‘Tis a Mystery Indeed

(2 Peter 3: 8-10, NLT)  8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. 9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief.

I heard a lot of “hell, fire, and brimstone” preaching when I was growing up.  If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically a lot of hollering and spitting about God’s anger and wrath toward the sinner — about how we are running out of time and living on the edge, knocking on the gates of hell.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I have heard some wonderful sermons on sin and repentance in my life, and it is important to understand the repercussions of sin and how God feels about it.  Hell is real.  God does hate sin.  But even more than God hates sin, He loves us — and He is patient and kind for the sake of the world — for us.  It is His desire for all to be welcomed into His heavenly presence on that day when we will all face Him.  Why does God get so angry about sin?  Because of His great love for us.  He desires our love and adoration.  He longs to be in communion with us, and that sin is a wedge that we continually drive between Him and us.  No wonder He gets angry!  That must be so frustrating…

Yet His patience never ends.  He doesn’t give up on us.  He doesn’t turn His back to us or shut down.  We don’t get the cold shoulder.  No.  He patiently, and lovingly, waits.  He extends to us the courtesy of choice — even though we don’t deserve it.  He looks on us through eyes of compassion and His spirit continually reaches out to our hearts in every way — through the love and kindness of others, through healing and grace, through provision and blessing, and even through divine encounters with His own Holy Spirit.  He is constantly seeking us out — drawing us to Him.  And we are the prodigals.  All of us.  We come dragging down the road in our tattered garments — our filthy rags — and He welcomes us like royalty.  When we are weak and wallowing in sin, He waits with clean garments of praise and the oil of gladness, ready to cleanse and clothe us as His sons and daughters — making us joint heirs with Jesus. 

But know this, and never forget, that even in all of His patience and graciousness, there will come a day when God will have to judge us according to our choices.  It is an appointed day, and it’s timing is a mystery to all.  Do not mistake God’s kindness for weakness.  His judgement will not waver or change.  Yes, He is patient…but time is ticking. 

For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.  (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

This is why it is so important not to take advantage of God’s patience.  We don’t know that appointed hour when He is coming back for us.  Therefore, we must be ready…

So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.  (Matthew 25:13)

And really, that is all He wants from us — for us to keep our hearts pure, and for us to willingly remove that wedge of sin that has been driven between Him and us.  He wants us to choose the eternal life that He sacrificed so greatly to give to us.  It’s life or death, friends.  What do you choose today?

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, simply put…I don’t want to be caught unaware.  Help me to never take advantage of Your patience and grace, but to instead be vigilant with my choices.  I choose You, God, today and every day.  I want to live for You, having full confidence that when the day of judgement does come, I have nothing to fear.  Amen.

God of All the Chances

2 Chronicles 33:1-7, 10-13-  “Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before… he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had broken down, and he erected altars to the Baals… worshipped… and served them. … He used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger. And the carved image of the idol that he had made, he set in the house of God… … … The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. … When he (Manasseh) was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to Him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem unto his kingdom…”

We live in a world where second chances are few and thirds are non-existent. People don’t take well to being lied to, talked about, cheated on, or betrayed in any form or fashion. We don’t like feeling hurt or disrespected. We can’t stand treatment that leads to thoughts of unappreciation or our unimportance.

And, I’d say 80% of the time someone forgives a person who has wronged them, the relationship is never fully restored. There’s always a fear, lack of trust, or hurt that won’t ever completely go away. Human hearts are fragile/selfish things.

But look at the heart of God shown in this account of Manasseh. He rejected God. He ignored Him, betrayed Him, and mocked Him by setting up idols in His house. Years went by with him living and behaving in such ways – and not only that – he was leading a whole nation to live in this same manner. After all the goodness the Lord had shown his nation, his family… Wow. Could you imagine the pain we would feel if someone treated us in such a way? Can you picture the anger you would battle? Blood pressure rising, face flushing, nerves racing? It wouldn’t be something we could just sweep under the rug.

Then the day comes when the king of Assyria captured Manasseh and bound him with chains in a foreign city. In his distress, he knew Who he had to call on. He humbled himself and prayed to the God of his fathers. He didn’t just ask the Lord for forgiveness… but for some favor! Wouldn’t this be the moment we would want to say, “I told you so!” or “Serves you right!”? Of course it would. But, God is much more loving and faithful than we are. He wasn’t angered by this cry for help. He was moved by it!

God didn’t just offer His forgiveness to Manasseh. He didn’t just set him free and tell him to fend for himself. No. He completely restored Manasseh’s life. He took him back to Jerusalem, set him on his throne, and continued to bless him and his nation. No guilt held over his head… no shame, no “payback,” and no less love and mercy.

Understanding how difficult it is to let someone “get away with” something, my humblest gratitude goes to my God. He is the only One who has in every way been faithful and compassionate to me and yet deals with my shortcomings on a regular basis without any loss of love or favor towards me. Do you know any other love like that? What a Savior! The only perfect being extending the only unconditional mercy ever known… Irony? Nope. Just genuine love.

We struggle to give a second chance. Most entirely refuse a third. By the fourth, we’ve all written the wrongdoer out of our lives for good. But, here’s God… ever moved by our need and dependence on Him…  We serve a God of ALL the chances!

Prayer: God, thank You for Your unconditional love and kindness. Your mercies are new every morning and Your favor never leaves me. Keep me from falling, Lord, but in those times I do, help me remember You are there to help me back up. I love You. Amen.

Hello, My Name is Mephibosheth!

(2 Samuel 9:1-8 ESV) 1 And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” 2 Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David. And the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “I am your servant.” 3 And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” 4 The king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” 5 Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. 6 And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” 7 And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.” 8 And he paid homage and said, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

This story is one that speaks to God’s great compassion and mercy to mankind. David, who was king of Israel, decided to show kindness to the remaining members of Saul’s household. Upon inquiring if there were any remaining family members, Mephibosheth’s name was presented to him. Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, Saul’s grandson, and was lame in both of his feet. David blessed Mephibosheth by restoring the land that had once belonged to his grandfather Saul, and taking him into the royal palace to enjoy the privilege of eating at David’s table. It is a beautiful picture of the unmerited favor of God.

There are several things to consider. First, David chose to be merciful in spite of Saul’s hatred for him. Saul had done everything in his power to destroy David. He allowed his hatred to control his attitude and actions toward David. Every waking moment Saul was consumed with the destruction of David. I’m grateful that God chose to be merciful to me! I’ve not always walked faithfully with the Lord. There was a time when my daily routine was all about being rebellious against Him. In spite of that, He loved me in a real and tangible way.

Second, from the natural point of view, Mephibosheth wasn’t the best candidate for blessing. Being crippled, he could never effectively serve David or repay the kindness given him. Even the fruit from the restored land would have to be worked by servants. Mephibosheth realized his limitations when he responded, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” The only thing he could give was his sincere appreciation. So Mephibosheth, “came to David and fell on his face and paid homage.” Likewise, we must realize that God’s mercy is given freely, not because of anything (other than worship) we can bring to Him.

Lastly, we discover that mercy is distributed consistently. David never revoked Mephibosheth’s claim to his favor. Verse 13 tells us, “So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table.” Mephibosheth was an unworthy candidate and he had nothing of material value to bring to David. He simply responded the only way he could; he freely received the favor, and he graciously returned gratitude.

Through this historical account we see that God loves us with an everlasting love. We don’t deserve it and we certainly cannot provide anything that will increase God’s holdings. He only desires one thing–gratitude. I can do that!

PRAYER: Father, Your mercy is precious to me. My heart is full of gratitude when I think of all You have provided me. Thank You!

Just Ask

“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” — Hebrews 4:14-16

In American culture, we idolize self-sufficiency. We love to hear stories about the self-made man, the strong, independent woman, or the high plains drifter that arrives in town, saves the day and rides into the sunset unburdened by attachments. We like rags-to-riches stories and stories of people who achieve their dreams with nothing but sweat and determination. We value freedoms, liberties, and the ability to pursue individual happiness in whatever form that takes. These ideals and values are beneficial in that they have enabled our society to push itself, to create and dream without limitations. However, there is an element of self-deception hidden within them.

The reality is that self-sufficiency is an illusion. We are all interconnected, interdependent, needy people! Whether we like to admit it or not, there are situations that we simply cannot handle alone. Many times we allow our pride to keep us from turning to God for help. Other times, we feel as though we are unworthy to receive the assistance we need. There are many times in my own life when I struggled to work through a situation on my own when all it would have taken is a simple request for assistance and the problem could have been easily handled. That’s one of the reasons that I love the passage referenced above.

In the Jewish faith, the High Priest was the only one that was allowed to approach God and he served as an intermediary for the people. Now that Christ has come, we no longer need a human intermediary because Jesus, the Son of God, is our advocate before the Father. Due to His time here on earth, Scripture tells us that He understands our weaknesses. He’s been there and done that. It’s the difference between sympathy and empathy.

Sympathy is “acknowledging another person’s emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance,” but empathy is “understanding what others are feeling because you have experienced it yourself or can put yourself in their shoes.” So when we cry out to God, He doesn’t just know how you feel in an intellectual, detached manner. He has experienced the depth of raw emotion and hurt that we sometimes feel, and because He is God, He always knows just what we need to overcome our circumstance!

When I was a young child, my favorite movie was the Wizard of Oz. The bright colors, silly characters, goofy songs and terrifying flying monkeys were just mesmerizing to me. (I still catch myself whistling/singing “If I only had a brain…” under my breath. Haha!) But my favorite part was when they finally made their way to Emerald City and were granted an audience with the Wizard. I loved how the Wizard had just what each of the characters needed to complete their development into the person they were supposed to be: courage, a heart, a brain, or just a way to return home. The Wizard was the man with all the answers and all companions had to do was ask.

Friends, the same is true for you and I. We can walk boldly into the throne room of God and expect to find what we need there. Mercy, Grace, Provision, Forgiveness, Wisdom, Healing. It’s all freely offered to us by a loving Father and all we have to do is ask.  The answer you receive may not look like you expected, but you will find the help you need when you need it most.

Prayer:  Almighty Father, we boldly come to You today to present our needs.  Some of us are doing okay, and just need enough grace to live in a way that is pleasing to You.  But for others, we are turning to You in an hour of desperation.  We look to You for help, because You are Sovereign over every person and every situation, and Your promises have never failed.  We need Your mercy, Your forgiveness, Your strength to continue and we ask it in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Secret Sin

(Psalm 90:8 ESV) 8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

I struggle everyday with the temptation to sin. Even though I’m a follower of Christ, washed by His blood, forgiven through His grace–I still find myself engaged in a battle against the enemy of my soul.

Some days my sinful actions and attitudes are obvious to everyone. My shortcomings are evident to my family, friends, work associates, and the general public. Though I try my best to avoid doing so, I frequently find myself saying with Paul, “The things I would do, I do not; the things I would not, I do.” He goes on to say, (Romans 7:18-20, 24-25 ESV) 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. … 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Other days, my sin is less evident. I think I’ve hidden the evil desires and inappropriate attitudes I deal with. And, to some degree, I succeed because no one knows what I’m thinking except me. Well, and God… That’s the point of Psalm 90:8. God has examined our iniquities closely. He has set them before His eyes. He has put His light upon my secret sins so they may be revealed. And covered!

I used to be so afraid of God finding me out. I was certain that if He knew everything I had done He could never forgive me, much less love me. But, that is why grace is so amazing! God examines our sin and issues new mercy EVERYDAY! I’m so thankful that He loves me in spite of my imperfection.

PRAYER: (Romans 8:35-39 ESV) 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Mercy and Sacrifice

(Matthew 9:10-13 ESV) And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Have you ever been criticized for having non-Christian friends? Have you ever wondered whether or not you should “hang” with people that do not share your passion for Christianity? That is exactly the picture that is painted in this passage of Scripture. Jesus had gone to Matthew’s house and was reclining at the dinner table as was the custom of the day. It caused quite a stir among the religious elite who questioned whether or not He should be associating with tax-collectors and sinners. It should be noted that the tax-collectors and sinners were pursuing Jesus trying to discover the truth that He was declaring.

Jesus response was three-fold. First, He did not discount the condition of those with whom he was dining. He categorized them as being “sick” and in need of a physician. He was not putting them down. Rather, He was trying to raise them up.

Secondly, He realized that the religious zealots were lacking adequate knowledge of what Jesus was trying to accomplish. Jesus was not “hanging” with them in the sense that he wanted to be buddies with them. He was there so they could experience life-changing mercy.

Jesus wanted these religious legalists to understand that mercy was more valuable in this environment than outward sacrifices. “Sacrifices” were offerings made to God on account of sin, or as an expression of thanksgiving. In this instance, mercy means benevolence or kindness toward others. Jesus was saying, “I prefer mercy to sacrifice;” or, “I am more pleased with acts of benevolence and kindness than with a mere external compliance with the duties of religion.”

Finally, Jesus was not suggesting that He had no interest in the already righteous. He loved them very much and wanted them to obtain the spiritual revelation that would allow them to see this situation through His eyes. The message that He was trying to convey was that in this environment, when interacting with those outside of the faith, the priority was to help the sick people get well.

Listen, if we as Christians do not interact with unbelievers in a positive way, they may never be exposed to the victory that could be theirs. Just a word of caution. Be strong enough to maintain your integrity at all times. Jesus was never in danger of compromising His character. It was His faithfulness to a life of righteousness that attracted so many that He interacted with. You have that same power abiding in you!

PRAYER: Father, my purpose in life is to represent you to a dark world in a positive light. Fortunately, I have your spirit living in me, which enables me to be successful in this endeavor. Let my light shine so that others may see it and be attracted to You. Amen.

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