Hope Is Rising

Text: Malachi 4:1-5, Luke 24:1-35

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” —Malachi 4:2

Imagine trying to help out the sun by lighting a candle on a sunny day. What a futile intent that would be! It would be as effective as trying to “improve” the work of salvation Jesus wrought for us by adding to it with our own works of righteousness. There is absolutely nothing we can do to “better” God’s grace, improve His redemptive plan, or enhance His divine timing for deliverance.

Perhaps in the age of Coronavirus we need to consider that it’s not more candles we need; OUR ONLY HOPE IS THE RISING OF THE SON. We are not in control. We are being forced to accept this, and learn—or relearn—to trust the heart of the One Who is in control.

In the fourth chapter of Malachi, we find the last few prophetic words of the Old Testament before God’s oracular voice becomes silent for some 400 years. Malachi warned Israel to hold fast to God’s law, to know that a day of reckoning was looming for evildoers, and a new hope would be rising for those who fear God’s name. They were exhorted to look with expectancy toward a covenant renewal in which “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” From the time of early Christians like Justin Martyr to today, Christians have regarded the Sun of Righteousness as a Messianic reference to Jesus.

We never need to despair when God seems silent, because what He has already pronounced is invigorating enough—if we will only remember… if we only pull back the curtain.

Malachi’s generation needed to remember that it wasn’t a matter of “if” the Sun of Righteousness would come, but “when” He appeared, all things would be made new. It’s what God does! He brings healing in His wings. Restoration. Deliverance. Renewal.

On this particularly unique Easter Sunday, when churches across our land are empty due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s vital that we remember that the tomb is also empty. That image should stimulate your worship. The Sun of Righteousness is alive indeed! That empty tomb still proclaims that hell has been defeated, sins have been forgiven, shame has lost its grip on you, condemnation has been evicted, and redemption is your new song.

Maybe instead of trying to figure out how to light more candles in this pandemic in which we find ourselves, we just need to pull back the curtain on what has already dawned and let hope arise. Many of the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus when He appeared to them after the resurrection (Luke 24:16, 37; John 20:14; 21:4). I find that intriguing being that these were those closest and most intimate with Him during His tenure on earth. Whether it was due to doubt and unbelief, or simply Jesus appearing to them in a new way, they initially struggled to accept that HOPE was alive. It is encouraging to me that even the most faithful of Christ’s followers wrestled with apprehension. But the curtain was inevitably pulled back and the Sun of Righteousness brought healing in their lives.

Where might you need to simply put down the candle of control and just open up the drapes to what God has already dawned? Pulling back those blinds will radiate light on our most gripping fears, our darkest sin, and our stubborn pride. Hope is rising? Will you go out to meet it?

If you are unsure about your relationship with God, go here to find peace.

PRAYER

Father, You are good, and You are perfect. There is nothing errant about your agenda, your ways, or your timing. The errors are within us. We struggle to understand. We struggle to believe. We struggle to do right. We struggle to remain faithful. We struggle to surrender. Holy Spirit, our Counselor, help us to come to the end of ourselves and all of our striving for control, to pull back those drapes and let the Sun of Righteousness illuminate our lives with hope, peace, and renewal. Bring us into holy and humble submission, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. In your opinion, what is the most significant event in history?
  2. Read Luke 24:13-35. How had the events of the last few days crushed the expectations of the two men talking with Jesus (v.21)? Why did Jesus explain the Scriptures to the men (vv.25-27)? What did the men recall after they reflected on their conversation with Jesus (v.32)?
  3. How do life’s trials tend to change our expectations of the Christian life?
  4. When have you been guilty of unbelief? What great truths has God taught you that you failed to understand at first?
  5. What might it look like for you to pull back the curtain today and let the “Sun of Righteousness” shed light on our doubts, fears, and apprehensions?

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When God Goes Before Us

Text: Deuteronomy 9:1-29

“Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God.” —Deuteronomy 9:3

For those of us living in the U.S., authorities say that the next couple of weeks will be the most critical regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. This will be our “peak” moments of confrontation with this invisible Coronavirus giant, when it’s expected to hit closest to home for many of us. As we deliberate this grim forecast, may I reassure you of ONE UNCHANGEABLE TRUTH…

The Lord has already gone before us. He abides in the future. He is not just aware of the days ahead; these coming days are in the palm of His hand. He’s already there. God exists in that place of our deepest dread—that place causing us the greatest fear. That place called tomorrow.

In Deuteronomy 9, the destiny of God’s people was about to bring them face to face with enormous giants they had never seen before. Their future would consist of reputed adversaries, “great and tall,” of intimidating stature. They were the sons of Anakim, “whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’” They were paralyzing God’s people with gripping fear—a terror that made them feel so vulnerable that they thought of themselves as “grasshoppers” (Numbers 13:33) doomed for defeat. Moses challenged the people’s fears over and over again (Deuteronomy 2-3), reassuring them of God’s supremacy over the battle for their future. Then he gives them this charge:

“Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them [these giants] and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.” —Deuteronomy 9:3

Do you see the Lord as a “consuming fire” going over before you? Do you believe that the winds, the waves, and even viruses still know His name? The battle mentioned in Deuteronomy was much too big for God’s people, but not too big for the LORD. They were admonished by two mutually inclusive facts: That in themselves, the battle was impossible (without Me you can do nothing, John 15:5), but with God the battle could not be lost (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, Philippians 4:13).

Rightly preparing ourselves for two weeks of “hell on earth” (as some have described it) isn’t about stockpiling and hoarding as much as we are able—trying to be in control of our own fate. We can have more goods than all of our neighbors combined and still be “plagued” with anxiety, worry, and fear, leading to heart disease. Being rightly prepared is about being poised to face our giants with audacious trust in the ONE SUPREME GOD Who has already gone before us. The problem with ancient Israel is that they feared not being in control. Instead of trusting God with what they couldn’t control, they built a Golden Calf to give them a sense of their own security—thus worshiping a god they had control over. True worship is about giving over our “illusion” of control to the One Who is truly in control. It’s about trusting the hand that holds tomorrow. Corrie ten Boom, who survived a Nazi prison camp during World War II, said:

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Do you trust Him, beloved? That’s what He is after. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth (Luke 18:8)? God is looking for hearts that trust Him.

As we move into a closer engagement with this invisible giant that has gripped our world with torment, I pray that you would be sustained by the unrivaled peace of God’s presence in your heart, as well as the confidence that His presence is already there in your future. He is bigger than this invisible giant! May you abide in that assurance this week. May you abide IN HIM.

PRAYER

Lord, like a consuming fire you go before us. Our future is one of promise because You are already there. Help us to see our giants in proportion to WHO YOU are, not the other way around. Holy Spirit, rest our hearts in Thee. Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven, especially in that place of our deepest dread and greatest fear. May you find us faithfully worshiping in our most fearful moments, because we trust in Thee. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. How strong were the nations Israel was going to fight against and how does the Bible describe these enemies? (Deuteronomy 9:1-2)
  2. In what way would the Lord go over before His people (9:3)? What is significant about this description or imagery?
  3. What was Israel told not to say to itself (9:4)? What does Moses say about Israel’s rebellion against God (9:7)? In what way did the Israelites try to control their own fate (9:16)?
  4. What might “golden calf” building look like in our modern world? What might it look like in our individual lives?
  5. What does this passage teach us about the grace of God? What areas of your life might you need to surrender an “illusion” of control over to the One Who holds the future?

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Coronavirus: “The Bitterest Part”

Text: John 11:1-44

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.’” —John 11:25

In Italy, thousands of families have been devastated by Coronavirus. When infected patients are hospitalized, their loved ones cannot visit them due to the contagion. Multitudes have perished in seclusion without family members by their bedside. Proper funerals are not possible during the pandemic lockdown, as the deceased are piled up in coffins and quietly taken away. As well, grieving family members are left to mourn in isolation without the typical closure of a funeral accompanied by the support of other loved ones. “This is the bitterest part,” said one Italian.  

In John 11, Martha and Mary are having a bitterly grievous moment, devastated by the loss of their dear brother, Lazarus. “Lord, if you had been here, he would not have died,” they both cried (John 11:21, 32). To make matters worse, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he delayed two days before coming to Bethany. His lack of urgency might’ve mystified the disciples and the distressed sisters.

Have you ever felt this way? Lord, why did you delay in coming to our aid? If you had only showed up, this wouldn’t have happened? Why didn’t you get here in time?

When Jesus finally arrived, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled, asking, “Where have you laid him?” Then we have the shortest Bible verse ever recorded: “Jesus wept.” In this moment Jesus hurts like we hurt. He grieves like we grieve. He suffers and mourns as we do. He steps into our pain, identifying with us that “the bitterest part” of our earthly journey is the human loss of our dearest loved ones. I’m so comforted that we have this moment in the Bible—Jesus pausing to grieve. He takes time to feel the pain. It shows that HE understands our suffering (Hebrews 4:15).

I’m also comforted in the fact that there is more to this story. Jesus has shown the disciples that he feels their pain, their loss, and their bitterness. Now he is about to show them that this chapter of agony is not the final chapter in life. As Paul Harvey used to say, “You know what the news is—in a minute, you’re going to hear the rest of the story.” Martha and Mary are overwhelmed by bad news, but they are only moments away from being overcome by the good news.

Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” He told the disciples to take away the gravestone. Then he prayed to the Father, and commanded Lazarus to “come out” in a loud voice. “The man who had died came out,” the Bible roars. The next chapter begins with Lazarus sitting at a table with Jesus doing dinner church! (John 12:1-2)

What a glorious picture of the resurrection. We are just a few weeks away from Easter, a time when the church celebrates the resurrection life of our Lord and Savior. It’s a time when we proclaim over all of our present pain, loss, tears, and suffering that a better day is coming. Jesus didn’t just preach about resurrection and life, He dramatically hailed, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.” He promised that whoever believes in him, though he die, yet shall he live.

Whenever we find ourselves in a chapter of sorrow and anguish, may we be reminded that there is still another chapter to come. One day we will sit at the King’s table during the marriage supper of the Lamb and we will have “church” like never before. Our ashes will be turned into beauty. Our weeping will be turned into laughter. Our grief will be turned into dancing—one day, beloved, one day. Let that resonate with your soul as you seek to abide in Him this week.

I have posted an audio message on my website from Francesca, our Breakaway Outreach Italia representative, about her EASTER HOPE. It’s a short voice message that I believe will inspire your faith in these days. LISTEN TO IT BELOW. If want to know the peace that comes with knowing Christ as Lord, go here.

PRAYER

Lord, sometimes it feels like you don’t understand our urgency. But we need to remember that our timing is not your timing, and your delays are not denials. There are things in our world and sufferings in our lives that we can’t understand in this moment. We may have the news, but it isn’t the whole story. We patiently wait for that day when our Redeemer will appear, redeeming everything that is lost and restoring everything that is broken. Help us to trust you in these times. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What is one of your greatest disappointments in life? When has God given you comfort in the middle of a sad time of life?
  2. What did Martha say to Jesus about His having come after Lazarus had died? (John 11:21-22) What did Jesus tell Martha that Lazarus would do? (John 11:23) 
  3. How did Martha misunderstand Jesus? (11:24) What did Martha and the others learn about Jesus’ identity? (11:25)
  4. What did Jesus say would happen to those who believed in Him? (11:26) How should that shape our faith in this present time?
  5. What attitude of disappointment do you need to confess to God and change to trust in His sovereign control? How can you be a comfort to a struggling or hurting believer this week?

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“Not a Lowly Worm Anymore”

Text: Romans 8:18-31

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” —Romans 8:18

Cheryl loved butterflies. My wife’s sister combined her butterfly affinity with her longtime passion of photography, capturing some of the most stunning portraits of butterflies in Northeast Ohio. I was browsing her website after Cheryl passed away last week, bringing closure to a seven year battle with cancer. In her “Butterflies and Caterpillars” gallery she gave the subtitle, “Not a lowly worm anymore.”

My sister-in-law loved to be in nature, capturing every moment she could with God’s awesome creation. She knew so much about birds, reptiles, insects, and those fascinating creatures we call butterflies. A caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly is one of those awe-inspiring transformations in wildlife. It reaches maturity through a strenuous cycle that includes pupation—a passive meltdown of all but the core cells of the caterpillar’s body. The lowly worm’s struggle in one form must seem like forever… until at last it emerges into a glorious new form altogether.

American novelist Richard Bach said: “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”

Our tussle is always a matter of perspective. Speaking to early Christians about their struggle with pain and hardship, Paul wrote: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” He spoke of waiting for the “redemption of our bodies” with hope and patience (Romans 8:23-25), that the Holy Spirit helps us in our current weaknesses (Romans 8:26-27), that all things work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28), and that nothing in all this world can separate us from the love of Christ—not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, death, “nor things present nor things to come.”

God has promised us the victory and triumph over all things, including the glorious resurrection of our earthly bodies. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Paul spoke of a future spiritual metamorphosis when he hailed that one day “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53). On that day, we will be no “lowly worms” anymore. The temporary human struggle will give way to the infinite goodness of God as we fly eternally free of pain and suffering like a butterfly arrayed in all its glory.

What is your version of the cocoon this day, beloved? What is your struggle? May you find encouragement in the promise that nothing on this side of the cocoon can even compare to what God has prepared for you on the other side (Romans 8:18). God’s word tells us to wait for it with hope and patience, to trust in His process, to allow the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness, and to never—ever—forget that nothing in all of this transitory world can ever separate us from the love of Christ. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

God, the struggle is real. Sometimes it hurts too much to even pray. In those times we can rest assured that even the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us. Thank you for the promises You have given to us. Help us to lean in to those promises each day, especially when the cocoon feels quite dark. Swell our hearts with the confidence that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us later. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What feels like a cocoon to you in this moment?
  2. When have you found it hard to pray?
  3. What might we learn about God’s love for us when we realize that the Holy Spirit helps us even when we cannot pray?
  4. What does God promise to us that can make any suffering bearable?
  5. In what circumstances of your life do you need to wait patiently for God to act?

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Easter Devotion: God Isn’t Holding Out On You

Text: John 11:1-44

“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces.” —Isaiah 25:8

Have you ever felt like God was holding out on you? Martha might’ve felt that way after her brother had died.

The text tells us that Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary, and their brother Lazarus. They spent a great deal of time and fellowship together. But when a crisis hit, Jesus didn’t exactly rush upon the scene to prevent a tragedy. Lazarus fell ill, and instead of sweeping in with a miraculous healing, Jesus tarried a few days before coming. Lazarus ended up dying and Jesus didn’t even get there in time for the funeral!

To make sure that the readers of this story don’t misconstrue Martha and Mary for not having enough faith to receive a miracle, the Bible makes it clear that these were full-fledged worshipers and devoted disciples (John 11:2). If any folks were worthy of a miracle, you’d think it would be these sisters who followed Jesus so faithfully. But it seemed like Jesus was holding out on them.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha laments to Jesus after he finally shows up. Why did Jesus delay in coming and allow a friend whom He loved so dearly to die? In Jesus’ response to Martha, we get one of the most precious verses of hope and promise. Jesus said in John 11:25-26…

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

As all the others who had been grieving gathered together at the tomb where Lazarus lay, Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Then He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out,” and “the man who had died came out.”

I don’t know what you may be going through in this moment, or how it will all pan out; yet one thing of which I am certain is that Jesus does know. He even knows the pain in the process as He weeps with us (John 8:35). He isn’t late as you might suppose, but He is surely sovereign over the timeline of your life. His timing is always perfect. Inevitably, you will see that whatever has “died” in your life will be raised again to redemption and glory. In that moment, Jesus will also rejoice with you as He has wept with you.

Martha wanted healing; Jesus wanted resurrection. His plans are always so much bigger than ours. His disciples learned that lesson after their plans were shattered at Christ’s crucifixion. They wanted to save Jesus from the cross, yet He purposed to destroy the power of sin and death through the cross. We do well to remember that the resurrection of Jesus changes the face of death for all His people. Death is no longer a last word, but a passage into God’s presence. Easter reminds us that you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.

PRAYER

God, you are to be praised. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus you have destroyed once and for all the sting of death. No longer is the grave the end, but it has become the womb for birthing the greatest of all miracles—a restored fellowship with YOU and a total victory over all that is in this world. Thank you for the salvation afforded to us through the resurrected Christ.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

    1. What do the people you know fear most in life?
    2. What sort of miracle would be the most spectacular to witness?
    3. Under what circumstances have you doubted the power of God?
    4. How did Jesus show Martha the importance of her faith? (John 11:40)
    5. What specific situation do you need to trust God to work out in your life?

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What Happened After the Resurrection and Why It Matters

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The Ascension: What Happened After the Resurrection and Why It Matters

Do you have a project that you’ve been working on, trying to get finished, maybe even for a long time now, but for whatever reason, you just haven’t brought it to completion? Perhaps I’ve just described your garage, that business plan, a book you’ve been trying to write, some home repairs, a ministry project, or the tree house you intended to build for your kids in the backyard. Sometimes having unfinished business can keep us up at night and feeling restless. But in contrast, there is nothing quite as exhilarating, or fulfilling, as seeing a work come to fruition.

Our family has mastered the art of celebrating the completion of things—even the little things. It’s become so common in our household that even after our son takes out the trash he walks back up the hill and says, “How are we going to celebrate?” Of course, if you’ve seen the hill we live on you would agree that taking our trash to the curb is a colossal feat!

Why do we have this culture of celebration in our home? Because whether it’s closing out one chapter of ministry and beginning a new one, celebrating the end of a grueling gymnastics season, finishing a school project, or returning from an exhausting but successful mission trip, we want to foster a culture in our home that puts a premium on finishing strong. In the little things as well as the big things, our children have learned that faithfulness in carrying out our responsibilities and bringing them to completion is a virtue.

In short, our family understands the importance of finishing what we began.

After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days giving convincing proofs that He was truly alive (Acts 1:3) and had conquered death itself. He presented Himself to some women near the tomb (Matthew 28:9-10), to His disciples (Luke 24:36-43), and to more than 500 other witnesses of His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6).

At the end of those forty days, Jesus and His disciples went up to the Mount of Olives, near Jerusalem. There, Jesus promised His followers that they would soon receive the Holy Spirit, and He instructed them to remain in Jerusalem until the Spirit had come (Luke 24:49). Then Jesus blessed them, and as He gave the blessing, He began to ascend into heaven.

Jesus rose from the ground gradually and visibly, in a literal, bodily return to heaven, as many onlookers watched in wonder. As they stood in suspense, two angels appeared and promised them that Jesus would one day “come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

His glorious ascension into heaven signified success and completion in His earthly ministry. Jesus had accomplished His work. All that He had come to do, He had accomplished. His sacrifice on the cross was perfect, exchanging His righteousness for our sins, and the way He went back to the Father marked the culmination of a sacrifice that God was well pleased with (Hebrews 10:1-18).

Paul, while in a prison cell, was able to write with passionate assurance in God’s faithfulness even in such dire circumstances because he was convinced that God always brings His plans to fruition. In Philippians 1:6 he says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Regardless of your circumstances today, you can rest assured that God will always bring His good work to completion in your life. We serve a God Who finishes what He begins. Let this truth breed boldness in your life that no matter what you may be up against in this hour, you worship (celebrate) a God Who brings goodness to fruition (Romans 8:28).

Let this be your confidence as you abide in Him today!

God can be trusted because He always finishes what He begins and He brings goodness to fruition.

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