Friday, October 17, 2014

Fear or No Fear

Have you ever been afraid of the future? Most of us have fearfully peered into the unknown at one time or another. And because we couldn’t see what would happen, we invented scenarios about what could happen—usually the worst possible outcomes that made us even more afraid. Long before we were born, God spoke to Abraham about fearing the unknown. God’s message to Abraham applies to us today. 

After God called Abraham to travel to an undisclosed land, God told him not to be afraid. Easier said than done, we may think. Abraham left his country, his home, his friends and everything else that made his comfort zone so comfortable. He packed up and moved out. But he didn’t even know where he was going. He didn’t know where he would live, how people would treat him, how long it would take to establish income-generating connections or how he would handle the culture shock. If an uncertain future leads to fear, Abraham was teetering on the brink of alarm. But God steadied him. 

God calmed Abraham’s fear, not by promising to make his future a good one (even though God would ultimately make it good), but by reminding Abraham of God’s goodness. God said, "Do not be afraid … [because] I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1 NIV). Although Abraham’s future was uncertain, God’s character was not. God’s rock-solid faithfulness was already sustaining Abraham and would continue to support and satisfy him every step of the way. Abraham put his faith not in his future, but in the ever-faithful God. And Abraham moved forward into the great unknown. 

When we face challenging situations—such as financial instability, terminal illness, personal conflict, or any other situation where the outcome is unsure—we can refuse to be afraid. Instead of fearing the unknown, we can focus on what we do know. We know that God’s character does not change, no matter how uncertain everything else in life may seem. 

God addressed Abraham’s fear—not by drawing attention to what God would do, but to who God is. When we know God’s character, we can rest in God’s promises—without fear.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place
he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went,
even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8 NIV).

Copyright © 2014 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

When We Don’t Feel the Love (John 11)

Just when Mary and Martha thought things would get better, things got worse. Instead of coming quickly to heal their brother, Jesus stayed where He was. And Lazarus died. Mary and Martha knew Jesus loved them, but they weren’t feeling the love right then.

Rather than withdrawing from Jesus, though, Mary and Martha moved toward Him. They verbalized their frustration and disappointment. They wept in His presence. And they continued to trust Him, somehow realizing that true love is not based on feelings, but on commitment. They were committed to Jesus. But, more importantly, Jesus was committed to them. He was committed to acting in their long-term best interest, even if it involved their short-term discomfort.

Jesus had not promised to heal Lazarus or to prevent his death. Jesus had simply 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” (John 11:4, emphasis added). Bereavement wasn’t pleasant. Grief didn’t feel good. But the sisters remained confident in Jesus and in His love for them. And, in the end, they were glad that they had. Lazarus’ resurrection strengthened Mary and Martha’s faith and prompted others to profess faith in Christ—something that may not have happened if Jesus had answered the sisters’ prayers in the way they’d hoped.

When sickness lingers, when circumstances worsen or when tragedy strikes, we don’t always feel loved. But because we know God loves us, because we know He is committed to acting in our long-term best interest, we can keep trusting Him. This trial, this circumstance, this tragedy is not the end. God has good things planned for us. One day, we will see!

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!”
 (1 John 3:1).

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Copyright © 2011 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Crisis

The question is the same now as it was in the Bethlehem stable: Where do we put the baby? The answer is also the same: Put Him in front of you—wherever you are now. Mary wrapped Him in cloths and tucked Him into the feeding trough in front of her. It wasn’t the ideal crib. It was practical, not pretty. It was rough. It didn’t smell like baby powder and freshly washed sheets. But it worked. It held the Savior for the common people—the shepherds—to see. Put the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Son, in front of you now—wherever you are. Let your ordinary life hold the Baby. Let everyone see Him. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about, after all?
Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Perfect Match (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

Like the prince’s servant searching for Cinderella, Samuel searches for God’s chosen king. He knows only that God seeks a man after His own heart. The heart, not the glass slipper, must fit.

Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, steps forward. He looks promising. He looks like a king. But looks can be deceiving. Eliab’s name means “God of his father.” He represents those who rely on ancestry, tradition, rituals or family heritage. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, these hearts are inflated with pride. God does not call Eliab “a man after my own heart.”

God says to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. . . . Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV).

“Next,” Samuel says.

Abinadab bows his head and smiles. With a name that means “father of generosity,” it’s no surprise to see receipts peeking from his pocket, evidence of his good deeds. He buys food for the hungry. He builds shelters for the homeless. He’s a pillar in the community. But the foundation of his life is built on sand. He trusts in his own works. He thinks that what he does earns him favor with God. It doesn’t.

“The Lord has not chosen this one either,” Samuel says.

Shammah wipes his nose on his sleeve. Shammah—“ruin, desolate, waste”—the name fits. The heart doesn’t. Shammah cares only about himself. He lives for pleasure. He squanders resources and buries talents. Jesus calls him an unprofitable servant. Samuel calls him to move along.

“Nor has the Lord chosen this one,” Samuel says. He squints at the seven sons. He smoothes his beard and sighs. “Are these all your sons?”

“There’s one more,” Jesse says, “His name is David.”

Like Cinderella stepping into her own glass slipper, David steps into the group of would-be kings. God confirms what no one suspected: “He’s the one. Rise and anoint him. His heart matches mine.” David—“loving, beloved”—has a heart that loves as God loves, that wants to love God most. The oil warms David’s hair as Samuel anoints him king of Israel.

How can David, a soon-to-be adulterer and murderer, wear the label “man after God’s own heart”? The same way we can—by letting God change our hearts. David’s heart wasn’t perfect, but he was willing to let God perfect it. When we fail, we can pray with David, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10 NIV). God will transform our hearts to fit His. He’ll make us men and women after His own heart. And that’s no fairy tale.

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's Time to Stop Doing Time (Genesis 39-41; 50:15-21)

Have you ever been in prison? If your answer is no, think again. Think carefully. Have you ever been imprisoned by resentment or by a refusal to forgive? Are you in prison now?

Joseph was in prison literally, yet he was free spiritually. He had been hurt by what people had done to him and by what they had failed to do for him. But even though he’d been wronged, he chose to have a right attitude—a God-focused mindset that refused to let resentment shackle his spirit. By forgiving, Joseph freed those who had hurt him. He released them from his debt—from what they owed him. And in extending freedom to others, he experienced freedom himself.

When we free others through forgiveness, we free ourselves. It’s not always easy to forgive, though, is it? Sometimes the things people have done, or have left undone, hurt us so badly that everything inside us cries out for revenge, or at least for restitution. We want the offenders to pay for how they’ve injured us, or at least to apologize. But regardless of what they choose to do, we have a choice to make ourselves. We can choose to relive the pain by focusing on it, or we can choose to release the pain by forgiving. It would be nice if we could make the choice once, and never feel the pain again. But it doesn’t work that way. We must choose to forgive again and again—each time we feel resentment wrapping its cold chains around our hearts. How can we find the strength to forgive in a way that truly sets us—and others—free? The strength to forgive lies in remembering the truth. The truth will set us free.

The truth is—we’re guilty before God, for what we’ve done and for what we’ve failed to do. We deserve the death penalty. But He paid it for us. He releases us from our debt—from what we owe Him, freeing us to release others from their debts to us. As we thank Him for forgiving us, we can take from Him the strength to forgive others.

Unlike Joseph, you don’t have to wait two years to be released from your prison. The King of all the earth is calling you out . . . now. Are you ready to leave?

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,
just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV).

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 NIV).

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 NIV).

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Are You Settling for Better? (John 5:1-15)

At first glance, Jesus’ question to the sick man sounds strange. “Do you want to get well?” Of course the invalid wants to get well. But maybe he hasn’t thought about it in a while. After all, thirty-eight years is a long time to be sick. Has he stopped imagining what it’s like to be well—to walk on his own—to move without being carried by someone else?

The longer we are disabled—by fear, anxiety or anything else that cripples us—the harder it is to believe that things can be different. At some level, we hold onto a thread of hope, but we don’t put the weight of our future on that thread. As time passes, our situation becomes familiar. It may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t always seem as bad as it really is.

Notice that Jesus did not ask, “Do you want to get better?” or “Do you want to improve the quality of your life?” Getting a bit better was all the sick man hoped for. He didn’t expect perfect and permanent healing; he just hoped for improvement. If only I had someone to put me into the therapeutic water, he thought. That was the only solution he could imagine. It may have helped, but it would never be enough.

When we’ve been crippled for a long time, we begin lowering our expectations. A little improvement, we think, and we can cope. But Jesus offers us more—much more.

Jesus asks us the same question he asked the man at the pool of Bethesda. He looks us in the eye and asks, “Do you want to get well?”

We’re afraid to say yes. If we don’t hope, we can’t be disappointed. But Jesus waits for an answer, an honest answer. Even while we’re listing reasons why we can’t get well, Jesus moves us to action. “Get up!” He says. “Pick up your mat—what you’ve been resting on and relying on—and walk.” Suddenly we realize that we can.

We can walk, one step at a time, because Jesus walks with us—even through the valley of the shadow of death. Our healing may not happen instantly, as it did for the man at Bethesda, but it will happen. One day, we will stand before Jesus completely well.

“Now may the God of peace himself make you holy in every way, and may your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ISV).

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Father’s Approval

Some of us received it as children. Some of us didn’t. All of us are affected by it to some extent. What our fathers thought of us, or what we think they thought of us, often influences how we see ourselves and relate to others. A father’s approval is a powerful thing. Jesus understood this.

As a pre-teen, Jesus had trekked off to the temple without permission, craving time with His Father. He spent at least three days soaking up His Father’s words. When Mary and Joseph found Him, Jesus felt their disapproval. They didn’t understand why He had to be in His Father’s house. Although Mary may have been a good mother and Joseph may have been a good stepfather, no one but Jesus’ true Father could give Him what He needed. The same is true for us.

Our earthly fathers can’t give us all we need. At their best, they dimly reflect the character of our heavenly Father. At their worst, they remind us how desperately we all need a Savior. All earthly fathers, the good, the bad and the indifferent, ultimately point us toward the perfect Father. His approval is what we really want. It’s what Jesus wanted, too.

Imagine Jesus after His baptism. His hair drips water. His bare feet press the sand as He steps out of the Jordan River. Suddenly, He is flooded with pleasure—His Father’s pleasure. He sees Heaven opened, feels the Holy Spirit’s touch as the dove lands. And then, He hears the words, His Father’s words: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus had His Father’s approval.

Was the Father pleased because Jesus had been baptized, setting a good example for others? Was the Father pleased that Jesus identified with sinful humanity and that He would take our sins upon Himself on the cross? Yes. But, unlike some earthly fathers, God the Father didn’t bestow His approval on Jesus because He had earned it. The Greek verb tense of the Father’s statement expresses constant, uniform delight and pleasure in His Son. The Father gave Jesus the unconditional approval each of us longs for. And because of Jesus, each of us can have it too.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26), and “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). When the Father looks at us, in Christ, He approves. Even when we sin, He doesn’t reject us. He welcomes our confession, and continues to conform us to the likeness of His perfect Son. The security we have in Him enables us to triumph over temptation, as Jesus did after His baptism. And the knowledge of the Father’s ultimate approval helps us extend true love and acceptance to others. The Father’s approval is a powerful thing.

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Living Up to Your Name—Or Not (Luke 19:1-10)

Have you ever felt that you weren’t living up to someone else’s expectations of you? Zacchaeus, a corrupt businessperson, may have felt that way every time he heard his name, which means “pure.” He was a chief tax collector—a big name in the big world of big rip-offs. He and his cohorts regularly inflated citizens’ tax bills, then pocketed the extra cash before giving the payments to their Roman bosses. The name that Zacchaeus had made for himself seemed entirely inconsistent with the name his parents had given him . . . until Zacchaeus met Jesus.

Before he met Jesus, Zacchaeus was completely committed to the life he’d chosen, a life of one hundred percent selfishness. His zeal was undiluted. He wanted all he could get—and was used to getting it. He wasn’t just a tax collector; he was a chief tax collector. He wasn’t content to wait patiently for a turn to see Jesus; he ran ahead of the crowd. He wasn’t happy with being part of the crowd; he raised himself above the others by climbing a sycamore fig tree.

His all-or-nothing mentality eventually served him well, though, when channeled in the right direction. When Jesus showed Zacchaeus how empty his life really was, Zacchaeus wanted all Jesus had to offer. Zacchaeus gave himself wholeheartedly to Jesus and showed true repentance by a radical change in lifestyle. Instead of taking from the poor, he gave to them. Rather than cheating people, he restored what he’d previously taken, with interest. After his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus could tell a wonderful, true story about how Jesus enabled him to be pure—and not in name only.

What about us? Our Father has called us, “children of God” (1 John 3:1), but we don’t always behave as His children. The good news is this: He’ll do for us what He did for Zacchaeus. He will transform us into what He created us to be. He’ll help us live up to the name He’s given us.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God,
and what we will be has not yet been made known.
But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 NIV).

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Do I LOOK Like a Builder? (Nehemiah 3)

If you teach a children’s Bible class, do you ever ask yourself, “What am I doing here?” If so, you’re not alone. Many people who work in children’s ministries wonder the same thing. Many are not teachers by profession and don’t feel qualified. Yet, there they are teaching children. Nehemiah 3 provides helpful perspective for vocational and non-vocational teachers alike.

God devotes an entire chapter in the book of Nehemiah to listing the names of people who helped rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The interesting thing is—most of the builders were not architects, engineers or construction workers by trade. They were everyday people who worked in fields vastly different from where they were serving right then.

Nehemiah’s building crew consisted of the high priest, his fellow priests, several goldsmiths, a perfume-maker, several district rulers, ordinary citizens, temple servants, a security guard, several merchants, women (long before the days of equal opportunity) and many others. God didn’t criticize any of these helpers for not working as fast as others, or for lacking the skills others had, or for not being as strong. God reproved only one group of people, the nobles of Tekoa, because “their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors” (Nehemiah 3:5 NIV).

Like everyone in ministry, Nehemiah’s workers experienced opposition, frustration and discouragement (chapter 4). But they kept working, heeding Nehemiah’s advice not to focus on their feelings, but on the greatness of their God (Nehemiah 4:14). And God blessed their work.

If Nehemiah’s crew had been professionals, they may have congratulated themselves on the success of the building project. But they were unqualified, unlikely builders. So when they finally completed the wall—in record time—GOD received the credit. Nehemiah wrote, “So the wall was completed . . . in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God" (Nehemiah 6:15-16 NIV, emphasis added).

You may feel out of place teaching kids, but God can use unlikely people to do His work. Just ask Nehemiah’s building crew.

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What’s Your Metaphor? (Matthew 4:18-22)

As their fishing net splashed into the lake, Peter and Andrew heard Jesus call, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The metaphor fit. Although all disciples essentially would “fish” and help bring people into God’s kingdom, Jesus did not recite the same invitation to each new disciple. Why?

Jesus’ use of the fishing metaphor with Peter and Andrew illustrated how He wanted them to use their existing talents and interests in a new way. They already knew how to fish. They were familiar with techniques and tools of the trade. They enjoyed fishing. Jesus would transform their lives and help them use their abilities and passions to advance His kingdom.

We don’t know everything Jesus said to the other disciples. It’s possible that He shared metaphors with each of them. Imagine Jesus whispering to tax collector Matthew, “You think it’s exciting to make a profit. Follow me and I’ll make you an investor of people. Seeing thousands come into the kingdom will thrill you even more than counting your cash.” Or maybe Jesus said to politically minded Simon the Zealot, “Follow me, and I’ll make you an activist for the greatest cause on earth. Come campaign for me, Simon.”

When Jesus calls you to follow Him, He does not expect you to ignore your passions and abilities. He invites you to maximize them. Jesus promises to take what you are and make you far better than you can ever hope to be. When you follow Him, He’ll transform you. He’ll make you a _________________ for His kingdom. What metaphor might He use to fill in the blank?

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV).

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Deep Water (Luke 5:1-11)

Have you ever felt like you were in deep water—overwhelmed by a situation or responsibility that God directed you toward? Deep water was the last place Peter wanted to be. He was about to discover, though, that it could be the very best place.

When Jesus said, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” Peter did what humans often do. He focused on what he’d already experienced—and how he’d previously failed. “Master,” Peter said, “we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” If he’d stopped with the memory of his failure, Peter might have missed the biggest success of his fishing career. But he didn’t stop there. He continued, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” And he moved into deep water.

Peter obeyed dutifully, because Jesus asked him to. That’s admirable. But Peter could have obeyed eagerly, in anticipation of what Jesus would do. Jesus’ instructions held a promise: “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Jesus’ instructions always hold a promise. When Jesus calls you to move into a challenging situation, He has a plan for your being there. The plan inevitably involves your good and His glory.

Peter moved into deep water, and Jesus moved fish into Peter’s net—more fish than he’d ever seen at one time! The miracle pointed people to Jesus. And Jesus promoted Peter to a higher task—catching people for God’s kingdom. Deep water may be the last place you want to be, but it may be the best place to experience Jesus’ abundant provision for you and through you.

What deep-water situation is God directing you toward?

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When Giving Up Is Good (Exodus 2:1-10)

Some people will do anything to keep from giving up. After all, giving up shows weakness, doesn’t it? Or does it? Sometimes, giving up is the greatest thing you can do. Just ask Jochebed.

When her baby was born, Jochebed and her husband Amram “saw that he was no ordinary child” (Hebrews 11:23). Maybe Moses was especially cute, or maybe his parents sensed a divine call on his life. One thing’s for sure—they did not want to lose him. So they hid him for three months, defying a royal command to kill all baby boys.

As Jochebed nursed Moses and rocked him to sleep, she likely prayed for his safety. She held Moses close to her heart and appealed to the heart of God. But when God put an idea into her mind—a plan that could save Moses’ life—Jochebed risked giving up a big part of her own life. Even though it hurt, Jochebed was willing to give Moses up. She could do it because although she cared deeply about Moses, she did not cling desperately to him. She clung only to God.

The source of Jochebed’s strength is implied in the meaning of her name, “Jehovah is her glory”. Jochebed knew that the greatest joy comes not from clutching good things to ourselves, but from giving everything to God and watching Him use it to draw attention to Himself. Long before “kingdom perspective” was a catchphrase, Jochebed embraced God’s far-reaching plan for His world—a plan that involved her son, a plan that would point all nations toward God’s Son.

Jochebed may have had no idea of the magnitude or specifics of God’s plan. She may not have imagined that her son would be the deliverer who would foreshadow the ultimate Deliverer. She may not have dreamed that Moses would talk face to face with Almighty God, receive the Law and prepare God’s people for the Promised Land. But she did realize that to cling to Moses would not bring ultimate good—for her or for him. To cling to God, though, and to pursue His glory, would bring nothing but good, ultimately.

Jochebed’s greatest legacy is not that she was Moses’ mother, but that she was willing to give up being Moses’ mother. She was willing to embrace God’s plan—whatever it involved. She trusted that God knew what was best, could do what was best and would do what was best. He did! And God’s best was better than Jochebed could have dreamed. It always is.

Copyright © 2010 Sherrie Lorance. All rights reserved.