Daughters of Promise

Sin’s Bedfellow

March 7, 2019

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 4:11

The offspring of sin is deception.  If I sin, I am deceived until I repent and have my conscience cleansed of all sin’s effects.

A child of God will not set out to sin with these thoughts in mind.

“I can’t wait to grieve God.”

“I love unrighteousness.”

“I will pay dearly for this but that doesn’t really bother me.”

What tempts me to sin are the lies that entice.

“I will do it just this one time.  It won’t be a big deal.”

“Scripture does talk about it but not all that much.”

“Other Christians have done it and I don’t see that it ruined their lives.”

“I live in the age of grace and God will forgive me.”

If sin and deception go hand in hand, does deception have an additional bedfellow?  Yes. Hardheartedness.  What I once felt guilty for doesn’t affect me anymore.  And, every time I repeat that sin, I care a little less.

Today, if I am grieved over my sin, I should thank God.  If I feel the heavy hand of conviction, my heart is still feeling the effects of the Spirit of God in me.  Being broken is a gift for it compels me to make things right and to once again have a purified conscience.  Spiritual rest and the peace of God can be restored.

Hardheartedness is a horrible state.  The harder the heart, the more time has passed since the sin, or the more times that sin has been repeated.  When I make a sin a pattern and refuse to acknowledge it, that particular iniquity becomes entrenched over time and turns into a stronghold.  My boundary lines are under siege and I was too busy enjoying my sin to notice how deep in the mire I was sinking.

God’s love for me is never threatened.  No matter how far away I stray, no matter what sin I commit, no matter how many times I’ve committed it, God’s power to save and deliver is greater still.  The blood of Christ and my sin are in no contest.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, disqualifies me from his call to repentance and His offer to forgive.

Don’t let me numb out.  Keep my heart tender and my spiritual senses ~ sharp.  Amen

Entering My Rest

March 6, 2019

While the promise to enter His rest remains, let us fear that none of you should miss it.  For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith.  Hebrews 4:1

The Israelites never entered the promised land because they stopped exercising their faith.  I can easily look back at their mistakes and think, “You blew it.  Why didn’t you trust God and go out on a limb?  Really?  After all the divine power you saw on display?  And, after such stunning displays of God’s faithfulness you still chose to doubt and disobey?” 

But then I wonder, am I doing any better today?  What I say I believe and what I’m willing to risk for ‘what I say I believe’ are two different things.  Believing isn’t enough.  Without exercising faith to prove it, I’ll never enter my rest either.  God is not pleased just because I say the right words.  The only thing that counts is whether or not I obey through faith.  “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” Hebrews 11:6

What words of God don’t I follow up with action?  I’m not talking about the big things like going to the missionfield.  I’m referring to forgiving when I don’t feel like it, trusting God when I’m called to step into the dark, waiting for God’s answers instead of moving ahead with my own solutions, following God’s prompting to attend a small group when I am shy of the intimacy, trusting God with my children and not feeling the pressure to save them; these are the kinds of things that lead to blessing.  In every place I fear, I trust.

I can be eloquent in speaking of God’s ways but my words are just the empty clichés of a sage unless I support my words with personal stories.  Faith in action is what will be contagious.  Sermons given without the history of personal application are lifeless.  Listeners can tell the difference, too.  I recall what the crowd said after encountering Peter and John.  When they saw their courage and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  Luke 4:13 

When I stop acting out of my flesh, trust you instead, oh – the stories I have to tell.  I get two things.  I see You move on my behalf and I get to experience rest from the turmoil.  Don’t let me live by my soulish defaults.  Amen

The Tip Of The Sword

March 5, 2019

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

The point of a sword is sharp and it’s meant to penetrate a target.  It is not a club.  It is not a gun you fire from a distance.  It’s a weapon meant to get up close and strike a blow with precision.

This fine instrument, the sword of the Word of God, has limitless power.  It is something that can both build and tear down, heal and wound, create and destroy.  When I use it correctly under the direction of God’s Spirit, I will see all of the above and more.  It also is precise as it penetrates the heart of my sin, or my unbelief, or my challenge for which I have no direction.  Wherever it’s applied, the results of kingdom-sized.

It’s not that words are powerful in and of themselves.  The WORD has power because it is a person.  When I speak the Word, God is using my mouth to declare what He wants to speak into my world.  For every problem, there is a kingdom narrative to counteract it.  For every pain, there is a word to comfort.  For every temptation, there is an encouragement to overcome.  How will I know the right scripture to speak?  In some instances, it may be pretty obvious. But in others, where situations are complicated, problem solving and strategizing that is led by the Spirit of God is required.   Most of life is messy and I can’t possibly diagnose what’s wrong without the wisdom of the Spirit.  I also can’t put my finger on the scriptures I need to speak out loud, and in prayer, without His leading.

Some years back while teaching, a woman came up to me afterward to thank me for encouraging our group to pray with more precision and strategy.  She said that she was going to assemble some scriptures to pray about her marriage.  This sounded noble enough but when I asked her to tell me more, she explained that her husband had left her for a much younger woman but that God had promised her she’d get her husband back.  She was going to try to find scriptures that would support what she wanted – the breakup of her husband’s second marriage.  We had a long talk after that and I explained that scripture was not meant to be self-serving.  The Word is to be used to accomplish God’s will in this world.  God’s will and her heart’s desires were not aligned. I encouraged her to pray that her husband would surrender to Christ and be a godly husband in his new marriage.

 God said, My word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55:11   The exciting thing is that God desires to use me to bring His kingdom to earth.  “Thy kingdom come,” Jesus taught me to pray. But this privilege is conferred, and I become aware that I am commissioned to do God’s work ~ His way ~ with humble submission to His authority.  I am not Barney Fife with a sword in my hands.

You spent your earthly ministry quoting the Old Testament.  You knew what to recall and how to apply it.  I need Your Spirit to guide me in all things.  Amen

Easily Provoked?

March 4, 2019

For who heard and rebelled? Wasn’t it really all who came out of Egypt under Moses?   And who was He provoked with for 40 years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? They were unable to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:16-19

Is God easily provoked?  Do I see Him as a picky Father who punishes the least little thing?  Do I find myself sticking up for the rights of the Israelites to enter the promised land?  Maybe I excuse their unbelief because they were just scared.  Every enemy was different in character and in their number.  Every turn on the journey held a different and unwelcome surprise.  Didn’t they just feel helpless and afraid?  And when people are afraid, they do lash out and do unpredictable things.

But, to put their unbelief in perspective, I consider a child who holds a father’s hand.  They’re about to encounter something frightening and this exchange takes place.

 “Daddy, I don’t want to go. I’m scared.”   

“I know you’re scared.  Trust me and it will be okay.”

“But I’m really scared.  How about if I stay here and you take someone else?”

“No, I really want to take you. Please trust me.”  The father squeezes her hand tighter and she decides to go. 

The father would not be angry because she was scared.  He would not be angry that she thought of an alternative.  He was eager to repeat, “Don’t be afraid.  Trust me.”  He knows how frightening things looked and the important thing was her obedience in the end.

Translating this to Father God and His children of Israel, their sin was not in having to work through fear.  It was not that they were intimidated by armies that far outnumbered them.  It was not that they despaired when they ran out of food.  That, He understood.  The Old Testament is dotted with conversations where God comforts and says, “Do not fear!”  So, that wasn’t it.  Their sin was in the action they took to do what they felt was best instead of doing what God asked of them.  Their unbelief caused them to go to war when they shouldn’t have, to build idols instead of fast and pray, and to intermarry to satisfy their desire to fit in instead of being willing to be separate, to be God’s unique and chosen people.

God was not picky, He was patient.  They didn’t go their own way just one time.  They sinned, in stiff-necked rebellion, throughout 40 years.  They did have sterling period of faith but for the most part, their lives could be characterized as people who were unwilling to listen to the voice of God.  While much of their unbelief did begin with fear, it quickly morphed into ugly entitlement.  “How dare you bring us to the wilderness.  And you say you love us?!”

It’s good to re-read the Exodus/wilderness account again, slowly, and ask God to see the events from His perspective.  As human parents, we would have been provoked and then probably lashed out much sooner than God did.  In spite of the fact that their unbelief kept them from the promised land, God was still longsuffering and merciful.

Why am I so easily led to dispute Your love and discount Your promises?  Now, that is the question. Amen

One Day, He Just Left The Faith!

March 1, 2019

Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. Hebrews 3:12-13

So, how does it happen?  If you’ve been a believer for a while, you’ve heard the story of a strong Christian who just woke up one morning and snapped.  He announced that he wanted to completely change his life ~ starting with leaving the faith.  He said that he doesn’t believe any of it anymore and he simply doesn’t want the life he’s known.  When news spreads, there is disbelief among his family and friends.  They didn’t see it coming at all.

Today’s scripture highlights what can cause such extreme behavior.  While it appeared that this person’s decision was sudden and out of the blue, it probably wasn’t in his inner life.  None of us throws everything away because our heart hardened overnight.  None of us will wake up one day to discover that we no longer believe.  The journey away from God is a slow process and I must be intimate enough with God to guard my faith. The initial warning needs to be discerned in neon lights.

The writer of Hebrews ties unbelief and deception together.  For someone to defect, it started with a seed thought that germinated over time.

“I don’t trust God because . . .” 

“If God loved me, then He wouldn’t have allowed . . .” 

“God didn’t keep His promise when . . .”

An uncontested lie metastasizes.  I am naïve to think that it won’t affect all the other areas where I do believe God.   It will.  Unbelief is connected to something important that didn’t come to pass, or it’s attached to something that did transpire that I couldn’t handle.  The birthplace was deep pain and disappointment.  I may not voice the churning but my heart says, privately, “If I can’t trust God in this one big thing, then how can I trust Him with everything else?”  Instead of facing the unbelief head on with scripture and warfare, the hurt and lies get rehearsed and seeds germinate.

Distrust and disappointment have hardened many hearts along the way, including my own.  I can look back and see how fragile my faith was at certain points. The safeguard is knowing my Achilles heel. It is staying open to the Spirit as He brings unbelief to center stage.  It is staying close to a handful of believers who hear me process my life’s story as it happens.  It is giving them the power to listen compassionately, to encourage transparency in order to understand how I am interpreting life’s events. Spirit partners are critical to encourage faith when faith doesn’t make sense.  They are not policemen but wise counselors.  They are not immune to faithlessness but are well acquainted with how wounded hearts heal.

Lord, no wonder you said to take every thought captive.  It’s rugged introspection but lies are identified when they first happen ~ before passing thoughts make themselves at home.  Help me.  Amen

Eighty Pounds Of Wool

February 27, 2019

That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ Hebrews 3:10

Sheep follow any leader.  They are easily distracted.  Going astray doesn’t always begin with malicious intent.  The shepherd and the rest of the flock might move on while one lone sheep remains behind to enjoy a good meal.  Whatever the reason, the outcome is always to his peril.  Separation from the shepherd makes him vulnerable to danger.  It’s often predators, or starvation, or the accumulation of eighty pounds of wool that make him immobile.

What started out as a beautiful rescue in Egypt, morphed into moments of both ecstasy and tragedy.  As the children of Israel despaired, then trusted God, they saw Him move in such stunning ways that it made their enemies tremble.  After a Red Sea parted to allow them safe passage, and then proceeded to swallow an Egyptian army into its depths, one would think that a people would hang tight to their Great Shepherd.  He led them clearly; a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Never was a shepherd clearer to light the path in front of them.

Despite God’s kindness towards His sheep in an unkind wilderness, they strayed.  If I weren’t guilty of the same thing, I’d shake my head in disbelief at their behavior but after a lifetime of mountaintops, how many times have I despaired and then left the path to find more promising pastures?  I’ve been distracted.  I’ve followed other leaders.  I’ve been encumbered by the likes of eighty pounds of wool as the weight of my sin made it hard to move forward.  I languished under the wrath of God.  I knew the crushing weight of sin that made me long to see the face of a Savior.

God said that He was angry with His people for going astray. His fury was kindled by their infidelity.  It didn’t take long for them to complain, to feel entitled, and to build a golden calf.  It didn’t take long in their history to ask for God’s resignation as King so that they could crown their own.  God was longsuffering.  The Great Shepherd sent prophets to woo them back.  Because they were blind, He gave specific directions for their return.  Sometimes they listened, many more times they didn’t.

For the children of Israel, their sin was covered over by the next sacrifice.  For us, the wrath of God was poured out on His Son instead of on us.  Our sins were forgiven and eighty pounds of wool were lifted from our shoulders.  His Word, both the cloud and the pillar of fire, make the pathway on front of us plain to follow.  Jesus promises to lead with a clear voice, to know each of His sheep by name, to nurture intimate relationships so that other voices and other faces will be known as counterfeit.  ‘Astray’ begs to be my history, not my future.

As a child of Yours whose heart is full, I love Your voice.  You lead me to green pastures and banquet tables in Your presence.  I do not want and I need You today as much as yesterday to make my path.  Amen

You’ve Already Told Me That

February 26, 2019

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works for 40 years. Hebrews 3:7-9 

One of the signs of getting older is telling others the same stories over and over. You think it’s not going to happen to you, but I find myself saying quite often, “If I’ve told you this, stop me!”  Most of the time, stories over lunch need only be told once.  But there are exceptions.  Teachers repeat themselves to get important facts across.  Parents repeat themselves to teach fundamental principles.  Lovers build a repetitive love language because they can’t help themselves and they know that you can’t say ‘I love you’ often enough.  I, perhaps like you, even have things I repeat to our pets.  I make up songs, poems, and enjoy calling them endearing nicknames. It’s fun to sing them and eventually, the animals come running when they hear something they recognize.

One thing about scripture is how often it repeats itself.  Jesus quoted the Old Testament 78 times.  Most books will also reference direct quotes from previous authors and there are also indirect quotes.

  • Direct quotes: 302
  • Allusions to other passages: 493
  • Possible allusions: 138

When God repeats Himself, as His child, I must sit up at attention to ask why.  God is not forgetful, so He is intentionally choosing to say something a second or third time.  There are no stray words that exit His mouth.  No word or phrase is insignificant.  Furthermore, God doesn’t even need language to make a point.

In today’s scripture, the writer of Hebrews reaches back to quote Psalm 95.  The topic is ‘being careful not to harden my heart.’  God not only repeated himself this once, but it’s repeated 42 more times.  It must be critical.  I must not know how easily I allow my heart to get hard and calloused.  It’s instinctive to my flesh and therefore I must be on guard to prevent it from happening.

For me, hardening my heart happens for several reasons.  When I want something different than what God wants for me and turn off my ears to a command, when I repeatedly refuse to embrace a promise as mine, when I refute His proclamations of love because He doesn’t relieve my pain, when I’m tested and get angry with the test, when people I love hurt longer than I think they should, when the person delivering God’s Word is someone I don’t like ~ these are often the catalysts.

God tested His people in the wilderness.  Testing was to bring about spiritual growth, to tone their faith muscles, but they strained under the lessons and chose the easy way out.  Unbelief and rebellion were always the result.  The long-term tragedy was that most in that generation never saw Canaan.  The cost for turning off God’s voice is more than I can afford but I think I’ll be the exception. Satan lies!  I’ll miss out on what I believe I’m seeking elsewhere ~ blessing and reward.

I’m asking this one thing today, Father.  Have I hardened my heart about anything that You’ve told me?  I am sincerely asking.  Show me.  Amen