If You Can

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

He came to find Jesus. He brought his son who was calm this morning but still unable to speak. The fit last night was severe and intense, the boy thrown to the ground where he writhed uncontrollably, foaming from his mouth, and gnashing his teeth for hours. He watched all this helplessly, unable to even restrain the boy from lunging into the fire. Finally in the early dawn, he convulsed into rigidity before falling into exhausted sleep. These fits, which began when his son was a small child, had increased in frequency and severity over the years. Countless doctors and priests and rabbis shook their heads in futility when confronted with evidence of these horrible seizures, and the father could no longer deny the irrefutable, hopeless reality that a demon possessed his beloved son.

He had heard of Jesus, everyone in the villages around Caesarea Philippi heard the miraculous stories told about this itinerant rabbi now teaching in their region. He had tried everything else; there was nothing left to lose. So, he came with his boy to find Jesus. But Jesus was not there. He had gone up into the mountains with three of his disciples and had not yet returned. His remaining disciples listened as he poured out his anguish to them, they witnessed a mild convulsion, and they attempted to cast out the demon to no avail. A crowd then formed around the disciples and the Pharisees and teachers of the law as they engaged in a loud argument with shouts and finger-pointing drowning out the silent weeping of a defeated father. His despondency was a thick, dark cloak covering him and his boy whose spent limbs twitched spasmodically as he lay hurt and forgotten in the dirt.

Suddenly, a hush fell over the crowd when someone spotted Jesus coming towards them. The disciples pushed through the crowd with self-importance before everyone else, including this desperate father, ran to meet Jesus. The air crackled with expectant wonder. What would Jesus say about the Pharisee’s accusations of wickedness? What would Jesus say about the inabilities of his own disciples? What would Jesus do? Jesus wasted no time as he addressed his disciples directly, “What are you arguing with them about?

Emboldened by desperation, the father answered the question after describing his son’s demon possession, “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” Was it exasperation he heard in Jesus’ voice or weary sadness that prompted his reply, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” The father went and lifted his boy from the dirt and fully supported his weight as they slowly made their way to Jesus. They were just within sight of Jesus when the spirit threw the boy to the ground again and he rolled around in convulsions, his mouth foaming in agony. It was only compassion that the father now heard when Jesus asked him how long his son had been this way, a compassion that lifted the cloak of hopelessness from his shoulders. “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us, and help us.”

Jesus smiled at the father then and tenderly looked deep into his eyes. “If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Without hesitation, with tears streaming from his eyes, this persevering father fell to his knees and exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” In that moment, every burden fell from this father’s shoulders, and he understood that it was the long-awaited Messiah who looked into his eyes and spoke with power and authority to rebuke the evil spirit in his boy. “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The shrieking from that spirit was deafening; the convulsing that gripped his boy violent; the silence that followed portent as his boy lay lifeless and unmoving. Then Jesus reached down and took his hand, lifted him to his feet and restored him to his father whole and complete. Father and son embraced sobbing their praise to God.

Later when they looked for Jesus, they found he had gone indoors with his disciples. As they walked past the open doorway, they heard the disciples ask, “Why could we drive it out?” Smiling, they understood completely the reply Jesus gave them, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” They experienced the power of heaven that day as Jesus restored a broken, disfigured body to youth and vitality; as He filled a broken, unbelieving spirit with faith and worship; and as this father and his son met God’s Son in an everyday moment and encountered mercy.

Jesus, thank You for this lesson in believing faith. Thank You that nothing is impossible for You. Thank you that You are the God of restoration in my own life and that every time I meet You in the ordinary moments of my day, I encounter Your mercy. Like this father, I beg You to increase my faith today as I trust You alone with every “impossible” in my life. I love you, Jesus.

  1. What strongholds of defeat and despair do you need to entrust to Jesus today? What “possible” do you need to believe Him for?
  2. When have you found yourself stricken and rigid with fear, insecurity, anger, depression, or…? How have you experienced the healing and restoring touch of Jesus in those times?
  3. How will you respond to Jesus’ invitation to spend more time in prayer and fasting this Easter season?

Welcome Home

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…(Hebrews 12:1-2)

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

My grandson returned from a military deployment recently. I joined his parents on base for the homecoming celebration, a celebration I will never forget. The military gave us a three-hour arrival window, and we checked in early, not wanting to miss anything. The air vibrated with electric anticipation. Mothers and fathers, siblings and grandparents, girlfriends, wives, and children milled around the large lot designated for our reunion. Photographers accompanied several young moms with new babies to capture those special moments when a Marine would meet his child for the first time.

The sun was warm, “Welcome Home” banners and American flags fluttered in the air spiced with salt water and happiness. It was a seven-month deployment but nine-months since we hugged our Marine, and now the minutes slogged by, agonizingly slow with the weight of military correctness. Everyone’s eyes focused on the road waiting for the first glimpse of the white busses. It was a child who sounded the alert, “Daddy’s HOME!” And with that cry, order dissolved, and the pandemonium of celebration began as the busses disgorged a torrent of Marines, all identical in camouflage and gear but instantly recognizable to the loved ones waiting. My grandson tossed his bag and equipment down and lifted his mother off the ground, hugging her with all his might, and then his dad got the next exuberant hugs. There was laughter and tears and glorious joy. He was HOME!

In replaying this amazing homecoming over in my mind, the words from Hebrews 12 and 1 Corinthians 13 resonate for me in a whole new way. This experience deepens my awareness of the joy that awaits every believer when their temporary “deployment” ends, and they are finally home. While there is no comparison between an earthly homecoming and our heavenly homecoming, I discovered several camouflaged lessons that encourage me today.

Embracing Faith

Only those in charge knew the exact time-frame of my grandson’s deployment. Families received a window for departure and a window for return. Even when we knew the date he would arrive back on base, the exact time was still an approximation. His deployment location and what he would be doing was also known only by those in charge. We just had vague ideas. When, where and what were dim mirrors for those of us left behind. We had to trust the military leadership and their timing to give us the information we needed. These dim mirrors required embracing faith daily.

Our Christian life is similar. God in His sovereign providence and omniscient purpose knows all the details of our earthly deployment. God wrote every day in the Lamb’s Book of Life before we were born, and He alone knows the day and time of our homegoing. Each day we have an opportunity to trust God in deeper ways, depending on His Word and His timing and His leadership to accomplish His purposes and bring us safely home. He sees the big picture clearly. We see through a mirror dimly, so we walk embracing faith day by day.

Encumbrance Fleeing

Each service member receives specific and applicable gear for their deployment mission. Those items determined by the military to be non-essential must remain behind, no matter how essential they may seem to the service member.

God instructs us to leave behind everything that is an encumbrance to running the race He sets before us. Sin, fear, doubt, worry, ambition, and worldly enticements are some of the stones that slow me down. I need the Holy Spirit to help me each day discard everything that entangles me and keeps me from successfully completing my mission. I need to get rid of everything that is non-essential, no matter how much I think I need it.

Enduring Fortitude

Deployment is mission specific. The military has major objectives for each deployment. However, they can never anticipate every eventuality they will face while executing their assignment. Military training is on-going, and the service member must be prepared, not only to face the enemy, not only to accomplish the mission, but also to endure the hardships, difficulties, and delays that will punctuate their deployment.

Training for believers is also on-going as we spend time in God’s Word and prayer, learning surrendered obedience and trusting God to lead us. The Bible instructs us to put on the full armor of God, to be ready to face the fiery darts of the enemy. There are hardships, difficulties, and delays along the way, and we need the enduring fortitude of depending on the Holy Spirit to bring us safely through our earthly assignment.

Enheartening Figures

Throughout my grandson’s deployment, his family and friends and friends of his family continually prayed for him. Packages and letters and even the rare phone call gave him encouragement. He knew we were proud of him; we were rooting him on, and we were anxious for his return. In addition, he developed strong friendships with other Marines, sharing moments with those who knew and understood everything his deployment entailed.

As believers, “a great cloud of witnesses,” surrounds us. Those who have gone before us and completed their race form a heavenly cheering section urging us on. There is hope and encouragement in this awareness. The support from families and friends deployed with us on our journey enable us to continue the race even when putting one foot in front of the other is all we can manage. Together we pick each other up from tumbles, share with understanding the hardships of the race, clear boulders from the path, walk and run with arms linked and eyes on Jesus, the Author and Completer of our faith.

Exultant Finish

I can only imagine the celebration waiting for me, waiting for each of us when we finish our deployment and cross the finish line of our race. All heaven turned out in excited anticipation, “Welcome Home” banners waving, loved ones crowded around Jesus intently scanning the horizon for the first glimpse of that special one, instantly recognizable to them. The shouts and cheers of praise and adoration for the One who opens heaven’s door for us. Tears flowing, embraced in the arms of the Savior, held by His nail-scarred hands, we will look into His eyes and see clearly, we will know and be fully known, and we will finally hear Him say, “You are HOME! Well done, daughter!”  And it is for that glorious anticipated joy that we run with endurance this race He set before us.

  1. What situation in your life do you need to embrace by faith?
  2. What encumbrance do you need to throw off?
  3. What requires your enduring fortitude right now?
  4. How can you be an enheartening figure in someone else’s life today?


He was a gentle giant; at almost 6’8” with a size 15 shoe, he filled the room with his presence, with his kindness and his love. He was husband, Daddy, Papa. He was brother, cousin, and uncle. He was friend, colleague, and co-worker. However, what defined him above everything else was his Savior. He loved Jesus. His faith was deep and strong and constant. Everything he was, and everything he did, flowed from that well of love and faith and dependence. Today we celebrate his third heaven-versary. Our hearts are still sad. The hole he left is deep, we miss him desperately, but we are choosing today to not mark his death but to celebrate his life and legacy with praise and thanksgiving to His Lord and Savior, to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One of our daughters recently remarked that there is a tendency in death to ascribe sainthood to the loved one who died, and her daddy would not want that. She is right. Grief has taught me to celebrate all that he was, foibles and all, warts and sins not excluded. We can do that with joy because we know that he was saved by grace alone in Christ alone and is now in the presence of his Lord. So, we remember the ordinary extraordinariness of him.

He was tireless in dedication and devotion, never too busy to listen and never too occupied to help. He was a servant.

He was a gold-medal button-pusher! He knew just which of my buttons to push to get a reaction, and he took genuine pleasure in pushing them.

He loved his Sunday morning men’s prayer group and his Zebra Hot Chocolate (all the other men had coffee, but his cup was different).

He loved his country.

He could get on his high horse with little provocation and had strong opinions to go with that horse.

He loved Saturday morning breakfast dates and garage sales, especially if there were tools, especially if the tools included saws.

He had no patience with disrespect or lack of manners, and he was a gentleman to everyone he met.

He laughed at commercials, yelled at the television during football season, liked detective shows, action movies, and science fiction.

He snored and left mustache hairs in the bathroom sink.

He loved milk, cokes, Mexican food, hamburgers, and Blue Bell Vanilla Ice Cream. He was always going to start his diet “on Monday,” every week.

He loved Gospel music and hymns, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Alan Jackson.

He was silly with random, nonsensical proclamations that only made sense to him.

He read his Bible and My Utmost for His Highest every night; when he prayed, he never failed to thank God for Jesus, for salvation and for the weather.

He got mad and made me mad. But he never stayed mad and liked making up.

He was the only one who could ever see if the top of the refrigerator was dusty.

He LOVED being a Papa and would always agree to do anything if his grandchildren were involved. He felt humbled and  honored when he was able to baptize three of his grandchildren.

He was inordinately proud of his daughters and his sons-in-love and bragged on them shamelessly. He loved them for who they were, just as they were!

His children and his grandchildren were his greatest joy, and he was fiercely protective of them.

Reading the Christmas story always brought him to tears.

He cried with love and joy freely and without shame, and he gave the most wonderful hugs in the world.

He loved road trips and listening to suspense novels when we traveled.

He loved his wife, he loved his family, he loved Jesus.

Our list could go on for pages. Simply said, my husband showed us Jesus in how he lived and in how he died. He showed us His grace and His mercy; he showed us His provision and protection; he showed us His forgiveness; he showed us how to honor God’s holiness and His righteousness; he showed us unconditional love and acceptance; he showed us unselfish service and generous giving; he showed us faith and humility; he showed us brokenness and the source of all strength. He was far from perfect, but he showed us Jesus, and he showed us that in the end none of the little irritants really matter at all. He left us a legacy of love and faith that is continuing in the next generation and the generation beyond that.

And he is now part of the Great Cloud of Witnesses that waits for us on heaven’s shore.

Richard Olen Welch July 21, 1950 to February 24, 2019 Until the 12th of Never

Mind’s Garden

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

March will be here in less than a week. Spring is coming. Crocus and daffodils will begin to peak through the snow, hinting the glories of summer’s gardens. Though I do not have a green thumb, I love the beauty of a colorful garden. However, what I picture in my mind each spring is seldom what my garden looks like when the heat of July rolls around, when weeds crop up and the garden looks overgrown and unkempt.

I confess that my mind can be just like an overgrown garden. I will frequently lose myself in the thousand thoughts that flit with butterfly wings from one budding reflection to an idea in full bloom, hoovering over sweet memories and growing dreams. At times the maze of colors and fragrances blurs my senses, and rootless emotions overwhelm me.  At times unwanted plants of anxiety, fear, and doubt take root and crowd out carefully planted perennials with relentless persistence, jumbling and twisting my thoughts like bindweed. At times beautiful flowers wither from lack of watering and attention.

Though I am an introvert who is happy to spend most of my time in my mind’s garden, it is often difficult for me to pin my thoughts down and to obey Paul’s admonition in 2Corinthians 10:5 to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” My garden often resembles a wild jungle and not a cultivated oasis of rest and tranquility. But I find comfort knowing that God has a solution for taming this overgrown wilderness and bringing order to its chaos.

God’s Word comprises the perennials that will bloom year after year and provide symmetry and balance to our mind’s garden. As we plant His Word through Scripture memory, order replaces chaos, bindweed cannot take root, and a peacefulness settles our turbulent thoughts. Recently, I prioritized memorizing Philippians 4:8, a verse that has eluded past efforts to plant it permanently in my mind. A friend suggested that I break the verse down and spend time looking at each “whatever” to help me better understand what Paul is saying. This is a practice I regularly employ with Bible study but have never used it before with Scripture memory, and it works! Finally, this verse is rooted in my mind, and I realize that these “whatever” statements are the fundamental perennials God wants to use to define the gardens of our thoughts. Here’s what I learned:

  • Whatever is true – This first “whatever” is crucial and absolute and foundational. There are so many voices speaking into our minds based on feelings or perceptions and not on truth. Hidden and concealed information designed to twist our understanding of events and situations can color facts. I need to take everything back to Scripture. God’s Word is absolute truth; His promises and character are absolutely trustworthy. His Word is the filter of accuracy for all the information that floods our minds through countless media sources today.
  • Whatever is honorable – This word speaks to those thoughts and word pictures that inspire reverence and awe. There is an important sense of respect for others captured in this word. Thoughts that malign others also malign their Creator and should have no place in our mind.
  • Whatever is just –God’s justice is the perfect harmony between His character and His actions. Our right thinking promotes our right action. The word implies a straight way, not a twisted path.
  • Whatever is pure – “Judged by the sunlight” is one definition of the Greek word for pure, “hagnes.” Our thoughts should be clear, not clouded by indecisiveness or doubt, heaven-focusing instead of gutter-wallowing.
  • Whatever is commendable – Pleasant thoughts of kindness and graciousness are those thoughts we would not be ashamed to have known. Admirable thoughts flow first with love for God and then desire for the goodwill of others.
  • Whatever is excellent – Excellent thoughts begin in faith and lead to a faith-walk instead of a walk of fear.
  • Whatever is praiseworthy – Praiseworthy thoughts exalt God’s character and bring Him glory.

As I spend focused time daily dwelling on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy, I find my mind settling down in a restful posture of trust. The news will still bombard the world’s catastrophes, my personal circumstances may remain difficult, relationships may struggle; but having God’s Word planted in the garden of my mind replaces fretting with praying, fear with faith, and doubt with trust. The fragrance is pleasant, the flowers bloom in their season, and everything is well-tended by the Master Gardener, even in the heat of July!

Questions for Reflection: Choose one for extended time of reflection and journaling.

  1. Are your thoughts about God based on His revealed truth or on your own interpretations and impressions? What untrue thoughts have you allowed to take root in your mind?
  2. In what areas have you allowed dishonorable thoughts towards others to take hold? How can you deliberately choose to honor God and others with your mind?
  3. What negative behavior or actions have you experienced from unjust thinking? How do your thoughts about yourself reflect God’s thoughts about you?
  4. What imprints do you allow in your mind that you would not want judged in the sunlight? What tends to cloud your thoughts or cause you to be indecisive?
  5. What is one way God is asking you to change your mind’s focus from self to others?
  6. How are your thoughts directing your actions towards either faith or fear and how can you change that?
  7. What is one thing you will do this week to give God glory with your thoughts and mind?
  8. How will you purposefully allow God to transform you by renewing your mind? (Romans 12:2)


Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me . . .” The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. Then Moses said to him, “If your Presences does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:12, 14-16

 “Daddy, will you go with me?” All three of our daughters asked that question when the time came to have their wisdom teeth removed. Understandably nervous, they wanted the calm, steady, reassuring presence of their daddy in the room with them for the entire procedure. They wanted to hold his hand when the Novocain needle went into their gums; they wanted to hear his words of encouragement and feel his pat on their toes as they opened their mouths wide and shut their eyes tight. They knew if their daddy was with them, everything would be okay. And each time, their daddy was there. He cleared his calendar, and he was there right beside them. Later, I would bring them comfort at home, but in the uncharted territory of the oral surgeon’s office, they wanted their daddy to go with them. It was too big for them alone.

I thought about this today as I read the passage in Exodus. God gave Moses an assignment too big for him to handle alone. God knew it, and God needed Moses to know it too. Moses needed to understand he could not lead the Israelites into the Promised Land by himself. He needed God to go with him. After everything Moses had been through, after all of God’s miraculous provision, after hearing God’s voice and speaking with Him face to face, after forty years of wandering, Moses was still in the middle of the desert, leading people who were unruly, complaining, and difficult. And now, because of their stiff-necks, God informed Moses that He would not go with them into the Promised Land. Moses faced an overwhelming and fearful unknown, but it was the reality of facing it alone that broke Moses. Suddenly, with six simple words, “I will not go with you,” everything Moses thought he understood, everything he relied on and believed crashed down on him. He realized the frustrations of quarrelsome people didn’t matter, the discomfort of the desert didn’t matter, the monotony of the food didn’t matter, the promise of a land of milk and honey didn’t matter. Nothing mattered now but God’s presence, nothing was more important than learning God’s ways and finding favor with God, nothing surpassed the urgency of seeing God’s glory and remaining with God. “Unless You go with us, God. . . Abba, Daddy, will You go with me?”

Four years ago, I found myself standing right where Moses was. God gave me an assignment too big for me to handle alone. He knew it, and He needed me to know it too. In a moment in time, everything I thought I understood, everything I believed in and relied on distilled into a single sentence, “Your husband has glioblastoma, an incurable brain tumor.” Over the next eleven months, nothing mattered to our family but being together. We savored every moment, received each day as a gift, loved deeper, laughed harder, held on tighter and learned to really pray. But the day came we could never prepare for when God quietly took my husband’s hand and led him Home. His assignment here completed, he heard His Savior say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”  My assignment, however, my too big for me to handle alone assignment, began that day. Like Moses, I cried out, “Unless You go with me . . . Abba, Daddy, will You go with me?” And just like Moses, I heard my LORD say, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

I am learning that little things don’t matter anymore. Quarrelsome people, toilet paper shortages, inconvenient public health requirements, political divisions and stock market volatility don’t matter. Trips to look forward to, leaky ceilings, and unexpected car maintenance don’t matter. I am learning to crave God’s presence more than comfort and convenience; I am learning to desire His ways more than chocolate; I am learning the urgency of seeing His glory and abiding in Him. I am learning to rest in His provision, in His goodness, and in His faithfulness. I care more about being known as His, than conforming to the expectations of others. I am learning to hear His still small voice on lonely nights telling me He is with me. I am learning His strength is greater than my weakness, His power is manifest in my emptiness. I am learning to hold His hand and walk with Him, to delight in His Word. I am learning to follow Him and depend on Him and find my joy in Him. I am learning He knows my name and He is delighted in me. I am learning there is no assignment I can complete on my own. I need Him. He knows my heart’s cry of “unless,” and His Presence is all I need, all I want, and He does go with me.

Father, thank You for being my all-sufficient Abba Daddy. Thank You for the assurance that Your Presence will go with me. Thank You that in You is rest and peace and security, no matter how difficult the assignment. Thank You for revealing Yourself to me in Jesus and for the indwelling of Your Holy Spirit. Thank You that I am never alone.

  1. What assignment has God given you that you are trying to complete on your own?
  2. How have you found God faithful in your unknowns?
  3. What is your heart’s cry? What is your “unless?”


The sun was at its zenith by the time the caravan driver finished paying his taxes. This was a large caravan from Damascus heading for the seaport in Tyre. Silk, spices, and porcelain filled the packs of more than one hundred camels. In addition to the regular custom and toll road taxes, the caravan driver had to pay an arbitrary sales tax and assessment on the import and export of each item.  Cursing quietly under his breath, the lead camel-puller led the files away from the booth, much of his personal profit now in the hands of the greedy tax-collector whose name was Levi.

Levi heard the curses, but he didn’t care what anyone said about him. He had long since stopped listening to the condemnation of both Gentiles and Jews; their looks of revulsion no longer phased him. His fellow Jews despised him and considered him a traitor, a collaborator with the Roman oppressors. But they didn’t understand that this was a job someone had to do; Rome required a Jew to do it, and he worked hard for this position, speaking both Aramaic and Greek with the precise skills of a scribe.  Day after day he sat alone in his hot booth with the stench of camel dung mingling with exotic spices, and the breeze off the Sea of Galilee bringing the added odor of decaying fish. He had to be constantly on guard of sneaky merchants, meticulous in his recording of goods and calculations of taxes. Required to pay the Roman annual taxes himself as well as pay the chief tax collector, he then had to try to recover his costs from the merchants. It was true that Levi was now a wealthy man, but his job was also dangerous, and he lived with the perpetual fear that he could be robbed and beaten. No one considered that when they shunned him.

Levi thought of all this as the camels slowly turned away from Capernaum. There would be little traffic now until evening, but he couldn’t afford to leave the booth until nightfall. After all, there might be more treasure coming his way! Smiling, he added the coins from this transaction to his bulging pouch and leaned back in satisfaction. Closing his eyes, he tuned his ears to the conversations swirling around his booth. He was a pariah to his fellow Jews, ignored and ostracized. Because of that, people treated him as if he was invisible, and he was often able to glean valuable information that he could later use for his own capital gain. Lately, though, all the talk centered around Jesus of Nazareth, who was living now in Capernaum. Recently, crowds had gathered around him on the mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee where he taught many things never-before heard. He claimed he had not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but had come to fulfill them. He preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Levi also heard he was healing the sick and admonishing people to give to the needy anonymously. Many people even heard Jesus saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

None of these teachings made sense to Levi, but he couldn’t deny he was curious about this rabbi. Levi had even closed his booth early several days in a row to join the crowds who gathered around Jesus. Today he pondered the words of Jesus who told the crowds not to worry about their lives but to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first and trust God to provide for their needs. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. . .But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”

This greatly troubled Levi, for he had stored up substantial treasure. He didn’t understand how to store up treasure in heaven. He didn’t understand how to seek God’s righteousness since he knew he was not a righteous man. If he was honest with himself, he knew he had cheated his own people, extorting more out of them than the taxes they owed; he was selfish, not wanting to spend any of his money on other people; he was a prideful renegade, and he was a sinner. It had been so long since he had been to temple, so long since he had even thought about God or heaven. Like most Jews, he anticipated a Messiah who would come and free the Jewish people from Rome’s tyranny, but he had grown complacent in this expectation, just as he was ambivalent about keeping the Judaic laws. Now, with all these snippets about Jesus churning in his mind, he discovered he was having trouble justifying the swindling he did every day in this booth.

Levi was trying desperately to shake free of his self-condemnation when a shadow fell across his face. Looking up, he blinked twice and then rubbed his eyes. Jesus was standing right in front of him and gazing at him with piercing compassion. It was as if Jesus was reading his troubled mind! Levi shrank back and hung his head in shame, shocked to feel tears rolling down his cheeks. Then, in the softest, kindest voice he had ever heard, Jesus spoke his name. At least he thought it was his name, but it couldn’t be. Jesus called him, “Mattityahu – Matthew,” meaning “gift of Yahweh.” That couldn’t be what he heard! He knew he was not anyone’s gift! He was no treasure, that was certain. Then, Jesus spoke again, “Follow me.” Without thought, Levi embraced his name of Matthew, jumped up, and leaving everything behind, including his bulging pouch of coins, he followed Jesus. All his self-condemnation and doubts fell from his shoulders as joy filled his heart with the realization that Messiah came to him, looked at him, forgave him, and called him the gift of Yahweh. Messiah came not to bring political freedom for the Jews from their Roman occupiers; Messiah came to bring him forgiveness and call him to Himself. He was Messiah’s treasure!

Suddenly, he couldn’t wait to give away all his wealth. He started by throwing a lavish banquet for Jesus and his disciples. He invited every other tax collector he knew; he invited every other renegade and swindler and cheat and liar he had ever known. He wanted everyone to not only meet Jesus but to know Him, to experience His forgiveness. Matthew never returned to his toll-house booth. He left all his earthly treasures and followed Jesus for the rest of his life, trusting Him for treasures in heaven. He used his gifts to record every detail of Jesus’s earthly life, His crucifixion, His resurrection, and His final commission. Matthew took to heart the final words he heard Jesus speak on the mountain in Galilee and made them his life’s mission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”

Jesus, You alone are my treasure. Nothing compares to the joy of knowing You and following You. May I, like Matthew, leave everything behind to tell everyone I meet how my life changed for all eternity the day I trusted You for forgiveness of my sins. Thank You for saving me. Thank You for continuing to work in me to conform me to Your image. Thank You for removing my name “Never Good Enough” and giving me the name “Beloved.” Help me to live knowing Whose I am.

Lessons From a Tax-Collector:

  1. In what way do my priorities show where my treasure lies?
  2. What name of self-condemnation has Jesus removed from me, and what name has He replaced it with?
  3. What is God asking me to leave behind to follow Him?

Glorious Victory

“I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2

“I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see You.” Job 42:5

Job’s friends have questioned him and accused him. Job has tried valiantly to justify himself. Now, before the glorious victory waiting for him, Job must answer to God. After all Job’s pain and heartache, after all the false accusations from friends, after all his questions met with God’s silence, God’s voice thunders through the storm. God, the Righteous Judge, tells Job to brace himself like a man because God will now do the questioning. Job’s torment and the relentless onslaught from his friends brought Job to a place where, though he acknowledged God’s sovereignty over all, he blamed God for allowing his suffering. Job goes so far as to accuse God of cruelty, of ignoring him and even acting in opposition to him (30:20-21). God will now have the final say, and no one can refute God’s words.

A Righteous Rebuke

God queries Job by recounting His might and power and sovereign majesty displayed in His creation, from laying the foundation of the earth to naming the constellations in the sky. It is God who fills the clouds with rain and sends the lightning bolts on their way. It is God who gives wisdom to the heart and understanding to the mind. God’s eyes are on all His creation. He superintends the birth of each creature and endows them with purpose and ability. The hawk takes flight by His wisdom and the eagle soars at His command. “Where were you? Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!”

These questions demand an answer, but though humbled, Job pleads unworthiness and refuses to rely. So again, out of the storm, God’s questions thunder forth and now they are intense. “Would you discredit My justice? Would you condemn Me to justify yourself? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” The accusations of Job’s friends hardened his heart, while the conviction of God’s eternal holiness broke Job’s heart.

A Rightful Repentance

Job could not defend himself before God’s Holiness. Broken, he confessed God’s sovereignty and his own ignorant dialogue about things too wonderful for him to know. Initially Job despised his condition, covering himself in dust and ashes. Now with godly sorrow, he repented in dust and ashes. Where once Job heard of Almighty God, now his eyes had seen Him. In the light of God’s perfection and glory, Job understood he could never justify himself and mourned his sinfulness. Job’s humbled repentance led to God’s rebuke of the self-righteous friends who incurred God’s anger for not speaking truth about Him.

God instructed them to bring their burnt offering sacrifices directly to Job, and God further instructed Job to pray for them. Job needed forgiveness, and Job needed to forgive.

A Remarkable Restoration

With forgiveness, Job interceded for his friends, and God accepted Job’s prayer. There was restoration in Job’s relationship with God and in his relationship with his friends. I imagine the peace that flooded the hearts of each man, and though there is no mention of Job’s physical healing, we do know, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first” (Job 42:12). Job’s glorious victory came through his repentance before God, His forgiveness received, and Job’s forgiveness given. He died old and full of years at the age of 140, and I believe he walked all those remaining years in this ultimate victory.

I pray you have been impacted by Job’s victorious suffering. God left these imprints on my heart as I wrapped up my study today:

  1. I want to keep my eyes fixed on God, the Author and Finisher of my faith, regardless of my circumstances. What practical and consistent changes will I make to keep God in the center of my daily life?
  2. I want to remember that God’s ways are higher than my ways, and they are always perfect and just, designed for my good and His glory. How will I choose to celebrate and testify to God’s goodness in my life when I go through trials and struggles?
  3. I want to be the consolation of God to my friends, not the condemnation. Who needs me to simply come alongside and sit with them in their heartache?
  4. I want to respond to God’s conviction with godly sorrow and repentance. What “comfortable sin” am I harboring that I need to repent of?
  5. I want to forgive as God forgave me. Who do I need to forgive and pray for?

Father, thank You for the lessons from Job on living a victorious life even when I suffer. Please let these lessons sink deeply into my soul and use them to transform my life for Your glory.

Amen ©

El Olam – Everlasting God

“ The LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised.”

Genesis 21:1 (NASB)

“Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.” Genesis 21:33 (NASB)

Reading the Bible through in a year is something I have done for several years. Some years I am more consistent than others, but I love seeing the continuity of God’s purposes and plans come to life in the pages of Scripture. However, I confess that I often read Scripture looking primarily at the events recorded and how they relate to me today. There is nothing wrong with that approach since the Bible is God’s letter to us, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2Timothy 3:16). But as I seek to know God more deeply and more intimately, I am learning to read His Word specifically looking for His revealed character. As I change my focus from “me” to Him, I discover purpose in even long lists of ancient genealogies that I skipped over in the past (i.e., God is in the details, and each person matters to Him), and I begin to look for Him, and find Him, in the mundane moments of my own life.

Genesis 21 provides a wonderful illustration of seeing God’s character as He interacts with His children. In this chapter, Isaac, the son of the promise, is born to Sarah and Abraham; Ishmael, Abraham’s son by the maid Hagar, begins to mock and torment Isaac so much that Sarah demands Abraham send both Ishmael and Hagar away from their camp; Abraham makes a treaty with Abimelech at Beersheba. Those are the recorded events, and it would be easy to read them with amazement at Isaac being born to such old parents, with pity for Hagar and Ishmael wandering in the desert, and even with conviction that Abimelech recognized God’s presence with Abraham. But when I read purposely looking for God, I see so much more than first grabs my attention.

  1. God, Jehovah, The Self-Existent One, NOTICES (Genesis 21:1): He is the God who takes note of His children; He pays attention to provide care and help much as a shepherd takes care of his flock; and nothing escapes His notice. God is intimately aware of His own and personally involved in every aspect of their lives.
  2. God ACCOMPLISHES (Genesis 21:1): God completes what He purposes. He is the One who “works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
  3. God is the PROMISE KEEPING GOD (Genesis 21:1): God always fulfills His promises. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
  4. God, Elohim, the Creator, has PERFECT TIMING (Genesis 21:2): Only God sees the whole picture. We see only a part. His timing will always bring Him glory.
  5. God brings DELIGHT (Genesis 21:6): God’s gifts are for our good and His glory, and we can laugh in delight with His blessings.
  6. God is the God of the IMPOSSIBLE (Genesis 21:7): Nothing is too hard for God!
  7. God is HOLY and calls us to SEPARATE lifestyles (Genesis 21:12): Isaac was set apart by God, the child through whom God would fulfill His promise to Abraham and needed to be separate from the world.
  8. God HEARS (Genesis 21:17): Our cries and our distress wherever we are at is never unheard or ignored.
  9. God OPENS our eyes (Genesis 21:19): In His mercy and love, God opens our eyes to His provision in our time of need.
  10. God is PRESENT WITH us (Genesis 21:20): Even when we wander in the wilderness, God is with us, always present.
  11. God, El Olam is EVERLASTING (Genesis 21:33): The personal, intimate God of Abraham is the Everlasting God, who was and is and will be forever. He is the God we can always rely on, and He is worthy of praise and worship.

Who God is in Genesis 21 is who God is today in my life, and I want that truth to impact me. I want to recognize and remember all the times God has taken note of me. I want to claim His promises and live in the assurance of His victory. I want to live a consecrated life of dependence on Him, not looking to the things of this world to satisfy me. I want Him to open my eyes to His purpose and provision and be aware of His presence with me. I want to give Him the “impossible” in my life and trust His timing and His power to accomplish all He has purposed. I want to delight in Him and pray confidently knowing that He hears. I want the Abimelech’s of this world to see Him in me. I want confident and steadfast faith in El Olam, the Everlasting God.

When I read Scripture with my eyes on who God is, His Word comes alive to me. As I depend on Him to apply His truth to my life, His Word changes me. When I focus on God, my circumstances have perspective. And always, when I focus on God, worship and praise for who He is flow from a grateful heart.


“Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she  began to wait on them.” Mark 1:30-31

I smell the sea this morning, that familiar scent of salt and fish and scrubbed breezes. It is the perfume of my life, and it soothes me as I float in and out of conscious awareness. This fever will not leave me. My sweet daughter has tried everything she knows to bring it down, but I remain hot to the touch, chilled to my very bones. Days and nights run together, and I have no idea how long I have been sick. I won’t recover from this, I think, and that makes me sad for my daughter. She is still so young and hasn’t made friends yet since Simon moved us to Capernaum. She will be lonely. Who will comfort her, who will help her? It saddens me knowing I can do nothing but lie shivering and burning on this pallet until the fever finally consumes me. Like a ship with no sail, I am drifting now on a sea of fevered memories.

My father was a fisherman. I married a fisherman from a fisherman’s family. I have been de-boning fish since I was a small child, separating the kosher from the unclean and carrying baskets of fish to the marketplace to sell as soon as I learned to count. The sun bakes the aroma of fish into the very stones of our home. Fish nets in various states of repair drape over the low stone walls surrounding our courtyard. Fish are drying on the rooftop and frying over the open fire in the courtyard. I sit on my stool near the fire, rubbing fish oil into the cracks of chapped hands. The morning is young, the laundry absorbing the fragrance of warm sun, salt, and wildflowers as it dries; bread is rising in the pans, and fresh goat milk is chilling in the well; the children are laughing. I am at peace.

I startle awake as my daughter lays another blanket on top of me and helps me sip cool water. She is my only child, my great delight and blessing. Her marriage to Simon has also been a blessing. He is a fisherman, like her father, and takes such good care of my daughter. Now he also cares for me. When my husband died, Simon immediately made a place for me in his home. Andrew, his unmarried brother also lives with us since their parents died many years ago. I can’t help worrying about Simon and Andrew now. They’d left their thriving fishing business in Galilee to follow an itinerant rabbi. I always loved helping others, and I wanted to be a help to them and some help to my daughter, that was my purpose as a widow. Now, instead of serving, I am a burden. I have no purpose but to wait for the fever to claim me. What would happen to them when I am gone? This thought carries me back into fevered dreams.

Peter and his brother Andrew left long before dawn, after breakfasting on last night’s fish and bread. They needed more pitch on the boat’s keel so they would be casting nets from the shore until they could complete the repairs. My daughter and I were just laying out the dried fish, cheese, dates, and bread for our mid-day meal when Peter rushed into the house with Andrew on his heels. Out of breath and more excited than I’d ever seen them, Peter said their fishing days were over! They were going to be fishers of men, called by Jesus of Nazareth to be a disciple. I think they are crazy! Fishers of men? What is that supposed to mean? They just left their nets and were following this man they don’t even know? My daughter and I were speechless! Over the next few months, Peter and Andrew continued to make sure we had plenty of food, but they went with Jesus wherever he went. Eventually they moved us to Capernaum. None of this made sense, but they could not stop talking about the rabbi’s teachings and the many people healed, even lepers.

My mind was fuzzy, my lips so chapped and dry, the fever a furnace within me. I thought I heard voices, but I couldn’t open my eyes anymore. It took more strength than I had. And then, I felt someone touch me and take my hand in theirs. Not my daughter’s hand or Simon’s or Andrew’s. This was a strong hand, not overly large but calloused and worn, yet so infinitely gentle. A hand that drew me up and didn’t let go. I opened my eyes and sat up, throwing the mountain of blankets to the side. My mind was clear, the fever was gone, and I felt drawn into the depths of an indescribable love radiating from the man who held my hands. “Mother,” Simon said, “this is Jesus.”

Suddenly, everything made sense! This was no itinerant rabbi. This Jesus was the Messiah. His touch told me everything! I jumped to my feet and raced to the well for water. The Messiah touched me! I would wash His feet and the feet of His disciples. I would bake them fresh bread. I would serve them. Just as Simon and Andrew immediately left their nets behind to follow Jesus, I left my fevered bed behind to serve Him. The sea of memories and fevered dreams now swallowed up in eternal waking peace, and I have real purpose for the first time in my life. My life scrubbed as clean as the ocean breeze, I will serve Jesus for as long as I have breath in my body. And beyond that, forever praise. He touched me.

Jesus, Your touch has lifted me from sin and death and given me life everlasting. My I serve You sacrificially and may praise and worship characterize my life lived for You.  Thank You for the blessing of three sons-in-love who love and care for my daughters and who love and honor me as well. Thank You for touching me through their love.

  1. How does the touch of Jesus impact your daily life?
  2. How is God calling you to serve Him today?
  3. Who in your family needs to feel the touch of Jesus through you?©

Confident Questioning

Job 20-30

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” Job 23:10

Several years ago, my husband and I took a road trip through Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. One morning road damage to the highway forced us to take a lengthy detour. Traffic diverted to a country road, but after several miles we were at a standstill due to an accident in front of us. We inched forward slowly until my husband noticed another road veering off to the right. In his impatience, he reasoned that we could follow it and go around the traffic jam, eventually connecting with open highway again. Hours later, we were still winding through remote hills on a narrow one-lane road with no idea where we were or how to get where we were going.  We had no cell service, no GPS capability, and our road atlas didn’t show tiny mountain roads. We were hot and thirsty. We were well and truly lost. Eventually we stumbled across a man mowing a field and stopped to ask directions. He was incredulous at our predicament, his accent was difficult to understand, and his directions made no sense. I’m now a lot like Job’s friends, irritated and accusatory. My husband is defensive and grumpy. And we’re still lost.

Job wasn’t lost in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, but I can imagine him defensive and grumpy with his irritated, accusatory friends. He’d done nothing wrong, but he had lost everything and was enduring excruciating pain. His friends were incredulous at his predicament, and they might have been speaking a foreign language for all the sense their directions made. Job was weary and wanted relief. He wanted understanding. He wanted vindication. He wanted God’s presence and he wanted God’s release. Job begins to ask questions, but his queries come with a steadfast acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty, and this encourages me today.

Honest in Brokenness

Job’s journey is miserable, his loss is great, but he doesn’t try to hide his misery with pious cliches. His suffering permeates the depth of his physical, emotional, and spiritual being. Humiliated before the judgmental court of public opinion, Job must endure the scorn of “friends.” He wrestles honestly with the futility of “why.” “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? Why does the Almighty not set limits for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days? Does God listen to his cry when distress comes upon him?” Job’s deepest despair comes not from his temporal suffering, however. Job’s agony is greatest when he no longer feels God’s presence in his life, and he freely gives voice to his longing: “If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling.” Job’s honest “why’s” and “if only” longings encourage me not to try to hide from God or others in my suffering. The enemy and accuser of my soul would have me pretend to be okay when I’m not; he would condemn me for my questions. Victory comes in honestly acknowledging my struggles before the Lord, in knowing that it is okay to not be okay all the time, and in confidently coming to Him with my questions and doubts.

Humble in Battle

Job is not only battling loss, pain, and brokenness on this road of suffering, but he is also doing battle for his integrity. His friends bombard him with false accusations and unjust condemnation couched in self-righteous consolation. Job is tired of their emptiness and wants nothing more than to have God hear his case, assured in the comfort that would come from his acquittal. While he refuses to deny his integrity, he never fails to exalt God’s righteousness, power, and supremacy. In Chapter 26, Job proclaims, “He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight. He covers the face of the full moon, spreading his clouds over it. . .And these are but he outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” Job questioned but his humble acknowledgement of God’s power enable him to submit to God’s authority even when his questions were not answered. I experience victory over the battles in my life when I submit in humble worship to God’s sovereignty.

Hopeful in Belief

Job was able to be honest in his brokenness and humble in the battles he faced because he knew God intimately and remained hopeful in his belief. Walking with God for so many years gave Job confidence in who God is. Job’s identity and integrity were based on God, not himself. Though he felt weary of the battle, broken in his pain, and lost in God’s silence, Job knew that God had not abandoned him. Job closely followed God’s steps and treasured God’s words more than his daily bread. He understood that he was a sinner in need of a Redeemer. And he knew that God was in the process of purifying him like fine gold. The heat of the Refiner’s fire was great, but Job centered his belief on the reality of the God he loved. He questioned the One who knew the way in confident hope, his perspective was eternal, and his victory already won.

Just a mile or so up the road from our stop for directions, my husband and I pulled over and prayed.  We felt lost because we were on unfamiliar ground and didn’t know what was ahead of us. We recognized that God could clearly see above the trees, and He had never lost sight of us. Accusations and defensiveness evaporated in that moment, and we continued confident in God’s ability to guide us. Sure enough, as we crested the very next hill, the freeway was clearly visible. We arrived at our destination feeling triumphant, knowing we had experienced more than just beautiful scenery that day. We experienced the joy of questioning confidently the One who knew the way.

  1. What resonated with you from these chapters of Job?
  2. What keeps you from being honest in your times of brokenness?
  3. How can you experience victory by humbly submitting to God’s authority in your life?
  4. Where do you center your beliefs?

Father, grant us faith to be honest in our brokenness, humble in our battles, and hopeful in our beliefs. May we experience the victory that comes from knowing You and exalting You in our lives. ©