July 31, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 243: God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego


God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

"Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, 'Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?' Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, 'King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.' " (Daniel 3:13-18 NIV).

Several years ago, a Christian Iranian pastor named Youcef Nadarkhani was prosecuted for his faith in Jesus and sentenced to death; justices proceeding over his trial told him to return to Islam. 


“What should I return to?” he asked. “The blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?”

I hear in Pastor Nadarkhani's words echoes of the response of three other men who were told to renounce their faith.

They refused as he did.

They refused because they knew the Answer to the king's question, "Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?" They refused because they knew their God could and would deliver them. But I think they also refused for the same reason as Pastor Nadarkhani did: because what would they be going back to? 

What would they be gaining if they gave up faith?

This was "even if" faith: even if God does not deliver us from the fire or through the fire; even if He does not do what He is entirely able to do; even if, even when, even though, even as.

There is an expression, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't." Better, in other words, the "fiery furnace" you're already familiar with than to have to learn the ins and outs of a new fire.

Pastor Nadarkhani and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego offer us a different approach to trial and trouble: better the God I know—even if—than the god I don't. 


Better a God Who is and always will be—even if—than a god who is not and never was.

*   *   *   *   *   *
Oh, God, again and again I pray: give me faith in Your power to do what You can do and faith in Your goodness even if You don't.

July 30, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 242: God of Tabitha

God of Tabitha

"In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, 'Please come at once!' Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, 'Tabitha, get up.' She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord." (Acts 9:36-42 NIV)

You've probably heard the expression, "It ain't over till it's over." That would pretty much be my summation of Tabitha's story, with one significant revision: it ain't over till God says it's over.

For a while, it sure did look over for Tabitha. Like, really over. 


The girl was dead. Really dead. Not asleep, not unconscious, not in a trance. 

Dead.

But God....

Doesn't Tabitha's story give us hope for the dead areas of our lives? Maybe you're feeling as dead as she was right now, except that you're still breathing and trying to go through the motions of life. How my heart breaks for those of you who know exactly what this feels like.

Maybe a dream is dead. Maybe hope is dead. Maybe a relationship is dead. Maybe plans for the future are dead. Or maybe, at the very least, they look dead as far as you can possibly strain to see with human eyes.

But God....

Discernment is required at this point, of course. Sometimes, we try to hang onto dead things when what we really need to do is loosen our grip and let them go so we can take hold of something newly alive. So we pray and ask God, "Is this really dead? Is it time to let it go? Or is it time to hang on and hope?"

It's not over until God says it's over, my friends. If it's not over, hang on and hope. And if God does say it's over, it's because He's starting a new thing, and that's something to hang on and hope for, too.

*   *   *   *   *   *
Oh, God...You Who are the Beginning and the End...You alone make the call on when something is over and when it's just waiting for Your power to bring it back to life. Help me to wait for you and be listening to hear Your voice when You say, "Get up."

July 29, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 241: God of Paul


God of Paul

" 'Lord,' Ananias answered, 'I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.' But the Lord said to Ananias, 'Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.' Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized." (Acts 9:13-18 NIV)

Saul—lover of the law and persecutor of Christians—went for a walk one day in search of more Christians to round up and imprison (or worse).

But one bright light, one temporary blindness, and one probing question from the Lord Himself later, and Paul was transformed into a lover of the Lord and a passionate preacher of the Good News.

God hand-picked Saul (whose Greek name was Paul) before the beginning of time to take the Gospel farther than anyone else had in his day—in particular, to the Gentile world.

If you're like me, you need a little refresher that, before Christ, the world had essentially been divided into two groups: Jews, God's chosen people; and Gentiles, or everybody else. But the grace of God was not only for one group of people: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6). God's grace was for the whole world, and the whole world needed to hear about it.

Enter Saul/Paul, with a handful of qualifications that made him the perfect guy for the job.

For one thing, Paul was smart. He'd been educated by the famous teacher Gamaliel and knew the Old Testament inside out and upside down, so he was able to explain it in ways that made sense to his audience. And he knew that audience well, having grown up in Tarsus in the Greek world, unlike the rest of the disciples, who'd grown up in Judea and Samaria.

Paul was also passionate: passionately against the teachings of Christ before his conversion but passionately for them after it. And he was a Roman citizen, which gave him certain rights and freedoms he put to use for the cause of Christ.

Add to all this the newly constructed Roman roads, which made travel easier than it had ever been before, and the stage was set for God to do something big.

But for all these facts on Paul's very impressive resume, one detail about him still draws us to his teachings in a unique way all these centuries later: his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Biblical scholars have spent hundreds of years trying to figure out what, exactly, Paul's "thorn" was, but I think God was intentionally vague for the same reason you're probably thinking: so we can all relate. Maybe it's just me, but I know I've thought a time or two, "Paul's thorn HAS to be my thorn, too!"

If God had told us that Paul's thorn was, for instance, some specific physical ailment, we might (and in my case, WOULD) read his words and think, "Yeah, well, you don't have my thorn. You don't know what it's like." But because his thorn could have been anything from a chronic physical illness to a mental challenge to a personality "quirk" to (dare I say it) a relational challenge, when he says things like, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation" and "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" and "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus," we remember the thorn and think, "Well, then, I can learn and do and press on, too."

And in our learning and doing and pressing, God uses us as He did Paul: to proclaim His name to the ends of the earth.

*   *   *   *   *   *
God, thank You for the way our thorns keep us dependent on You and Your strength. Help us to learn and do and press on today, for the glory of Your great name.

July 28, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 240: God of Abigail


God of Abigail

"David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me.' " (1 Samuel 25:32 NIV)

The following is a summary of what I knew about the biblical Abigail up until about a week ago:

She was a woman in the Bible.

The following is an extremely condensed summary of what I now know:

She was one sharp lady.

The longer summary is that Abigail's story is funny and fascinating and full of applicable truth, so I'm really not sure why is doesn't make it into children's Bibles and other Biblical-story top-10 lists. But after I spent some time with her, I decided Abigail would make a lovely tour guide on this Names of God side trip.

*Abigail's Story: The Synopsis ~*

Abigail lived at Carmel in the Desert of Paran, to which King David had moved after the death of Samuel. Abigail was a real winner—intelligent, beautiful, and wise—but her husband, Nabal, was, by all accounts, a real lout. Various Bible translations describe him as "harsh and badly behaved" (ESV), "surly and mean" (NIV), "churlish and evil" (ASV), and "brutish" (MSG). (One can only speculate this was an arranged marriage gone awry.)

One day, while David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep, of which the man had plenty. David sent some of his people to greet Nabal and point out that David's guys hadn't harmed any of Nabal's shepherds nor disturbed their sheep while David and company were in the neighborhood and to ask Nabal if he could round up a little sustenance for them, please and thank you.

Nabal's response (and here I imagine a rather unpleasant tone) was basically, "Who's this David? What son of Jesse?" (Had he been living under a rock?) "I'm not giving any of my goods to men from 'who knows where' " 
(actual NIV wording...1 Samuel 25:11).

When this response got back to David, he told his men (understandably enough), "Each of you strap on your sword!"

Word got back to Abigail about her husband's treatment of the king and his men: “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him” (1 Samuel 25:14-17).

The short version of what happened from there is that Abigail loaded up provisions, hopped on her donkey, met David, fell to the ground at his feet, asked him to excuse her "fool" of a husband, begged David's pardon, explained her side of the situation, offered provisions, and foretold God's blessing over David if he restrained himself from needless bloodshed. David thanked her, accepted her gifts, and sent her on her way in peace. (All of which made for a rather nice "how I met your mother" story later when Abigail, having been relieved of her boorish husband by the hand of the Lord, received and accepted a marriage proposal from David.)

*Abigail's Story: The Take-Away ~ *

Abigail took quick action, but she did it with intelligence and intention. I could stand to learn from her example, so here's what I'll be filing away for future reference the next time I'm dealing with a situation that looks like it's spiraling toward disaster.

* She heeded the counsel of those "beneath" her.

* She was decisive but not foolhardy.

*She was practical.

*She was discerning.

*She was humble.

*She was realistic.

*She showed good judgement.

*She was motivated by the best interests of others.

*She pursued peace.

*She had a servant's heart.

* * * * * *
God, thank you for this hidden gem of an example of true beauty and wisdom. Help me learn from Abigail's story, that I, too, might wield wisdom and pursue peace.


July 27, 2019

365 Day of the Great Names of God, Day 239: God of Nehemiah

God of Nehemiah

"Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name." (Nehemiah 1:11 NIV)

On the list of characteristics of the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—the piece that brings up the rear—self-control—always tastes a little sour in my mouth, compared with all the apparent sweetness of love, joy, et al.

Self-control sounds like a lot of work to me. I know it's the Spirits's work, just like the rest of the bunch, but cooperation on my part still feels like something I'm not automatically good at.

Some help for me (and maybe for you, too, if self-control isn't on your list of default settings) comes from a possibly unlikely source: Nehemiah, cup-bearer to a king and rebuilder of a wall...a man whose name (and how beautiful is this?) means, "Yahweh has comforted" ("nehem-yah").

If we dig beneath the surface of chapter two of Nehemiah's namesake book, we find that God has gifted us with a set of plans for self-control. Brick by brick, it's a wall worth building.

1. 
Round up some trusted accountability partners: "I set out during the night with a few others" (Nehemiah 2:12).

2. Do a little honest self-examination: "I went out through the Valley Gate...examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire" (Nehemiah 2:13).

3. Admit what lack of self-control has left in its wake: "Then I said to them, 'You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace' " (Nehemiah 2:17).

4. Start cooperating with God's internal rebuilding project...and don't drag your feet about it. "I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, 'Let us start rebuilding.' So they began this good work" 
(Nehemiah 2:18).

5. Give the battle (which is probably what this will feel like) over to God...and then give it to Him again...and again, until He shows you the victory: "I answered them by saying, 'The God of heaven will give us success' 
(Nehemiah 2:20).

*   *   *   *   *   *
God, as your servant Nehemiah rebuilt the wall, help me to build self-control. And help Your joy to be my strength in the building.

July 26, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 238: God of the Prodigal


God of the Prodigal

" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' " (Luke 15:31, 32 NIV)

One of the most treasured souvenirs I've picked up along our names of God journey is new information about people, stories, and words I thought I was quite well-informed about already. 


Take the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I was all set to write about the younger son in the context of the prodigal meaning rebellious and wayward. But then I started to question whether I had ever actually learned the definition of "prodigal," and, when I went searching, found I never had known its true meaning. 

"Prodigal," as it turns out, comes from the Latin "pro," meaning "for or "forward" and "agere," meaning "to drive." Together, these lead to "prodigere," meaning (among other things) "to consume." Taken a little further, "prodigal," as it is used in Jesus' famous parable, means "wastefully extravagant."

Viewed through this lens, all three characters in the story of the prodigal son are prodigal. They are all wastefully extravagant. The younger son, who represents us, casts aside his father's love and the blessings he enjoys at home to go searching for something he considers to be of higher value. When he gets to where he's going, he throws away his resources in search of something he again considers to be of higher value. But in the end, he is wastefully extravagant with his pride: he throws it away and goes searching for something of infinitely higher value...the very things he left in the first place.

The older son, who also represents us (and aren't you so glad Jesus presented the story as a parable so we can readily find ourselves in it?) is also wastefully extravagant. He, too, spends his father's love and his blessings at home with abandon and without restraint. He, too, is looking for something he considers more valuable, though he doesn't leave home to find it. (And this is a good lesson for us: we don't have to run away to be prodigal.)

But the most prodigal character of all in this trio is the father, who represents God. No parable but a true story was God's willingness to spend without restraint something valuable—His own Son—in search of something He considered to be worth the (temporary but painful) loss: relationship with us.


How thankful we can be that as this story played out in the heavenly realms, there was another prodigal...a fourth member of the eternal story. 

Jesus left His Father's house and all the riches there and cast aside fellowship with His Father for a time and went searching for something He considered valuable: us, again. 

We may balk at the inference that God could be wasteful. It sounds like a wrong thing to be, and of course God cannot be any wrong thing. But if we look at "wasteful" as using one's resources for something that will not pay them back…as giving away with no concern for repayment or dividends, then God is surely wasteful. He spends His love and grace and mercy and affection on us with no regard for whether we will ever return these to him. 

God's extravagance is easier to see. I think of extravagance as setting a lavish table with the choicest of foods and the most exquisite china, gold, silver, and linens. Someone asks, "Who is coming for dinner? Royalty or some political leader?" And we reply, "No. I invited a runaway and a beggar. I don't even know if they'll come. But I want them to come more than anything, and if they do, the table will be ready."

This is what our "wastefully extravagant" God does: He sets a lavish table and invites us to it. And He asks us to do the same with the people in our lives: to be wastefully extravagant with our love so that when the prodigals come home, the table is set for them.

*   *   *   *   *   *

God, thank You that You love me extravagantly, with no regard for return. Help me to love others this way and to be ready for celebration when the dead live again and the lost are found.

July 25, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 237: God of James


God of James

"Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James..." (1 Corinthians 15:1-7a NIV)

The book of James is the most marked-up book in my "big Bible"...the full-size  Bible that stays at home and is, at this moment, open in front of me. 

I spent a lot of time inching my way through this New Testament book during a required college class called "Biblical Applications for Human Experience." In spite of its $500-name, it was a great class that taught me how to really dig around a book, examining every comma and conjunction, asking questions, making connections.

Here's what struck me then and strikes me still:

James is one straight-shooting book. 

James, Jesus' half brother, grew up with Jesus. They ate together, worshiped together, did chores together, learned together.

While Jesus was alive on earth, James knew Him as his brother, but he did not know Him as His Savior. And maybe this is the first lesson on faith we learn from James: it cannot be inherited; it must be inhabited. 


We cannot simply live alongside faith; we have to live inside it.

Having seen Jesus' resurrected body, though, James moved—mind, body, and soul—into faith's house and never left, not even when it cost him his life.

What is this faith that James finally found and considered worth more than his own existence? What does it look like? What does it do?


If James were lecturing in my college class all those years ago, this is what I think he might have said in his characteristic straightforward manner. (James would not have been the sort of professor who would have graded on a curve.)

*Faith keeps on (James 1: 2-12). 


"Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds" (James 1:2). In other words, look at trials as joy. Note the "whenever," too: trials are a "when," not "if" part of life with God. These trials will be varied; whatever you're facing right now isn't one of the exclusions to faith's perseverance clause. But when you face these tests, spin them as joy. View them through the lens of joy. File them under "joy." Not because you are glad to be going through them but because you know, with the mind of faith, that they are taking you somewhere better than where you are now. Trials and tests take you to perseverance. And perseverance—the nervy endurance that keeps on keeping on—will take you to maturity. And maturity will take you to completion. And completion will take you to the crown of life. 

*Faith does (James 2:14-26). 


Faith works. Faith acts. Faith moves...not to get salvation but because it already has it. Not to earn a free gift but as a thank-you for that gift. Not to save but to showcase the Savior. Good works feed faith; without them, faith starves and dies. Works are to faith what the spirit is to the body...the essence and energy of it. And what, exactly, does faith do? It meets practical needs. It cares for the least. It enters into relationship. It nourishes. It clothes. Good works bring faith to the surface.

*Faith speaks...carefully (James 3:1-12).


How can we lift up God in one breath, then put down people made in His image in the next? The tongue is a tiny part of the whole body, but it is like a spark of fire in a whole forest. Speak life..or do not speak at all.

*Faith bows (James 4:1-10).


Faith gets down. Faith puts desires, habits, inclinations, and preferences in order under God's sovereignty and supremacy. This is one of the great trades of faith: when we bow low before God, He raises us high.

*Faith praises and prays (James 5:13-20).


When in doubt, praise and pray. When in certainty, praise and pray. When in sickness, praise and pray. When in health, praise and pray. When in trouble, praise and pray. When in gladness, praise and pray.

Beloved, this is faith. Keep it. Keep on keeping on. Keep doing. Keep speaking life. Keep bowing. Keep praising and praying. The crown of life is waiting.

* * * * * *
God, help my faith to keep on keeping on today. Help my faith to do. Help my faith to speak (carefully). Help my faith to bow. Help my faith to praise and pray. And when all is said and done, let me know this: mercy has triumphed.

July 24, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 236: God of Moses


God of Moses

"Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel." (Deuteronomy 34:10-12 NIV)

Of all the big moments on the highlight reel of Moses' life—being put in a basket and floated down the river as a newborn, being adopted by a princess and raised as royalty, seeing God face-to-face and living, that whole "parting of the Red Sea" bit—the conclusion to the story of his life may be the most fascinating but least-known scene.

"And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is" (Deuteronomy 34:5,6).

"He buried Moses." That pronoun "He" is referring to the most proper proper noun of all: Yahweh.

Yahweh buried Moses.

As far as I know, Moses is the only person who ever lived to be given a Divine burial. Why would God, Who does all things with intention, do this?

One possible reason is that He was showing special tender love for Moses by tending to his body Himself.

Another possibility is that God did not want His people, who had a rather bad record where resisting idolatry was concerned, to have the option of turning Moses' grave into a shrine. When He was just getting ready to lead them into a new land of the living, perhaps He did not want them to get stuck in a place of mourning.

Whatever God's reasons, His unique caretaking of His servant Moses stands in some contrast to Moses' beginnings in his service of Yahweh. Moses, after all, was a guy with a slow tongue but a quick temper (Exodus 2:11,12 and 4:10).

As with other Biblical characters, I need to ask myself what lessons God wants to teach me through Moses.

What am I slow to do? Obey? Love? Sacrifice? Praise? Pray?

What am I too quick to do? Worry? Criticize? Complain? (Yes.)

Moses reassures me that, through the refining fires and cleansing waters of God's will, I, too, can be used by Him in such a way that, when I come to the end of my life on this earth, God alone will be honored.

*   *   *   *   *   *

God, help me today to be slow to do my own will and quick to do Yours. Move my heart to long for that truest of titles: "servant of the Lord."

July 23, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 235: God of Mary of Bethany


God of Mary of Bethany

"'Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.'" (Matthew 26:10-13 NIV)

I know seven is the classic number of completion in the Bible, but God seems to accomplish a lot in threes, too. 

Three members of the Trinity (a complete package if ever there was one).

Three crows of the rooster to confirm Peter's betrayal of Jesus.

Three repetitions of the question, "Do you love me?" to reinstate Peter.

Three days that changed everything: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday.

And three times Mary of Bethany—sister of Martha and Lazarus—sat at Jesus' feet.

Once, she sat for instruction: 
"As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught" (Luke 10:38,39).

Once, she sat for comfort: 
"On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.' When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 'Where have you laid him?' he asked. 'Come and see, Lord,' they replied. Jesus wept'" (John 11:17-19,31-35).

Once, she sat for service: "
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 'Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.' He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 'Leave her alone,' Jesus replied. 'It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you,but you will not always have me'" (John 12:1-8).

Mary of Bethany learned from Jesus at His feet. She leaned on Jesus at His feet. And having received His gifts of instruction and comfort, she returned once more to love lavishly at His feet.

All these centuries later, God's own words speak of His pleasure with this: "She has done a beautiful thing."

*   *   *   *   *   *
Oh, God, prompt me to sit at your feet today. Let me receive instruction and comfort from You and return love back to you. Thank you that in You, all is beautifully complete.

July 22, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 234: God of Mary Magdalene

God of Mary Magdalene

"Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, 'Woman, why are you crying?' 'They have taken my Lord away,' she said, 'and I don’t know where they have put him.' At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, 'Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?' Thinking he was the gardener, she said, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary.' She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means 'Teacher'). Jesus said, 'Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'' Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: 'I have seen the Lord!'" 
John 20:11-18 NIV)

Dear Teacher,

You've seen me all my life.

You saw my unformed body...and then made it fearfully and wonderfully.

You saw every day of my life before even one of them came to be...and then wrote them all in Your book.

You saw the demons that possessed me...and then drove them out.

You saw my availability...and then gave me a purpose.

You saw my sin...and then took it on Yourself.


You saw my confusion...and then called me by name.

You saw my faith...and then gave me a testimony.

Rabonni, You've seen me my whole life. You see my whole life. 

But on that one glorious day, I saw You. I saw You as I'd never seen you before.

I saw Your resurrected body. I saw Your loving eyes that have always seen me. I saw victory over death. I saw hope. I saw the fulfillment of every promise. I saw God's "YES."

And I saw that You had given me, a woman once inhabited by evil, the privilege of proclaiming the news that good had won: "I have seen the Lord!"

I saw You. And in seeing You, I have never been the same.

Love,
Mary Magdalene

* * * * * *
Oh, God, You've seen me my whole life, as you saw Mary of Magdala. You see my whole life. Help me to keep the eyes of my mind and heart fixed on You. And until the day I see You face to face and then forever after that, give me a voice that proclaims, as Mary's did, "I have seen the Lord!"

(Based on the following Scriptures: Psalm 139:16; Mark 16:9; Luke 8:1-3; John 19:25; John 20:11-18.)

July 21, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 233: God of Mary, the Mother of Jesus


God of Mary, the Mother of Jesus

"'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said.'" (Luke 1:38 NIV)

Full disclosure: I've never been quite sure who all the "Marys" of the Bible are. Or, maybe more accurately, I've never actually figured out which is which. We'll get to the other two most prominent Marys of the New Testament—Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany—in the days ahead, but I wanted to start with the Mary I was pretty sure about to begin with: Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Oh, friends: don't we need to take a moment and consider the absolute enormity of having that descriptive clause after your name: "the mother of Jesus"? Even if you didn't grow up reading the Bible or going to church, you probably are accustomed to this Mary being "the mother of Jesus." But we need to strip off our familiarity for a minute and let the weight of that designation hit us with full force: this Mary was the earthly mother of the Great I AM. This Mary's human arms carried the Arm of the Lord. This Mary made bread to feed the Bread of Life. This Mary had to let her child go in a way no other mother has ever had to let a child go: to the cross.

The more I started to think about this Mary, the more I realized I'm not sure about her at all. I thought I knew her story, and I did know parts of it. But I had gotten so used to the major details of her role that I'd come to think of them as ordinary and usual. And I didn't even start to think about the "minor" details of her life which might well not have been minor to her at all.

Her fear, for instance. Who was that angel? What on earth was he talking about? What did he mean she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit? Who even WAS the Holy Spirit? What would Joseph say? What would her parents say? What would the religious leaders say?

Her confusion. What did this divine assignment mean for the rest of her life? How was she supposed to raise a child who was in some ways like any other  child but in countless others unlike anyone else, ever? And what was she raising Him for? How much should she let herself love Him when somehow He did not really belong to her in the first place?

Her loneliness. Did the other mothers in town want to meet for playdates? If they did, did they talk about normal things with her? Or did they take a wide path around her when they saw her at the market, unsure what to make of her or what to do with her?

Her pain. To have her own son—THE Son—not give her first-in-line-to-see-Him privileges and then to hear Him give strangers the status of also being His mother and brothers. The terror of her growing understanding of what awaited the Man who would always still be a little bit her baby boy. The agony of watching His agony.

And at this point, Mary taught me a quick and sharp lesson: this is what I tend to do with other people, too...people not on the pages of Scripture but in my life. People in my family. People at my church. People I interact with regularly through my children. I get used to the basic facts of their stories and don't take the time to consider how those facts must play out day after day. 


The last we see of Mary the mother of Jesus on the pages of Scripture is in the Upper Room with the disciples and Jesus' brothers, after Jesus' resurrection and ascension. Yet she must have had life to live after that. My friends and family and acquaintances also have life to live both with and beyond whatever few words describe them in some tidy package. 

Mary, the mother of Jesus, nudges me that I need to pause at the clause after others' names. The God of relationship calls us to something deeper than that. He calls us to go with each other to a place where fears, confusion, loneliness and pain are shared...and, in the sharing, are lessened.

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God, help me to look at the people you've placed in my life not just as some sort of package neatly wrapped up in a few familiar words but as stories deserving of a careful read. And when this is a costly investment to make, give me Mary's words and the heart behind them: "I am the Lord's servant."

July 20, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 232: God of David


God of David

"The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever." (Psalm 23:1-6 NLT)

The Lord was David's shepherd because He is Yahweh-Rah, the Good Shepherd: "God...has been my shepherd all my life to this day" (Genesis 48:15).

The Lord let David rest in green meadows because He is the Resting Place: "This is the resting place, let the weary rest" (Isaiah 28:12).

The Lord led David beside peaceful streams because He is the Living Water: "Lord, you are...the spring of living water" (Jeremiah 17:13).

The Lord renewed David's strength, because He is our Strength: "O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love" (Psalm 59:17).

The Lord guided David along right paths because He is the Divine Leader: "Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way" (Deuteronomy 8:2).

The Lord was close to David even in the dark valley because He is the Lamp: "You are my lamp, O LORD; the LORD turns my darkness into light" (2 Samuel 22:29).

The Lord protected and comforted David because He is our Refuge: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1).

The Lord made a feast for David in the presence of his enemies because He is the Victor: "Now I know that the Lord gives victory to His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with mighty victories from His right hand" (Psalm 20:6).

The Lord honored David by anointing His head with oil because He is the One Who sets up kings: "Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever. to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding (Daniel 2:20,21).

The Lord filled David's cup to overflowing because He is our Portion: "God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:26b).

The Lord pursued David with His unfailing love and goodness because He is the Faithful God: "Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments" (Deuteronomy 7:9).

The Lord gave David a place in His house forever because He is our Home: "Lord, you have been our home since the beginning. Before the mountains were born and before you created the earth and the world, you are God. You have always been, and you will always be" (Psalm 90:1,2).

And all God was to David, He is to us.

* * * * * *
God, You are my Shepherd and my Home and everything in between, as you were to David. Break and heal and mold and shape and change my heart as you did his, so that my heart, too, might look like Your heart.

July 19, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 231: God of Hannah

God of Hannah

"'As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.'" (1 Samuel 1:26-28 NIV)

If, when we get to heaven, we're permitted a little Q&A session with some of the ancient faithful, I'll be adding my name to Hannah's sign-up sheet straight away. 

Here is a woman who not only does not have the children she desperately longs for (and we must always remember the stigma attached to childless women in that culture), but she has to watch her husband's other wife (and we must just accept that there are certain normalcies of life in ancient times that are always going to be tough to swallow) get what she herself wants—and taunts Hannah to boot! Talk about adding insult to injury.

Then, after "this went on year after year" (1 Samuel 1:7), when poor Hannah is so heartbroken and so mistreated by her rival that she cannot eat for all her weeping, her husband asks her, essentially, "What's the matter with you? Why are you upset?" (Elkanah, PLEASE: work with us, here.)

Yet after all this, Hannah still believes in the goodness of the Lord enough to pray to Him and pour out her soul to Him (1 Samuel 1:15) and to offer to give back to Him the thing she wants most in the world, if only He will give it to her in the first place.

This vow of a woman who trusts in the loving-kindness of her God comes after years of not getting what she wanted. Years of not getting what other people had. Years of not getting something God Himself said was good: "Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him" (
Psalm 27:3). Hannah's story would read entirely differently if she had been begging God to give her something He was on the record as opposing. But the longing of her heart was for something God had repeatedly indicated His favor toward. 

And then there is the fact that we are clearly told, "The LORD had closed [Hannah's] womb" (1 Samuel 1:5). Hannah's barrenness was not the result of living in a broken world that sometimes comes with bodies that do not do all we wish them to do. It was the result of the intentional act of the Lord Most High. Whether or not Hannah knew God had "closed her womb," she certainly knew He could open it if He wanted to but had chosen not to.

I think this is one of the stickiest, trickiest part of faith: acknowledging that God often does not do things that seem to us to be good, that He, for whom nothing is impossible, is capable of doing.

Hannah did not only trust God "if." She did not only trust Him "when." She trusted Him. Hannah's story shows us that God can open what He closes. He can lift up what is downcast. He can bring life from death. But if He does not, He is still good, and He is still God. 


When (not if) there are good things on this earth that, for reasons I cannot understand, God chooses not to bless me with, I have to get to the point where I understand that this world is not my home. I am not supposed to feel completely content here. And if the longing for something I do not have on this earth causes me to turn again and again toward God Who is the ultimate Fulfillment, then the loss of that longed-for thing has led me to the greatest gain.

* * * * * *
God, let Hannah's song be my song, too: "my joy is in your salvation."

July 18, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 230: God of Lydia


God of Lydia

"On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 
When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. 'If you consider me a believer in the Lord,' she said, 'come and stay at my house.' And she persuaded us." (Acts 16:13-15 NIV)

When my daughter Lydia was not quite five years old, she told her grandma (my husband's mom) that she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart. My mother-in-law says she remembers thinking maybe it was something Lydia should do with my husband and me, but she decided her granddaughter's heart was ready and so led Lydia in a prayer of salvation.

All these years later, I'm so glad my mother-in-law seized that moment, because Lydia has never turned back from that decision. It was a deliberate, informed, intentional choice born out of a lifetime (short as it was at the time) of hearing truth about who God is at home, from her grandparents and other trusted adults, in Sunday School and junior church, at vacation Bible school, at preschool. 

God opened her heart...and our Lydia invited Him in.

Our older daughter's Biblical predecessor, Lydia of Thyatira (a city famous for its purple cloth), is considered the first recorded convert to Christianity in Europe. Lydia knew of God, believed in Him, reverenced Him. But that day, when she went down to the river to worship the God she knew, she met the Living Water she did not yet know—and invited Him into her heart. 

Up until that time, Lydia had visited God's house, so to speak. But in that hinge moment, she took her seat at the family table as God's adopted daughter.

One line in the page of Lydia's story recorded in Scripture informs all our stories, too: "The Lord opened her heart to respond." Paul delivered God's message, but the Holy Spirit moved Lydia's heart to take possession of it.

When I'm sharing God's story with someone, I always feel a burden to "make" them believe it and respond to it. But of course that is not my job. It is not the job of any of us. Our job, like Paul's, is to lay the wood for the fire and then to trust God Himself to ignite it. Our job is to plug people in and then trust God to supply the spiritual current. 

This should be comforting and freeing, and in some ways, it is: it is not my responsibility to save anyone (as if I could). And yet the control freak in me dislikes this necessary letting-go. It leaves too much to someone else's will: God's will (perfect though it is) and free will, which can always choose to walk away. I want God's best for the people I love and care about. I want their hearts to be moved toward Him.

But then I hear God's gentle voice: "Don't you think I want that, too? I love them more in one second than you could love them in a lifetime. I love them most, in fact. But this is not a contest. I am already the Victor of every race. You just keep running toward me and invite others to join in along the way, and one day, we will cross the finish line together."

* * * * * *
God, thank You that You still open hearts. Help me to share your message and then trust You to do the saving.

July 17, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 229: God of Anna

God of Anna

"There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." 
(Luke 2:36-38 NIV)

Anna was a lady in waiting. 


But she was not an attendant to a princess or a queen; she was a prophetess—a mouthpiece—of the High King of heaven.

She had been waiting a long time. Decades. All her life, really.

The NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible says that Anna "recognized and proclaimed [Jesus] as Messiah." The minute Jesus was brought into the temple, she knew He was the one she'd been looking for.

But many other babies would have been brought to the temple to be presented to God, according to Jewish custom: "as it is written in the Law of the Lord, 'Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord'" (Luke 2:23).

How was it that Anna recognized the long-expected Jesus the instant she saw Him? 

Maybe it was because in the waiting, she worshiped. 

While Anna was waiting for God to show up in the flesh, she was pursuing Him in spirit, through prayer and praise.

I often find myself waiting for God to show up in the flesh. To do something. To answer some prayer. To meet some need. To fulfill some earthly desire. He is always with me (Matthew 28:20), but while I am waiting for Him to make a grand entrance in the place where I am, what do I do? Usually, I fret, stew, and worry.

Anna, though, shows me a better way. In waiting and watching for Jesus, if only I will praise and pray, I can be part of the worshiping throng that stands in the gap between Anna—"she never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying" (Luke 2:37)—and the four living creatures gathered around the throne: "day and night they never stop saying, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come'" (Revelation 4:8). 

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God, let Anna's example remind me to worship in the waiting. While I am looking for you, let me give my praise to You.

July 16, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 228: God of Joshua


God of Joshua

"Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the LORD said to Joshua, 'See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.' On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, 'Shout! For the LORD has given you the city!' When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.(Joshua 6:1-5,15,16,20,27 NIV).

"Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to." ("Miracle on 34th Street," 1947)

Common sense must have told Joshua that Jericho—the last thing standing between the people of God and the long-awaited Promised Land—was too big, too towering, and too fortified to be overtaken by a bunch of weary travelers whose God-given battle plan was just to make a bunch of noise.

But uncommon faith told Joshua that God always keeps His promises...and the land they were entering wasn't called "Promised" for nothing.

Uncommon faith told Joshua to see what God told him to see—"I have delivered Jericho into your hands"—rather than what was literally in his line of vision.

It's not that we check our reasoning and intellect at the door when we put our faith in God; it's just that sometimes only faith will open the door in the first place.

Common sense may tell us there's no way we can do something big and hard we've never done before. But uncommon faith tells us God is the Way-Maker.

Common sense may tell us a relationship is too broken for there to ever be any hope of reconciliation. But uncommon faith tells us God is the Builder.

Common sense may tell us a diagnosis is a death sentence. But uncommon faith tells us God is the Healer.

Common sense may tell us we do not have the resources to accomplish some lofty goal. But uncommon faith tells us God is the Provider.

Common sense may tell us we have reached the end. But uncommon faith tells us God is the Beginning.

* * * * * *
God, help me to think and reason and process and use the mind You've given me. But when my common sense tells me I'm staring down a Jericho that's too big to be felled, help me go forward on faith in my uncommon God, with whom nothing is impossible.



July 15, 2019

365 Days of the Names of God, Day 227: God of Elijah


God of Elijah

"Then Elijah said to all the people, 'Come here to me.' They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, 'Your name shall be Israel.' With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, 'Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.' 'Do it again,'he said, and they did it again. 'Do it a third time,' he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: 'LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.' Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, 'The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!'" (1 Kings 18:30-39 NIV)

The last time I tried to build a fire using wet wood, things didn't go so well.

My friend Sarah and I were camping in Shenandoah National Park a couple summers after we'd both graduated from college and were working together at our first "real" jobs. We were not novice campers, having grown up in camping families. But there's a difference between roasting a marshmallow over a fire that someone else has built and tended down to optimum coal stage (thanks, Dad!) and building one yourself out of wood you bought in the park at the mercy of its seller. (Read: not Dad.)

After Sarah and I had worked valiantly but ineffectually on our poor smoldering fire, an older guy from a nearby campsite took pity on us. "Looks like you're having some trouble," he said and poured gasoline or lighter fluid or something similar on our wet wood...which subsequently produced enough flame for a marshmallow or two (I think).

Why did God want the pile of wood Elijah called on Him to ignite that day doused with water? Of course you know it was for the same reason He wanted Lazarus good and dead before He stepped in and took obvious action: to make a point. To show off His power. To more fully display His glory. 

If you and I did this, we'd run the risk of being cocky or self-absorbed, but God, who has no fault in His ways, does it to increase our faith. He does it to leave no doubt about what's happening and Who's making it happen. He does it because, in His longing for relationship with us, He wants to make it all but impossible for us to deny Him. He leaves the final choice up to us and to the free will that makes us human, but He leads us right up to the point of dropping to our knees and declaring, "The LORD He is God! The LORD He is God!" And, having recognized this, He then wants more than anything for us to get up off our knees and cry or whisper or sing or shout, "The LORD He is my God. The LORD He is my God."

Is there some wet wood in your life right now? Maybe a relationship or a job or a decision or a longing of your heart that just will NOT catch fire? Maybe Elijah is a good reminder that God is more than able to ignite it, for the display of His splendor. Ask Him to set it ablaze, stand back, and watch His glory burn.

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God, here is my pile of wet wood. Sometimes I'm not sure if it's wet because it's worthless or wet because You've drenched it in Your Spirit and are just waiting to fire it up. Either way, ignite it with Your power, and if ashes are all that's left, bring beauty out of them.

July 14, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 226: God of Lazarus


God of Lazarus

"Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, 'Lord, the one you love is sick.' When he heard this, Jesus said, 'This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.' 
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 'Take away the stone,' he said. 'But, Lord,' said Martha, the sister of the dead man, 'by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.' Then Jesus said, 'Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?' So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, 'Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.' When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, 'Take off the grave clothes and let him go.'" (John 11:1-4,38-44 NIV)

If ever there was a guy who could have counted himself out of commission for God, it was Lazarus.

Lazarus wasn't just slow of speech, like Moses.

He wasn't just doubtful, like Thomas.

He wasn't just disobedient like Jonah.

Lazarus was dead. DEAD.

God was careful to inspire the Apostle John to record these words in his account of Lazarus' death and subsequent resurrection: "there is a bad odor" (John 11:39)...or, as many versions bluntly put it, "He stinketh."

This was the stench of decaying flesh, lest anyone try to explain away Jesus' power by insinuating Lazarus was merely sleeping or unconscious.

So Lazarus was dead. DEAD. Game over.

Except that with our English equivalent of three words that were not merely life-changing but life-restoring—"Lazarus, come out!"—Lazarus was back in the game for God.

Jesus called him out of the grave, ordered a wardrobe change, and sent him on his way. But it had to be a new way: the way of a person who has witnessed firsthand God undoing what is done, restarting what is finished, beginning what is over. The testimony of Lazarus' (new) life still revives us all these centuries later because of how far toward death it had gone: all the way.

Sweet friends, are you feeling dead today? I ask this question with gut-wrenching awareness that some of you are so drenched in death, you're barely breathing. Others of you may be smelling the stench of rotting dreams or relationships or plans or desires of your heart. 

I never want to minimize this kind of pain and suffering or to brush it away by suggesting "all" it takes to move from death to life is some quick, three-step process.

But Lazarus' story is proof that "God's specialty is raising dead things to life and making impossible things possible" (Beth Moore).

So I pray that however deep in the cave you might feel you're buried, you'll soon hear God put your name in the blank—" ___________, come out!"—and that you'll take off your grave clothes and go a new way.

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Oh, God, today I pray for those who count themselves among the walking dead. I ask you to take away the stone sealing them in the dark of hopelessness or grief or despair and let them hear your loud voice calling, "Beloved, come out!"

July 13, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 225: God of Martha


God of Martha

"As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, 'Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!' '
Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'" (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)

Today I am going on the record as a proud member of the Martha Defense Council.

Whenever the story of Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary is told, it usually seems to be presented as a good-versus bad, right-versus-wrong, do-this-don't-do-that scenario, with Martha representing the bad/wrong/don't-do-that side of things.

But I think this is a story about good versus better. I think Martha was showing her love for Jesus in a good way (by caring for His physical needs), just not in the better way.

Jesus loved both Martha and Mary (John 11:5). In His gentle "redirecting," I believe He was letting Martha know that He wanted her to be with Him more than He wanted her to do for Him.

I love Martha not only or even mostly because I am a Martha myself but because I find in her example confirmation that most decisions we make in our daily lives as we try to walk with God do not come down to strictly right or wrong, good or bad, sinful or holy. If they did, it would be a lot easier than it actually is to walk rightly. The road to Christlikeness would be a lot wider. Black and white, after all, are easily distinguishable from each other.

But Jesus made it clear that the road that leads to true life is narrow (Matthew 7:14). There is a lot of gray involved. And so I look at Martha and ask myself: what is the better way? Am I settling for a good thing when there is a best thing in the next room? Am I getting so fixed on the tangibility of doing things for God that I do not do the deeper work of simply being with God?

In my mind, I hear my Savior say, "My dear Elizabeth, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about." And I ask Him to help me choose that one thing.


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God, show me where I am spending my time pursuing good, to the loss of what is better. Help me to see the one thing...and to choose it.

July 12, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 224: God of the Thief on the Cross


God of the Thief on the Cross

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: 'Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!' But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don’t you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'" (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)

My family and I recently had the joy of seeing my oldest niece in a production of the musical Les Misérables, based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo.

Two central characters drive the show's complex and multi-layered storyline: Jean Valjean, a prison parolee whose crime was to steal a loaf of bread to feed his sister's child; and Javert, the officer of the law who hunts Valjean through the ages after the man known during his imprisonment (and even after) only as prisoner number 24601 breaks his parole to try to break free from his past.


Again and again, Valjean and Javert meet up, with Valjean always escaping to try to do one more good deed for one more person in need. Late in the story, Javert at last finds himself at the mercy of Valjean. Javert is bound, tied up, and Valjean has the knife. Valjean raises it to Javert's throat—then moves it behind him to cut his bonds and set him free. 

"There are no conditions...no bargains or petitions. There is nothing that I blame you for. You've done your duty, nothing more," Valjean tells Javert and sends him on his way.

But Javert has not been saved by this. He has not been freed. He is unable to merge Valjean's mercy with his strict moral code and so takes his own life rather than live under a debt of gratitude.

I've seen this show many times, but at this most recent production, as I watched Javert take his final leap, I thought, "He never got the grace." 

Javert was never able to let go of the law he held in his hands and take hold of the gift offered to him.

The first criminal who hung on a cross beside Jesus at the place called The Skull never got the grace, either. He lost his life because He would not let go of the hatred and scorn he had for Jesus.

But the other thief...

Somehow, the second thief understood that his hands were empty of anything that really mattered, and so he grabbed onto Grace—and gained paradise.

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God, please help me to let go of anything I'm holding onto that's keeping me from fully grasping Your grace. Help me to take hold of that gift and then give it away to others.

July 11, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 223: God of Esther

God of Esther

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13,14 NIV)

Several years ago, my Bible study sisters and I spent many months in the book of Esther. Eight months, to be exact. We (happily) spent so long there that one of my ladies' granddaughters took to saying, "Are you STILL in Esther?" (Yes, we still were.)

After all that time, if I had to summarize the entire book in one phrase, it would be this: reluctant obedience still counts.

And/or: God is not restricted by our reluctance.

Much as I love a hero like David who charges boldly into battle against a giant armed only with a little bit of ammunition and a lot of faith, I'm so grateful the Divine Author also wrote Esther into His story.

Esther is a leading lady I can relate to. Faced with God's call on her life, she initially balked, stalled, and looked for an out (Esther 4:10,11).

But then, after fasting and praying, she came to the place we all have to get to: the place where we want to be in line with God's will more than we want even our own lives.

At this point on her timeline, Esther took what could be viewed as a fatalistic attitude: "if I die, I die" (Esther 4:16).

Here again, though, we find an example to follow. Dying can look like so many things. In order to live for God, we might have to die to ourselves. (Okay, not "might." We do.) We might have to die to our dreams. We might have to die to our comfort. We might just plain have to die to what we feel like doing.

Facing the very real likelihood of actual physical death, Esther approached the king unbidden—and watched him extend his scepter of mercy (Esther 5:2). Whatever reluctance had been behind her, the queen's obedience lay before her and with it "for such a time as this," the salvation of her people.

"This" is "such a time" for us, too. What is God asking us to do in it, with it? Reluctant though we may be, may we take that step forward toward the King who bids us come, then watch Him extend His scepter of mercy and see the salvation to follow.

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God, thank You that You are not restricted by my reluctance. Show me the step of faith You want me to take. Help me to take it bravely if not boldly, with faith that "this" is always the time when you bless obedience.

(Song suggestion: "Born For This;" Mandisa; from "Music Inspired by The Story;" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZvZWUZFevI.)