his sobriety (Judges 16:5-19, Psalm 1, Ephesians 5:18).

So with every other provision of the vow violated, his fabulous head of hair was the only thing keeping Samson tethered to God. But Delilah soon takes care of that, and like his hair, Samson’s God-given potential is cut short. His strength leaves him, and more importantly, God’s Spirit leaves him (Judges 16:19-20). It’s truly heartbreaking.

We usually talk about how Samson’s strength was in his long hair, and Samson himself gave Delilah that explanation. But don’t miss the point. His strength was in his vow, in the extent to which he allowed the Holy Spirit to work in Him. His strength required separation from the world, separation from sin.

Just like Samson, I need as much of God as I can get. Everything I have comes from Him, and everything I have requires Him. And He requires me to be set apart and to walk in His Spirit. Outside of His grace, everything He’s given me and everything He wants for me is at risk (Psalm 51:10-11, Isaiah 61:1, Romans 7:18, 8:5-7, I Corinthians 2:9-11, 14, Galatians 3:3, 5:16-25, Ephesians 4:22-24, Philippians 2:13, Hebrews 12:1-2).

Samson would be given one last opportunity to bring glory to God, as he would use the last of his strength to destroy the Philistines (Judges 16:22, 28-30). But I want to give God so much more than an eleventh-hour play.

I want to live out His plan. I want to live the kind of life that invites His Spirit to abide and abound in me. I want to give up the things that are weighing me down and live up to my full potential in Him. Here and now – that’s my vow.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Are you living by God’s standards? Are you living up to the potential that He’s given you to serve and glorify Him? Ask God to show you the areas where you need more of Him and less of you.

 

Right Now

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Jeremiah-29-11Right Now

“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations…Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:5, 8

“Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” – Jeremiah 20:9

“Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” – Lamentations 3:19-23

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 1


Right now, a friend of mine is going through a trial that is fierce, frightening, and unbelievably unfair. This isn’t her first rodeo. Months ago, I would have defined her as someone who has been through more than I could ever imagine, and her trials have only snowballed since then. I listened to her tears on the phone last night, and though I’m rarely at a loss for words, words were useless. I remember hearing myself murmur, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…” while in my head and my heart, I was frantically praying for divine intervention.

We live in a Christian culture that all too often equates “blessing” with the world’s standards of success. But there is a calling that flies in the face of our expectations – it’s a calling that finds little reward in this world but fills the storehouses of heaven. It’s the call to suffering.

In Jeremiah 1, while still a “child”, Jeremiah was called to be a prophet, something God had ordained before he was even born (Verses 5-6). God would use him tremendously (Verses 9-10), but the lesson was often contained in Jeremiah’s God-ordained suffering.

Jeremiah never had what we would consider a successful ministry. He would never marry or have a family. A son of the priests at Anathoth, his own would turn against him, and he would be the target of multiple assassination plots. He would spend time in stocks, after a beating delivered by a priest (Jeremiah 20:2), and more time in a pit – a cistern full of mud that doubled as a dungeon (Jeremiah 38:1-13). In a time when people wanted feel-good messages and flocked to false prophets who told them what they wanted to hear, Jeremiah told them the hard truth about their rebellion, their idolatry, and the inevitable consequences. And they would never heed him. It was an utterly thankless job.

But though his contemporaries never listened, Jeremiah’s ministry would have incalculable ripple effects in the Kingdom of God. His life of suffering would yield some of the greatest insights we have into the longsuffering love of God, His sovereignty, and the promise of restoration in exchange for repentance (Jeremiah 3:22, 17:14, 29:10-14, 31:3).

In Lamentations 3, as he mourned the devastation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, he wrote the timeless truth that God’s mercies are new every morning and great is His faithfulness. In Jeremiah 29, he wrote an open letter to the exiles in Babylon that overflows with promises about finding God and His purpose – promises that we still claim today. He gave us the image of the Potter and the clay (Jeremiah 18:1-11) – the ultimate metaphor for God’s never-ending work in our lives. And though the “Weeping Prophet” desperately wanted a quiet, normal life, his need to speak the truth (and his call to suffering) burned relentlessly inside of him (Jeremiah 15:15, 20:9, 14-18).

Much like Jeremiah, right now, your suffering may seem to be without purpose. It may feel like more of a curse than a calling, but I submit that you might be one of those peculiar people who is tasked with the greatest calling of all. To be like Christ, to taste in His sufferings, to be used and even abused for the cause of Christ may not yield accolades or accumulate wealth in this life, but it is the stuff that all of heaven stands and cheers for (Acts 7:54-56, Romans 5:3-5, II Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18, Philippians 3:10, I Peter 5:8-10, Revelation 21:3-4).

Hold on, my friend. God has not left you. Whatever is lost for Christ’s sake will be restored tenfold. Whatever is suffered on earth will be sanctified in heaven. God’s Kingdom holds you in high regard, regardless of how this world sees you. And right now, your suffering is not in vain.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Are you suffering right now? Ask God to use your suffering for His glory. Praise Him for allowing you to taste what Christ went through for you, and trust that He has a plan for you.

 

Under the Umbrella

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under the umbrella (2)

“And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord.” – II Chronicles 19:2

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” – Psalm 1:1

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” – II Corinthians 6:14

Scripture Reading: II Chronicles 18


It’s a hard thing to have a front row seat for the destruction of someone you love. Tonight, I’m sitting in that seat, and sleep won’t come. I don’t mean to sound so heavy-hearted, but that’s pretty much what I am right now. And I’m reminded that, so often, the difference between success and failure hinges on the company you choose to keep.

In II Chronicles 18, Jehoshaphat is about to choose poorly – very poorly. His reign as king of Judah had a spectacular start. Chapter 17 tells us that – with God’s blessing – he built up the military, the economy, and the infrastructure of Judah (II Chronicles 17:2, 12-13), and he had God’s abundant blessing because he followed God’s ways (II Chronicles 17:3-5). He commissioned Levites to travel throughout his kingdom teaching “the book of the law of the Lord” (scripture) to the people (II Chronicles 17:7-9). He even took down the high places (pagan altars) – something that even most of the “good kings” in Judah failed to do (II Chronicles 17:6).

Jehoshaphat was so incredibly blessed that the Philistines actually brought him gifts (the Philistines weren’t exactly known for their generosity). And the Bible tells us that no one dared to mess with Judah, because King Jehoshaphat was so clearly covered with God’s blessing and protection (II Chronicles 17:10-11, Proverbs 13:22, 16:7).

But in Chapter 18, Jehoshaphat steps out from under the umbrella of God’s protection, and nearly loses his neck in the process. In a startling departure from God’s will, he decides to join forces with Israel’s King Ahab (yes, that Ahab – I Kings 18) to fight the Syrians.

But it gets better. When Jehoshaphat asks if they should consult God, Ahab trots out 400 prophets of Baal, all of whom think that this war campaign is a splendid idea. Jehoshaphat presses Ahab to consult an actual man of God, and so Ahab has one brought in from prison (another bad sign – ding, ding, ding).

You would think alarm bells would be going off all over the place for Jehoshaphat, but he continues in his deal with this devil. Somehow, Jehoshaphat isn’t phased by the mistreatment of God’s prophet or by his message, and Ahab and Jehoshaphat head into battle, arm in arm (Verse 16). He doesn’t even question Ahab’s decision to disguise himself as a foot soldier, leaving Jehoshaphat as the most attention-getting target on the battlefield (Verse 29).

But despite Jehoshaphat’s unbelievable lack of discernment, God’s sovereignty and God’s mercy are still written all over this story. In Verses 17-22, we get a glimpse of a conversation in heaven (reminiscent of Job 1:6-12), where God permits evil to bring about His purpose. The lies told by Ahab’s personal prophets are engineered by unseen evil spirits, in order to bring about the final demise of this evil king. Ahab’s disguise will do him no good. It may hide him from the Syrians, but it won’t hide him from God’s judgment, and he won’t leave this battlefield alive (Verses 33-34).

As for Jehoshaphat, he charges headlong into a near-death experience, as the Syrians attack the only obvious king in sight. Suddenly stunned with his own stupidity and finally aware that he doesn’t belong there, he cries out to God for help, and God mercifully and miraculously turns his attackers around (Verses 30-32).

Jehoshaphat returns to Jerusalem with his tail between his legs and gets a tongue lashing from yet another prophet for his ill-fated alliance with Ahab (II Chronicles 19:1-3).

I cannot stress this enough. Choose your friends wisely. Choose your friends prayerfully (Psalm 1, 97:10, Proverbs 13:20, 22:24-25, I Corinthians 15:33, II Corinthians 6:14-17, Ephesians 5:6-8, James 4:4, I John 2:15-16).

Don’t think you can walk arm-in-arm with friends who refuse to walk with the Lord. By all means, give them the gospel and pray for them, but remember that their world is not your home. You simply don’t belong there.

Stay under the umbrella of God’s protection. Stay arm in arm with God. And by God and God alone, stay safe.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Have you been keeping the wrong kind of company? Ask God to give you the kind of relationships that will grow your relationship with Him, and seek out friends that help you seek the Lord.

Seeing Souls

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“Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity…Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” – Psalm 37:1, 4

“For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” – Hebrews 10:30-31

“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” – II Peter 3:9

Scripture Reading: Jonah 4


I recently made a chocolate pie from scratch. It was a beautiful thing (I get a sugar rush just thinking about it). I was so pleased with myself, I was contemplating texting a picture of it to my mother. But pride led to my fall, and I proceeded to dump the entire pie face down on the kitchen floor before anyone had so much as a bite.

Life is like that sometimes. Our chocolate pie-in-the-sky expectations turn into mud puddle realities that expose our worst heart conditions.

In Jonah 4, the prophet is still struggling with his notorious heart condition. Ninevah seems like a lost cause – and as far as Jonah is concerned they should stay that way (Jonah 1:1-3, 4:1-3). But God had masterfully turned Jonah into the perfect preacher for this God-forsaking city. And whether Jonah likes it or not, God’s will will be done.

History tells us that the Ninevites worshipped Dagon, a pagan god often depicted with the upper-body of a man, protruding from the mouth of a fish. So here comes Jonah, fresh – actually, not so fresh – from three soul-searching days in the belly of a fish. His head is wrapped in seaweed. His hair and clothes are bleached dazzling white from marinating in the digestive juices of the great fish. And the locals have just watched him land on the beach in spectacular fashion, after being shot like a cannonball out of the great fish’s mouth (Jonah 1:17, 2:5-10).

It’s practically comical how God took his stubborn prophet and made him the fish-oiled extension of His longsuffering, “not willing that any should perish” love to the Ninevites (Romans 5:8, I Timothy 2:1-4, II Peter 3:9).

All of Ninevah repents. They take Jonah’s message seriously, and they seriously change their ways (Jonah 3:5-10). God’s will is accomplished, but Jonah is still all about Jonah. He has made himself judge and jury to the Ninevites, and his verdict leaves no room for mercy.

And so, Jonah has found a ringside seat outside the city, and he waits eagerly for God to come to the same conclusion that he has (Jonah 4:5). He waits for God to annihilate Ninevah.

After proving that Jonah has more sympathy for a dying plant than he does for dying souls (Jonah 4:6-10), God reveals His own heart to Jonah in Verse 11. Jonah sees a city that has besieged his people, but God sees the people of Ninevah as slaves to sin. God sees people who have been duped by the lies of the devil. He sees innocent little children and lost souls, and destruction is not inevitable. By God’s grace, it is avoidable. For the Creator, destruction is always His last resort.

Take another look at your enemies. They may have hurt you in unspeakable ways, and if that is the case, dear friend, God cares about your pain. But make no mistake, He still cares about their souls (Numbers 14:18, Psalm 37, Romans 9:15, 12:19). Salvation is the goal. Destruction is the last resort. The most beautiful, and often, the most effective testimonies come from the souls that, by all human accounts, deserved the lightning bolt-level of destruction.

Maybe – in all the pain – God wants to turn you into the perfect preacher to reach a certain lost soul. God may want to use your enemy to save others, and He may want to use you to save your enemy. And if their destruction comes, know that it was not a decision that God came to lightly, and it grieved Him to use that last resort.

I wrote these words in my personal Bible study not long ago. I needed them, and maybe you do, too:

“I need to see people as “lost”, rather than being offended by them. I need to care more about their spiritual condition than I care about my pride. I need to spend more time praying and less time judging.”

I need to remember my own need for God – and recognize theirs (Matthew 5:44-48, Romans 10:12-14, Ephesians 2:3-5). I need the longsuffering love of God (Galatians 5:22-23).

I need to see souls.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Ask God to help you to see lost souls rather than lost causes. Pray for your enemies, and ask God to give you His heart for them. Remember, salvation is the goal, and destruction is the last resort.

Those Crazy Kids

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“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:4-6

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

“Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” – II Timothy 4:11

Scripture Reading: Acts 15:36-41


My driveway is an obstacle course. Our nineteen-year old has ramps to lift his Volkswagen off the ground for the endless repairs associated with a car that cost less than a thousand dollars. Our six-year old has ramps for jumping his scooter, his bike, and anything else on wheels that doesn’t require a license. And then there are the random objects that seem to be set up for the sheer entertainment of watching me trip over them as I make my way to my car (I’ve never been known for my gracefulness).

But regardless of the obstacles in our driveway and in life, I love those crazy kids with all my heart, and I’m often comforted by the fact that God loves them even more than I do.

In Acts 15, we meet a crazy kid named Mark (a.k.a. John Mark). Actually, we’re introduced briefly to Mark in Acts 12:12, when his mother hosts what may have been Jerusalem’s most exciting prayer meeting of all time. Young Mark probably had a front row seat that night, when Peter miraculously showed up at the door as the saints were praying for his release from prison. Perhaps it was that very miracle that prompted this wide-eyed young Christian to join his Uncle Barnabas and the Apostle Paul on their next missionary journey (Acts 12:25). But somewhere between the cities of Paphos and Perga, something went wrong, and Mark hightailed it back to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).

The Bible doesn’t give us many details, but in Acts 15, Mark’s failure seems to breed more failure, as the memory of his desertion causes a devastating rift between Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas wants to give his nephew a second chance, but Paul doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Verses 37-39 give us the distinct impression that their disagreement did not end well. Barnabas and Mark go one way, and Paul and his new partner, Silas, go another.

To be honest, Mark doesn’t look like a very good bet at this point. Paul’s strong reaction implies the worst about Mark’s character (or the lack thereof). Barnabas even comes off as a little crazy, over protecting and overindulging his good-for-nothing nephew, but God is not nearly finished with the young man named Mark.

Mark is referenced four more times in the New Testament, and unlike the account in Acts, these references are impeccable (Colossians 4:10, II Timothy 4:11, Philemon v. 19, 23-24, I Peter 5:13). He goes on to assist Peter in church planting, before proving himself to Paul, who would mention Mark’s faithfulness in three different epistles. Perhaps most notably, Mark would author the gospel that bears his name, serving as scribe to Peter’s eyewitness account of the life and ministry of Christ.

For the record, Barnabas wasn’t crazy – he was Christ-like. The “son of consolation” was right to treat Mark like a son in spite of his early failings (Proverbs 25:11, Isaiah 35:3-4, Acts 4:36, Galatians 6:1, I Peter 4:8). And in His sovereignty, God used the falling out between Paul and Barnabas, as a calling out of young Mark (Psalm 138:8, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 2:10).

God bless our crazy kids. May we love them through their failures, pray circles around them each day, and carry them to the cross. May we remind them (and ourselves) that God never gives up on them, so that they never give up on God. And may we have enough humility to admit that, outside of the grace of God, we were once crazy kids, too.

Today, this imperfect mom is resting in God’s unfailing ability to bring good out of my not-so-good. I trust His unfailing love that covers me, even when I’m not so lovable. And I praise God that, unlike me, He never starts anything He doesn’t plan to complete.

My dad always said that as long as we have “breath in our bodies and sense in our heads”, God is not finished with us yet. And so, I commit my crazy kids (and their crazy mama) to my sovereign God and His ever-loving, ever-working hands.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Commit your kids to the Lord. Pray a hedge of protection around them and pray to be the example that they need. And remember, whether you have kids or not, every Christian can have spiritual sons and daughters, and every Christian can point kids to Christ.

Hands Folded

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“As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” – Psalm 55:16-17

“And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes…O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.” – Daniel 9:3, 19

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” – James 5:16

Scripture Reading: Daniel 9:1-23


Today, I’m fighting the urge to fidget. There’s so much I want to fix – even though my “fixing” would probably only make things worse. My mind goes back to my beloved kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Baun, who would patiently tell her small class of wiggly worms to sit at their desks with hands folded. It was a time-tested way to bring a room full of fidgeting five-year olds back into line.

As I’m itching to wrap my feeble hands around a few situations in my little corner of the world, I’m reminding myself to sit today with my hands folded once again – this time, in prayer.

In Daniel 9, Daniel himself fights the urge to fidget by folding his hands in prayer. A changing of the guard has taken place in Babylon, and Daniel knows that a critical juncture is approaching.  The Babylonian Empire has given way to the Persian Empire, and there’s a new sheriff in town. Verse 1 tells us that it is the first year of Darius the Mede, and Daniel continues to hold his coveted, God-given position as deputy.

At this point, the Jews have been captives for more than 65 years, and Daniel knows two things. First of all, God has promised to end their captivity after 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-13, 29:10). Secondly, God has promised (more than 150 years earlier, in Isaiah 44:28-45:1) to use King Cyrus of Persia to release the Jews from their captivity. Cyrus is now in place, and he has appointed Darius to rule over the province of Babylon.

Frankly, I don’t know how Daniel contained himself. Prophecies are colliding with the present (Daniel 9:2). Hope is on the horizon, and as he has been for years, Daniel is well-positioned to influence events around him. And yet, Daniel never makes a power play. He never gets ahead of God. Instead, he gets out his sackcloth, skips breakfast, and prays harder than he ever has before (Verses 3-4).

Somehow, Daniel always chose intercession over interference. By God’s grace, he spent his entire adult life in the presence of kings. And while kings came and went, Daniel was consistently ranked as one of the three most powerful people in Babylon (Daniel 2:48, 5:28, 6:1-2), and yet, everything Daniel did was accomplished solely through prayer.

Honestly, I wish I had that kind of restraint (Psalm 5:3, 37:7, Isaiah 30:8, Hosea 12:6, Micah 7:7, Philippians 4:6-7, I Peter 5:6-7). So often, I want to take whatever opportunities or influence God has given me and just run with it. And I’m just prideful enough –  and at the same time, dumb enough – to think that my forced outcomes would be best.

And that brings me to an important aspect of Daniel’s prayer. It is filled with humble references to “we”, “us”, and “confusion” (Verses 2-11, 15). Daniel doesn’t presume that he can’t possibly be part of the problem. Daniel prays as if God’s plan hinges on the condition of his heart – rather than the conniving of his hands – and he seeks a clean conscience before God and a clean slate for his people (Verses 11-13, Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 18:6-10, James 4:7-8).

Here’s what Daniel didn’t know. Although the story of his famous night in the lion’s den is told a few chapters earlier in Daniel 6, in actuality, the lion’s den was yet to come (remember, it was King Darius that would be tricked into sending Daniel there). And while God had a comprehensive plan to restore His own people in time, He would use Daniel in the meantime to prove His power to the Persians (Daniel 6:25-28).

If you’re at a critical juncture today, let me dare you to be a Daniel. Determine to have a faith-filled refusal to force the outcomes on your own, a humble heart willing to be corrected, and most importantly, a head bowed in prayer – hands folded.


YOUR PRESCRIPTION

Take it to the Lord in prayer. Don’t fix it – even if a solution seems within reach. Lay your request before God, ask Him to show you the true intents of your heart, and let Him take the lead in your time of need.