The Shaking

At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.  Hebrews 12:26

It was an earthquake.  The whole mountain, Mt. Sinai, trembled violently when God descended upon it.  The law was given, God spoke, and His power proved that He had ultimate authority.  To have stood at the base of that mountain would have been awe inspiring, even terrifying.  Exodus 19

One day, there will be another shaking.  Haggai 2   God will shake, not just the mountains, but the earth and the heavens combined.  He will end the corrupt power of kings and rulers and establish the reign of His Son, Jesus.  He will also destroy the evil one and all of his demons, the very spirits who worked through every flawed leader to inflict cruelty and corruption. What a day of promise for God’s children and what a day of dread for all those who have rejected the way of salvation and the rule of God in their lives.

Shaking separates.  Shaking reveals what is solid beneath the veneer.  What is pure is left, what is defiled breaks loose.  So it shall be in the end times, and yet, so it is today for any of us who are in a time of trembling.  In God’s sovereignty, suffering has defined our current season of life.  Our world trembles and, with the shaking, the substance at the center of our lives is revealed.  For the one who has planted the seeds of the Word of God in their heart and learned to live in kingdom shoes, faith in God remains. For others, a vast emptiness opens up behind the veneer of religiosity.

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your judgments like the deepest sea. O LORD, You preserve man and beast.  Psalm 36:6  Oh, that I would have my world in order!  When I look into the face of Jesus, I tremble with awe.  When I look into the fires of adversity, I tremble with fear, yet also with a faith that sustains.  When I look into the expanse of eternity, I tremble with anticipation.  Evil will be vanquished and the righteous ones will remain in the courts of our God.

Trembling is my opportunity for introspection.  Reveal the substance of my life.  Amen

Disregard For The True Treasure

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  Hebrews 12:17 

Esau was called unholy because he didn’t recognize the value of his birthright.  He traded it in for a pot of stew.  It’s preposterous, isn’t it?  Such outright disregard for something of infinite worth.  The inheritance he spurned was the inheritance of Abraham, passed down to Isaac, and it was a fortune.  By then, the Israelites had become a small nation.  There were thousands of sheep, camels, goats and donkeys.  Even more valuable than any of this was the favor of God that was bestowed on the one the father blessed.  This, he exchanged.

In Matthew 13, Jesus told a parable about someone finding a treasure in the field and seeing its immense value, he hid it so no one else could find it.  Then he went away to sell everything he had so that he had enough money to go back and buy it.  Jesus said that the treasure represented the kingdom of God.  “Having the omnipotent, saving reign of Christ in our lives is so valuable that, if we lose everything in order to have it, it is a joyful sacrifice.”  John Piper

God couldn’t work with Esau.  When pressure came, it took precedent over things related to the kingdom.  If he would cave to the purposes of God in order to eat a bowl of stew, how could God trust him to persevere under greater pressures?  He was not leadership material even though he was a gifted hunter and fairly responsible son.

The enemy is in the middle of getting God’s children to cave and not wait for God’s promise.  He is all about getting us to abandon the kingdom in favor of earthly solutions.  In the wilderness, He tempted Jesus in just this way.  The message was ~ “Don’t wait on God. Eat now. Enjoy power now.”  The temptations Satan offers us, even now, are temptations to get out of pain early.

Waiting on God is always the harder choice.  We want our ‘stew’.  We want justice today.  We want the love and affection that is tangible over what is intangible.  We want to see answers to prayer now.  When a counterfeit spiritual solution comes into view, our needs can easily become an obsession to the point of pushing God aside.  The lure of what Satan offers is that we can have what we want without waiting any longer.  Along with that comes insinuations that God isn’t good for His promise anyway.

Who will stand?  Who will wait?  Who will treasure the kingdom?  Who will suffer without name calling?  Who will hurt without turning their back on their faith?  How much do I treasure the kingdom of God, the sovereign rule of God, in my life?  Trading it in doesn’t just get me immediate relief.  The danger is always in what I’ve lost.  One day, the comparison will be on full display.  I’ll have embraced plastic trinkets instead of waiting for Jesus, the supreme treasure.

I’ve waited so long for some things, don’t let me cave into apathy.  It is the trinket that brings emotional relief.  You are the rewarder of faith and I will keep looking up to trust You.  Amen

Big Difference!

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14

People who live in an atmosphere of constant conflict often lament, “Oh, if I could just have peace!”  Made in the image of God, we crave peace and spend a lot of money to go places where peace is present.

Craving peace is understandable but striving for peace and making peace are different from each other.  Striving means that peace may not always be possible.  While Jesus promotes unity and while He came to make it possible for us to have peace with God, He also came to bring the sword of truth that would pierce men’s hearts.  Jesus was not a ‘peace at any price’ Savior.  How am I to internalize this scripture then?  Understanding begins when I acknowledge that it takes two people to have peace in a relationship.

Paul said, ‘If it is possible, live at peace.’  The ‘if’ is important to digest because it’s possible, due to people’s sinfulness, to never achieve peace.  People in marriages, families and friendships, deeply hurt another, then offer a generalized, token apology that is pretty meaningless.  “Guess I’m a bad friend.  Chalk me up to being a bad spouse.”  Some consider that an adequate apology and then want everything back to normal.  These are not grounds for peace nor are they grounds for reconciliation!

We are told to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  We get the harmless part of the equation and cave to the pressure to gloss over things instead of being wise.  There are few truth seekers.  By nature, we weren’t born to own the truth as God defines it.  But the closer I get to Jesus, the more truth I embrace.  With that, the more spiritual sparks I feel from others around me who are repelled by Jesus.  The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of darkness will always cause a combustible reaction.

What if there hasn’t been an offense but just a difference of opinion?  There isn’t a ‘wrong’ vs. ‘right’ but there are strong feelings attached to each position.  Jesus must show me the path I’m to take.  Is this a hill worth dying on?  Perhaps making peace to love and serve my brother would please God more than digging in my heels. Here is the pitfall. I must repent of pride for automatically assuming that I am right or know best, that I am on the side of truth.  Humility in prayer will allow God to show me what’s really going on.  Perhaps I love to be right more than I love to love others.

As Steve Brown says (the founder of Key Life), “God didn’t save you to make you right, He saved you to make you His.”  Humility becomes us as we defer but humility also clothes God’s warriors.

Lord, for those needing wisdom, grant it.  Amen

Lame and Dislocated

Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.  Hebrews 12:13

Perhaps you remember the moment you stood against the gale force winds, ran out of strength, and just gave up.  Every muscle in your body went limp.  Your shoulders drooped.  Your iron  turned to mush.  It was too hard to fight the good fight anymore as you realized that you were running on empty.

I’ve had such moments in my life.  One, in my early forties, lasted 3 years.  By God’s grace, these are made up of moments instead of spans of time.  They are comprised of bad days, not months or years.  But oh, how I know what it is to live with lameness; every spiritual bone dislocated.  Please know that I am not discounting spiritual burnout. There is a time to acknowledge the need for rest.  There is a place for critical care.  This scripture is not to deny any of God’s children a dark night of the soul.  But I believe that the point is this ~ we do not need to live there nor were we designed to make that our dwelling place.  The night has a defined beginning and end before the dawn of renewed faith.

Much is forfeited when I throw up my hands.  While at the time it feels like a relief, the payoff is short lived.  Faithlessness and despair surround me with dark shadows.  I pay dearly if I throw my faith away and give up on God.  But here’s the thing ~ I’m not the only one whose faith suffers.  When others see my tired hands and weakened knees, when they see that my way is no longer straight, they will fail to be inspired when their own faith is tested.  My testimony of God’s goodness and grace are infectious and instructive.  By holding on to Jesus, I teach others to do the same.  “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.”  Isaiah 50:4 Those who throw in the towel lose credibility to speak to weary pilgrims. 

The writer of Hebrews would be greatly displeased if we interpreted his words as a rebuke to suck it up and paste on a smile.  is a picture of what should happen after a season of discouragement.  We must read between the lines.  God promises to strengthen our hands.  God gives strength to weak faith muscles.  He leads us in straight paths.  He heals the lame.  While the scripture in this passage sounds like a command to self-heal, it is an urging to turn to God for renewal.  We cry out in need, we submit to the Great Physician and Counselor, and He heals.

Like the pied piper, are we leading others onto the path behind us to unshakeable trust in a God who does all things well?  Moving through seasons of suffering is critical to the other members of the body of Christ.

By Your grace, don’t let me bring lameness to Your body.  Amen

The Dreaded Passage

Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline—which all receive —then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:7-11

Be honest.  Did you read the first sentence, sigh, and skip over the rest of it?  You’re not alone if you did.  This is the dreaded passage, especially if we have a view of God that portrays Him as angry, nit-picky, and vindictive.  Our instinctive response to a season of pain is to cry out, “All right, what is it I’ve done wrong?”  I’ve certainly voiced that and it used to be often.

This is all pertinent to me right now as our family has sustained a year of one painful thing after another.  It’s been so intense that there has been no choice but to internalize and embrace this passage.  Let me personalize it and perhaps we’ll both love this scripture more than we did an hour ago.

The word discipline can be a trigger.  Overly harsh parents, punishments that were doled out in anger, things said to kids like, “I’m doing this for your own good,” set us up view God’s face as our parent’s faces. That’s a tragedy.  Discipline does not mean punishment.  It means training and instruction.  There must be a lot at stake to learn too, and good things at that, if God permits seasons of suffering. He wants nothing but good for us.  He knows how internally blessed we will be if we learn to think and feel like Jesus.  The pathway to that is oh so arduous.

God is not the schoolmarm who wields a yardstick and threatens, “Now, I’ll teach you.”  This is training that, while hard to bear, comes from unfathomable love and patience.  It is just as often whispered as it is heard in the claps of thunder.  I know that the longer I resist the voice of God in my suffering, the longer the suffering might last.  Not because He is cruel but because He loves me so much that He doesn’t want me to miss it.

The end of the passage promises that trials will yield the fruit of peace and righteousness.  What does that look like?  Here are some things I’m learning.  It’s peace that doesn’t need a pity party.  Peace that doesn’t strive with God to question what He’s doing.  Peace that submits, like a child, and urges me to climb into the shelter of His embrace.  It’s also righteousness.  A kind that learns to think, by default, the kinds of things Jesus thought when His life got hard.  It is a kind that sees suffering as a pathway to service and not something to resent.  It is a kind that breaks all addictions to things outside of God, even people.  That’s leads to joy, not torment.

Peace and righteousness.  This is the design of all suffering whether it is because of the consequences of my sin or whether it is just the kind permitted by God for my sanctification.  Either way, if I accept it and let Jesus share my tears and love Him through it, blessing awaits me and here’s the thing ~ it’s even possible to know both while the flames roar.

Thank you for the lessons.  This is heartfelt but this is also said in faith, Lord.  Amen

Hostility And Our Enemies

 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:3

This devotional may only be for a fraction of you who are reading it.  If you are one of the few who are being pursued by an enemy, this will hopefully be water in the desert.  You are someone’s target.  You know that war has been declared for no other reason than because you are God’s child.  You hear the roar of the lion in your spirit.  You smell sulfur.

God wants to put iron in your soul. First, know that Jesus endured more hostility than you and I will ever sustain.  He responded in unfathomable mercy but also with justice that will eternally prevail.  We couldn’t have predicted his responses back then, so today it is ever more necessary not to try to guess how we should respond.  We cannot take matters into our own hands.  We must take the hatred that is directed toward us, along with the people who sent it, and leave all of it in God’s hands.  He rules righteously with both justice and mercy.  He will defend us as well as rule righteously.  Both are possible but only within the mind of God.  When up to us, we’ll choose one over the other.

 Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Colossians 2:15  Jesus, through His death, dealt with the strategic levels of authority in the demonic kingdom.  He, publicly, humiliated Satan.  The word ‘triumph’ paints a picture of an official public celebration. A triumph is not the same thing as a victory.  Victory means that a battle has been won.  Triumph is the party thrown after the victory.

How did Jesus celebrate the victory won over his enemy at Calvary?  Perhaps the answer is found contextually by reviewing the customs of ancient Rome.  The victor was placed in a chariot drawn by a white horse and then paraded through the streets of the city.  Citizens of Rome applauded him as he passed by.  Behind him, his conquered ones were led in chains and made to endure the shame of defeat.  With this picture applied, Christ was in the chariot, having defeated his foe through the cross.  His enemies were quite a spectacle behind Him as they were paraded in public defeat and subjugation.  This event was reviewed by all spiritual realms.

The enemies against us may be flesh and blood but the origin of the war is not of the ‘flesh and blood’ kind.  The attacks are conceived and fueled by the evil ones who wage war against Christ.  Spiritual foes want us to believe they still have all the power.  They want us to fear that the cross was not a defining moment in their fate.  But these enemies have been defeated and have been shamed before heaven.  Jesus dealt with them once at Calvary and He will deal with them again before casting them into the lake of fire.  They already know their end.  Suddenly they shouted, “What have You to do with us, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”  Matthew 8:29

Until then, while experiencing the hostility of others, we can find strength in the knowledge that He deals with our enemies even now, both human and spiritual, with infinite wisdom.

The cross before me.  The cross behind me.  You rule in victory and I trust You.  Amen

Thinking Little About Shame

…keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.  Hebrews 12:2

Shame is a powerful catalyst.  If I know I’m going to go somewhere and will feel any kind of shame, I will want to avoid going.  If God is calling me to a place where shame has been felt in the past, I will have to prepare myself to focus on God and His love for me.  Only He can counteract the toxic effects of being in the presence of humiliation.

What is shame keeping you from today?  Whom are you avoiding because of how they cause you to feel?  What setting is it that tempts you to believe that you are worthless?  Perhaps you are still healing from the last time you were in the company of someone who despises you.

It’s not just people who cause us to feel ashamed.  It can be a humiliating event.  The next time you have lunch with some friends, ask everyone to describe their most embarrassing moment.  Shame and humiliation will be involved.

Jesus didn’t ignore the shame of the cross.  He looked at it square in the eye and chose to despise it.  Instead of shame defining how He felt, He focused elsewhere.  What power God gives His child to endure shame!  Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s sustaining grace.

John Piper wrote this piece about Hebrews 12:2

Listen to me, Shame, do you see that joy in front of me? Compared to that, you are less than nothing. You are not worth comparing to that! I despise you. You think you have power. Compared to the joy before me, you have none. Joy. That is my power! Not you, Shame. You are worthless. You are powerless.

You think you can distract me. I won’t even look at you.  You are ugly and despicable. And you are almost finished. You cover me now as with a shroud. Before you can say, ‘So there!’ I will throw you off like a filthy rag. I will put on my royal robe.

You think you are great, because even last night you made my disciples run away. You are a fool, Shame.  That abandonment, that loneliness, this cross — these tools of yours — they are all my sacred suffering, and will save my disciples, not destroy them.

Farewell, Shame. It is finished.

As I read this, I was reminded that I must always look at the bigger picture, not my specific set of circumstances.  Whatever shame I have suffered never concludes my life’s novel.  It is a dark thread amongst the many golden threads of grace and redemption.

Your people spend a lifetime healing from shame.  You did it in an instant because You knew Your Father’s love and saw your eternal destiny.  Amen