Close Enough To See His Face

We’ve been in Louisville for two months now! We are settling in to our new church and getting to know the dear ones who attend it. Louisville itself is no small town; it’s not even a comfortably mid-sized city. It’s big and busy and full of nooks and crannies of places to explore and live, which is why we have been temporarily living in an apartment until we discovered which “nook” we wanted to roost in.

About a month ago we began the process of looking for a house. On our first day out our realtor, Troy, who is also a dear brother in the Lord, carefully constructed the day’s tour. He had managed to pack in showings at 12 or so houses to the east and south of Louisville. Jack and I were full of anticipation at watching the Lord’s plan unfold. Maybe we would find a house! Maybe our 3 ½ years of temporary would soon be at an end!

When we got to Troy’s office he needed to make a few adjustments to our schedule because one or two of the houses we wanted to see had sold overnight. After a bit of a delay we got on the highway out to see the first house. We hadn’t been on the highway out of town more than a minute or two when the traffic slowed to a complete stop. And there we sat for the next 2½ hours, inching forward at a snail’s pace. We learned that 3 semi-trucks collided and the crash completely blocked the freeway. Our day’s plans were rapidly changing.

Normally, I might have been anxious or discouraged about the changes, yet I found myself rejoicing. Left to myself there was no way I would have been exulting, especially since I had feasted on anticipation all morning. Yet, the Lord had already kindly prepared my heart for the day’s events.

It all began when Psalm 89 greeted me during my quiet time that morning. In Psalm 89 the psalmist extols the Lord’s character and ways. In fact, he’s just downright exulting in the Lord’s power and goodness. The psalmist, Ethan, creates a picture of heaven and all the holy ones praising the Lord. He describes the scene in verses 14-15, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You. How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O LORD, they walk in the light of Your countenance.” Ethan describes the Lord’s throne being built upon righteousness and justice, which really just describes how the Lord reigns over His subjects—righteously and justly. Then the psalmist designates “lovingkindness” and “truth” as those who triumphantly announce our great King’s presence. What a grand and glorious picture of the Lord’s throne room!

That’s why the psalmist says in verse 15, “How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!” Isn’t that the truth? We really are blessed when we know that lovingkindness and truth proceed from the Lord. And it’s even better when we live close enough to Him to experience that flood of His lovingkindness and truth. Yet, there’s more, for as we live closely to the Lord we will walk in the light of His countenance (verse 15). 

That’s the phrase caught my eye. It grabbed at my imagination and entered my heart. What does it mean to live in the light of the Lord’s countenance? How would my life be different today if I remembered I was living within reach of His smile?

Living in the light of the Lord’s countenance is just another way of saying that we live close enough to see His face—and conversely that He sees us. The idea is captured really well in Aaron’s blessing of the sons of Israel in Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.”

The idea of living in light of the Lord’s countenance carries with it His blessing. It also carries with it a sense of accountability. It’s basically like living in His throne room—and that’s where the accountability comes in. We’re called to live differently in the throne room so that when His face shines upon us in holiness we’re not ashamed.

That’s why when our day of looking at houses looked like it was going to rapidly derail, I had a unique opportunity to check my thoughts and my responses. Was I living with trust and hope in the fair light of God’s gaze? Or would my countenance reveal fear or discouragement or a complaining spirit?

The Scriptures remind us that when we live in the light of the Lord’s countenance, He helps our countenance. Psalms 42:11 and 43:5 say virtually the same thing, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” He helps our countenance! What a joyous thought! We don't have to live in the cellar of grumpiness or fear for the Lord will help us.  

The problem is that far too often we don’t avail ourselves of the Lord’s help, so that we end up resembling Cain more than is comfortable. Remember his story in Genesis 4:4-7? “And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” 

Cain wasn’t keeping His eyes on the Lord and certainly didn’t seem concerned about living within the light of His gaze. Even after the Lord asked him, “Why has your countenance fallen?” Cain didn’t repent of his wrong attitudes. Living in the light of the Lord’s countenance means answering the question, “Why has your countenance fallen?” and then doing something about it. This requires recognizing what we’re really thinking about any given situation, repenting if necessary, and most certainly, asking the Lord’s help for trust and faith.

The Scriptures talk about a sad countenance in Job 9:27; a proud countenance in Psalm 10:4; and an angry one in Proverbs 25:23. That’s just a sampling of the sins of our hearts that are revealed in some way.  Paul understood this truth when he said in Galatians 5:19 that the “deeds of the flesh are evident.” We might try to hide our sinful thoughts and deeds away in the recesses of our hearts, but like ducks in the water, they always bob back up to the surface. 

Understanding all that made Psalm 89:15 all the more impactful on that day of house hunting, when everything seemed to be unraveling in God’s perfect and sovereign plan. In fact, praying through Psalm 89:15 allowed me to rejoice in the same way as the psalmist in the very next verse, “In Your name they rejoice all the day, and by Your righteousness they are exalted.” Instead of feeling thwarted, I felt protected by the Lord’s new plan for our day.

O Lord, may we live and breathe this prayer, that we would walk in the light of Your countenance (Psalm 89:15) because You are the God who helps our countenance (Psalm 43:5).

The Many Benefits of Biblical Meditation

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” (Joshua 1:8)

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)

“O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97)

“My eyes anticipate the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word.” (Psalm 119:148)

With such Scriptures as the ones above staring us in the face we know biblical meditation must be important. But what was it really? The Bible speaks frequently about meditating on the Scriptures, but phrases like “It is my meditation all the day” can be pretty intimidating. The idea of thinking about something all day long seems impossible. It makes you wonder if regular people can learn to meditate on God’s Word or does that only belong to the realm of great thinkers and spiritual giants?

What does it mean to meditate on the Scriptures?

Biblical meditation involves thinking. Most of us comprehend that much of biblical meditation, but a good understanding of it can remain pretty elusive. For some reason, whenever I think of meditation I get a mental picture of Gollum from “Lord of the Rings” with the ring, his “Precious.” Gollum is definitely not my favorite character, but the way he prizes that ring provides a good illustration of what it means to meditate upon the Scriptures. Gollum gazed at that ring from every angle; no detail about it escaped his notice. Every facet of it was studied and delighted in. That’s biblical meditation. It’s mentally examining some Scripture from every angle so that no part of it is left undiscovered.

Meditation actually reveals how much we value the Scriptures. The simple act of looking at and thinking on God’s Word prizing God’s Word tells us, tells others, and most importantly, tells God, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97)

Meditation, at its most basic level, is simply thinking on a specific verse or section of Scripture, yet it can also include thinking on aspects of God’s character, a specific doctrine, even the works of God. It’s also worth noting that meditation is not studying, though you can meditate upon what you are studying—and it’s wise to do so! Study and memorizing Scripture lead to meditation, yet it’s what meditation leads to that is the real jewel here.

The benefits of meditating on the Scriptures.

Meditating helps us overcome sin and the temptation to sin. Psalm 119:11 plainly says that this is so, “Your Word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” There’s a clear connection between loving God’s Word and overcoming sin. Don’t you think that’s because when we love someone there’s no way we want to grieve or ruin our loved one? Sin hurts our relationship with the Lord and grieves His Holy Spirit—all the more reason to meditate upon God’s Word.

I think Psalm 4:4 gives us a workable plan in combatting sin in our lives, whether it’s one specific sin we’re targeting or sinfulness in general. It says, “Tremble, and do not sin; meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still (Psalm 4:4).” Tremble and do not sin reveals our heart response to sin. This is a holy fear and an abhorrence to sin again, as well as a commitment to not sin further. Then we’re told meditate in your heart upon your bed. We’re told to find a quiet place and think on the Scriptures, on the Lord, on His ways, His character; we’re not to meditate on our sin. We often have this backward and end up obsessing over our sin and never getting to the place of thinking on the Word itself. Then Psalm 4:4 tells us be still. As you pray through the Scriptures and focus your heart on the One who can help you overcome your sin, be still. Trust the Lord to “complete the work He began in you” (Philippians 1:6).

We have the example of godly greats who meditated on the Scriptures. David and Asaph both talk about meditating on the Scriptures (Psalm 27:4; 63:6; 119:15). The Apostle Paul doesn’t specifically use the word “meditate” but he does describe the practice in 1 Timothy 4:15 when he tells Timothy to be “absorbed” in the Scriptures. When he tells us to dwell upon the Word in Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 3:16 he is telling us to meditate on God’s Word. The author of Hebrews tells us to “consider” Jesus in Hebrews 3:1 and 12:3. In both places we’re told to dwell on and think on Jesus’ example. 

It’s a way to show love to the Lord and also increase our love for Him and His Word. Aren’t you always looking for tangible ways to show your love for the Lord? I know I am! I also want to know that the ways I’m showing love to the Lord are actually pleasing to Him, rather than just being pleasing to me. Psalm 19:14 gives us encouragement that our very thoughts can please the Lord. Amazing! “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” God loves it when His children have tender hearts toward Him (Deuteronomy 5:29).

Meditating helps us memorize Scripture. The simple act of meditating on God’s Word helps us memorize it. This is true of everyone—no matter how young or old or how foggy our brain—eventually the things we’re thinking about will stick in our brains. Memorizing veers off from meditating when we begin to review what we’ve committed to memory and then seek to recite the Scriptures faithfully. Meditating isn’t necessarily trying to do that, but meditating and memorizing are certainly kissing cousins, and where one is you’ll soon find the other. 

Meditating helps us pray biblically. If you spend any time at all dwelling on God’s Word, you know that soon you find yourself praying over those very Scriptures. This is absolutely my favorite way to pray. Praying through Bible passages emboldens my prayers, keeps my mind engaged and full of faith. The Lord remains foremost in my thoughts when I’m pleading His Word back to Him. Moving between meditation and prayer naturally invigorates our prayer time.

Meditating helps us grow in our knowledge of the Scriptures and of the Lord Himself. If you’ve ever prayed that you would “know the Lord, the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, desiring to be conformed to His death” as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10, then meditating on the Scriptures is the means to get there. The Scriptures reveal God to us; the Word describes His character and His ways; the Bible retraces His steps and helps us trust Him as we walk toward heaven. The Word moves us past our imaginations or feelings into the realm of truth and fact.

That’s why the author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 3:1-3, “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.” When we consider Jesus, according to this text, we think about His roles of Apostle and High Priest; His faithfulness and the degree that He carried that out, and we consider how worthy He is of glory, and more!

Two easy ways to meditate on the Scriptures

The most natural way to meditate upon the Scriptures comes through memorization. There’s nothing like reviewing a section of scripture over and over again to get you thinking about every aspect of it. The mental slowing down that takes place in memorization is crucial in meditation. Sometimes our poor brains are a bit lazy and not used to thinking, but if you persevere in this, asking the Lord for His help, you will make progress.

Another very easy way for me to meditate on the Scriptures comes when I pray through a specific passage or verse. As I look at portions of the verse and pray through it, my mind is engaged rather than wandering. Praying through the Scriptures is a tremendous way to lift your prayer time out of the mundane. Praying through the prayers of the Bible is a great place to start, but that doesn’t have to be the only place you go in the Bible to pray. Any passage, understood properly in its context, can be the kneeling bench for your prayer time. I particularly love to pray through passages where God’s character is on display. Those passages may lead me to praise and thanks or may prompt me to plead that He would minister to His children according to His character (i.e. His goodness, faithfulness, righteousness). When we pray like this we can say like the psalmist, “I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds (Psalm 77:12).”

“Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; as for me, I shall be glad in the LORD (Psalm 104:34).”



When God Thwarts Your Plans...What then?

God frustrates our plans and nullifies our counsel when our plans don’t match His plans. The counsel of the nations can be nullified, but God’s counsel stands forever. The plans of the peoples can be frustrated, but God’s plans, the plans of His heart, stand from generation to generation.

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Maintaining Newlywed Love for the Lord

There’s something so endearing about newlyweds. When I talk on the phone with our daughter, Leah, our own little newlywed, I’m always delighted to hear about the little things she and Bryant do for each other. It’s especially sweet to hear of their tender responses toward each other when things get a little tougher. 

Somehow my thoughts about newlyweds made their way into my prayer time one morning. I was praying about some different troubles and what concerned me more than anything was my response to them. Was I responding with a sweetness of spirit that is so endearing of a newlywed or was I responding with an old, married, nag type of response to the Lord’s dealings with me? Oh my.

I turned to Revelation 2 and the letter to the church in Ephesus. This dear church had so much going for it. Jesus Himself commends them in verses 2-3 when He says, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.” The Ephesian church was known for its service, for its love for the Lord and His Word, and for its longsuffering in trials. They persevered. They endured. They hadn’t grown weary. 

Yet something happened to them along the way. Their sweet response to the Lord grew a bit thin-lipped, a bit stale, for Jesus said, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love (verse 4).”

You’ve left your first love. What sad, painful words. Some married couples retain the newlywed spirit throughout their marriage. The years come and go yet there is still an eagerness to do what the other wants, to think well of their spouse in spite of the many failures along the way, and to think of ways to bring a smile to their hearts. While for others, there is a change. Within their marriage there is a stubbornness in doing things for their spouse’s sake, more often than not there is complaining—complaining about everything that the spouse does, and though they have persevered in their marriage, they are weary. The bright, hopeful and cheerful responses that characterized those early years somehow changed into a harping, less than sweet kind of response.

The Ephesian church is a case in point that our love for the Lord can fade into a shadow of its former brightness. And it's also true that this sad state can happen to any believer, even the most faithful. The Ephesians started out well, yet they didn’t continue well.

What’s the answer then? Is there hope to rekindle our love for Jesus? Thankfully yes, and Jesus Himself tells us how this can happen. Verse 5 tells us what to do, “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.”

1.     Remember Your Love at the Beginning. Take the time to think about what you were like in that first flush of devotion to Jesus, and more importantly, consider the ways your responses are different now. You may discover that you actually love Him better now and that your responses are more tender, more consistent, and more humble than your early love for Him. Yet, there may be some patterns of habit, rote response, or “just cuz” that have crept in. Assessing your responses to the Lord’s dealings with you will help you take the pulse of your heart’s response.

2.     Confess and Repent. If something’s broken, the way to fixing it includes admitting our wrong responses, any stubborn attitudes or feelings of entitlement, anger, or bitterness. Yet admitting our sin is only part of the solution, the other part means actually turning away from those sinful responses. This can be the tricky part because wrong responses can slip in undetected, so that we're not even aware we're doing them. That's why we need the mirror of God’s Word—to reveal our sin and any danger zones (James 1:21-25; Psalm 19:11-14).

3.     Rekindle Your Love by Doing What You Used to Do. What practical advice Jesus gives here! Basically, this is applying what we remembered in #1—remember how you used to respond and then do that. That seems disarmingly simple, but if we've accumulated some baggage along the way, doing what we did at the beginning can feel like we're slogging through the mud. Yet if there is a problem with our response, then this is the time to persevere in doing what's right—for our love for Jesus isn't what it should be. Our heart response to the Lord’s work in our lives directly reflects the state of our love.

Do what you used to do. What characterizes that fresh love for Jesus and His work in our lives?

Newlywed love for the Lord is characterized by humility. Humility is that meekness or gentleness of spirit that recognizes God’s right to and perfect wisdom in orchestrating our lives. Newlywed love toward the Lord humbly accepts whatever He gives, whether we understand His ways or not. Ephesians 4:1-2 calls us to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and one way manifests itself is in our humility. 1 Peter 5:5 says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” If you’re aware that some stubbornness or pride has crept into your heart, ask the Lord for His help in keeping your heart soft toward Him. This humble spirit is what separated Job’s response to his trials from that of his wife. He was soft toward the Lord while she grew stubborn and hardened toward Him. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I humbly receiving the Lord’s dealings with me?”

Newlywed love for the Lord is characterized by willingness. Willingness can be described as readiness to do whatever the Lord desires. The heart is inclined toward His ways rather than our own. Jesus illustrated that ready spirit for us when He told the parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. The virgins were part of the wedding ceremony as they waited in readiness for the bridegroom to come and claim his bride. As soon as the bridegroom came into view they were to be ready to join the procession, yet there were some among them who hadn’t prepared for his arrival. That ready and willing spirit for whatever the Lord brings our way should characterize our newlywed love for the Lord. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I ready and willing to do whatever the Lord asks whenever He asks it of me?”

Newlywed love for the Lord is characterized by patience. Nothing says love like a patient spirit. We tend to grow more impatient with people when we know them better or feel they owe us something. And that same impatience can creep into our responses toward the Lord and His ways. It’s no wonder that it’s the first description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4. Patient love doesn’t get ruffled. It remains even-tempered no matter what the circumstances. Newlywed love for the Lord remains patient with God’s timing. That kind of love waits well, rather than demanding that things happen on our own timetable. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I patient and cheerful with the way the Lord is working or am I demanding that He fix things according to my agenda?”

Newlywed love for the Lord is characterized by passion. Do you remember the story of Zaccheus, the little tax collector who scrambled up a tree so he could see Jesus in Luke 19:1-10? Zaccheus’ newfound faith was so passionate that he willingly volunteered to recompense 4 times over all those he had previously defrauded and give half of his wealth to the poor. His complete devotion to the Lord and willingness to do whatever was necessary to please the Lord exemplifies newlywed love. That fresh love only sees the Lord’s smile and looks for new and extravagant ways to express it. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I passionate in loving the Lord and willing to give up anything that might get in the way of my devotion to Him?”

Newlywed love for the Lord is humble, willing, patient, and passionate, though that's just the beginning. It's safe to say that there's not one of us who loves the Lord perfectly though it’s the first and foremost commandment of the Law of Christ (Mark 12:30), yet we can be encouraged to consider our responses to Him and ask, “Have I maintained a sweet spirit toward the Lord or has that first love for Him faded?” Then may our voices rise in whole-hearted devotion to the Lord with the words from Elizabeth Prentiss’ hymn, “More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!/Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee./This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee;/More love to Thee, more love to Thee!”


Modesty Is More Than How We Dress

I was eating lunch on a layover in the Denver airport when I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two men traveling together. Their somewhat loud, though innocuous, conversation centered along the lines of business, until a young woman walked past dressed in tights/leggings. One man was completely derailed in his animated business conversation. I heard a sharp intake of breath, and then he said, “We need to thank whoever the guy was who created those tights things the girls wear. Man….", he said with a sigh of appreciation. The other man knew instantly what he was talking about and echoed similar sentiments. It was silent for a few moments while those men ogled that girl as she made her way through the airport.

I looked up from my lunch to try to guess which woman had caught their eye. And there she was, trotting off with her thinly covered behind in grand view for all to see. I confess I also stole a look to see what manner of men were behind me who were having a conversation like that. Their appearance didn’t match up to what I expected to see; they looked like nice, middle-aged, successful businessmen, even somewhat professorish. They looked like men you would trust if you were in trouble.

There were so many parts of their conversation I found insightful—one of the first was that they wanted to thank “the guy” who invented leggings. They were awed by the sheer genius of the man who somehow swayed women of all ages, shapes, and sizes to walk around in public with basically only a color for covering. It was illuminating to see that lust affects men of every station of life, every social stratum, and every age. And it was lust they were engaging in there in the middle of the Denver airport food court. It was also revealing that these men assumed another man came up with the whole tights/leggings fashion trend currently plaguing us. Apparently, they couldn’t imagine a woman’s desire to be looked at and admired, even lusted after, would drive her to design such items of clothing.

Contrast those attitudes and actions of today with what we read in John Chapter 21. There we read the story of how the disciples, under Peter’s leadership, returned to fishing after Jesus’ death. However, they fished all night, yet didn’t catch a thing. A man called to them from the shore and told them to put their nets on the opposite side of the boat and when they did, they caught so many fish they weren’t even able to bring the nets into the boat. John was quick to catch on to what was happening. Verse 7 tells us, “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.” 

Though this story isn’t about modesty, Peter’s response to the Lord certainly carries import for us today. While he was laboring aboard the boat Peter was stripped down to clothing better suited for work than a robe. Yet when he realized it was the Lord Jesus standing there on the shore he didn’t just dive in to the water in his swim clothes, he took the time to put on his tunic and then swam to shore fighting and pulling against the tunic’s weight the whole way toward Jesus.

Why do that? The answer is pretty simple; Peter covered his body appropriately in the Lord’s presence as a sign of respect, to show honor, to maintain modesty. For believer’s who live every moment of every day in the Lord’s presence, Peter’s example should cause us to think for a moment. How can I best honor the Lord today in my speech, in my thoughts, in my relationships, even in how I dress? We can never forget that modesty has its roots in honoring the Lord. That desire to have every part of our lives give the Lord glory is what Paul was getting at in Philippians 1:20 when he said, “For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.” What if we changed “life” to “clothes” at the end of verse 20 so it reads, “And I trust that my clothes will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die?” That mindset gets at the heart of modesty, and it’s what every one of us needs to consider, whether it’s clothes or hair or music or books—will it bring honor to the Lord Jesus?

Modesty is more than how we dress; it’s a character quality that begins in the heart and shows up in our clothes. And I want to say right here that it’s completely possible to wear tights and leggings modestly. I've seen so many girls and women utilize these clothing items well so that they actually were more modest because they used tights or leggings under a skirt or with a long shirt or sweater. A little creativity and a desire to honor the Lord in every area of our lives will help us make wise and thoughtful choices as we dress each day. 


If you're interested in more encouragement on modesty, check out Jack's excellent piece www.drivennails.com!

What Hinders You From Running Well?

Have you ever started the day cheerfully, full of good intentions, and by mid-morning you’re in a puddle, pouring your heart out to the Lord in frustration over your sad turn of events? Have you ever said to yourself, “What happened? I started the day well; I spent time with the Lord; I even got up early to do so, but something went wrong. How did this happen?” Galatians 5:7 reads, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Ahhh, what a question! Taking the time to answer that question will help us the next time we find ourselves wondering, "How did I end up here?"

In leading up to Galatians 5:7 we see that Paul has been addressing a particularly pernicious issue plaguing the Galatian church in which the Judaizers were teaching the new believers that their faith in Christ alone wasn’t enough to be made righteous. Galatians Chapter 5 begins with Paul pleading with the Galatians not to subject themselves to the slavery of the law system again when Christ had already set them free from the Law’s demands of perfection. The Judaizers were saying believers needed to be circumcised and keep the Law to gain righteousness. Paul counters that idea by saying if believers begin to keep parts of the law to gain righteousness, then they are “obligated” to keep the whole Law (Galatians 5:3).

Over and over Paul points out the Christian life can’t be lived according to the old Law system, only through faith in Christ whose righteousness is applied to us. That's why Paul says it's through faith that we are “waiting for the hope of righteousness (Galatians 5:5).” It’s at this point that Paul quizzically asks the Galatians, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth (Galatians 5:7)?”

It probably seemed so logical to them to begin keeping the Law again. God had given the Law, they had come to believe in His Messiah, and now the Law and faith in the Messiah could be joined. Such a little thing, they supposed, in retaining the vestiges of the Law to gain righteousness. Yet the Galatians failed to understand the far-reaching consequences of those “little” choices.

What Hinders You From Running Well?

Now it’s implied in the context of Chapter 5 that the Galatians allowed someone else to hinder their obedience. Isn’t that often the case? We allow others to hinder us from running the race we know we should run. I know it's easy for me to get derailed when I compromise obedience because of someone I love or because I’m afraid of conflict. Sometimes we get off the path because we’re not as knowledgeable about the Scriptures as we should be so we’re easy targets for someone’s misinterpretations of God’s Word. Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy and actually pull ourselves out of the race and hinder our own obedience. It’s worth considering. Who or what has hindered you from obeying the truth found in God’s Word today, this week, the last month, the last year?

God Doesn’t Hinder Us From Running Well

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:8, “This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.” If you’re off somewhere, guess what, that’s not from the Lord. If you find yourself off the path and no longer running in the way you should, you need to know that you didn’t get to where you are because of the Lord. The Lord never leads us into paths of unrighteousness; He leads us in paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:3; James 1:13).

Hindrances Can Have Far-Reaching Effects

There’s an urgency to recognizing we’re off the path sooner rather than later as Paul explains in Galatians 5:9, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” Just a little sin can lead to further ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16-17; Proverbs 19:27; Hebrews 12:15).”

So what do you do if you find yourself in a “You-were-running-well-what-hindered-you” kind of day?

1.     Getting back in the race is far easier than it was getting out of the race. The very first step is to stop, take stock of what’s happening, and cry out to the Lord in confession and repentance (1 John 1:9; Acts 3:19; 26:20; Revelation 2:5).

2.     Recognize that turning away from sin, from wrong thinking, from any kind of defiling influence is crucial if you want to get back in the race. Look at the counsel we’re given from the author of Hebrews, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).” Lay aside every encumbrance; lay aside that sin that entangles so easily, and run. And run. And run.

Paul gives similar counsel in 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Again, cleansing comes when first we confess our sin and trouble to the Lord and in repentance turn away from it, desiring to get back in the race. That’s what Paul means by “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

3.     Come up with a plan for handling hindrances. Maybe it means talking to your roommate who plays Rock music as soon as you get your Bible out for your quiet time. Maybe it means preparing ahead of time to keep your temper in dealing with your kiddos by memorizing Scriptures, leaning on the Lord, getting enough sleep. Consider those things that may be hindering you from obedience, from running well, and then come up with a plan to circumvent their power.

4.     The key to running well is fixing your eyes on the goal—look to Jesus. The author of Hebrews says, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).” Charles Simeon said, “Shall I not run with all my might now that I see the end in view?”

Oh, to get to heaven and to hear Jesus say, “You ran well! Nothing deterred you from the goal (Philippians 3:14). You made it home!”



From Anxious Thoughts to Trusting the Lord

“Lisa, you need to go to the principal’s office,” my fifth grade teacher informed me one day. Oh my! Instantly, the rosy colors of the day turned to gloom and doom. I left the classroom with sweaty palms, a pounding heart, and my mind racing, trying to recall what I might have done to earn the principal’s attention. I felt like I had 4 cotton balls in my mouth as I reviewed the events of the day, the week, even the last month! “What had I done wrong that would make him call me to his office?” I worried and walked slowly, but not too slowly; I didn’t want to get in more trouble.

Smiling timidly I walked into his office. I remember he greeted me with an effort at a joke as he gave me some papers my mother needed. That was it? I wasn’t in trouble? Only then was I able to manage a big, though slightly shaky grin. I wasn’t in trouble! Nothing was wrong! I had only feared receiving bad news, though I couldn’t think of any reason that would warrant it. I have to confess that even now, that fifth-grade response of fear and worry can strike my heart at any time and I still have that sense of dread over the unknown. A natural enough response I suppose, yet not at all what God desires for His children. 

God doesn’t want us to live in fear of bad news or to create trouble in our minds that hasn’t even transpired; that’s why He explains in the Bible how not to fear evil tidings. Psalm 112:7 gives us a picture of what this would look like in our lives, “He will not fear evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” There’s no escaping the connection between not giving in to fear and worry and trusting the Lord. 

But how do we get there? How can we become that person? That person whose heart is not alarmed, even in unexpected circumstances. Psalm 112:1 tells us: “How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments.” Do you see the glimmers of hope and practical help here? The Psalm 112:7 woman is first the Psalm 112:1 woman who fears the Lord and greatly delights in the Word. That combination of holy reverence and love for the Word forges a steadfast heart. Proverbs 1:33 illuminates this truth further, “But he who listens to me (me = wisdom that comes from God) shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil.” A woman who fears the Lord, heeding God’s wisdom, and delighting in God’s Word won’t fear bad news. Why? Because she doesn’t live in the realm of what-if, she fastens her thoughts upon the One who is over all things, over all circumstances, over all events. As she does this she is comforted.

The Psalmist explains this process further when he says in Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” In another psalm he said, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You (Psalm 56:3).” What we see here is the Psalmist actively putting his faith into practice. Though he was afraid, he didn’t wallow in his fear and give into worry’s paralyzing effects, instead he turned to the Lord for deliverance, help, and hope.

Times like these—when we’re tempted to worry and give in to fear and anxiety—are the perfect time to apply Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Using this list of things to dwell on helps us keep our thoughts reined in and on the Lord, so worry and fear are kept at bay. As I apply that list to my thoughts I rarely get past “Is it true?” before my fears dissolve. The positive and practical nature of Philippians 4:8 helps me turn from groundless fears to the solid truths of God’s character and ways. A woman who tests her thoughts under the microscope of Philippians 4:8 will find herself living like Isaiah 26:3-4, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock.” 

 

Jesus’ Compassion for Your Sorrows

Some days you just need to know that Jesus cares. Maybe today is that day for you. If so, I think you’ll be encouraged as we take a look at the compassion and sensitivity Jesus showed when Mary and Martha were grieving over the death of their brother Lazarus. I know this story has frequently bolstered my heart. 

The siblings’ story begins in John chapter 11 when Lazarus grows very sick, so sick that the sisters send word to Jesus about his deteriorating condition. Much to everyone’s surprise, Jesus doesn’t hurry to the village of Bethany to heal Lazarus, instead He stays two days longer in the place where He was. Despite the fact that Jesus doesn’t hurry to Lazarus’ sickbed we know that Jesus loved this family for the text tells us that He did (John 11:5). So whatever the reason was for Jesus not immediately going to heal Lazarus, it wasn’t because Jesus didn’t care about them. In fact, Jesus knew something the rest of the people in this story did not. He explained it to His disciples in John 11:4, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Lazarus’ sickness had a purpose. And that purpose was for God’s glory; Jesus Himself would also gain glory from it.

Could it be that God intends your sorrows and difficulties for His glory?  

By the time Jesus arrived in the village of Bethany Lazarus had been dead for 4 days and his sisters were grieving for their brother. Because we’re privy to the story after-the-fact, we know Jesus delayed coming to Bethany so He could raise Lazarus from the dead, but no one else knew that. All the sisters knew was that their beloved brother had died and their friend Jesus, who was well-able to heal the sick, had not come in time to heal him. And now it was too late; their brother was dead. As Jesus arrives in Bethany, He is first greeted by a grieving Martha and then by a weeping Mary, both women telling Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary and Martha knew Jesus could have saved Lazarus from death—before he died; their faith extended that far, but it never entered their heads that Jesus might do more.

Could it be that God to stretch your faith and broaden your view of Him through your present circumstances? When Jesus washed the disciples feet in John 13:7 Jesus explained His actions to Peter saying, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” So many of the events in our lives end up in this category where we will understand hereafter. God has more in mind for us than we realize.

Verse 33 records, “When Jesus therefore saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her, also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled.” Then in verse 35 it says, “Jesus wept.” Even though God intended to use Lazarus’ death and resurrection for His glory, Jesus was “deeply moved” by the His friends’ grief. He wept for their sorrow. He wept that the best plan for their lives included this deep grief. His love for His friends moved Him to compassion for their sorrow, even though He knew that soon their mourning would be turned to joy, and that the sorrow they were experiencing would be buried by jubilation. Jeremiah found comfort in this aspect of God’s character as well so that he penned these words of solace, “For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness (Lamentations 3:31-32).

Could it be that Jesus desires you to know His comfort and learn of the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10)? “Jesus! What a help in sorrow! While the billows o’er me roll, Even when my heart is breaking, He, my comfort, helps my soul.”

Jesus left us a poignant picture of how to practically minister to the grieving. In following Jesus’ example we will also enter into the joys and sorrows of others and fulfill the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Paul reminded us of this in Romans 12:15 when he said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We enter into their sorrows with them, rather than standing back at a safe distance. There is nothing more endearing in a friend than when they sorrow with us and help bear our burdens. Understanding this makes Jesus’ compassion all the sweeter.

The Scriptures tell us to “consider” Jesus—to think, reflect, meditate on Him. When we do this we find food for our souls, comfort for our hearts, and a guide for the journey. Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus’ compassion extends to every one of His children.

Could it be that God intends your present trials to draw you closer to Him? “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).”

The Encouragement and Power of the Word for Your Prayer Life

Steve Lawson preached a most memorable sermon on 7 qualities of the Word of God at the 2015 Inerrancy Summit. Take the time to listen to his sermon; you will be so encouraged! His sermon outline was basically a quick exposition of the texts below explaining how the Word is described in the Bible. Since then I have been praying through the outline and scripture texts for different situations and people on my prayer list. I have found it faith-building and soul-strengthening to pray through these scriptures as I bring my requests to the Lord. I hope you'll be encouraged too!

As you pray consider the Word and its ability to work on a heart:

  • It is a sword. Hebrews 4:12-13:  12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
  • It is a mirror. James 1:23-24:  23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.
  • It is a seed. 1 Peter 1:23:  23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
  • It is milk. 1 Peter 2:2:  2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
  • It is a lamp. Psalm 119:105:  105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
  • It is a fire. Jeremiah 23:29:  29 “Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?
  • It is a hammer. Jeremiah 23:29:  29 “Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?

The Means God Uses to Instill Hope

The Means God Uses to Instill Hope

The end result of tribulations is hope—emphasis on end result. Often, when we’re gasping for air, trying to wrestle down hope to gain some relief, we create a short bridge in our minds from verse 3 “we exult in our tribulations” to verse 5 and the “hope that doesn’t disappoint.” I think it’s safe to say most in-the-midst-of-trials people are “hope challenged.” It’s why we so quickly make the jump in our minds from “tribulations” to “hope that doesn’t disappoint.” There’s just one problem. We miss the means God uses to grant us that non-disappointing hope.

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He Will Not Reject Forever

O, tried and tempest-tossed one, hear these words, “The Lord will not reject forever.” Think upon the reality of those words. Your present circumstances will not last forever. Even if they last the rest of your days on this earth, they will not last forever. For each believer “forever” holds special import. Forever means life with Jesus. Forever means seeing His dear face. Forever means no more sin, no more sorrow, no more pain. Ah, let us think on forever. Revelation 21:3-4 tells us, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’” Think on the sweetness of this “forever” truth from Revelation 22:3-4, “There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”

“The Lord will not reject forever.” You may feel rejected and abandoned by the Lord, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The Scriptures, upon which we gain our footing, tell us a much better “reality” for the state we now find ourselves in. From Hebrews 13:5 we learn that Jesus Himself said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” Or if you like, listen to Isaiah 49:14-16, “But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” We must learn to line our feelings up with the facts.

Often we feel rejected by the Lord because we forget the love, care, power, and might He infuses into every detail of our lives. We view our circumstances from an earthly perspective, when what we really need is a God-has-eternity-in-view perspective. More often than not, we need to remind ourselves that God is more concerned about our holiness than He is our happiness. He intends to complete His wondrous work in our souls, which most often is accomplished through trials and difficulty and sorrow.

“The Lord will not reject forever.” Hear the certainty of those words. He will not. Our compassionate and loving God absolutely, positively will not reject forever. There will come a day when things will change. Psalm 30:5 reminds us, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” How long we’ll weep we cannot say, but we do know this—one day, one morning, there will be joy! David relied on this truth and comforted himself with this knowledge in Psalm 27:13-14, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage, yes, wait for the Lord.”

Let us counter our discouragement and despair with these words from Lamentations 3:21-25, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.”




Keep Your Courage Up

Acts 27 records Paul’s long-awaited journey by ship to Rome. With winter approaching the centurion in charge wants to press on toward Rome rather than finding harbor safely in port. A ferocious winter storm attacked the ship that Paul, other prisoners, Romans, and sailors traveled in. The storm was so mighty that Luke remarked, “all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned (Acts 27:20).” They all feared for their lives as the storm relentlessly pursued them. Everything that wasn’t tied down, and even some things that were, had been thrown overboard to lighten the ship in the tremendous squall.

Paul being Paul earnestly prayed for the Lord to rescue them in some way. Listen in on his words to all those aboard the ship recorded in Acts 27:22-26, “Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on a certain island.”

I’ve read Acts many times over the years, yet in all the times I’ve read about Paul’s perilous voyage to Rome, which eventually ended in shipwreck on the island of Malta, I’d never really noticed the soul-calming wisdom of verse 25 until recently. What were Paul’s words? “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.”

How I needed those words that morning! How I need them now! Paul and all those aboard the Rome-bound ship grew weary and despairing when the storm failed to abate. There’s something about the relentlessness of a long-term storm that tests us in ways we never knew we needed. The winds have blown for so long that we abandon hope of ever being rescued (Acts 27:20). We find it’s difficult to get out of bed on some mornings. I know about storms like that, which is why Paul’s words in Acts 27:25 ministered to my heart so much. Keep up your courage. Believe God. Everything will turn out just as He intends.

 In times of trouble, keep up your courage. In verse 25 Paul tells the poor storm-tossed inhabitants of the ship, “Keep up your courage.” They needed this soul-cheering word from the apostle! The storm had raged against them for too long; they had long since abandoned hope that they would come out of this alive, especially since the ship was being driven along so mercilessly. Yet, even there the Merciful One was at the helm. Keep up your courage. The Lord knows how often His children need that same encouragement when we find ourselves tossed about by great storms, when our souls are weary and our bodies worn down by the trial, when our store of worldly resources have dwindled down to a pittance, even then He tells us, “Keep up your courage.”

Jesus told the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2).” He told the poor woman with the 12-year hemorrhage, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well (Matthew 9:22).” When the disciples were terrified at seeing Him walk upon water, He told them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50).”

David echoes Paul’s words when he says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:14).” Will you keep your courage up? Will you let your heart take courage? We don’t want courage filled with sawdust that scatters and dissipates as the wind blows; no, we want courage that recovers, that regains its footing no matter how long the storm rages. Jesus understood this, which is why he encouraged His disciples with these words in His final days on earth, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” 

When is it the most difficult to keep up your courage? When everything looks black, when it appears there’s no hope of rescue, when the Lord seems silent—even then we are told to take courage, to keep our courage up, to not be afraid. The only way to do this is by reminding ourselves of God’s character, remembering His power and might, compassion and mercy, patience and faithfulness, and perfect wisdom and sovereignty. Only a sight of the Lord strengthens our hearts when we’re afraid and need courage to face the future. Run to the Scriptures and let your heart take courage.

In times of trouble, believe God. Paul told the men, “Keep up your courage, men, for I believe God!” Paul challenged the men with those words. It was as if he was saying, “I believe God, do you?” Remember, when Paul spoke those words he was still in the midst of the storm. And so we must consider that challenge carefully as well. Will you believe God when everything in your life looks as though God is not in control, that He does not care, and that things will never get better ever again? Will you still believe God even then? Jesus reiterated this truth to His disciples in John 14:1 when He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” Isaiah 12:2 says, “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.” Believing God is trusting God; they are one and the same.

Charles Spurgeon wrote the following about believing God in relation to this passage in Acts 27. It comes with a spank, so be prepared, but it is a spanking we often need. “Thus he treated God as he should be treated, namely, with unquestioning confidence. An upright man likes to be trusted; it would grieve him if he saw that he was regarded with suspicion. Our faithful God is jealous of His honor, and cannot endure that men should treat Him as if He could be false. Unbelief provokes the Lord above any other sin: it touches the apple of his eye, and cuts Him to the quick. Far be it from us to perpetrate so infamous a wrong towards our heavenly Father; let us believe Him up to the hilt, placing no bounds to our hearty reliance upon His word.”[1]

In times of trouble, believe God’s Word. Third, not only does Paul believe God, but he also believes that things will turn out exactly as he has been told. An angel of the Lord came to Paul, strengthening his heart and filling him in on the future in store for the storm-tossed ship. We don’t have the privilege of an angel of the Lord visiting us with a personalized message from the Lord, but we have something better; we have the more sure Word (2 Peter 1:19). In the Scriptures we find every promise God intended us to have from Him for the express purpose of strengthening our hearts in the storms God blows our way.

Abraham put his trust in God’s promises. Look at Romans 4:20-21, “yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” We can trust the promises of God. They may come to pass in our lives in a far different way than we imagined, but the Lord will stand by His Word. We can trust Him—even when our little dinghy appears ready to capsize—our God stands near.

 

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, According to Promise (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1887), 98.

 

When Chocolate Chip Cookies Aren't Enough

chocolatechipcookies.jpg

I had the best roommates while in college at Boise State. Rhonda, Raynette, and I got along famously, agreeing on all the essentials, especially when it came to food. Our motto could have been, “You’re never too poor for chocolate chip cookies.” We adhered religiously to that philosophy even when our cupboards contained little else. Because our apartment was the social hub for all our friends, we vigilantly maintained our emphasis upon chocolate chip cookies, for their sake, of course.

When we became acquainted with Jack (my hubby) he was soon included in our social shindigs. Now you need to understand that my husband’s philosophy, especially then as a young man, was “You never skimp on food.” Imagine his horror when he peered into our lonely freezer and saw only a bag of frozen broccoli and a small serving of frozen turkey waiting to be turned into something amazing, while in the fridge a small jug of powdered milk drink ominously waited for the brave or unsuspecting. We didn’t quite understand his horror at our barren fridge. We felt rich—we had chocolate chips in the cupboard!

That’s why it wasn’t long before before my man of action formed a plan to bless us. He, along with a few other guy friends, bought a couple carts full of groceries for us. We had no knowledge of this generous plan until Raynette answered the door one Saturday morning to three guys grinning from ear to ear, holding bags of groceries. She later told Rhonda and me that they just kept coming in to our apartment with treasure upon treasure of meat and vegetables and baking supplies and toilet paper and juice and cheese and more! They even had the temerity to buy some “girl” supplies for us!

That event came to mind as I read these words in Isaiah 55:1-2: “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance.”

When you don’t have much money for food, the idea of “buying” what you need without spending a dime seems a bit far-fetched, the stuff of dreams. Yet our Jehovah-Jireh God (The God Who Provides—Genesis 22:14) has more in mind than mere food for our bodies. In this section of Isaiah God is speaking to His people, Israel, wooing them with words of love and forgiveness, trying to get them to consider what has true sustaining value and what does not. Though we are not Israel, the questions God poses to them, can be posed to us as well.

Why do you spend money for what is not bread? Why do you use your wages for what does not satisfy?

Indeed. Why would you spend your only grocery money on chocolate chips when you need something more nourishing, filling, and ultimately, much more satisfying? Jack has said, “He is the best preacher (or writer or speaker or communicator) who can turn an ear into an eye.” And that of course is exactly what the Lord is doing as He uses picturesque language to reach our hearts. We can rationalize about our choices—“Oh but chocolate chip cookies really are satisfying!” yet at the end of a day feasting on chocolate chip cookies alone we feel empty and sick inside. God wants us to understand that settling for "chocolate chip cookies" to nourish our hungry souls is a poor food choice at best and folly at its worst. 

Jesus was getting to the same core issue with the woman at the well in John 4 when He asked her to get Him some water to drink and then turned to conversation to the living water that would satisfy her thirsty soul. He explained, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).”

What well are you drinking from to replenish your thirsty soul? Why are you willing to settle for something that won’t truly satisfy you, even when you know better?

God has always wanted us to understand that He alone can truly refresh and satisfy our souls. He tells us in Psalm 107:9, “He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.” The words of Isaiah 55:1-2 make us pause and consider the true state of our souls. Often we realize, “My, I am thirsty! I think I’ve been putting my trust in my husband’s job to find security" or "I've been looking to the smiles of my friends over and above the pleasing the Lord.” Thankfully, the Lord explains what to do when we discover we've been trying to slake our soul-thirst with mere water. And I think it's worth saying that this can happen to anyone at any time, all the more reason for heeding the words of Isaiah 55:1-2.

First, God tells us, “Listen carefully to Me” from Isaiah 55:2. If we want to assuage our heart's thirst then we need to go to the Scriptures for it’s there that we hear God’s voice speaking to us. His "listen to Me" is found there. Not only are we to listen, but we’re to listen carefully. God wants to make sure we get every Word, every nuance He has communicated to us through His Word. Got your listening ears on?

Next, the Lord tells us to “eat what is good (verse 2).” Nutritious, healthy food nourishes our bodies, while the Lord Himself sustains, refreshes, revives our souls. It's the same truths Jesus explains when He says our lives are more than food and clothing (Luke 12:23) for “man shall not live on bread alone (Luke 4:4).” Food for our souls begins with seeking the Lord for the nourishment that only He can give. All the more reason for Jesus telling us to seek His kingdom first, above all else (Matthew 6:33). What food choices are you making for your soul? Are you making sure to feed your heart "what is good?"

Finally, God says “delight yourselves in abundance.” Moses understood this when he prayed, “O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days (Psalm 90:14).” The psalmist David proclaimed, “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips (Psalm 63:5).” He understood what God is saying in Isaiah 55:2—when we delight ourselves in the Lord our souls are filled up with Him; we delight in the abundance of the Eternal and Living God who loves us so tenderly. That’s why David was able to proclaim, “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake (Psalm 17:15).” After you've listened to God in His Word and eaten the food that's good for your soul, are you taking time to delight in it? Are you meditating on those life-nourishing truths and drinking from their depths over and over again?

From Lisa to Elisabeth--34 Years of Grace

This week marks my 34th year walking with the Lord. I can’t remember the exact date though I know it was sometime in the middle of January 1981 when the Lord completed the work He started in my heart so many years previously.

I think I was about 9 or 10 when I started thinking about God and what it meant to follow Him. This is pretty amazing since I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. We were the family who showed up to the Episcopal Church on Christmas and Easter every year, yet even that miniscule exposure to the things of God formed a foundation of belief in my young heart. Somehow I picked up that God was the Creator of all things, that He was Jesus’ Father, and that He and Jesus and the Holy Spirit were One. I knew that Jesus was God and that He came to earth to die for sin and somehow my sin was mixed in there too. I knew there was a heaven—and a hell. I knew there were people who knew God in a real and life-changing way and that I wasn’t one of them. I also figured that someday, when I was old—like 30, I would follow Him.

That’s a lot of thinking for a little girl, but there’s more. I was…am a dictionary reader. They are splendid things and we had a marvelously fat one when I was little. It was huge, probably 5 or 6 inches thick, and contained all sorts of extra tidbits of knowledge, but the part I liked best was the section on names and their meanings. Eagerly I looked up “Lisa” and discovered my name was taken from “Elisabeth” meaning “consecrated to God.” Well, I had to look that one up and discovered that “consecrated” meant “dedicated or set aside for God.” I hoped that one day my life would belong to God and I would truly become “Elisabeth.”

Looking back I marvel at the receptiveness of my little girl heart to the things of the Lord, and the depth of understanding I had in spite of my spiritual blindness. Today I know that any spiritual desire on our part is placed there by the Lord for no one seeks God on their own (Romans 3:11), but at the time I was somewhat bewildered by my phases of seeking after the Lord and then “falling away,” as I saw it. No matter how fervently I prayed I didn’t feel any closer to the Lord, nor was there any permanent change in my life. I had no Christian friends and no one teaching me about God, yet I had a deep and abiding conviction that a true Christian’s life would be markedly different than the one I was experiencing—surely there was more to it than this! My elementary school years through the end of high school were punctuated by periods of drawing near to God and then falling away. I grew progressively more frustrated with God and slowly, consciously began to harden my heart against Him. I even asked the Lord to quit making me feel guilty when I sinned. He answered that foolish, wicked prayer so that I could sin without my conscience bothering me. Little did I understand the danger of my soul!

As you can imagine, my rebellion against the Lord didn’t make me a kinder, sweeter person and I entered my first semester of college at Boise State University unhappy and discouraged. One evening in early December 1980, as I drove home after work, my thoughts were centered upon my current boyfriend and how to break up with him so I could pursue another young man. Suddenly, it was as if I saw my thoughts for the wicked ones they were and it shocked me so much that I proclaimed out loud to myself, “You’re going to ruin your life. You need the Lord.”  

The weeks of December and early January were marked by reading the only Bible we had in the house and me trying to clean up my life so God would accept me for real this time. I viewed all those years of drawing near to God and then falling away as a failure on my part, and desired to show God how much I wanted to follow Him. Desperation fueled my prayers as I begged Him to really and truly save me. I couldn’t bear the thought of staying the same and returning to that old life—a life without Him. I had no Christian friends; no one shared the gospel with me; my biblical understanding was miniscule, yet that didn’t impede the Lord. He was drawing me to Himself in His way and in His perfect timing.

I had no idea how to be saved and thought I needed to go through certain steps in order to “seal the deal.” I was also afraid of going back to a life without God, without being changed so I set a due date for my salvation. It seemed to make it more real and serious that way. Daily I prayed things like, “Lord, I’m coming to You. I don’t know how to be saved. You’ve got to do it. Get ready, Lord, because I’m going to be yours in just two more weeks. Please don’t let me stay the same.” The week before my salvation due date, I just couldn’t wait anymore, so I went forward during an altar call at the church I found to attend. It was time to see if my life would be different.

So I went forward and prayed and hoped and waited to see if anything changed. For a few days I alternated between despair and hope that God had heard my prayer and had accepted me as His child. On Tuesday or Wednesday of that week I was reading in Philippians when I realized the words seemed different. It was like the Bible was alive and speaking directly to my heart. That was the moment I knew God had heard my pleas for salvation and change. How I rejoiced then because I knew my life would never be the same.

Only then did I remember two people I had briefly met months before who attended a Bible study, so I went and visited them separately to tell them that I had just become a Christian. They welcomed me into a whole new world of Christian fellowship and began to help me grow in my baby faith. They told me to read my Bible, so read it I did. During the three months of summer I read the Bible 3 times through and then I began to read each book of the Bible 30 times. Slowly, my shreds of Bible knowledge grew into a steadfast and firm faith. 

I love my story. I love it that the Lord used His Word to save me. He didn’t send someone to talk with me. I had never even seen a gospel tract. It was just the Word drawing me to Himself as I read a banner with John 8:32 on the church wall, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” And later, it was still the Word when I pondered what it meant to be a Christian in Matthew 10:37-39, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

Later when I read what Moses told the children of Israel about God’s Word in Deuteronomy 32:47 my heart understood, “For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life.” The Word of God not only gives life, it is our life. It’s for this reason that I’m so passionate about studying the Scriptures. It’s not something we just do. It’s our very life breath that keeps us spiritually healthy and strong; it softens our wayward spirit and leads us back to the place of peace and safety; it reveals our Savior to us and prepares our hearts for heaven. Psalm 119:103 proclaims and my heart echoes, “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

I hope some part of my story encourages you today. If you realize your life has never really changed, that you’ve never placed your hope in Jesus alone for salvation, and you realize the Scriptures seem dead and wooden to you, then let today be the beginning of change for you. You can have your own story if you’re willing to call upon the Lord, confess your sin, independence, and hatred of His ways, and beg Him to save you and transform you. The prophet Isaiah tells us how to do this in Isaiah 55:6-7: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

Psalm 119:175 Let my soul live that it may praise You, and let Your ordinances help me. 

 

The Lord Has Not Forsaken You

Psalm 9:10 is highlighted and underlined in my Bible, evidence of other times this verse has ministered to my heart. It says, “And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” As I review this verse I’m struck by the ways believers respond to the Lord. For some reason at this point, I hear English actress Maggie Smith’s voice matter-of-factly stating the obvious, “That’s just what people do, you know.” And so it is, Maggie. Christians put their trust in the Lord. That’s just what we do.

And yet, before doing there is knowing. The text says, “Those who know Your name.” This doesn’t mean they know about God. It means they know Him in a real way. The kind of knowing that comes from testing something and finding it to be completely trustworthy. And when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, trusting in His righteousness to cover the debt of our sin, then the adventure of knowing God begins. It starts as we read about Him in the Bible, talk to Him about it in prayer, and then test it out in our life. So that it is a truism that “those who know God’s name put their trust in Him.”

Believers trust God. It’s just what we do, you know. We trust God because we know and have experienced what David already revealed in verse 9, “The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, A stronghold in times of trouble.” He is our refuge, a place of safety. Psalm 9:10 reminds us, "You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You." The One who is our refuge will never leave us when the going gets hard or we grow fractious and fretful. We can take refuge in the promise that those who seek Him find Him because He never leaves us. We will never deal with abandonment issues when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. David reinforces that truth with these words in verse 12, “He does not forget the cry of the afflicted.”

Not forsaken. Not forgotten. Not abandoned. Not left alone.

Welcomed. Remembered. Loved. Comforted. Safe.

It’s the way of things—to trust God because He is so very faithful and loving and kind. Such an obvious truth, and yet there’s a reason that verse has been underlined and highlighted and prayed through and cried over in my Bible. Sometimes it’s just plain hard to trust the Lord—even when we know Him, really know Him; even when we have trusted Him in the past; even when we believe His Word and His promises. Even then, there are times when every believer comes face to face with these truths and cries out like the desperate father in Mark 9:24, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”  

Maybe right now you are looking at Psalm 9:10 desiring to trust the Lord, yet Unbelief hasn’t blinked. You’re feeling woefully deficient and insufficient. And you wonder, “Is there any way I can really live out Psalm 9:10?” Absolutely! My friend, Kris Goertzen, has a sweet way of responding to me when I’ve asked her if she could help me. Her response? “For you—the world!” Do you realize that’s God’s response to His children?

Lord, I need you.

You will find me. I’m here.

Lord, I’m scared.

Trust Me. I am THE place of safety.

Lord? Do you see me? Do you know what’s happening in my life? Will you help me?

For you, child, the world! I gave you My Beloved Son, so you would know me. I will never leave you, not now, not ever.  

Those who know the Lord trust Him because the Lord never forsakes His children. That's why trusting Him is just what we do, because we know that the Lord always helps His children. He has helped us in the past. He will help us in the future. He is helping us today. 2 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” 

Recommended Books for Boys

One of the sweetest scenes for a parent is to see their children curled up in the corner of the couch reading, oblivious to the what's happening around them because they are caught up in another world. Our kids have all carried that love into adulthood and enjoy talking books with parents and children who are looking for more reading material. Our son Nate used to look "for really fat books so the story wouldn't end so soon." If you have a child like that you understand the challenge of finding enough good books to satisfy their voracious reading appetite. Our son Mark has compiled a list of recommended reading that other boys and growing young men might enjoy. Take a moment to read his comments below before whizzing through the list. I need to ask our son Nate for his list since his reading interests were different than Mark's and would provide more books to try. Mark and I hope this list will help those parents who are trying to keep their sons in good books. 

I've also included a PDF version if you'd like a hard copy of Mark's recommendations. 

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Books for Burgeoning Boys by Mark Hughes

          If you had asked me at the age of six to go read a book, my response then would have been drastically different than it would be today. What changed? The books I read. For me, it wasn’t that I didn’t like reading; it was that I didn’t like what I was reading. Finding the niche for each child is difficult at times, especially for squirrelly boys with overactive imaginations.

         By trial and error I found my way, with the help of persistent parents. I found I loved reading about fantastical realms, filled with the impossible. Those fantastical realms normally occupied my mind, so naturally I enjoyed reading about them in books. Finding the right books to read can be trying at times which is why I have compiled a list of books to recommend. The books I’ve listed below are ones I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. The list includes titles for quite young readers, as well as others more mature in content and difficulty.

         From time to time I am asked to recommend a list of books to some one. I am always excited to do so, but also carry out the task with trepidation. I do so because each parent and child brings specific needs and wants to the table. Is a book too mature in content for my child? Is it too worldly? Does it contain things that our family doesn’t want our child to read? I can’t answer these questions for you. What I can do is give you this list of books I enjoyed and then leave the keys in your hands. I have included links to several websites where content reviews of many books can be found. This is helpful even when reading “Christian” books. Please peruse as you feel necessary.

         http://www.compassbookratings.com

         http://www.factsonfiction.org

         http://novelbookratings.com

         Also I have included general age indicators in my recommendations, but these aren’t law; many children are well beyond the average reading level and able to handle more mature material. You know your child's needs best.

         I still find pleasure in some of the earliest books I read, but continually search for new material. I am not a fast or prolific reader, rather I seek for what is engaging. Where there is interest there is industry. May God bless you in your search for enjoyable, challenging and encouraging literature!

 

Happy reading!

Mark Hughes

 

Alcorn, Randy - Deadline, Dominion and Deception

       A series of three loosely related stories. The books deal with serious adult themes, but with a Christian perspective. They revolve around murder mysteries. The first in the series was my favorite. High school on up.

         Safely Home

       An extremely moving and influential book, it is a fictionalized account of the persecuted church in China. The book deals with serious themes, but is an excellent read. High school on up.

Alexander, Lloyd - The Chronicles of Prydain: The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, The High King

       An entertaining series that doesn’t have a high difficulty level. I enjoyed these I think in late elementary or junior high.

Card, Orson Scott - Ender’s Game

       A very well written coming of age sci-fi, packed with weighty themes. It does have quite a lot of profanity, but a riveting read. High school on up.

Christie, Agatha - Miss Marple Mysteries

       Fun English mysteries, that are easy to digest. Centered around the spinster Miss Marple, they are good every time. Junior high on up. A great place to start is The Thirteen Problems, a collection of short mysteries, or 4:50 From Paddington.

Doyle, Arthur Conan - The Complete Sherlock Holmes

       Need I say more? It is, to my memory, a clean, engaging set of stories, comprising several short novels along with many short mysteries. Late junior high or high school.

Dumas, Alexandre - The Count of Monte Cristo

       One of my first forays into less fantastical fiction during high school, a wonderful long read, entertaining and with a very satisfying ending. Make sure to get the unabridged version! High school on up.

Graham, L. B. - The Binding of the Blade Series: Beyond the Summerland, Bringer of Storms, Shadow in the Deep, Father of Dragons, All My Holy Mountain

       A great series, full of complexity following in Tolkien’s tradition. The author is a Christian so there isn’t any questionable content. There are great theological themes in play throughout the series. The first book is slow but the series becomes enthralling later, persevere! Junior high or high school.        

Lewis, C. S. - The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, The Last Battle

       Classics that really everyone should read. Elementary on up.

Osbourne, Mary Pope - Favorite Greek Classics

       Excellent retelling of many of the Greek myths. I loved this book in elementary school and junior high.

         Magic Tree House Series

       A great series for early elementary school kids, one of the series that got me reading!

Paolini, Christopher - The Inheritance Cycle: Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, Inheritance

       One of my favorite series growing up, Paolini follows Tolkien in complexity, yet his books are more accessible to the younger reader. The prologue of Eragon was a one of a kind experience for me in literature; I never before had felt such excitement and fear from a book! Junior high or high school age.

Paul, Donita K. - The DragonKeeper Chronicles: DragonSpell, DragonQuest, DragonKnight, DragonFire, DragonLight

       This entertaining series is a fun read, written by a Christian author. It follows the growth of a young wizard, Kale and her many adventures. All fairly easy reads, late elementary on up.

Platt, Richard - Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess, Page

       Growing up, few books caused me more delight in reading than this, I bought an edition for pure enjoyment years later. It chronicles, with pictures, the life of a young boy training as a page. Filled with hilarious moments and witty drawings. I recommend you buy the full color 1999 edition if possible; later editions come in black and white. There are a few things which may be of questionable character. Elementary on up.

Rowling, J. K. - Harry Potter: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

       An extremely well written series, that follows Harry Potter throughout out his teenage years. Books one to three are more light hearted, starting with book four the series grows darker and more serious as the stakes are raised. Over all a highly entertaining series. There are some more adult themes that emerge in around book three or four. Elementary on up.

Scott, Michael - The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel: The Alchemyst, The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer, The Warlock, The Enchantress

       A great fast paced book series that centers around a brother and sister, Josh and Sophie. They are cast into a dramatic world where all mythological figures are fair game. A great read, maybe for junior high or high school age.

Stewart, Sean - Yoda: Dark Rendezvous

       I had not read a Star Wars extended universe book before, but thoroughly enjoyed this book, as Master Yoda, one of my favorite characters, played a central part. It is a well-written, fast paced adventure. Junior high or high school age.

Tolkien, J. R. R. - The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King

       All classics of literature, the Hobbit is the most accessible of all the books, so I would recommend that first. The Lord of the Rings, is more literary, but still well worth reading through. The Silmarillion was published after Tolkien’s death, but contains the mythology of Middle-Earth. If all these books have been consumed, there are quite a few other posthumous publications about Middle-Earth as well. Late elementary on up.